With just under two months left in the year, 2007 is on course to be the deadliest year on record for American forces in Iraq, despite a recent sharp drop in U.S. deaths.
At least 847 American military personnel have died in Iraq so far this year — the second-highest annual toll since the war began in March 2003, according to Associated Press figures.
In 2004, the bloodiest year of the war for the U.S. so far, 850 American troops died. Most were killed in large, conventional battles like the campaign to cleanse Fallujah of Sunni militants in November, and U.S. clashes with Shiite militiamen in the sect's holy city of Najaf in August.
But the American military in Iraq has increased its exposure this year, reaching 165,000 troops — the highest levels yet. Moreover, the military's decision to send soldiers out of large bases and into Iraqi communities means more troops have seen more "contact with enemy forces" than ever before, said Maj. Winfield Danielson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.
"It's due to the troop surge, which allowed us to go into areas that were previously safe havens for insurgents," Danielson said. "Having more soldiers, and having them out in the communities, certainly contributes to our casualties."
Well, at least it did. But not without warning. Anyone who followed the situation knew that the military was predicting a spike in casualties as the second phase of the surge took place, i.e. the actual combat phase. The result, however, has been nothing short of phenomenal. If you don't believe me, listen to this interview with Michael Yon on Pundit Review Radio last night (btw, vote for Pundit Review Radio as "best Podcast" in the 2007 Weblog Awards. They definitely have the best show going on the air).
I wouldn't call Yon "giddy" about the change, but you understand by listening to a guy who's been there for most of the war that the change is both profound and appears lasting.
The difference is due to more than increasing the number of troops on the ground because of the surge. It's a number of events which have combined to start and maintain the process known as "bottom-up" reconciliation. It began with the Sunni "awakening" in Anbar province. Then came the surge, and, this is the most important part that often is overlooked, a change of tactics.
That change of tactics moved Coalition Forces (CF) off the Forward Operating Bases and into the communities. CF and Iraqi troops took personal responsibility for the safety and security of population of Iraq and it has paid off. Of course that meant driving the bad guys out of certain areas, some of which we'd had limited success in before and some of which we'd never been in before. That's where our spike in casualties came.
But, what also came out of that is a sense of returning normalcy for the citizens of Iraq, especially in Baghdad. In fact, a story yesterday told of 3,000 families returning from exile to Baghdad because the violence is down. During this time another event occurred which also had a positive effect - Muqtada al-Sadr told his militia to stand down and cease attacks on the CF and government.
What that has created is an opportunity for the CF and government to demonstrate what they can do for the population. Violence is way down. In some places they haven't heard a shot fired in anger in quite some time. Businesses are beginning to reopen, and a degree of normalcy and peace is being established.
The importance of that is with each passing week and month of such peace and normalcy, it becomes more difficult for AQI or the militias to reestablish themselves. They have nothing to offer but what the majority of the Iraqi population has obviously and forcefully rejected. Given the success CF and ISF forces have had in quelling the violence and keeping the peace, AQI and the militias are on the outside looking in. All they bring is a return of violence and the breaking of the nascent peace. It is so bad for AQI that they've now switched tactics and are targeting the sheiks who've enabled this awakening movement. And even AQI's attempt to do that is backfiring by hardening the resolve of the tribes effected.
These are encouraging developments and a seemingly positive trend brought on by the convergence of a number of events, one of which was the surge. But our change in strategy, combined with the Iraqi people stepping up and committing to bring piece to their little part of Iraq (65,000 are now a part of the "Concerned Local Citizen" movement) has made for a powerful combination quite capable of defeating AQI for good.
Obviously this window of opportunity won't remain open forever. Some real progress is going to have to be made on a national level. The revenue law, provincial elections, de-baathification, reconciliation and constitutional reform all must be accomplished in order to finally unify the country. That's going to take some time. However everyone I talk too and everything I read says that the Iraqi Security Forces (Iraqi Army, National Police and local police) training is going very well and that more and more capability becomes obvious each and every day, to the point that CF just turned Karbala province over a week or so ago and are considering turning over 3-7 more before the end of the year.
As Dale stated on the podcast last night, he's of the opinion, if this continues, Iraq will essentially drop out of sight as a campaign issue for the Democrats in '08. We are already seeing much less reporting abut Iraq than we have in the past. And despite stories touting it as the "bloodiest" year for US troops, it has also been the most rewarding for them as well. If these trends continue, I will stick with my prediction that a major withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, beginning in the summer of '08, will occur.
UPDATE: Of course there are those who want to credit the developments in Iraq, however grudgingly, to everything but the surge and change of tactics. Read this and tell me where you find the new tactics mentioned. According to him, we can all thank Mookie for these results (even though the Mookster stands to lose a lot of his power because of his decision).
It’s terrible all right. California’s population is a bit bigger than Iraq. California had 2,485 murders in 2006. Texas’ population is a bit less than Iraq. It had 1,384 murders in 2006. Micgigan’s population is about 1/3 of Iraq. It had 713 murders in 2006. Massachuttsets population is less than 1/4 of Iraq, and they had 186 murder and MA has GUN CONTROL. Most of those murders must be from IEDs, right?
The point is, statistically, you’re safer as a soldier in Iraq than in many US states, let alone cities.
I will stick with my prediction that a major withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq beginning in the summer of ’08.
Of course, it’s the only way the GOP will have a chance. I’m convinced it’s been part of the plan all along, regardless of conditions on the ground. They knew the "surge" and the tactic of coopting the Sunnis against Al qaeda would bring about at least short term improvement in security. That would create a window to "declare victory and leave" and then let the Iraqis sort the rest out. The interesting question concerns what happens if things turn worse after the withdrawal starts, but before the election. And, of course, ultimately what happens with Iraq will depend on choices the Iraqis make. Americans have to learn from this failure (and yes, even if after five years you can finally create a modicum of stability, on its own terms the policy has been a huge failure and shows a real weakness in America’s military power) and not get caught up in this kind of conflict again. This has been immensely costly, may still fall apart completely, and has hurt rather than helped America’s national security situation and status in the world. We are, bluntly, no longer as powerful and important as we used to be. But that was inevitable — the start of the decline could have been more graceful though. Hopefully it will be managed better.
They knew the "surge" and the tactic of coopting the Sunnis against Al qaeda would bring about at least short term improvement in security. That would create a window to "declare victory and leave" and then let the Iraqis sort the rest out.
Scott — C’mon. How could they know that for sure?
Iraq has been a complex, uncertain business from the beginning, for better and for worse. Who could know that we would win the invasion in three weeks, who could know that the insurgents would last so long, who could know that the the majority of Iraqis would risk their lives to vote, who could know that al-Qaeda would make Iraq their primary battlefield and commit astounding acts of terrorism against their fellow Muslims and even blow up one of the most important Shia mosques? And so on.
And if it was so obvious, how come the Democratic leadership and anti-war forces got suckered into declaring the war lost just as the war got better, so that they squandered a fair amount of credibility.
Americans have to learn from this failure (and yes, even if after five years you can finally create a modicum of stability, on its own terms the policy has been a huge failure and shows a real weakness in America’s military power)
Which is your bottom line. Iraq is a failure no matter what, no matter what happens and no matter what the Iraqis say. That failure is an ideological requirement for you. And since there will be always things to criticize about Iraq, you will always be right.