- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

The four-month-old offensive to retake Baghdad with more troops and neighborhood sweeps so far has failed to quell violence, but at the same time commanders hope that the spasm of bombings betray a belief by the insurgents that they are losing control of areas and are running out of time.

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, a Vietnam combatant and former head of the U.S. Army War College, said that in some ways what is going on in Baghdad is classic insurgency warfare. The enemy, a mix of Sunni, Shi’ite and al Qaeda insurgents, believes it is losing control of regions or neighborhoods and tries to reverse the trend with a spike in violence.

The 1968 Tet Offensive is an example. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army invaded major cities in South Vietnam, aiming to reverse U.S. gains in the countryside and turn U.S. public opinion against the war. It worked. President Lyndon Johnson announced that year he would not seek re-election as the war dragged on. Although Tet failed militarily, it had a major propaganda effect.

Gen. Scales said the typical thinking of insurgents is “no reason to rush. We can meter the campaign because we maintain the initiative.”

But an offensive to assert control over Baghdad’s neighborhoods has changed the battlefield.

“What has happened in the last month is they have begun to question the metered campaign because of our troops and Iraqis in Baghdad,” Gen. Scales said. “They no longer feel this is an open-ended opportunity. When they feel the doors are closing on them, the normal reaction of any insurgent group is to accelerate the campaign.”

Baghdad has become the center of gravity in the war’s fourth year, likely to determine whether the conflict will be won or lost by the U.S. troops and the new Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Since Mr. al-Maliki ordered the offensive in June, the strategy was to put more U.S. and Iraqi troops into the streets and then retake the city, neighborhood by neighborhood. But the process is slow and the U.S. suspended clearing operations last week in favor of more patrols.

The allies are fighting a mixed bag of opponents: al Qaeda in Iraq suicide bombers, Sunni rejectionists and Shi’ite militias, some controlled by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. From those militias spring death squads that roam Sunni neighborhoods looking for victims to kidnap, torture and kill.

There are four main Sunni insurgent groups. Ansar al Sunna; Islamic Army in Iraq; Mujahedeen Army in Iraq; and Iraq National Islamic Resistance. Their missions: kidnappings, killings and bombings.

The U.S. command in Baghdad reported Wednesday it suffered the most bombings last week since the insurgency began, and at least 21 American soldiers have been killed since Saturday.

“This has been a hard week for U.S. forces,” said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, chief military spokesman in Baghdad.

Of car bombings, he said, “The trend line has been up over the last couple of months.”


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