The Associated Press and others report
that two American soldiers died today in an attack on a U.S. Army checkpoint in Fallouja. Two Iraqis reportedly emerged from their cars, automatic weapons drawn, and started firing on American soldiers manning a checkpoint. They killed two and wounded nine. Also today, in Baghdad, a rocket-propelled grenade wounded two Army MP officers working out of a Baghdad police station. In describing the attacks, 3rd Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Buford Blount III said they were seeing "very small groups — one or two people — in isolated attacks against our soldiers." Yesterday, an American soldier died in a convoy ambush in Northern Iraq. On Sunday, Iraqi guerillas ambushed an American HMMWV driving in Baghdad, detonating it as the vehicle drove past. Two other incidents targeted American soldiers on Sunday, but inflicted no casualties. The New York Times reports
that anti-American attitudes and violent tendencies have become commonplace among Iraq's young male population:
As American troops keep flowing into Iraq to provide greater security and departures of other troops are delayed to strengthen police functions, military commanders continue to express private concerns about whether they have sufficient forces to re-establish a stable postwar environment.Analysis:
L. Paul Bremer III, the top civilian administrator of the occupation authority, said Monday that the allies would issue food ration cards on June 1 and restart the food distribution channels used by the Hussein government.
"In the long run, we would like to get out of the situation where 60 percent of the people are dependent on the government for their food," he said.
Tonight, Falluja remained tense as American troops stood guard in static positions in command posts protected by razor wire and Bradley fighting vehicles. Other troops positioned themselves at roadblocks.
"All the people are very happy with this operation," said one resident of the town, referring to the attack on the American soldiers. He identified himself as Barakal Jassim al-Zobai, a brigadier in the disbanded Iraqi Republican Guard.
"We want to revenge all of the martyrs that Falluja gave and we will not allow American forces to occupy Iraq," he said. Mr. Zobai said guerrilla teams had been formed to exact revenge on American forces.
The episodes of violence here have radicalized some residents who have vowed revenge, residents said.
"We are tribal people and we won't allow anyone to intrude in our lives," said a 27-year-old farmer who witnessed the attack early this morning. He refused to give his full name and called himself Abu Muhammad. "The Americans have really hurt us," he said. "They didn't come here to give us liberty, or free us. They came here to invade us."
Clearly, we are seeing an upswing in the level of insurgent activity in Iraq. Without access to the raw intelligence I might have in the field, I can't do any kind of reasonable trend analysis or predictive analysis. However, I can read the tea leaves from here somewhat. American units are seeing what appear to be frequent, widespread, pre-planned, deadly acts of violence. It's more likely than not that these are coordinated attacks -- possibly part of a larger anti-American strategy. It's impossible to tell (without better intel) who might be behind these attacks, or why they might be happening. I can speculate that Shiite factions are instigating the attacks as a way of destabilizing the American presence and hastening our departure. I could also speculate that the attacks come from Saddam Hussein's loyalists who retained their weapons from their military service.
But I'd like to suggest a more sinister possibility that must at least be considered by America's security and intelligence communities: Al Qaeda action in Iraq. It appears from a number of reports that Al Qaeda has been hobbled to some degree. The global terror network retains the ability to operate, but it has been constrained by America's war in Afghanistan and efforts elsewhere. Our military, financial, law enforcement, and prosecutorial efforts may have crippled the network's ability to act inside the United States -- it's hard to tell (see this Newsweek report
). But one place where we have barely made a dent is in Al Qaeda's ability to operate in the Arab world. This month's attack
on the American housing complex in Saudi Arabia are the best evidence of this, along with recent reports
indicating the presence of an Al Qaeda cell in Iran. This is an organization that retains the ability to move men, materiel and money around the Arab world, at least, and retains the ability to plan and execute terrorist operations. In short, Al Qaeda remains a potent threat.Why do I think they'll hit us in Iraq? First
, Al Qaeda's stated goal is to remove American soldiers from the Saudi peninsula, and by extension, the Arab world. Osama Bin Laden deeply resents America's influence on Islam, and especially our efforts to build rapport with secular, moderate and fundamentalist governments in the region. Their doctrine cannot allow us to maintain a presence in Iraq, and it cannot allow us to successfully install a Western-oriented government in Iraq that disdains Islamic law in favor of democracy, capitalism, and individual liberty. (It may be possible for these things to live together, but at least for now, no one has figured out how to do that.) Second
, Bin Laden deeply hates American military imperialism, which is almost certainly how he sees our attack on Iraq in this second Gulf War. He has deliberately targeted our military deployments before (e.g. Somalia
and the USS Cole
), and it makes sense that he will do it again. Al Qaeda stands against a lot of things, but few institutions have inflicted as much pain on Al Qaeda as the American military. I think that Bin Laden has a blood debt to settle with the American military after Afghanistan, and he will attack American soldiers wherever he can (Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan) to settle the score.Third
, the opportunities abound in Iraq for a terrorist -- particularly a terrorist who seeks to wage war through proxies. Large numbers of Iraqi soldiers melted away in the face of American firepower, and they took a lot of their weaponry with them. Those men would make great recruits for a terrorist sponsor. There's a lot of ordnance, weaponry, and stuff on the street in Iraq for a terrorist to buy. He wouldn't have to smuggle stuff in; he could probably buy it on the black market. On top of that, there's an abundance of American targets -- from well-protected American military bases to less-well protected contractors and relief organizations. Hitting Bechtel or Halliburton may not seem as sporting as hitting the 4th Infantry Division, but this enemy has never been one for chivalry.
The biggest reasons, however, are the large numbers of reporters inside Iraq and the amount of coverage that any such attack would receive. Nearly 30 years ago, terrorism expert Brian Jenkins
wrote that "terrorism is theater." Without an audience, terrorism is mere violence perpetrated in the name of a cause -- but without an effect to justify the effort. The violent act is a mere precursor to the act's effect on society at large. Media coverage gives terrorism its audience, and most contemporary terrorism is scripted with the media in mind. It's possible that Al Qaeda might hit American soldiers in another part of the world -- the motive, means and opportunity certainly exist. But the presence of the media in Iraq all but guarantees that such an attack will happen there.