December 29, 2010

The Ends of Iraq’s Insurgency

Far away in their plush offices, comfy apartments, and mansions, some 7,000 miles from Baghdad, U.S. officials have consistently painted a stable Iraq in 2010.

With an impending deadline for U.S. troops and Iraq’s political gridlock enabling a new campaign amongst insurgents, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden hailed the country’s strides towards democracy and prosperity. As hundreds of civilians and Iraqi security forces falling victim to war in May, June, July, and August, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs declared that Iraq was enjoying its lowest level of violence on record.

This dichotomy is both truthful and sickly perverted.

Thankfully the bloodbaths of 2006 and 2007, when hundreds of civilians could die on any given day, have subsided. However, their gross inhumanity also makes any other year appear livable even when it may not be. Call it the Saddam theory: the present beats anything that came before. But that thinking offers little respite to those suffering in the present. While Iraq’s casualties have stabilized compared to its darkest days, many Iraqis complain that social services have also regressed. Baghdad remains haunted by militias.

Although Iraq’s new government may alleviate some of these concerns, life is still unbearably hard for too many people. Iraq Body Count prefaces its 2010 summary, “For those who have lost loved ones in 2010, there is no sense in which the year can represent an ‘improvement’ on 2009.”

IBC’s 2010 review doesn’t necessarily contribute anything new to the war’s history. Its biggest “news” comes in the form of 15,000 to 23,000 unknown deaths added by WikiLeaks, raising IBC’s total above 108,000 civilian casualties. Considering that U.S. estimates lowball Iraqi and international figures, Washington seems concerned with its cover-ups first, U.S. soldiers second. But who didn’t know that?

IBC does, however, generate a question U.S. official have no answer for: how long will Iraq’s insurgency persist?

According to the IBC’s 2009 analysis, the group reached a tentative conclusion that “the situation is no longer improving.” Though Iraq has stabilized relative to 2006, IBC claims its “somber observation is largely borne out by 2010’s data,” and thus expects, “a persistent low-level conflict in Iraq that will continue to kill civilians at a similar rate for years to come.”

Many observers already realize this tragic fact, yet few can accurately predict when Iraq’s insurgency will finally run out of steam. No answer can be given at once, leaving the possibilities to be explored over next year. But four scenarios briefly surmise the main possibilities:

Insurgents fight until all U.S. troops withdraw in December 2011 - 0%

IBC’s figures register 80% of 2009 and 2010 attacks as “unknown” perpetrators, demonstrating the enigmatic nature of Iraq’s insurgency. al-Qaeda remains a key driver, as do Sunni and Shia criminal gangs, Iranian-supported Shia networks, independent foreign agents, and neutral detractors of the government. IBC hopefully remarks that deaths after “the end of combat missions” in August 2010 (273) gave way to an immediate halving of civilian deaths in September (130), with lower levels continuing into December (99).

But it’s probable that Iraq’s insurgency fell off to regroup after peaking in August. Next summer will undergo a similar cycle. Most insurgents have just as much stake in a post-U.S. Iraq, thus only a limited number of fighters are likely to consider their mission over with the last U.S. troop gone. Which leads to...

Insurgents fight for three to five more years - 60%

Modern insurgencies last a decade on average. Some, as Afghanistan and Somalia demonstrate, stretch three or four times longer, a trend that appears to be increasing in the 21st century. Three years would set Iraq on par, yet the insurgency’s resiliency and Iraq’s chronic woes suggest a longer time frame. Obviously this outcome is determined by Iraq’s political and economic progress, and the state is leaps ahead of Afghanistan or Somalia. A relatively successful four years could lock Iraq on track towards stability. Another few years like 2010 and the insurgency could drift to...

Insurgents fight past 2015 to 2020 - 30%

Although Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has finally put his foot down on an extension to U.S. forces, it remains to be seen whether he follows through. A solid year of governance is mandatory. Many of Iraqi commanders have floated 2020 until their security forces are fully independent, a possible ploy for aid that happens to be tinged with realism. It’s difficult to imagine hundreds of Iraqi casualties into 2015 let alone 2020 - that, surely, would reach Saddam’s level. But insurgencies are resilient by nature, and the wrong political moves in Iraq could send it past 2015, down 2020’s way to join Afghanistan...

Fighting beyond 2020 - 10%

Perhaps the least realistic scenario, it’s also disturbingly possible for one reason. Were Iraq to remain destabilized past 2020, this suggests a permanent level of insurgency and criminality connected to the Gulf’s overall status. A destabilized Iraq post-2020 would power itself on a destabilized Middle East.

For Iraq to rid itself completely of its insurgency it needs the entire region to stabilize - Israel and Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. One can hope, but that won’t be enough by itself. The whole region must adequately address its political, economic, and demographic issues in the next decade, otherwise Iraqis may still find themselves caught in a steady insurgency in 2023.

Of course any strike on Iran will create unforeseen disturbances in Iraq’s time-line. Maybe 10% is too low after all.


  1. Iran and Saudi Arabia will have to come together on this one.
    The possibility of a Free Kurdistan still sits on the the horizon.
    All Muslims will have to sooner or later decide.
    Are they Muslim, or are they Shia, or Sunni.

    I still believe the West is using this as a divide and conquer tool.

  2. A truce between Iran and Saudi Arabia is vital to real peace in Iraq. Much of the Middle East is now revolving around their feud. Unfortunately America's short-term interest lies in holding that rift open rather than sowing it up.