The Magazine

Blueprint for Victory

For democracy to thrive in Iraq, the Sunnis must know they are defeated.

Oct 31, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 07 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
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THE NATURE OF THE CONFLICT in Iraq has shifted over the past 30 months. A basic assumption of the war plan executed in March and April 2003, and of the counterinsurgency campaign waged since then, was that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis would welcome the establishment of democracy in their country. And although a majority of Iraqis clearly do welcome democracy, there is an important complication. The most significant challenge the coalition faces in Iraq today is the fact that the Sunni-Arab community is in large part unwilling to accept the consequences of democracy, and has not yet reconciled itself to the loss of its dominant position in the country. U.S. military strategy has largely ignored this problem so far. Victory in Iraq thus requires a refocusing of coalition military efforts against this central challenge.

The coalition counterinsurgency effort has focused on three major military objectives. Between April and December 2003, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) concentrated on finding Saddam Hussein and his two criminal sons, Uday and Qusay, and on breaking the Saddamist insurgency. The deaths of Uday and Qusay in July and the capture of Saddam in December 2003 largely achieved this goal.

The second objective emerged starkly with the capture of a letter from Abu Musab al Zarqawi to Osama bin Laden in February 2004. Coalition forces thereafter began to focus primarily on "jihadists" and "foreign fighters" who were thought to be masterminding the terrorism campaign in Iraq. During the first half of 2004, coalition forces took the lead in this campaign because Iraqi military and police units were for the most part incapable of doing so.

The third objective is the transfer of responsibility for Iraqi security to the Iraqis themselves as rapidly as possible. This objective was prominent in the initial war plan, but received new attention in mid-2004, with the transfer of sovereignty to the interim government headed by Ayad Allawi and the refocusing of coalition strategy on training Iraqi soldiers to take the lead in the counterinsurgency. In accord with this emphasis, coalition forces have moved away from the centers of Iraqi cities and towns and worked to put increasing numbers of Iraqi troops on the front lines instead. This objective has apparently been predominant in coalition strategy.

These three objectives have interacted with one another since the fall of Baghdad. The goal of getting coalition troops away from the front lines and replacing them with Iraqis has been a consistent CENTCOM aim since June 2003. The focus on Zarqawi and the problem of foreign fighters and jihadists has remained largely unchanged since February 2004. There have been notable exceptions to the doctrine of removing coalition forces from the front lines, particularly in the battles of Falluja of April and November 2004, and in Tal Afar in September of 2004 and 2005. Generally speaking, however, these three goals have defined the operational patterns of the U.S. military in Iraq. (CENTCOM officials would point out that the command has also been pursuing many other "lines of operation," as it calls them, including humanitarian relief and support for the political process, and so on. These undertakings, although critical to the overall success of the counterinsurgency, fall outside the realm of military strategy proper, and so are not considered here.)

There is no question that accomplishing these three objectives is essential to success in Iraq. The question is whether it is sufficient.

Objective I: fighting Saddam

THE UNITED STATES invaded Iraq in March 2003 and captured Baghdad in early April, ending major combat operations. Before the war, Saddam Hussein had created the Fedayeen Saddam, a large group of unconventional warriors trained, equipped, and supplied to conduct guerrilla-style attacks on advancing U.S. forces during the war, and to continue a guerrilla struggle on behalf of their deposed leader after the end of major combat operations.

The activities of the Fedayeen Saddam first attracted the attention of American commanders and civilian leaders during the war. The continuation of guerrilla attacks after the fall of Baghdad seemed to be an obvious and natural extension of those tactics, now carried on by "bitter-enders," "Baathists," and "former regime elements," as the military called them. U.S. military strategy therefore focused on convincing these recalcitrant Saddamists that Saddam would not be returning to power--and bent every effort to finding Saddam and his sons as the linchpin of this strategy. This view of the problem seemed to be vindicated following the killing of Uday and Qusay on July 22, 2003, and the capture of Saddam himself a few months later.