The intelligence report written by a Marine Colonel in Iraq's Anbar province is a uniquely ominous sign amidst the recent torrent of bad news coming from Iraq. The report essentially says that we've lost Anbar, a Sunni-dominated province about the size of Louisiana, both militarily and politically. The insurgency is strongest in Anbar and Baghdad provinces, but the size and landscape of Anbar makes it an especially attractive and useful base for militant activity and organization. Anbar lacks the oil reserves of the Kurdish north or the Shia south, and without that lucrative resource, and facing a Shia government that seems intent to ignore (at best) the Sunni minority, the Sunni region is descending into a kind of Mad Max environment. They're likely to turn to anyone who can establish a modicum of stability and governance, and so far, is hasn't been the U.S. or the Iraqi government.
For a long time, I thought it unlikely that transnational terrorist groups like al-Qa'ida would be able to set up shop in Iraq because the Islamists in Iraq are usually Shia (whereas al-Qa'ida is overwhelmingly Sunni) and the Sunnis are generally secular, far more nationalist than Islamist. But through U.S. incompetence and Iraqi neglect, terroristic groups are apparently using the Hamas/Hezbollah strategy of providing basic services to establish themselves within the social structure. Previously comprised of mostly foreign fighters, al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI, a.k.a. al-Qa'ida in the Land of Two Rivers, or QJBR) is gaining indigenous support. This has very little to do with historical disposition and everything to do with desperation and anger from the past few years.
As the situation has deteriorated, insurgent attacks have increased. The report describes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as an "integral part of the social fabric" of Anbar. The organization, which is predominantly made up of fighters who are native Iraqis, is flush with cash, much of it earned from black market or criminal activity.Even if we had the manpower, I'm not convinced the U.S. could effectively root out these fighters; this is the kind of issue that Iraqis will have to deal with themselves -- understanding the language and the culture is crucial to that kind of operation. Still, even if we had the expertise, we don't have the troops, despite the Bush administration's continued claim that they respond to commanders in the field.
"What we recommend and what we get is going to be two different things," Colonel Gridley said. "In our perfect world, we could use some more infantrymen to be able to patrol the streets and partner with the Iraqi Army." Since the intelligence assessment was prepared in August, however, no reinforcements have been sent. To the contrary, the strain on the American troops in Anbar has increased. An American Stryker unit, which was under the overall Marine command, has been sent from Rawa to Baghdad to help with the operation there. Also, military police who had been earmarked for training the Iraq police in Anbar have also been sent to Baghdad. The Marines have sought to make up the shortfall by using existing troops.This is what the Bush administration strategy is in reality: deny, deceive, demagogue . . . and then clap harder. In November, Americans will have one day, one chance to tell this administration and its backers what we think of their policies and practices, one chance to hold them accountable. Let's do it. Let's change the course.