Search for Patterns in Insurgency ; A Major US Offensive in Western Iraq Aims to Stem the Flow of Foreign Fighters into the Country

Article excerpt

When it comes to insurgent attacks in Iraq, the only pattern is that there may be no pattern.

The recent upsurge in Iraqi violence, after a relative lull following national elections, has left US officials and outside experts alike groping for answers about the nature of the enemy. It's possible that the attacks are meant to take advantage of the new Iraqi government's struggles to organize itself, for instance. But it is at least as likely that the increase has been powered by reasons known only to the insurgents themselves, such as flagging morale or an increase in the availability of fighters or weapons.

Even to speak of "an insurgency" is something of a misnomer, as there are probably a number of insurgencies, split between foreign jihadis, die-hard Saddam Hussein followers, and anti-American opportunists. One expert compares them to a flock of birds or a school of fish who suddenly group, travel in formation, and then disperse - all without any central command.

"And with birds and fish, who knows where they are going to go?" says Itamara Lochard, a specialist in insurgencies at Tufts University's Fletcher School in Medford, Mass.

On Tuesday the US military continued to engage insurgent fighters in the fiercest fighting of the occupation since US forces retook the city of Fallujah.

For a third day, Marines, backed by extensive air power, swept through western Iraq near the Syrian border - an area in which insurgents, particularly foreign insurgents motivated by a desire for anti-American jihad, had operated with some impunity for months.

The offensive, named Operation Matador, had killed as many as 100 insurgents since Sunday, claimed US officials. US casualties were said to be light.

The fighting comes amidst a surge in suicide bombings and other insurgent attacks that began to take shape in late March. Those attacks continued Tuesday, as well, with the explosion of at least two car bombs in central Baghdad.

The last 10 days to two weeks has seen an increase in car bombs, detonated both remotely and by drivers, said Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, director, Joint Operations, Joint Staff, at a Pentagon briefing on May 5.

It is possible that this increase reflects an increase in activity on the part of the foreign jihadis, as suicide attacks have long been part of their operational pattern. It is also possible that the bombers are native Iraqis who have been forced into a desperate move by the kidnapping of loved ones, said General Conway.

"We're asking ourselves, what's all this mean? And we don't have the answers yet," he added. …