Thursday, June 24, 2004

Center of Gravity

The attacks on Iraqi Shias have been a major error on the part of our enemies in Iraq. The Baathists and Sadr's fools targeted our forces in their resistance this last year. Sadr was ineffective in his spring revolt while the Baathists continue to attack our troops, although they rarely try to attack directly at close range to avoid losing heavily in firefights with our more skilled troops. During the Fallujah uprising in April when the Baathists took on our Marines, our casualties mounted even as we killed the enemy in large numbers. Support in the US for the war went down. With our casualties declining again, public support for the Iraq campaign is going up. The Baathists have the right idea focusing on our troops but luckily we are too good to target at the April rate for long—somebody in the enemy ranks has to survive for the next attack, after all. In this force-on-force struggle, we are winning despite the correct enemy focus.

I think the main reason for our success is that the Islamists with their foreign jihadis have screwed things up for the Baathists. That is, if the insurgents (or regime remnants or whatever you want to call them) had been able to target Americans and our allies without other complications, the vast majority of Iraqis might have decided to sit out the war as neutrals and just watch passively to see who will win. Absent a really ruthless American campaign, we would never win if we fought enemies in a sea of apathy that slowly turned against us as the violence continued.

The Islamists screwed up this possible path to Baathist victory. The Zarqawi memo highlighted the idea that the Islamists wanted to target the Shias in order to force the Sunnis to rise up out of fear. Then there would be a nice civil war and the Islamists would have their happy hunting ground of chaos in which to kill Americans. With high enough casualties and really bad press coverage, we might then have pulled out in defeat. Defeating us somewhere—anywhere—is the Islamist goal—not Islamizing Iraq in particular. Remember the reports that al Qaeda was turning their focus on Iraq at the expense of Afghanistan? The fight is the focus. Note, too, that the memo says that the Islamists would have to find another battleground if they cannot win in Iraq. The Islamists may not have had a choice since they don’t number very many. How could they take on the Army and Marines directly? Attacking civilians is a heck of a lot easier.

So by targeting the Shias with increasingly gruesome bombings (and a lot of Sunnis in the latest series of attacks), the Islamists have made the Shias realize they have to fight the insurgents to protect themselves. As the interim Iraqi prime minister stated:

"We are going to defeat them. We are going to crush them," he said at a ceremony marking the transfer of the final 11 government ministries to Iraqi control. "We expect more escalation in the days ahead."

With the Iraqis determined to fight the terrorists, we have but to provide the means and back them up with our troops in a reserve capacity. The will to fight is the most important element and the Zarqawi strategy has given us Iraqi allies with that determination.

This civil war strategy of the Islamists was always going to be a loser for the Baathists. A Sunni-Shia war might have been fine when the Sunnis controlled all the instruments of state power, but in a fight in which the Shias have the numbers and the state, this cannot work. At best, this path could inflame the oil-free Sunni heartland in revolt but this would not gain the entire country back for the Baathists. The Baathists could only win it all back if the Shias joined them against America as a common enemy, as some thought was happening in April at the start of the twin Fallujah and Sadr revolts.

For all the mistakes we have made, our enemy may have made the most critical of them all.