Despite attacks, Iraqis resist sectarian reprisals
Stars and Stripes August 12, 2009
ARLINGTON, Va. — The number of insurgent attacks has declined in Mosul and across northern Iraq since the June 30 pullout of U.S. combat troops from Iraq’s cities.
In their place, waning but persistent insurgent networks led by al-Qaida in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq have shifted to carrying out larger and more deadly attacks designed to entice sectarian reprisals by targeting local citizens, mainly Shiites, and Iraqi security forces, according to Maj. Gen. Robert Calsen, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq. On Monday, for example, a double-truck bombing near Mosul killed at least 34 people.
But unlike in years past, Shiite leaders are not taking the bait.
Calsen briefed Pentagon reporters via satellite from Tikrit on Tuesday, noting that insurgents have increased their “high-profile” attacks, a Defense Department euphemism for events such as car bombings and suicide bombings.
“So what we’re doing right now is we’ll talk to the leadership of who was attacked, and then we’ll put together the necessary plan to work with the Iraqi security forces to go after who conducted that attack ... in order to continue to break that cycle of violence,” said Calsen.
Iraqi military and police forces, which number roughly 156,000 in the region, have responded by going after the support systems behind the bombers.
“What we are finding is the Iraqi security forces, with some hiccups, are able to maintain the pressure on the networks,” he said. “You’re not going to get this tremendous resurgence of sectarian counter-activity that you saw back in 2006 and 2007.”
Attacks in Calsen’s region, he said, are down from 42 to 29 per week since June 30.
It is too soon to gauge if Iraqi security forces alone will be able to keep the lid on violence, Calsen said, but he is optimistic. He points to the reduced number of attacks and intelligence reports that say some insurgent networks have been broken or have run into financial difficulties since June 30.
“And in the end, I think what you’ll end up having is an irreconcilable remnant of criminals,” he said. “It’s clear that the population in Mosul does not share in their ideology, and these criminals will be treated — once you get a competent police force — they will be treated no differently than they are in any other major city, like New York City or London or any place like that.”
But Calsen said Monday’s attack demonstrates that “gains in security, economics and governance remain fragile.”