The American effort in Iraq may be locked in a "vicious circle," according to a new report that surveys Iraqi public opinion data and interviews with Iraqis. The report, released on Wednesday by the Project on Defense Alternatives, concludes that U.S. military actions meant to quell the insurgency have increased its recruiting base.
"A paradox haunts our counterinsurgency effort," says the report’s author, Carl Conetta. "U.S. forces have succeeded tactically again and again, but insurgent activity remains four- or five-times as great as it was in early summer 2003," he explains. The report seeks clues in Iraqi opinions about the occupation, how they vary, and what influences them. "Public discontent is the medium in which the insurgents swim," says Conetta, "and without it, they could not persist."
Strong majorities in the Sunni and Shi’ite community oppose the occupation and significant minorities have registered support for attacks on U.S. troops. "What drives these attitudes more than anything else," says Conetta, "are nationalism, the coercive practices of the occupation, and the collateral effects of military operations."
According to one poll reviewed in the study, 22 percent of Iraqi families have suffered serious effects of violence since the war began. The report finds a correlation between Iraqis’ experiences of violence, negative appraisals of U.S. troops, and support for insurgent attacks. Moreover, the pattern of coalition military activity corresponds with variations in these attitudes, which peak in Sunni areas and Baghdad.
Reviewing postwar U.S. military activity, the report estimates that as much as 80 percent has focused on Baghdad and Sunni areas. "Initially these operations aimed only to assert coalition control in tribal areas, apprehend former regime leaders, and locate their possible supporters," said Conetta. "But a series of mistaken and overzealous engagements in summer 2003 involving Iraqi tribes, police, and former military personnel may have pushed the insurgency over the tipping point."
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