Thursday, January 03, 2008
it's the r-e-u-p-g-a-n-g:
Suicide bombings in Iraq: not actually over. The last two weeks there's been something approaching a bombing every two or three days. And they're not where U.S. forces are spread the thinnest, but where they're in full effect -- Diyala and Baghdad. The Post reports the trend line for suicide bombings has been upward for the past two months. Happy 2008, year of the de-surge.

The fact that the bombings are in the two of the three provinces where U.S. troops have taken the most away from al-Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency suggest that they're designed to make a statement about resiliency, regrouping, re-upping. Watch whether there's a suicide bombing in Anbar, the third such province, in the coming days/weeks. Not quite a month ago, the U.S. commander in Anbar, Major General Walter E. Gaskin, said al-Qaeda's losses in the province were "permanent," a term that all other men with stars on their shoulders had scrupulously avoided.

Over the past several months, surgenik euphoria has gotten out of control. War supporters all but declared victory as soon as 2007 ended. "We are now winning the war," writes new NYT columnist Bill Kristol in the current Weekly Standard. "We at the Weekly Standard thought the chances of success were better than 50-50 -- but that it remained a difficult proposition. Petraeus pulled it off." Leave aside for a moment the question of Kristol's cynicism and presume his sincerity. What this account neglects (as an understatement) is that every single time U.S. forces have shifted their tactics and pushed the insurgencies back -- the capture of Fallujah, the death of Zarqawi, the capture and the execution of Saddam Hussein, Operation Together Forward I, Operation Together Forward II, etc. -- the insurgency and al-Qaeda have watched, adjusted, adapted, and responded. Every company commander in Iraq knows this. Every NCO in Iraq knows this. Every soldier, Marine, airman, sailor, coastguardsman and civilian (maybe not all) in Iraq knows this.

To get jargony, what happened this year is that Petraeus got all up in their OODA loop, which makes him the first U.S. commander to have done so. But there was never any reason to believe that would be permanent -- hence the reason why Gaskin is the only general ever to have used that word in public. The suicide bombings are an indication that the insurgent groups and al-Qaeda in Iraq are shifting their loop up. Now it becomes a question of U.S. counterresponse, shaped by available capabilities. But we've passed the high-water mark of U.S. capabilities: the surge brigades will be gone by the spring-summer, owing to the unyielding reality of military overstretch, and Secretary Gates has spoken of bringing 40,000 troops total home by July. Continuing the current strategy will require doing way more with significantly less. For an example of what happens when troops are asked to do that, read this.

Now combine that with the continued recalcitrance, sectarianism and incompetence of the Maliki government; the creation of over 70,000 Sunni militiamen on the U.S. payroll; the blossoming of Moqtada al-Sadr's Islamic credentials; the coming struggle for Mosul/Kirkuk/disputed Arab-Kurdish territory in the north; and reminisce for the halcyon days of 2007. The last-best-chance is over.

Update: Make sure you read the Doctor about the failure of the press to stick with covering the surge, and the war, after the basic narrative was established.


--Spencer Ackerman