December 8, 2005

Hardball: American withdrawal and the insurgency

From MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews

American withdrawal and the insurgency

Lt. Colonel Rick Francona
MSNBC Military Analyst

As the debate over the war in Iraq continues to heat up, several Congressmen, Senators and even former military officers are calling for an American troop withdrawal, claiming that the presence of U.S. forces in the country that fuels the insurgency; withdraw the troops and the insurgency will end or significantly decrease. After all, without foreign forces in the country, there is no need for an insurgency.

That might make sense if we were dealing with a united Iraqi nationalist or resistance movement. The reality on the ground on Iraq is quite different -- the insurgency in Iraq is not a monolithic or even unified group. Many are trying to draw parallels between Iraq and Vietnam, but the two situations are markedly different. In Vietnam, you had the Viet Cong backed by the North Vietnamese army. They were allied and united in the same cause -- their goal was the same. They had a common vision for the country after the exit of the Americans. This is not the case in Iraq.

The insurgency in Iraq comprises disparate elements, each with its own goals and tactics. These elements may have a temporary alliance with each other -- the Middle Eastern adage "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" comes to mind - but in the end, their goals are incompatible. Do they all want the Americans/coalition forces to leave? Absolutely. Once they are gone, will the elements of the insurgency then together work out the future of Iraq? Doubtful. If they are successful and cause the Americans to leave, then they will have to deal with each other's opposing positions. However, their joint immediate goal is to cause an American withdrawal.

The calls for American withdrawal vary from just leaving, to a timetable, to redeployment of the forces to neighboring countries, or a combination thereof. In any case, the result will be the same - handing a victory to the insurgents. All of these options involve ceding territory to the enemy. That will be regarded not only as a victory for the insurgency, but an affirmation of their belief that Americans will not continue in the face of continuing casualties. That perception will last a long time and may impact future U.S. operations in the region and around the world.

After the withdrawal, the real power struggle in Iraq will begin. The two major elements of the insurgency are the former regime elements and the foreign fighters of Al-Qa'idah Ar-Rafidayn, the Al-Qa'idah affiliated group led by Abu Mus'ab Az-Zarqawi. Both want the Americans (and coalition) out of Iraq, but for different reasons. The former regime elements, the Sunnis who were driven from power by the American-led invasion of 2003, want to reassert their control over the country, to regain what they believe their rightful position. Withdrawal of American troops will not lessen their attacks. They will refocus their efforts on the new Iraqi government, a government they regard as illegitimate and composed of Shi'a and Kurds that mean to keep them from exercising the power they once did. The level of violence will likely increase with the removal of American forces, not decrease.

The Az-Zarqawi group, however, is not interested in the reinstatement of the secular, socialist Ba'th regime. They have been vocal in their calls for the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic state, a caliphate somewhat akin to the former Taliban state in Afghanistan. Should American forces withdraw, the Az-Zarqawi group will increase their attacks on the new Iraqi government, and likely continue their attacks on the Shi'a as well. Az-Zarqawi has stated he will attack American forces elsewhere in the region. Moving them to Kuwait, as suggested by at least one retired general, is not a solution. Hunting down and killing the insurgents is.

It is the presence of American forces that prevents the insurgency from turning into an outright civil war. The departure of those forces will trigger a bloodbath.