Yesterday, nine paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were killed in a suicide truck bombing in Iraq's Diyala province. Diyala, which is northeast of Baghdad and extends to the Iranian border, is a volatile mix of Sunni, Shia and Kurds and has been the scene of considerable fighting and bloodshed for the past 4 years.
In the October 2005 vote on the Iraqi constitution, the citizens of Diyala split right down the middle with 51% voting in favor and 49% voting against. Unsurprisingly, the vote almost exactly mirrors the deep sectarian divisions in Diyala: about half of its residents are Sunni, a third Shiite, and the remainder are mostly Kurdish. Sunnis predominate in the east closer to Baghdad and in the major city of Baquba, Shiites predominate in the middle of the province while the Kurds inhabit the areas close to the Iranian border.
An important contributing factor in the chaos and violence prevalent in Diyala was the Sunni boycott of the deeply flawed elections of 2005. That boycott left the Sunnis significantly underrepresented in Diyala's provincial councils and has allowed Shiite politicians to dominate. These problems have been exacerbated by the incompetent central government in Baghdad:
Iraq's Shiite-dominated government appointed a provincial commander who U.S. military officials say was handpicked by the Badr organization, a Shiite militia implicated in hundreds of death-squad killings in Baghdad. The Badr militia is linked to Iraq's largest Shiite political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Under orders from the Iraqi Ground Forces Command in Baghdad this fall, the commander, Brig. Gen. Shakir Hulail Hussein Kaabi, and his 5th Iraqi Division started a campaign of what U.S. officials describe as abusive raids and detentions.
And guess which sect the victims of those raids and detentions belonged to? The Sunnis, of course.
So we can now see how two important "turning points" heavily lauded by the administration, the vote on the Iraqi constitution and the elections of 2005, have instead contributed mightily to the continuously escalating violence in Diyala province. It now appears that a third significant "turning point" mistakenly referred to as "the surge" is having a similar effect. Since November, 56 U.S. service members have been killed in Diyala as reported by PBS. Here's what Army Captain Phillip Carter, an operations officer for a task force that advised Iraqi police in Baquba from October 2005 to September 2006 has to say about the deadly attack on the 82nd Airborne:
Well, it looks like this is the unintended consequence of the surge. That is, you squeeze the bad guys out of Baghdad, and they pop like a water balloon up into the Diyala province, which borders Baghdad.
As I predicted when this "surge" began, the only tangible effect of increasing our presence in Baghdad would be to shift the violence to other parts of the country. As is their modus operandi, the insurgents avoid direct combat with US forces whenever possible and seek to congregate in areas where the concentration of US forces is the lightest. Then, they will seek targets of opportunity as they can find them in order to conduct hit-and-run attacks of the type that just took the lives of nine of our heroes of the 82nd Airborne.
Attacks like these constitute the tricky blowback of the "surge". The approximately 150,000 US forces in Iraq are very thinly stretched across this unruly nation of 26 million people. The terrorists, knowing that our troops are currently concentrating on Baghdad, have shifted their operations to other areas where they have greater opportunities. These opportunities have been created by a strategy that, from the very beginning, has short-changed the number of troops and the level of collateral damage that would be required to subdue and impose our will upon the people of Iraq.
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