Wednesday, July 23, 2003
IRAQ ROUNDUP: In the wake of the Hussein boys' demise, it's worth stepping back and appraising the current situation in Iraq.

Not surprisingly, there is disagreement over whether this is just an ephemeral victory for U.S. forces or part of a more positive trend that will reduce the guerilla attacks against U.S. forces. Juan Cole, David Adesnik, and Matthew Yglesias say no [UPDATE: David was only joking]; Andrew Sullivan, Josh Chafetz, and the Christian Science Monitor say yes. The Economist, the Guardian, -- and most importantly, the U.S. Army -- are hedging their bets.

My answer is yes, not because of the attack itself but rather the shift in intelligence-gathering that preceded it. The Washington Post has an excellent story on how this shift in tactics may be creating a tipping-point phenomenon among the Iraqi populace:

After weeks of difficult searching for the top targets on the U.S. government's list of most-wanted Iraqi fugitives, U.S. military commanders two weeks ago switched the emphasis of their operations, focusing on capturing and gathering intelligence from low-level members of former president Saddam Hussein's Baath Party who had been attacking American forces, according to military officials.

That shift produced a flood of new information about the location of the Iraqi fugitives, which came just before today's attack in which Hussein's two sons were killed by U.S. forces in the northern city of Mosul, the officials said....

"You get a tip, you pull a couple of guys in, they start to talk," a Central Command official said. Then, based on that information, he continued, "you do a raid, you confiscate some documents, you start building the tree" of contacts and "you start doing signals intercepts. And then you're into the network."

"The people are now coming to us with information," Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of the Army's 4th Infantry Division, told Abizaid in a briefing this week at Odierno's headquarters in Tikrit, Hussein's home town. "Every time we do an operation, more people come in."

The 4th Infantry, operating in a region dominated by Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority, which was a major base of Hussein's support, conducted an average of 18 raids a day in recent weeks, he added.

The number and breadth of those follow-up raids also encouraged Iraqis who had been fearful of Baathist retaliation to speak up, officials here said.

Sullivan also links to this Free Republic letter from a U.S. soldier in Iraq suggesting that a similar phenomenon is taking place at the street level:

The only reason the GIs are pissed (not demoralized) is that they cannot touch, must less waste, those taunting bags of gas that scream in their faces and riot on cue when they spot a camera man from ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN or NBC. If they did, then they know the next nightly news will be about how chaotic things are and how much the Iraqi people hate us.

Some do. But the vast majority don't and more and more see that the GIs don't start anything, are by-and-large friendly, and very compassionate, especially to kids and old people. I saw a bunch of 19 year-olds from the 82nd Airborne not return fire coming from a mosque until they got a group of elderly civilians out of harm's way. So did the Iraqis.

A bunch of bad guys used a group of women and children as human shields.The GIs surrounded them and negotiated their surrender fifteen hours later and when they discovered a three year-old girl had been injured by the big tough guys throwing her down a flight of stairs, the GIs called in a MedVac helicopter to take her and her mother to the nearest field hospital. The Iraqis watched it all, and there hasn't been a problem inthat neighborhood since. How many such stories, and there are hundreds of them, never get reported in the fair and balanced press? You know, nada.

The civilians who have figured it out faster than anyone are the local teenagers.

They watch the GIs and try to talk to them and ask questions about America and Now wear wrap-around sunglasses, GAP T- shirts, Dockers (or even better Levis with the red tags) and Nikes (or Egyptian knock-offs, but with the "swoosh") and love to listen to AFN when the GIs play it on their radios.

They participate less and less in the demonstrations and help keep us informed when a wannabe bad-ass shows up in the neighborhood.

It should also be stressed that outside the Sunni zone of instability, conditions are improving. A few days ago the Los Angeles Times reported two stories indicating that things are quite stable in the Kurdish provinces of northern Iraq, as well as Basra (both links via this Kevin Drum post). As for the Shi'a, this RFE/RL report provides some excellent background of the current state of play among the various Shi'a groups. What's becoming increasing clear is that the Shi'a leaders posing the greatest problems for the occupation are those linked to the Iranian government.

Meanwhile, mobile phones are now working in Baghdad, and DHL is expanding its service to Iraq.

The United Nations is still downbeat about the current situation. However, there is reason to hope that the occupation authorities will be able to take the crucial steps towards stability that the Iraq Reconstruction Assessment Mission says is vital for the success of the U.S. mission.

Developing.... in a good way, I hope.

UPDATE: Brian Ulrich has some additional thoughts on the subject, and links to a story suggesting that Kurdish leaders are adopting a wait-and-see posture.


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