Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Surge Isn't Working; al-Anbar is Quiet

January 10, nearly five months ago, President Bush told the nation he had ordered more U.S. troops to Iraq, specifically to Baghdad and the Sunni-dominated al-Anbar province. Their mission was to intervene, with Iraqi army and police battalions, to quell the predations of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Shi’a death squads with ties to sectarian militias and the police, Sunni nationalists and former Baathists.

After an initial reduction in the number of attacks on Iraqi non-combatants, and the number of bodies dumped around Baghdad every night, the deaths started to escalate north and south of the capital. And with more U.S. troops conducting patrols, more are dying and some are being abducted and tortured before being killed.

But in al-Anbar, more desert and presumably nomadic than many other areas of Iraq, U.S. forces seem to have finally stumbled on the nexus of effective counter-insurgency: identify the sociological level that the population has identified as the one that best provides physical and mental security – and work with the elders and other authority figures recognized as the leaders of the group.

In al- Anbar, the power level is not religious sectarianism but the tribal structure, the town or village mayor who is the local sheik and the police chief who is a member of the sheik’s family and the police force and other security forces who are from other families in the bloodline.

The question now is for how long and how much patience will the Iraqis have to exhibit as they wait for the money promised by the United States to rebuild their infrastructure, their lives, and their future. The U.S. failed to respond to the challenges of a disintegrated social order in the summer of 2003; will the administration recognize the opportunity that the Iraqis of al-Anbar are providing in the summer of 2007?

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