Insurgents Expected To Adopt New Tactics


 Artículo de Bradley Graham  en “The Washington Post” del 06/12/2004


Por su interés y relevancia, he seleccionado el artículo que sigue para incluirlo en este sitio web. (L. B.-B.)


BAGHDAD, Dec. 5 -- A series of large military offensives over the past few months culminating in the battle for Fallujah has given U.S. military commanders here a sense of having gained ground against Iraq's fierce insurgency, but they predict no easy victory in pressing the attack and remain particularly concerned about a rising campaign of intimidation.

Indeed, senior officers say they regard the militants as still well armed and well financed, and likely to avoid trying to mass anywhere again after losing their primary stronghold in Fallujah. The officers say they expect the insurgents to engage in more decentralized operations and sporadic attacks while stepping up threats and violence against Iraqis who serve in the government or the security forces, or who otherwise cooperate with Americans.


 "We do believe their tactics are going to change some," said Army Brig. Gen. John DeFreitas III, the top U.S. military intelligence officer in Iraq. "They will probably not mass forces again. They'll fight in small teams. We get some sense that they're thinking of adopting more guerrilla-type tactics -- small teams, hit-and-run."

On Sunday, insurgents killed 17 Iraqi civilians as they arrived for work at a job site run by the U.S. Army near the city of Tikrit, the military said. Four Iraqi soldiers and National Guardsmen were killed in two other attacks in north-central Iraq.

The dispersion and guerrilla tactics of the militants, U.S. officers say, will draw U.S. forces into more classic counterinsurgency operations characterized by focused raids, along the lines of the recent sweep through the northern part of Babil province led by U.S. Marines. Such troop-intensive operations are the reason behind the decision announced last week to boost U.S. forces in Iraq to 150,000.

But while the U.S. military has plans to pursue militants as they attempt to regroup, commanders appear frustrated by their inability to defeat the intimidation. An internal assessment of the U.S. strategy in Iraq, prepared for Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, concluded last week that "no silver bullet" exists for this problem.

The intimidation effort is blamed for undermining the development of effective Iraqi security forces, particularly local police, as well as inhibiting Iraq's interim government, restricting economic development and generally fueling perceptions of insecurity.

Baathists Arouse Suspicion

A total of 338 Iraqis associated with the new governing structures or with the Americans have been assassinated since Oct. 1, according to U.S. military figures. This includes 35 police chiefs, mayors and middle-ranking officials. In Mosul, where 136 bodies have been found in the past month, U.S. officers suspect a particularly brutal and extensive campaign by fighters from the once-ruling Baath Party to target members of the Iraqi security forces.

"Having so far failed in its plan to 'decapitate' the Iraqi interim government, the insurgency appears to be concentrating instead on 'hollowing it out,' " the report to Casey said.

Polling data collected by the U.S. military show that public confidence remains fragile, and many Iraqis have yet to commit decisively to legitimate government, according to officers familiar with the surveys.

Nonetheless, senior U.S. commanders here remain convinced that their military, political and economic strategies for Iraq are still sound, according to interviews with more than a dozen generals in recent days.

The officers said they have been heartened by evidence of greater security and stability in Iraq's southern, Shiite-populated provinces since the assault in Najaf in August against the militia of radical cleric Moqtada Sadr. They also described moves toward next month's elections as generally on track, with more than 200 political entities certified and voter registration proceeding in most of the country. The notable exceptions are the Sunni-dominated provinces of Anbar, which includes Fallujah and Ramadi, and Nineveh, which includes Mosul.

"This is a fight, and in fights you have good days and bad days," Casey said in an interview. "But you don't measure success a day at a time. It's a constant process of going forward and, at the same time, keeping a lookout for what's going wrong."

As a sign of the damage done to the insurgency by the Fallujah operation, U.S. officers point to a sharp decline in the number of attacks nationwide, from a high of more than 130 a day at the start of the offensive in early November to about 60 now. But U.S. military intelligence officers expect the number to rise again before the national elections set for Jan. 30.

Plans to intensify the pursuit of insurgents through targeted raids will increase the demand for timely intelligence about their hiding places, officers said.

"We don't lack for people to go thump in the night," said Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, who commands the task force responsible for the Mosul area in northern Iraq. "The challenge is getting the intel."

But officers noted that linguistic and cultural factors limit the ability of U.S. troops to interact with Iraqis and develop their own actionable intelligence.

"Where we're going to get a lot of this is from the Iraqis," Casey said. "They know themselves, and we have to leverage that."

Other officers, however, described Iraq's reconstituted intelligence service as poorly organized and short of resources. Its capabilities remain immature and will take time to develop, the officers said.

