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Geopolitical Diary Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Three processes are under way in Iraq. First, Sunni insurgents are waging
the fourth major, sustained offensive since the fall of Baghdad. Second, the
Iraqi government is issuing detailed information about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Finally, the United States has launched a counterattack against the
insurgents. There are signs that the situation is coming to a head -- or at
least, that this phase of the situation is getting there.

Prior to the current phase of insurgent operations, there was the
offensive of fall 2003, the offensive of spring 2004, and the pre-election
offensive. Each of these represented an intensification of operations. It is
true, if you look simply at the count of individual incidents, that the flow
of battle seems steady. But individual incidents tell you nothing about the
magnitude of the attacks or the capabilities displayed. Nor do they tell you
about the political purposes of the actors.

In that sense, the current offensive represents a distinct phase in the war.
The guerrillas are mounting more sophisticated attacks than in the past --
albeit fewer -- but the political purpose of the offensive is clear-cut. It
is directed partly against the Iraqi government and partly against the Sunni
leadership. The guerrillas want to force the Sunni leaders to remain in
opposition to the new government. The campaign of violence is designed to
show them what might happen to them if they participate in the new political

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government began releasing information Monday on who
was behind the guerrillas financially. Reuters quoted President Jalal
Talabani as saying that al-Zarqawi's funding came from al Qaeda, as well as
from Wahhabis in unnamed countries -- clearly, Saudi Arabia. Talabani, a
Kurd, also asserted that al-Zarqawi is isolated and poses no real threat to
the government. Other Iraqi ministers echoed a similar line.

This sudden flow of information obviously originated with U.S. intelligence.
It was designed to rattle al-Zarqawi and his followers by revealing how much
is known about them, and also asserted that they are isolated. Obviously,
that assertion by itself achieves nothing. However, coupled with a major
U.S. offensive that appears to have captured a large number of guerrillas
and possibly some senior leaders, the message is clear U.S. intelligence
has penetrated al-Zarqawi's ranks and is breaking the offensive.

At least, that is the perception the Americans are trying to deliver.
Whether it is true or not is another matter. Several times in the past, it
has appeared that the guerrillas' security system had been broken. Several
times in the past, the guerrillas managed to repair the breaches and move
on -- sometimes more intensely than before. Breaching the security system
and breaching it in such a way as to make it irreparable are two different

The primary audience for all of this is the same as for the guerrillas Both
the insurgents and the United States are fighting for the minds of the Sunni
elders and for the Iraqi government. The elders are the chief battleground.
The Iraqi government is secure (although individual members of it may not
be); it is the Sunni leadership that is up for grabs. And that is bad news
for the guerrillas. If they win the Sunni leadership, they do not win the
war -- they simply get the chance to continue fighting. But if they lose the
Sunni leadership, they lose the war. Therefore, the guerrillas are in much
the same position as the United States was in Vietnam They cannot win, but
they can lose. That is a bad basis for any war.

The war will not end for a long time, but it is not clear whether this
offensive can be sustained or whether this level of violence can be
sustained. Strange to say, the underlying reality improves, even as the
surface situation deteriorates.