Jewish World Review April 9, 2004 / 19 Nissan, 5764

Stratfor Intelligence Brief by
George Friedman

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There are reasons for optimism despite war's downturn | From reading the headlines, one would assume that the American military position in Iraq was deteriorating beyond the point of recovery. There is no denying that in the short term the situation is deteriorating, but it is far from clear that it is unrecoverable. War is complicated and things are not always as they seem.

There are two substantial doses of bad news for the United States in Iraq. The first is that the secular Iraqi guerrillas, whose roots are in the Baathist party, seem to have come back to life after their defeat in the Ramadan offensive last November.

hey have clearly reorganized themselves in the area west of Baghdad - a key stronghold - and are now engaging U.S. forces in the area. This is a surprise and an unpleasant one.

The second dose comes from the Shiite regions, where the militia of Muqtada Sadr has struck out against the United States. This is the first time that a substantial military confrontation has taken place between U.S. and Shiite forces of any faction, and it changes one of the primary premises of the war, which is that the Shiites will not rise against the United States.

But one must not take either of these reversals farther than they should go. First, there has not been a general rising of the Shiites, but rather of only one faction, and a small minority at that.

Sadr is far from the mainstream of Shiites. In fact, he is an adversary of the most powerful Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. It is more reasonable to see Sadr's attack on the Americans as a last-ditch effort to avoid his destruction by Sistani than simply as an attack against the Americans. The majority of Shiites remain with Sistani. The attack was an attempt to rally Shiites to Sadr before he was crushed by internal politics. It doesn't seem to have worked.

The reemergence of the Baathist guerrillas is certainly bad news, but here, too, a pattern is emerging. A similar offensive took place in October-November 2003, when the guerrillas threw everything they had against the Americans. The situation seemed worse than it was, as the assault not only used up scarce resources for the guerrillas, but also exposed them to U.S. counteraction. The net result was a massive defeat for the guerrillas, in spite of the appearance that it was the U.S. that was on the defensive.

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The guerilla's strategic problem - one common to all guerrilla movements - is that the more they recruit, the more likely they are to be penetrated by enemy intelligence. If they don't recruit, they don't have needed reserves to engage in extended combat. This means that a secure guerrilla force that gets caught in a pitched battle has a serious problem. The Baathists are certainly secure - and that limits their fighting power. We saw this in the fall offensive and we expect to see it again.

The United States' problems are both military and political. The military problem is to figure out how the Baathist guerrillas are regrouping and take action against them. It has been about four months since this faction has carried out actions on this scope. U.S. intelligence clearly failed to track their reorganization - not a criticism of intelligence, as this is tough to do. Still, the U.S. is going to have to improve its intelligence of the guerrillas during their downtime.

The political problem is making certain that U.S. relations with Sistani are as strong as possible. The simple fact is that the political foundation of American strategy is the relationship it has with the Shiite leadership in Iraq, and frankly, with the Iranian leadership as well.

One school of thought holds that Sistani is actually quite happy to see Sadr show his stuff, as it increases U.S. dependence on the Shiites. There is no use kidding ourselves on that score. If Sistani were to go after the United States, the American position in Iraq would become extraordinarily difficult, if not untenable. Keeping Sistani happy is a political and military imperative.

That said, the situation at this point is not nearly as catastrophic as is being portrayed. Indeed, embedded in the complexities are some real solutions and, indeed, the likelihood of stabilization. It is far from hopeless, but it is certainly complicated. Americans will have to get used to very complicated situations.

George Friedman is president of Strategic Forecasting, Inc., one of the world's leading global intelligence firms, providing clients with geopolitical analysis and industry and country forecasts to mitigate risk and identify opportunities. Stratfor's clients include Fortune 500 companies and major government. Comment by clicking here.


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