Iraq Report: July 2004

by an anonymous defense analyst

Special to Defense and the National Interest.

Editor's note:  The following analysis was contributed by a distinguished defense analyst who lives in the Washington, DC area.  For a variety of reasons, primarily relating to the probability of continued employment, he or she wishes to remain anonymous.

1. A Civil War appears well under way and accelerating.

Severe fracturing along many lines: ideological (Ba'athist), ethnic (Kurds, Turkman), regional, religious (Shi'a and Sunni). Intensifying violence. Religious radicalization; for an account of this see:

Before the invasion, civil war was widely described as the worse case outcome by analysts such as Stratfor and as the most likely outcome by William Lind (and perhaps also Martin van Creveld, although I do not have a specific reference).

2. Significant progress by insurgents towards defeating the Coalition, as central control is replaced by chaos or rule by local elites.

  1. Coalition civilian personnel restricted to travel in a shrinking set of safe zones. By stopping the reconstruction in much of Iraq, this is a slow but potentially winning tactic by itself.

  2. Coalition military forces appear increasing reluctant to patrol, in effect retreating to safe areas. This is a slow-motion defeat in detail, a de facto abandonment of many rural areas, villages (esp. in central Iraq), and some urban areas.

  3. Increasing violence directed at locals working with the Coalition or the puppet government. Limited public information makes it difficult to know the impact of these attacks, but directionally a bad trend. (I believe Iraq’s Government is accurately described as a “puppet.” Having little indigenous support, it seems unlike to last a month following a Coalition withdrawal).

Public sources give little guidance as to the net impact of these trends. Given the initial destruction of government institutions and facilities followed by a 16 months of rising violence, the central governing machinery probably functions at a low level of effectiveness. Apparently no taxes are being collected, which lets us guess at the level of other services being provided.

Another major defeat for the Coalition is the development of de facto sanctuaries for insurgents, like Fallujah.

3. Important unknown: role of Iran

Logic suggests that Iran must be involved, but public sources provide little information about this. Iran can provide insurgents with funds, weapons, training, sanctuary, trained fighters, support services, and (to some degree) legitimacy. Powerful levers; difficult to imagine Iraq has not made use of at least some of these capabilities.

4. Dismantling the Coalition

Like the efforts to reduce Coalition support within Iraq, focused violence including kidnapping on Coalition forces is slowly reducing the number of participating members.

Nations withdrawing force from Iraq: Spain, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, Philippines.

Nations reducing the numbers in Iraq: Singapore, Moldova, Poland

Nations sending forces to Iraq: Kingdom of Tonga

Information from

5. Building a Iraq army to fight in Iraq

This is the key, as it has been for centuries in successful western colonies. The US has slight experience with this, and lacks the numbers required of people with the necessary language skills plus local knowledge and contacts. The Viet Nam experience suggests that 5-10 years may be required for their development. Men like John Paul Vann eventually helped build a functioning local army to replace US forces in Viet Nam, but too late.

There are positives to report, but comparatively trivial vs. the violence and its accomplishments. The Coalition is losing. Nor has it apparently developed the intelligence resources and successful tactics needed to recover its momentum.

Nor can Coalition forces maintain the present level of operations for long. Many US reservists will end their maximum deployments. Stop loss orders will expire. There are already some indications of recruitment and retention problems.

The real puzzle: US elites, including both major candidates for President, remain committed to the "staying the course" in Iraq. No matter where it leads.