Just two weeks from Iraq’s general elections that decide who will sit on the 275-member national assembly, Baghdad’s course toward that end grows more perilous each day. Attacks on U.S. forces have grown deadlier; ambushes of Iraq’s budding security forces are increasingly successful; the marginal stability that presently exists is being further threatened by the lethal insurgent targeting of politicians and government figures; intelligence reports show that the insurgency is growing stronger with each passing day. The electoral quest has proven to be so messy that it is difficult to conclude that the elections will bring enough peace and stability to alter significantly the present dynamic in Iraq.
Attacks on U.S. Troops and Iraqi Security Forces
Since the beginning of the insurgency in 2003, attacks on U.S. forces have swelled, increasing in deadliness and effectiveness. Each day, attacks are initiated throughout the country, highlighting its instability. On January 3, a suicide car bomber drove his vehicle into a checkpoint near the Baghdad offices of Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s political party, the Iraqi National Accord. Hours later, another explosion brought casualties at a checkpoint entrance to the Green Zone, the most heavily fortified area of Iraq containing the headquarters of the Iraqi government and the U.S. embassy.
Just a few days later, on January 6, a suicide car bomber exploded his vehicle outside a police academy near Baghdad during its graduation ceremony, killing 20; that same day, a suicide attacker killed five policemen, and insurgents also assassinated a police colonel on his way to work. The following day, a roadside bomb took the lives of seven American soldiers. On January 10, Baghdad’s deputy police chief, General Amer Ali Nayef, was gunned down outside of his home.
In the midst of these incidents, executed bodies of Iraqis have been turning up all around the country, with one recent discovery in Mosul where the bodies of 18 civilians were discovered, executed because they sought work at an American military base. That same day, three Jordanian truck drivers were found near Ramadi, executed and left with a note attached to their bodies, warning, “This is the fate of anyone who cooperates with the Americans.”
Without a clear enemy to fight, U.S. forces have been thrust into a situation where they are targeted by unseen enemies who use explosives to strike at U.S. convoys covertly. When these enemies are seen, it is often during a suicide mission where an insurgent drives a car bomb into a U.S. checkpoint. These attacks are not meant to cast serious blows on the U.S. occupation, but are intended to erode slowly the resolve of the Americans.
Along with the targeting of American soldiers, the killings of Iraqi security forces continue to take a toll on those Iraqis fighting on the side of American troops. According to Iraq’s Interior Ministry, more than 1300 policemen were killed during the last four months of 2004. These soldiers have become easy targets for Iraqi guerrilla groups that realize one of Washington’s central aims in the country is to create viable, indigenous security forces; when compared with U.S. forces, these units are often easier to kill and to defeat due to their questionable dedication and substandard training.
Iraqi security forces have fallen prey to many different methods of attack, from suicide car bombings to mass executions by insurgent forces. Just recently, insurgents practiced a modified method of attack and packed a beheaded corpse with explosives, blowing apart the policeman who arrived to investigate the scene. Indeed, in November, insurgents attacked police and national guard units in Mosul, successfully taking control of certain parts of the city. Because of these gains, U.S. forces have now been assigned to every police station in Mosul in order to prevent another situation where Iraqi security forces desert when attacked by insurgents.
Insurgency Creates Heightened Level of Instability
The surging attacks by guerrillas in the last months are part of a strategy to create massive instability throughout Iraq in an effort to prevent or discredit the January 30 general elections. The other element of the insurgent strategy is the targeting and killing of politicians and government figures participating or working with U.S. forces. A series of assassinations and assassination attempts have made the prospect of participating in the U.S.-fostered political process extremely risky, a reality that grows more and more precarious with each passing day.
For instance, on January 4, the governor of Baghdad province — Ali al-Haidari — while traveling in a three-vehicle convoy in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Hurriyah, was assassinated by insurgents. The murder of al-Haidari is significant since he is the most senior figure to be assassinated by insurgents since the killing of the former president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Abdel-Zahraa Othman, in May 2004.
The assassination of al-Haidari accentuates the ability of insurgents to launch carefully planned, strategic attacks aimed at crippling the political process. Furthermore, the assassination of such a significant figure speaks to the ability of the insurgency to receive inside information provided by members of the Iraqi security forces. The head of the Baghdad division of the Iraqi National Guard, Major General Mudhir Abood, told reporters that members of his paramilitary police force have leaked classified information to insurgent groups.
This type of behavior is a trend that is often observed when outside powers attempt to build indigenous security forces in a country facing an insurgency. It was best witnessed during the U.S. intervention in Vietnam, when U.S.-trained members of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (A.R.V.N.) supplied both classified information and military equipment to the insurgent forces that made up the Viet Cong.
In addition to attacks on Iraqi politicians, insurgents have also attempted to exploit the sectarian rifts within Islam. Attacks against Shi’a power groups participating in the upcoming elections have been pervasive; the motives behind these attacks lie in the interests of the Sunni Arab minority who aim to prevent Iraqi Shi’a from using their majority status in the country to consolidate political power in the upcoming elections. Assassination attempts against Shi’a political leaders occur frequently, such as the December 27 Baghdad car bombing directed at the offices of Shi’a leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the most prominent Shi’a political parties. More recently, on January 12, gunmen killed Sheik Mahmoud Finjan, a representative of Shi’a leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.