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Iraq Onslaught Aimed At DC

al-Qaida in Iraq "need tactical events to build a narrative in Washington in the short term to force out the United States," the US commander said.
by Pamela Hess
UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington (UPI) June 26, 2007
Top U.S. commanders are closely watching the moves of al-Qaida in Iraq, puzzling about what seems to be a counterproductive strategy of massive bombings. Spectacular attacks across the country are deepening the rifts within the Sunni population that AQIz -- as it is known in U.S. military parlance -- depends on for both active and passive support. Those rifts are already deep divides in parts of Anbar province and are growing elsewhere, including in Baquba, according to U.S. military sources.

Why, when it would make tactical sense for AQIz to mend bridges with Sunnis not already turned against them, are these attacks intensifying?

"They're not stupid," a senior U.S. officer told last week.

His theory -- one subscribed to by several senior commanders who spoke with United Press International on background in the last week -- is that AQIz is taking a tactical, near-term gamble to score a strategic victory not in Iraq but in Washington by September.

"They need tactical events to build a narrative in Washington in the short term to force out the United States," the commander said.

If AQIz and its affiliated insurgent groups can keep attack levels high on both U.S. and Iraqi targets through the summer, it is likely to further erode the willingness of the U.S. Congress and public, which have grown weary of the war, to keep troops committed.

The risk, however, is that if the United States stays in the fight, AQIz will have made it more difficult for themselves to operate by poisoning the waters in which they have swum for the last four years. On Monday a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest in a Baghdad hotel, killing more than a dozen people, including four sheiks who recently allied themselves with the U.S. coalition against AQIz. A total of 56 people were killed in separate bombings Monday.

"They're progressively losing the Sunnis, but they're hoping they can undermine U.S. staying power," a top commander said via e-mail.

September has taken on crucial importance as a deadline. Multinational Force Commander Gen. David Petraeus is due to deliver an assessment to the White House and Congress that month regarding the Baghdad security plan -- how it is going, what progress has been made if any, and how much longer the 30,000 additional troops will be needed.

Top U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have tried to play down the importance of the September report, and Petraeus' second in command, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, said this month that the report will just provide a snapshot of the U.S. and Iraqi effort to secure the capital city.

Nevertheless, Congress is paying close attention to the calendar; much hinges on that September report. It will be preparing to pass the 2008 budget, including the war supplemental, and will have an opportunity to insert constricting new language if it is not satisfied with the state of Iraq security by September. It would likely include limits on the number of U.S. troops or a schedule for withdrawal.

"Most members of my conference believe the critical point to evaluate where we are is in September," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said June 17 on "Face the Nation" on CBS. "Everybody anticipates there will be a new strategy ... and I don't think we'll have the same level of troops that we have now."

McConnell said Republicans increasingly support the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which last year suggested a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops, leaving behind only those necessary for a few tasks, like training Iraqi forces.

The U.S. understanding of AQIz's motives has always been myopic. The excessive violence that turned Sunni sheiks against them in western Iraq in 2005 was not about affecting U.S. policy but establishing a tactical stronghold close to the Syrian border for training, recruitment and logistical purposes.

When the tribes were ejected from al-Qa'im in the summer of 2005, the AQIz fighters erected a sign pronouncing the town an Islamic caliphate. That sparked the Sunni backlash starting to take hold elsewhere in the country. Had AQIz been interested in grinding away at U.S. troops, it would better have remained an unobtrusive "guest" in the border towns, attacking at will without fear of being outed by Iraqis who share contempt for the occupation.

Further, the AQIz attacks may simply be aimed at eliminating and punishing opponents, hoping to frighten other sheiks from allying with coalition forces. It may also be their strategy is just more of the same but an intensification of a war they relish and sought -- killing Americans and Iraqis, developing seasoned foot soldiers and expert bomb makers, and recruiting new adherents incensed by an American occupation in the heart of Islam.

Source: United Press International

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GOP And Dems In Iraq Denial
Washington (UPI) Jun 26, 2007
Republicans and Democrats alike remain in denial in their political policymaking on Iraq. That denial looks likely to play havoc with both parties in the U.S. national elections next year. Despite more moderate rhetoric about possible eventual troop withdrawals, President George W. Bush and his top policymakers appear to remain committed to maintaining the U.S. military presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

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