Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Hard Week in a Long Iraq Mission ; Increasingly, US Military Experts Say Americans Need to Prepare for a Decades-Long Counterinsurgency Campaign

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Hard Week in a Long Iraq Mission ; Increasingly, US Military Experts Say Americans Need to Prepare for a Decades-Long Counterinsurgency Campaign

Article excerpt

In a week that saw the deadliest single attack on Americans in Iraq - and the first major US contractor to pull out - more and more military experts are warning that drastic changes are needed to both US strategy and American public expectations if there's to be success there.

Tuesday's suicide bombing at a US mess tent in Mosul is only one of the most visible symbols of the deepening challenge. The "ground has fundamentally shifted" in recent months, according to a new report by the International Crisis Group (ICG). Based on field interviews with Iraqis, it says wide-spread disaffection with the US presence is threatening the emergence of stable democracy friendly to the US.

While US troop numbers are rising ahead of Iraqi elections, several analysts, some with close ties to the US defense establishment, say successes in Iraq so far have been minor when held up against an increasingly sophisticated insurgency.

The ICG and others don't expect the insurgents to fade away after Iraq's January 30 election. The best scenarios say it will take years to defeat them. But the game plan so far - including the November assault on Fallujah that killed over 1,000 alleged fighters - has failed to stop the bombings and attacks around the country.

Thursday, Iraqis began trickling back on into Fallujah. More than 200,000 people sought shelter in nearby villages ahead of the Nov. 8 attack. Iraq's interim government said families would be paid up to $10,000 if their homes were damaged in the assault. It warned those returning that the city is without power or water. Reuters reported Thursday that US forces shelled the south and northwest of the city, where they clashed with gunmen. Some returning refugees retreated upon hearing the explosions and seeing columns of smoke.

The US will have to consider fresh options for tackling the insurgency, say analysts.

"I'm sure the [Jan. 30] election will be trumpeted as a great success, but it may not mean much, if the insurgency continues and the government can't deliver on promises, just as the current government has failed,'' says Rob Malley, director of the ICG's Middle East program.

One key element that could get Iraq back on track would be the creation of a credible and effective domestic security force, something that the US has long promised but failed to deliver.

"The coalition's persistent inability to deliver a popular political message, its failures to use economic aid effectively, have continued to aid the insurgents,'' Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former senior Defense Department official, wrote in a report this week on Iraq's insurgency.

"The lack of highly visible Iraqi forces... [has] also reinforced the image of a nation where fighting is done by foreigners, non- Muslims, and occupiers. The end result has been that many Coalition and Iraqi Interim Government tactical victories produce a costly political and military backlash. Even successful military engagements can lead to the creation of as many new insurgents as they do kill or capture," writes Cordesman.

MARINE Col. Thomas Hammes agrees that this is critical. "We keep saying that this is the most important thing, but how many Iraqi soldiers have you seen riding around in armored cars,'' asks Colonel Hammes, a professor at the National Defense University, in Washington, and author of the "Sling and the Stone.'' The book on counterinsurgency was recently selected by a panel of retired and serving officers as the most important book for US commanders in Iraq to read. …

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