One of the key aspects of the insurgency that U.S. commanders are watching closely is the extent of cooperation between former Baath Party members and radical Islamic fighters. The Baathists remain the dominant opposition group, according to military analysts, but signs of them entering loose tactical alliances with more radical elements have been evident for months.

Such alliances are suspected of underlying at least some of the recent surge of violence in Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, where the police force collapsed under attack last month. Some U.S. officers worry about Mosul, or sections of it, possibly becoming a new insurgent stronghold, although the city's greater size and prosperity make it less susceptible than Fallujah was.

In some other Sunni areas, U.S. intelligence analysts have seen indications lately of Baathists reconsidering partnerships with radical Islamic elements.

"They're assessing their options," DeFreitas said.

The Baathist insurgency is centered on a number of key leaders, U.S. officers say, and still lacks the scope of a popular Sunni resistance. But the officers warned that growing political alienation could lead to a broadening of the insurgency.

U.S. intelligence specialists suspect that the Baathists are pursuing a dual strategy on the elections. If they cannot block the vote through attacks and intimidation, they might try to undermine the outcome by infiltrating political parties with their own candidates, the analysts say.

Appealing to Sunnis

The best prospect for defeating the insurgency, several senior officers said, does not lie in military muscle.

"I think the government, as a result of the Fallujah operation, has bought time to engage," DeFreitas said. "If the government is not successful in bringing more Sunnis to the political process, continued disenfranchisement could increase support for the insurgency."

The Iraqi government's ability to carry its share of the security and reconstruction effort remains questionable. While some effective ministers and staff members have emerged, the officers said, the performance of the ministries has been uneven and power remains centralized in the office of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

Reconstruction of the badly battered city of Fallujah now poses a major test of the Baghdad government's ability to deliver people and resources. But last week, senior U.S. Marine officers overseeing the rebuilding effort privately voiced frustration over the absence of officials from Baghdad and public works technicians to help restore power and water, assist in food and fuel distribution and set up a new police force.

Senior U.S. officers point to Najaf as a model for reconstituting cities that have been the target of U.S. military offensives against insurgents. Since the battle freeing it of Sadr's forces, the city has remained calm and shown both political leadership and economic development.

"That's what the campaign plan is all about, focusing all elements of power," said Maj. Gen. Steve Sergeant, the chief strategist and planner for the military command.

But Fallujah suffered considerably more damage than Najaf and lacks the local governing structure to step in and take charge of the recovery.

"Fallujah is going to be harder than Najaf," said William Taylor, the U.S. Embassy officer in charge of reconstruction efforts.

Reconstruction activity in Iraq has doubled from 469 projects, worth a total of $1.3 billion, in August to 1,034 projects valued at $3 billion. A series of new projects is underway in the cities and neighborhoods that were the target of U.S. assaults over the past few months: Najaf has 207 projects worth a total of $30 million, Samarra has 75 worth $10 million and Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood has 152 worth $209 million.

But many of the projects are proceeding slowly, hampered by insurgent violence and bureaucratic obstacles. U.S. military commanders have privately expressed concern about a lack of visible progress and warned that it was fueling public discontent and stoking the insurgency. They have proposed a total of $2.25 billion in small, local projects that would create jobs quickly.

Projects Large and Small

Casey said he was sympathetic to the requests and has sought some money from the Iraqi government. But he also is trying to ensure completion of some of the major infrastructure projects -- power plants, sewage treatment facilities, water purification stations -- that were part of the original reconstruction plan.

"It's not either-or," he said. "You have to do both. You need large projects to drive longer-range development, and you need smaller ones to benefit the community and put people to work."

One of the bits of polling data that several officers cited as giving them some encouragement shows that a majority of Iraqis expect to be better off next year. But other survey results indicate that many Iraqis remain uncommitted to the move toward a new, democratic government. Public confidence in the interim government peaked last summer.

In Baghdad, Sunni support for "armed national opposition" was 40 percent in a November poll taken for the U.S. military, up from 35 percent in September. More Sunnis expressed support for the insurgents than confidence in the Iraqi government, which drew only 35 percent support in November. Approval of attacks on U.S. forces was also up, from 46 percent in September to 51 percent in November.

Under the circumstances, the internal assessment done for Casey has recommended changing one of the U.S. military's original aims, which was to bring Iraqis around to a more "positive" perception of U.S. troops. With hindsight, that objective now appears too ambitious, the assessment concluded, adding that "popular tolerance" would be a more "realistic aim."

"It's not about winning the hearts and minds," Casey said. "It's about giving the Iraqis an opportunity that they can pick up."