Maybe Iraq is like Algeria
ANALYSIS: The Sunni problem
Insurgents, prepared to fight indefinitely, are using strategies Algerians used to drive out the French.
Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON - Pentagon war planners have talked optimistically about starting to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq as soon as this summer, but that can't happen until U.S. and Iraqi forces get a handle on the Sunni problem.
The resistance in Iraq is now largely being waged by tenacious Sunni guerrillas using insurgency tactics hauntingly reminiscent of the strategies the Algerians used in their campaign to drive out the French half a century ago.
According to a GNS analysis of Pentagon casualty reports, 70 percent of the nearly 1,000 Americans killed in combat since the war began 20 months ago have died in the infamous "Sunni Triangle." That area north and west of Baghdad includes the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah.
The Sunnis - about 20 percent of Iraq's people - have populated the nation's ruling classes for 80 years and now fear dominance by the long-oppressed majority Shiites as soon as elections are held.
"If (we) can't get the Sunnis on board, and they remain sullen and angry and supportive of the insurgent guerrillas, then you're talking about hostility for years to come," said professor Juan Cole, an expert on Iraq at the University of Michigan.
Despite the recent fall of Fallujah, hit-and-run guerrilla attacks continue. And the insurgents are equipped to fight indefinitely.
Within two weeks, "a single (U.S.) military unit found 191 weapons caches and 431 improvised explosive devices (homemade bombs) in one sector of Fallujah alone," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The challenge for U.S. and Iraqi forces now is to get control of the insurgency in time for the critically important Jan. 30 elections without killing and alienating so many Sunnis that they feel rebellion is their only option.
But plenty of moderate Sunnis might be persuaded to join the political process if it appears the U.S.-led counterinsurgency has a chance of winning and there are gains to be had for participating in the new government.
Sheik Ghazi al-Yawer, Iraq's largely figurehead president and Sunni tribal leader, has formed a political party to run in the elections even though he favors postponing them.
Some of the leading Shiites are even trying to persuade Sunnis to join their candidate slates in hopes of widening voter participation.
To encourage more of this and calm Iraq in time for the elections, U.S. war planners are studying other insurgencies, especially France's disastrous handling of the Algerian rebellion from 1954 to 1962, for clues on how to win hearts while wearing down holdouts.
One sobering lesson from the past, however, is that well-armed insurgents have rarely ever lost.
The French fought Islamic insurgents for eight years in an attempt to hold on to Algeria. In 1959, it appeared the French army had suppressed the insurgency. But it flared up again, reinforced by insurgent recruits driven to arms by harsh French measures, and France gave up in 1962 and granted Algeria independence.
By then, 15,000 French soldiers had died and Muslim casualties were estimated at between 300,000 and 400,000.
I would disagree with this. I think it was clear that the French public had turned against both the war and the Pied-Noirs by 1959. The French, stupidly, used their professionals to do the lion's share of the fighting and kept the conscripts holding the line. This created a dangerous seperation between the Army, settlers and Metropolitan France. We'll discuss this later, but briefly, the French supported cutting their losses a lot more than fighting for Algerians.
It wasn't that the FLN was well armed, although they got better as they gained support, but the French finally grew tired of the burdens of colonialism. How many had died for these far off lands which were of little real benefit to the average Frenchman. When the Paras tried to seize the government in 1960, that was the final straw.
One similarity between the FLN and the Iraqi resistance is that their ranks are filled with combat veterans. That is a bad thing to have to deal with.
What I will point out later and what needs to be understood is that only in Vietnam was a colonial power unable to raise significant local forces to fight the rebellion. The Americans face the same difficulty in Iraq but at a far greater level.
posted by Steve @ 10:43:00 PM