Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The State of Insurgency in Iraq: A New Development?

How many combat soldiers does Washington have at its disposal now? "American commanders, their army bottom-heavy with support units, have at most 60,000 American and allied combat soldiers available, and only a fraction as many Iraqi soldiers rated combat-ready. Recent American intelligence estimates put the insurgents' strength from 12,000 to 20,000" (John F. Burns, "Choose: More Troops in Iraq Will (Help) (Hurt)," New York Times, 19 Jun. 2005).

Washington, facing powerful guerrillas over much of Iraq, commands fewer troops than Saddam Hussein, who didn't confront anything comparable, did: "The scope of the problem can be taken from the garrison in the Baghdad area. Maj. Gen. William G. Webster, commander of the Third Infantry Division, recently gave a rundown of the troops available . . . 27,000 American troops, 15,000 Iraqi policemen and 7,000 Iraqi soldiers. Saddam Hussein, he said, had a regular garrison for the same area of 80,000 troops and 50,000 police" (Burns, 19 Jun. 2005).

Also, recall that the corporate media used to say that insurgents numbered only about 5,000 (Google the Net for "insurgents 5,000," and you'll get 159,000 results). So, based solely upon ballpark figures peddled by the corporate media (which were and are likely to be underestimates), Washington managed to triple the number of guerrillas in Iraq in two years!

That's despite having killed or detained tens of thousands of guerrillas and suspected guerrillas. After the Abu Ghraib scandal last year, Washington is once again expanding its prisons in Iraq:
Detained in IraqThe influx of detainees ["3,500 new detainees in American-operated prisons in Iraq since January"] has swelled the population at major American-run prisons to 114 percent of their ideal capacity, [Maj. ] General [William H. ] Brandenburg said, in some cases forcing the addition of more tents and increasing the number of detainees in each to 25 people from 20. For a longer-range solution, the military is expanding three major prisons and planning to open a new one in northern Iraq.

The $50 million expansion will enable the United States to hold a total of about 14,000 detainees. As of this week, the military is holding 10,135 in three prisons, about 2,000 more than in January. In addition, 1,695 detainees are being held at the division or brigade level around the country.

American officials estimate that the hardcore insurgency is made up of 12,000 to 20,000 Iraqi and non-Iraqi fighters. At Abu Ghraib, where crowding contributed to the worst of the prisoner abuses that occurred in late 2003, there are 3,563 detainees; the renovations will make room for 4,200. At the largest center, Camp Bucca in the south, there are 6,451 people; its capacity will grow to about 7,200. Camp Cropper, at the Baghdad airport, now holds 121 so-called high-value detainees, including Saddam Hussein and his top aides; space there will accommodate 2,000. A 1980's Russian barracks in northern Iraq, Fort Suse, will be turned into a prison that can hold up to 2,000 detainees. (Eric Schmitt, "U.S. and Allies Capture More Foreign Fighters," New York Times, 19 Jun. 2005)
If nothing else, Washington is reconstructing Iraqi prisons all right.

That much shouldn't surprise anyone. What's new is this story reported by Sabrina Tavernise in the New York Times today:
Late Sunday night, American marines watching the skyline from their second-story perch in an abandoned house here saw a curious thing: in the distance, mortar and gunfire popped, but the volleys did not seem to be aimed at them.

In the dark, one spoke in hushed code words on a radio, and after a minute found the answer.

"Red on red," he said, using a military term for enemy-on-enemy fire.

Marines patrolling this desert region near the Syrian border have for months been seeing a strange new trend in the already complex Iraqi insurgency. Insurgents, they say, have been fighting each other in towns along the Euphrates from Husayba, on the border, to Qaim, farther west. The observations offer a new clue in the hidden world of the insurgency and suggest that there may have been, as American commanders suggest, a split between Islamic militants and local rebels.

A United Nations official who served in Iraq last year and who consulted widely with militant groups said in a telephone interview that there has been a split for some time.

"There is a rift," said the official, who requested anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the talks he had held. "I'm certain that the nationalist Iraqi part of the insurgency is very much fed up with the Jihadists grabbing the headlines and carrying out the sort of violence that they don't want against innocent civilians." (Sabrina Tavernise, "Marines See Signs Iraq Rebels Are Battling Foreign Fighters," New York Times, June 21, 2005)
If the above report is true (rather than wishful thinking, which another comment by the same UN official -- "The nationalist insurgent groups, 'are giving a lot of signals implying that there should be a settlement with the Americans'" [Tavernise, June 21, 2005] -- suggests) and nationalist guerrillas are indeed attempting to control fanatical ones, it is a very important development.

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