Friday, March 21, 2008

Precursors for an upswing in violence?

There have been a couple of reports in the past couple of days that suggest violence in Iraq could ramp up from the roughly 60 attacks per day (2005 levels) that was reported in January 2008, to higher levels again.  The first is from the Guardian and they offer a summary set of explanations as to why violence declined in the past eight months:
Improved security in Iraq in recent months has been attributed to a combination of the surge, the truce observed by Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army, and the effectiveness and commitment of the councils, which are drawn from Sunni Arabs and probably the most significant factor, according to most analysts.
The 'Concerned Local Citizens' are groups of Sunni Arab insrugents who the US military has bought off to fight against the other group of culturally insentive foreign fighters --- AQI.  Now buying out significant elements of an insurgency is not a bad idea, especially if that group has been seeking to retain autonomy and collect economic and security rent.  However if you plan on buying out your enemies, remember that you really are renting them and loyalty is only as good as the last payment received....

Leading members of the 80,000-strong Sahwa, or awakening, councils have said they will stop fighting unless payment of their $10 a day (£5) wage is resumed. The fighters are accusing the US military of using them to clear al-Qaida militants from dangerous areas and then abandoning them.

A telephone survey by GuardianFilms for Channel 4 News reveals that out of 49 Sahwa councils four with more than 1,400 men have already quit, 38 are threatening to go on strike and two already have.....

In Dora, a southern suburb of Baghdad, the leaders of a Sahwa group of 2,400 men said they were considering strike action because none of the 2,000 applicants they had put forward for jobs with the police and military had been accepted.

The Shia-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki has found jobs for only a handful of the Sahwa fighters.

These groups can allow a significant escalation of violence by doing nothing and taking no risks other than that of losing their patience playing cards.  If the CLCs do nothing and allow for other insurgency groups to operate unfettered and officially unobserved, violence will increase on the first order and then the second order as retaliation attacks will occur.  Violence could further spike if the CLCs re-engage in active combat operations with their improved social cohesion, larger group sizes and better equipped fighters. 
The other major potentially sustainable factor of a decraese in violence has been the Mahdi Army (JAM) ceasefire. During the first six months of the ceasefire, a partial purge was conducted by the Sadrists aganist less reliable/loyal units who were still sticking their heads up when they should have been consolidating their gains.  JAM groups and fighters were and are being targetted by SIIC and US forces and had been told not to aggressively fight back.  Even with the extension of the ceasefire, self-defense against raids has become more tolerated.  Large scale JAM v. Iraqi Army/SIIC formations are occurring as reported by the AP:

The fighting in the city of Kut broke out after factions of the Mahdi Army militia attacked checkpoints around the city amid a crackdown by Iraqi troops.

A joint U.S.-Iraqi operation also targeted a Shiite militia stronghold in the volatile city of Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad, and at least 12 suspected fighters were detained, local police said. The U.S. military had no immediate comment.
Furthermore, fighting is escalating in Basra as 17 border guards were killed in the past couple of days.  It could be an indication of economic crimes (smuggling makes up a decent chunk of Basra's economy), or a power struggle between the dominant Fadillah-Sadrist alliance and SIIC...
These are trends to keep an eye on. 

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