The number of US combat personnel killed in Iraq reached 3002 on 31 December, with 113 casualties occurring in the month of December mostly in Anbar. The key cause of the deaths was IED attacks. The level of violence is said to have risen to 959 attacks every week in the country. On the other hand the number of Iraqis killed during the year 2006 was 16,273 including civilians, soldiers and policemen. The break down is 14,298 civilians, 1348 policemen and 627 soldiers. The Bush government’s plan for exercising greater control in Iraq is primarily to induct additional troops in Baghdad and Anbar province and control the Shia militia of Moqtada al Sadr.
The key cause for violence in Iraq is a Shia Sunni sectarian conflict. The Sunni and Shia militias are indulging in targeted attacks on people, religious congregations and other soft targets. The reluctance of the Iraq Government Forces to check Shia militants supported by Sadr is reportedly leading to fanning counter Shia violence by the Sunnis.
A determined and unbiased effort to ensure that the communities do not target each other is essential. The Iraqi government thus has to be seen to be totally neutral. For this purpose apprehending Sadr militias as unequivocally as the Sunnis is essential.
The new Bush plan for Iraq is said to have greater political backing in Iraq. Militarily it focuses on the concept of centre of gravity that is identifying key points of decision and conducting operations concentrated in these areas. Thus the emphasis will be on clearing Baghdad which is earmarked as the centre of gravity as well as Anbar deploying 4000 troops where the Sunni supporters are said to be fighting a battle against Al Qaeda-led terrorists.
A number of Sunni young men are reported to be in Jordan undergoing training in the police Academy. Supporting these fighters will be essential. In Baghdad the plan is to base operations in each of the nine districts by deploying an American battalion. Within each district three to four police stations will form the hub from which operations will be launched to include patrols and raids. Strategies will be planned and presence strengthened in each sector. The classic counter insurgency grid may just about work provided the Americans are able to sustain pressure at least for one to two years and not for a few months or weeks.
The larger problem will be to bridge the Shia Sunni divide in Iraq which has now considerably widened especially after Saddam’s public hanging aired on television and a Moqtada supporter chanting slogans in the background. The hanging on the day of Eid has also irked the Sunnis. A discreet cleansing of Baghdad by the Shia militias has also been reported. Thus death squads and black militias are known to move about in the city areas indulging in sectarian killings, extortion, looting and kidnapping.
A holistic strategy would imply firstly to bring down the level of violence through enforcement of authority by the Iraqi army and police backed by American military support. Gradually the Americans need to move away from the public eye. This is a tall order and if all goes well will come about only by the end of 2008. The many pitfalls include Iraqi as well as American resolve to stay the course. With a non supportive Congress and Presidential elections in the offing, the latter will assume great significance in the years ahead.