On War #256: Prognosis

William S. Lind

Most wars move not at a steady pace but in a series of fits and starts. For about half a year, we have been enjoying something of a lull in the war in Iraq. Anything that reduces casualties is to be welcomed. But the bulletins’ claims that the downward trend in violence will continue should be seen more as political vaporing than military analysis. Events begin to suggest that the lull is ending and Mars is in the ascendant.

To make a prognosis, we first must understand why we have enjoyed a period of relative quiet. There are four basic causes. In order of importance, they are:

  1. Al Qaeda’s alienation of much of its Sunni base, to the point where many Sunni insurgents changed sides. As I have pointed out before, al Qaeda in Iraq made a common error of revolutionary movements: it attempted to impose its program before it had consolidated power. As best I can see from Olympus, it seems to be persisting in that error, perhaps because its loose discipline does not allow it to do otherwise. That is good news for us. But we dare not forget that in 4GW, all alliances are temporary. The Sunni Awakening militias like our money but they don’t much like us.
  2. Muqtada al-Sadr’s decision to order his Mahdi Army to observe a truce, now extended to August of this year. The truce remains in his interest, because he needs to husband his strength for a winner-take-all final gambit.
  3. Moving many U.S. troops off their FOBs and into neighborhoods where they can try to protect the population.
  4. Last and least, the “surge.” This usefully added some additional troops for #3, but without the former move it would have simply created more Fobbits. A question I have not seen addressed is what percentage of the troops for #3 were already in the country. My bet is a large majority.

If we look at where each of these is now going, we see rough water ahead:

  1. Al Qaeda in Iraq and other anti-U.S. forces (there are many) are both attacking and penetrating Sunni militias now working with U.S. forces; the latter is likely to prove more effective. U.S. forces are also killing Sunni militiamen who are working with us, by accident of course, but sufficiently often to strain relations. Much of this results from our counter-productive and just plain stupid continued use of air power in a country we occupy. American attack aircraft are al Qaeda’s (and the Taliban’s) best friends. The most powerful alienating factor is the irreconcilable hostility between most Sunnis and the Shiite government in Baghdad. The Sunnis know we created the government and remain allied to it. The government fears any armed Sunnis. We are left with one foot on the boat and one on the dock, a position that is difficult to sustain indefinitely.
  2. Muqtada al-Sadr is feeling increasing pressure from his “street” to respond to U.S. attacks (again, often by aircraft) on Shiite neighborhoods. He has quietly been using U.S. and Iraqi government forces to “whack” dissenters within his own movement. But this can easily blow back on him. At this point his “street cred” is or soon will be on the line, at which point he has to respond or see his militia fragment (which is the natural tendency of everything in 4GW). The Mahdi Army can send U.S. casualties soaring overnight.
  3. Any rise in American casualties means politicians in Washington will want U.S. troops to head back to the FOBs. The absurd American definition of “force protection” means many within the military will want to do the same. Petraeus will stay the course (in this case, rightly), but he’s on his way out. Having gotten this right doesn’t mean we won’t get it wrong again.
  4. The extra troops brought over by the surge will go home this summer. Again, this is far less important than what the remaining troops do, and points #1 and #2 also, but it is a factor.

The main story of the current lull is one of lost opportunity. Whether soon or in the more distant future, the war in Iraq will get hotter again. The lull gave us what might be our only opportunity to leave Iraq with some tailfeathers intact. Just as the Bush administration’s blindness got us into this war, so its rigidity made us pass over our best change to get out. Like opportunity, Mars only knocks once. Next time, he blows the building.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact:

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
717 Second St., N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
Direct line: 202-543-8796

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Filed in Uncategorized | 5 responses so far

5 Responses to “On War #256: Prognosis”

  1. jaylemeuxon 27 Mar 2008 at 9:31 am 1

    okay, so who wants to forward this article to Vets For Freedom?

  2. Dr_Vomacton 27 Mar 2008 at 1:22 pm 2

    It seems as though the window of opportunity has just slammed shut, and Cassandra is sounding more plausible today than last week.

    There’s something odd about the Iraqi “government” assault on the Mahdi Army in Basra. Why now? And why are we risking a re-opening of full-bore hostilities with Sadr?

    Unless…unless this is a preparation for the rumored U.S. attack on Iran. If the White House were about to order an air offensive against Iran, then it would make sense to first get a firm grip on Basra. Not that I believe the present Washington leadership is smart enough to think of this…but surely Petraeus has enough sense to see that if Basra is left in the hands of Shiite militias, then any Iranian retaliation after a U.S. strike would make use of its assets in that port city. Hence, the drive to establish “law and order” in Basra.

    But what if the Iraqi offensive fails? What if–as seems likely–Basra stays firmly in the grip of the Mahdi Army, and the Iraqi government troops are sent limping home? Will that prevent George Bush from one-upping Publius Quinctilius Varus once again? It’s not the way to bet, I’d say.

  3. billmonon 27 Mar 2008 at 9:28 pm 3

    It is just me and my paranoia, or has anyone else noticed that just as the Cheney Misadministration grapples with the question of whether to continue the troop drawdown in Iraq, suddenly all hell breaks loose between the “good” Shia — i.e. our “allies” in the Maliki “government” — and the “bad” Shia in the Mahdi Army?

    When I ran that observation by a friend, he immediately assumed I was accusing Team Cheney of stoking the boiler to keep the pressure on Bush/Rice and the troops in country. But I actually don’t have any particular theory of the case — there are so many suspects.

    But it does occur to me (repeatedly) that Iranian hardliners of various denominations have a strong, vested interest in keeping the US Army buried up to its neck in the Iraqi sand pit, thereby making a march to Tehran impossible (or at least, even more impossible) and providing lots of ripe targets and potential hostages if the cabal decides to roll the dice with an air campaign against the Iranian nuclear program.

    In other words, not for the first time I’m wondering: Are Dick Cheney and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad essentially working the same side of the street?

  4. maximilliangcon 28 Mar 2008 at 8:48 am 4

    Exactly, While you do the math.



    Bush: Iraq is returning to normal
    By Warren P. Strobel and David Lightman | McClatchy Newspapers
    WASHINGTON — President Bush, saying that “normalcy is returning back to Iraq,” argued Thursday that last year’s U.S. troop “surge” has improved Iraq’s security to the point where political and economic progress are blossoming as well.


    March 27, 2008

    Thursday: 225 Iraqis, 1 US Soldier, 3 US Contractors Killed; 538 Iraqis Wounded

    Updated at 12:21 a.m. EDT, Mar. 28, 2008

  5. Maxon 04 May 2008 at 9:01 am 5

    icasulties.org has suffered a cyber attack
    and most of thier graphical database has gone missing.

    This is quite up to date and consise however.


    You can see a fairly sharp intial rise, (near record for peak losses) in US casulties at the onset of the surge (more targets). Then you see a significant decline but only after September 07, bottoming eventually, most recently however, we know it’s on the rise again, and quite noticably.

    If your follwoing closely, practicaly everday now, we lose a few more.



    Averaging this out by eye, one can make a reasonable judgement that the surge had little
    or no effect, particularly in relation to the nausiating hyperbolic hype that surrounds it, not to mention the costs, and inordinate effort required by the grunts, and now to partially
    sustain it.

    I’m quite confident that if you investigate, and particuarly most recently, the reality for Iraqui civilain casulties is about as bad, or worse.

    Now this,

    Is the US really making progress ?
    Draw your own conclusions.