Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Zarqawi windfall

Putting aside the usual caveats that "body count" is not a good way to measure success, the death of Zarqawi has given U.S. and Iraqi troops at least a temporary edge against insurgents.

American and Iraqi forces have carried out 452 raids since the June 7 airstrike on al-Zarqawi, and 104 insurgents were killed in those actions, said U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell.

The nationwide raids led to the discovery of 28 significant arms caches, Caldwell said.

He said 255 of the raids were joint operations, while 143 were carried out by Iraqi forces alone. The raids also resulted in the captures of 759 "anti-Iraqi elements."

A lot of the raids were apparently based on documents found in the ruins of Zarqawi's safe house, as well as information gathered but not acted on during the hunt for Zarqawi.

That's good news, tactically speaking. At the very least Zarqawi's group will be off-balance for a while as they try to reorganize. Whether it translates into a strategic advantage depends on how deep a blow these raids represent.

The more explosive news might be the discovery of a document that appears to show the insurgency is weakening.

The document said the insurgency was being hurt by, among other things, the U.S. military's program to train Iraqi security forces, by massive arrests and seizures of weapons, by tightening the militants' financial outlets, and by creating divisions within its ranks....

According to the summary, insurgents were being weakened by operations against them and by their failure to attract recruits. To give new impetus to the insurgency, they would have to change tactics, it added.

There's no independent verification of the document's veracity. Criticism has focused on two things: how closely the document mirrors U.S./Iraqi talking points, and the absence of typical resistance language.

The language contained in the document was different from the vocabulary used by al-Qaida statements posted on the Web. For example, it does not refer to the Americans as "Crusaders" nor use the term "rejectionists" to allude to Shiites.

Much of what is in the statement from al-Rubaie echoes results that the U.S. military and the Iraqi government say they are seeking. It also appears to reinforce American and Iraqi arguments that al-Qaida in Iraq and its operatives are a group of imported extremists bent on killing innocent civilians.

The fact that it was the Iraqi government, not the American military, that released the document also raises a flag. I don't think the Pentagon would outright fabricate a document like this; I'm not so sure the Iraqi government has such qualms.

So for now I wait for further analysis and verification. The full text of the document is here.

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