Iraq’s violence is for Iraqis to tackle
In light of a series of attacks in Iraq at the end of November and the start of this month, there have been numerous warnings of an upsurge in violence in the country. Numerous media outlets have tied the incidents to the withdrawal of U.S. troops, which is expected to be complete by Christmas time.
However, the problem with such analysis is that there is an excessive tendency in mainstream media to look at very short-term fluctuations when it comes to examining incidents of violence in Iraq. The number of attacks can vary somewhat on a weekly basis, but now that the American military presence is in the process of being rapidly drawn down, media are simply paying more attention to militant strikes.
The reality is that if one looks at monthly statistics compiled by the Iraq Body Count project and the Iraqi ministries of Interior, Health and Defense, the average number of monthly deaths decreased in November compared with the previous month. Iraq Body Count showed a 17 percent decrease in fatalities between October and November, while the ministries showed a 28 percent decline. Given that insurgent attacks have generally followed a seasonal pattern whereby they decrease in frequency in winter owing to less favorable weather conditions for operations, these figures are not surprising.
Nonetheless, it is still worthwhile to analyze what changes there might be, if any, in the number of militant attacks the coming year. The two most common lines of argument do not stand up to scrutiny.
First, many have expressed concern that the insurgents will be emboldened by the absence of American troops. However, this reasoning ignores the fact that U.S. forces were withdrawn from Iraqi cities in June 2009, and since then their role has been very limited as regards daily security. Indeed, the Americans have faced numerous restrictions on their freedom of movement, and have only been called in occasionally to assist in counter-terrorism operations. Besides that, they have been involved in training Iraqi security forces.
Over the coming years, the role of training is likely to be taken on by private contractors from the United States and elsewhere. Even so, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is already contemplating the eventual return of American troops in a training capacity. As he put it in a recent meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden: “No doubt, the U.S. forces have a role in providing training of Iraqi forces.”
Another widespread argument, associated with those who have opposed the U.S. presence in Iraq, is that insurgent attacks will decline as militants no longer have an occupation force to fight. However, this view neglects the nature of the insurgency in Iraq today. The Sunni Arab community accepts that it lost the civil war with the Shiites for control over Baghdad in 2006-2007, and appreciates that it must adapt to the fact that Shiites are leading the political process. The remaining insurgents are either hard-line Islamists aiming to re-establish Iraq as the center of a dreamed-of caliphate (for instance the Islamic State of Iraq, the local branch of Al-Qaeda) or members of the Naqshibandia militant group linked to the banned Baath Party.