After the lowest monthly US casualties in a year, insurgents have
come back this week with widespread strikes, killing several
Americans and pulling off a sophisticated attack on Abu Ghraib that
showed an evolution in planning and tactics.
Attacks on US forces have dropped 22 percent since the Jan. 30
election, to about 40 a day, about the rate they were a year ago. In
March, 36 US troops were killed, the lowest figure in a year,
according to icasualties.org, which tracks casualties announced by
But this week, four soldiers and a marine were killed - and
Saturday's well-organized attack on Abu Ghraib prison, in which 40
US troops and 12 prisoners were injured, suggests that fighters may
be shifting to fewer but better executed operations, including ones
that directly engage US forces.
Iraq's political process will have more impact on the strength of
the insurgency than any military operation. That effort got a boost
Wednesday when the national assembly voted Kurdish leader Jalal
Talabani president. That step enables the rest of the government to
be formed, a process that could take up to six weeks but is expected
to be finished in the next week or so.
Despite excitement over the naming of the president, the rest of
the government will have to be named quickly and produce tangible
improvement in daily life if it is to erode support for the
"Counterinsurgency is about governance," said Col. Thomas X.
Hammes, an insurgency expert at the National Defense University in
Washington. "You have to prove to the people you can govern them
fairly and effectively - then they will tell you who the bad guys
Still, the insurgency's trends indicate that even at an average
pace, the tough guerrilla warfare seen today is likely to continue
for many years. "Don't expect solutions now. We're two years into
this," Hammes says. "We're at the top of the third inning and this
is a nine-inning game."
During the past few months, attacks on Iraqi forces and civilians
have increased, the US military says, although they don't keep exact
The trend is something Iraqi special forces soldier Ali Jabbar al-
Aibi has observed from behind his truck-mounted machine gun. During
his frequent nighttime operations, he is attacked almost every time.
The sense that insurgents are increasingly targeting him and his
colleagues was confirmed to Mr. Aibi and his team of soldiers two
weeks ago when they found a fatwa issued by a radical cleric during
a raid in Samarra. It ordered jihad on Iraqi forces instead of
American troops because the Iraqis are easier to attack.
Despite the increased dangers to Iraqis, the election has
inspired more people to come forward with information about
insurgents, says Aibi.
Those tips are prompting raids that are yielding insights on the
state of the insurgents. Iraqi troops, for example, are finding
fewer large weapons caches, something Aibi takes as a sign that the
fighters are having supply problems.
"There's no comparison between before and now," he says, noting
that they used to find stacks of dynamite, rockets, large machine
guns, and mortars. "You couldn't believe it. …