Writing Obituaries vs Reporting a War

A war – any war – generates obituaries.  But writing an obituary column is different from reporting a war.

In his press briefing of April 21, 2006, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch laid out the difference, for anyone who cared to listen.

Bloody Anbar

In the bloodiest governate of Iraq – Anbar Province – Iraqi security forces, American troops, and war-weary civilians are snuffing the insurgency in measurable ways.
How bloody is Anbar?  Its population is 1,170,178, or 4.5% of Iraq’s total, yet the insurgency there has generated 38% of all Coalition casualties – 848 deaths through the first quarter of 2006.  By contrast, Baghdad, with a population of 5,960,759, or 22.8% of Iraq’s population, has generated 595 coalition fatalities, or 27% of the total.  In Baghdad, the ratio of Iraqi population per coalition fatality is 10,259-to-1.  In Anbar, it is 1,420-to-1.

Anbar, in western Iraq, is the center of both native recidivism, and foreign infiltration.  The former is fueled by Sunni Ba’athists and fundamentalists, the latter by the porous, extensive borders of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.  Fallujah and Ramadi, scenes of bloody battles, are both in Anbar.

Maj. Gen. Lynch laid out the efforts of the Iraqi government, and its American allies, to quell the insurgency in Anbar.

The “3rd Phase”

In the Sunni insurgency in its current integument – the so-called “third phase” of the war – the principal tactic of the anti-democracy forces is to attack “soft targets” – i.e., unarmed Shi’ites.  The rebels’ perverse objective is to inspire revenge killings by Shi’ite militias against Sunnis, thus generating support from Sunni victims of counter-strikes, and from religious Sunnis abroad.  In a nation where Sunnis are outnumbered four-to-one, and similarly outgunned, this tactic is insane. As this has become apparent to Sunni tribal leaders, they have shifted their support to the elected government.  Thus the tactic Zarqawi and other Sunni jihadists use to man the insurgency is simultaneously marginalizing it, narrowing its base of support.

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One result of the alienation of the insurgency from its Sunni base has been a massive increase in anti-terrorist intelligence.  Over the past year, actionable tips from the Iraqi population have more than doubled on a monthly basis.  And as a result, caches of arms and bomb-making materials are being raided by pro-government forces with accelerating frequency.  The coalition is eradicating these insurgent “safe” sites at a rate of 8 per day.

The increased success of coalition raids has caused a general decline in the quality of the IED’s – improvised explosive devices – deployed against coalition troops.  The explosives used are, in aggregate, less potent, the detonating devices less dependable. This helps explain the overall decline in coalition casualties during 2006. (see Daily Dispatch, Vol. 3, #2)

Border Control Iraqi Style

Although foreign fighters are a minority among the rebels, they comprise 90% of the suicide bombers tasked with blowing up unarmed civilians and themselves.  These human duds, functioning as human bombs, file into Iraq through its porous borders, particular the Anbar-Syria crossing.  In the earlier phases of the war, coalition troops would disrupt the flow of foreign fighters among their sympathizers, driving them from place to place.  But we lacked the manpower to police the borders.

Today, Iraqi security forces outnumber coalition forces by two-to-one.  Twenty thousand border enforcement troops in 258 border camps are tasked with halting the flow of illegal foreign nationals into Iraq.  As a result, Maj. Lynch reports that the incidence of suicide attacks throughout Iraq decreased over the past year from 75-to-24 per day. And Anbar, lawless Anbar, is being tamed.  The daily attacks against government, coalition, and civilian targets in Anbar declined from 27 last October to 17 at present.

So returning to our theme:  American media presents the conflict in Iraq as a perpetual obituary column, in which a number of Americans die each day, with no apparent design, fighting a limitless enemy.  But in reality, our operations in Iraq are tactical rather than lugubrious.  Our troops engage in a struggle to win the hearts and minds of many, and to snuff the hearts and minds of a few.

Today, in Iraq, there is no significant insurgency in 14 of 18 provinces.  And in the governate where beats its evil heart – Anbar – we are winning.

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