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Counterinsurgency and Complexity

Not only is the news of 27 dead and around a hundred wounded in a triple car bomb attack in Iraq that ranks as the deadliest in months a tragic turn in its own terms, but the apparent cause and location of the attacks highlights the extreme complexity of the situation: "At least 27 people died and about 100 were wounded Wednesday when three car bombs ripped through a southern Iraqi city where rival Shiite groups have been battling for control of oil and power."

George Packer reported the other day about a conversation with two of the soldiers who penned this brave August 2007 op-ed. According to Packer, "They hope to write, with other soldiers, a book about counterinsurgency that would examine the Army’s new field manual against their experience fighting the complex array of warring factions in Iraq—not to refute it but to improve it."

One point that keeps striking me in this regard is that the counterinsurgency manual mostly contemplates a much simpler dynamic than the one in Iraq: a government challenged by an insurgency, with a population stuck in the middle. The task is to judiciously apply military, political, and economic levers to ensure that the government wins the loyalty of the public, and then squeeze the remaining isolated insurgents. Iraq appears to be like that in some places and on a local scale, but it doesn't correctly describe the overall dynamic -- the sundry local conflicts don't "add up" to one insurgency challenging one legitimately constituted authority. I know the folks running MNF-Iraq realize this, and think they've come up with an answer to it, but it seems to me that the differences between this kind of situation and the kind of textbook insurgency that the field manual deals with are extremely large and quite significant, whereas the official plan to cope with these challenges involves a large degree of hand-waving and wishing-for-the-best.