The Storm Before the Calm Before the Storm Before the Calm

On Monday, Michael Yon wrote in the NY Daily News that the growing number of U.S. casualties in Iraq, along with the civil war between al-Maliki’s Shiites and al-Sadr’s Shiites, are a sign of progress. Yon also repeated one of the right’s major talking points about the surge: that it succeeded because Iraqis decided that their real enemy was Al Qaeda rather than U.S. troops, and joined forces with the Americans to defeat their common enemy.

Arguing against this appealing narrative is the fact that in the past three and a half weeks, nine U.S. servicemen have died in Anbar — and almost a quarter of all U.S. combat deaths in Iraq in the past month have occurred in Anbar (emphasis mine).

For months now, supporters of the war in Iraq have trumpeted America’s apparent success in Iraq’s Anbar Province as a model for counterinsurgency operations. With major fighting in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Qaim in the past, what had once been the most violent region of Iraq had–by the fall of 2007–become one of the most peaceful areas of the country.

It stayed that way until recently. When a yet-to-be-named U.S. soldier was killed while on patrol in Anbar on Tuesday, he became the ninth American to die there in the past three and a half weeks. This is neither random nor insignificant.

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To be certain, people don’t plant IEDs randomly. Planting roadside bombs in the first place is incredibly risky, and insurgents don’t take the issue lightly. Thus, when IEDs and VBIEDs (car bombs) suddenly start going off west of Baghdad again, it’s for a reason.

While I do not profess to know exactly what change in the political climate precipitated this specific spike in violence, I do know that General Petraeus was correct when he said that the placidity in Anbar Province was reversible. What most have failed to realize thus far is that, while al Qaeda is deeply unpopular in Anbar, U.S. forces are equally despised. So it seems that those who’ve repeatedly used Anbar’s relative peacefulness as a sign of impending U.S. success in Iraq know little about counterinsurgency and less about Iraq.

So when Yon tells us that this is “the storm before the calm,” he’s got it only half right, because the calm after the storm is just the calm before the next storm:

Success in Iraq is something that will be brought about by Iraqis–not the American military. As long as we’re there, the best we can hope for is extreme violence broken by periodic lulls–such as what we’ve witnessed in Anbar over the past seven months. As long we remain in Iraq, the violence will remain cyclical. It will rise and fall, contingent on the latest deal we’ve cut with tribal leaders or the latest deal that someone has brokered within the Iraqi government. But our military will never completely solve this inherently Iraqi problem. We’re watching that unfortunate fact unfold before us in Anbar this month.

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