Can the Iraqi Insurgency be Neutralized?

In the wake of the 2,000th U.S. soldier dying because of the Iraq War, the Bush administration has begun to count the number of Iraqi dead and captured. These metrics, reminiscent of those used in the Vietnam War, will be touted by the administration as an indicator of success for military operations and to give the impression that the insurgency can be neutralized.

Looking at the strength of the insurgency, however, makes it clear that measuring dead or captured Iraqis has no relevance. While U.S. and coalition forces have killed or arrested 40,000-50,000 Iraqis since the war began, the resistance continues to thrive. Over the last year their estimated strength remained unchanged with 20,000 fighters and 200,000 sympathizers.

The Bush administration continued focus on killing anddetaining of Iraqi insurgents clearly is not working. The numbers suggest that every insurgent killed or captured results in new recruits. Even if the 160,000 U.S. and British soldiers in Iraq could figure out a way to kill every insurgent, it is the occupation of the country that is breeding new recruits. Iraqis have no tradition of suicidebombing but the recent Iraqi suicide bombers in Amman, Jordan is a good example of the new challenges that are arising from the war.

Compounding the problem, the U.S. has ignored the voices from Iraqi people calling for ending the occupation. Over the last eighteen months, Iraqi voices for U.S. withdrawal have become louder. They are now reaching a crescendo that if unheeded, may breed a new nationalistic and expanded insurgency born solely as a result of our continued occupation of Iraq.

If this happens, the new insurgency will be wider andstronger than the present one. Its focus, in most parts, will not be directed against Iraqis; rather it will be directed against the U.S. All of the ingredients for such an insurgency to occur exist. First, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis opposes occupation. Second, most Iraqi households possess arms. The government of Iraq will maintain its hold on Iraq as long as they prescribe to nationalistic goals. And, if not, their army and police will not be able to prop up the government because of desertions and disintegration. Iraqis’ antipathy toward occupying foreign forces is stronger than their love for “freedom and democracy”.

If the insurgency is to be neutralized, a different approach needs to be taken. One that recognizes that a multitude of factors, including the lack of reconstruction, a stalled Iraqi economy, the current political process, and most importantly the occupation, all contribute to the violence directed at the U.S. and coalition forces and that none of these problems can be solved on the military battlefield.

The recent approval of the Iraqi constitution, with all its problems, points to a possible solution. The overwhelming approval for the constitution among the Shiites and Kurds during the October referendum representing the majority of Iraqis and the “no” vote by the Sunnis representing a significant minority indicates that all parties are engaging in the political process. More importantly, the recent decision of the Sunni Iraqis to form a coalition in order to participate in the coming December election is a crucial step for a better outcome in Iraq.The Sunni coalition asks the violent insurgents to lay their arms as well as for the end of American occupation of Iraq.Moreover, the Shiites have just formed a coalition containing Moqtada Sadr’s group that emphasizes the removal of American forces. If these groupings receive strong support in the elections, it will likely lead to the severe diminution of the violent component of the insurgency.

But for this to happen, the U.S. has an important supporting role to play in outlining an exit strategy. Far too much debate has happened in this country around Iraq without any meaningful input from the Iraqi people. Any exit strategy that has a chance of helping Iraq more than hurting it must be done in tandem with Iraqi society. While U.S. policy must be clear that there will be a complete withdrawal, the timeline could be negotiable up to an eighteen month timeframe depending on the Iraqisdemands.

Body counts are important to remind us of the sacrificesmade so far, but they are not a measure of success and they keep our eyes of the real prize, defining an exit strategy and bringing peace to Iraq.