I found this article on the following blog, http://rofasix.blogspot.com/. It was pulled from Stratfor, a private intelligence provider. It was a very interesting read. Not sure if I agree with all the premises and conclusions, but the analysis is very in-depth.

Reading Iraq
By George Friedman


U.S. President George W. Bush made a prime-time, nationally televised speech June 28, maintaining the position he has taken from the beginning: The invasion of Iraq was essential to U.S. interests. Though the publicly stated rationale has shifted, the commitment has remained constant. Bush's speech -- and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's revelation earlier this week that the United States has been negotiating with insurgents -- represent an important milestone in the history of the war and require a consideration of the strategic situation.

The issue of why the United States got into Iraq is not trivial by any means. The reasons for its involvement are an indicator of the end-state the United States wishes to achieve. Understanding the goal, in turn, allows us to measure whether the United States is succeeding and how the various forces in Iraq might want to accommodate to that policy or act to thwart it. In other words, if you don't understand why the United States decided to go into Iraq, you cannot figure out how it is faring there at any given stage.

Last week, this column addressed the "Downing Street memo" from the standpoint of what it reveals about U.S. motivations. The memorandum confirms that the United States was not interested in WMD and was using the argument that Saddam Hussein was developing WMD as a covering justification for invasion. It does not address the question of why the United States did invade -- an omission that opens the door to speculation, ranging from the belief that George W. Bush was just being mean, to others involving complex strategies.

Readers familiar with our analysis know that we tend toward the strategic view. The United States invaded Iraq for two reasons, in our view:

1. Seize the single most strategic country in the region in order to pressure neighboring countries to provide intelligence on al Qaeda.

2. Demonstrate American military might -- and will -- for a region that held the latter in particularly low regard.

From our point of view, given the options at the time, the strategy was understandable and defensible. Washington, however, committed a series of fundamental mistakes, which we discussed at the time:

1. The Bush administration failed to provide a coherent explanation for the war.

2. The administration planned for virtually no opposition from Iraqi forces, either during the conventional war or afterward.

3. Given the failure of planning, the United States did not create a force in Iraq appropriate to the mission. The force was not only too small, but inappropriately configured for counterinsurgency operations.

4. The United States did not restructure its military force as a whole to take into account the need for a long-term occupation in the face of resistance. As a result, the U.S. Army in particular not only is being strained, but has limited operational flexibility should other theaters of operation become active.

Because of these failures, the United States has not decisively achieved its strategic goals in invading Iraq. We say "decisively" because some of these goals, such as shifts in Saudi Arabia's policy, have occurred. But because of the inconclusive situation in Iraq, the full value of occupying Iraq and the full psychological effect have evaded the United States. This, combined with consistent inability to provide clear explanations for the administration's goals, has raised the price of establishing a U.S. presence in Iraq while diminishing the value.

The Current Situation

In December 2004, Stratfor argued that the United States had lost the war against the guerrillas in the Sunni Triangle -- that it would be impossible to defeat the guerrillas with the force the United States could bring to bear. At the same time, we have argued that the situation is evolving toward a satisfactory outcome for the United States.

These appear to be contradictory statements. They are not. But they do point out the central difficulty of understanding the war.

The guerrillas have failed in their two strategic goals:

1. They have not been able to spread the rising beyond the Sunni population and area. That means that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi population are not engaged in the rising. Indeed, they are actively hostile to it.

2. The guerrillas have not been able to prevent the initiation of a political process leading to the establishment of an Iraqi government. Forces representing the Shia and the Kurds -- together, about 80 percent of the Iraqi population -- have engaged in regime-building within the general boundaries created by the U.S. occupying forces. At least, for now.

At the same time, the United States has failed to suppress militarily the guerrilla rising within the Sunni region. Within that region, the guerrilla forces have cyclically maintained their tempo of operations. They have occasionally slowed the operational tempo, but consistently returned to levels equal to or higher than before. In spite of the fact that the United States has thrown two excellent divisions at a time against the guerrillas, the insurrection has continued unabated. The involvement of jihadists, who do not share the political goals of Sunni guerrillas, has only added to the noise, the violence and the perceptions of U.S. failure.

Neither side has achieved its goals. The United States has not defeated the guerrillas. The guerrillas have not triggered a general rising. But the situation is not equal, because this is not simply a war that pits the Sunni guerrillas against the United States. Rather, it pits the Sunni guerrillas against the United States and against the Shiite and Kurdish majority. It is this political reality that continues to give the United States a massive advantage in the war.

It must be remembered that the guerrillas' primary target has not been American forces, but the forces and leaders of the Iraqi government. The primary strategy has been to attack the emerging government and infrastructure -- both to intimidate participants and to disrupt the process. However, what many observers systematically ignore is that it is a misnomer to speak of an "Iraqi" government or army. Both of those represent a coalition of Shia and Kurds. Therefore, the guerrillas are engaged in a strategy of attacks against the Shiite and Kurdish communities.

This is what puts the guerrillas at a massive disadvantage, and what makes their strategic failure so much more serious than that of the Americans. Were the guerrillas to defeat the United States, in the sense that the United States chose to withdraw from Iraq, it would create an historic catastrophe for the Iraqi Sunnis, whom the guerrillas represent. Iraq's Shiite and Kurdish communities were the historical victims of the Sunni-dominated Baathist regime, particularly when Saddam Hussein was in control of it. If the United States were to withdraw, the Sunnis, Shia and Kurds would have to make their own peace without outside arbitration. One of the very real outcomes of this would be a bloodbath within the Sunni community -- with Shia and Kurds both repaying the Sunnis for their own previous bloodbaths and protecting themselves from the re-emergence of Sunni power.

There is, therefore, a fundamental ambivalence within the Sunni community. Certainly, the Sunnis are overwhelmingly anti-American -- as indeed are the Shia. The jihadist fighters -- who, after all, celebrate suicide tactics -- are also indifferent to the potential catastrophes. In some ways, they would find a bloodbath by Shia and Kurds helpful in clarifying the situation. But the jihadist fighters -- many of them Sunnis from outside of Iraq -- do not represent the Iraqi Sunnis. The Iraqi Sunnis are represented by the elders from towns and villages, who are certainly not indifferent to a blood bath.

This is the key group, the real battleground in Iraq.

The Political Calculus

The Sunni leadership is aware that the current course is not in their interest. If U.S. forces remain in Iraq, the Sunnis will be excluded from the government and marginalized. If the United States leaves, they will be the victims of repression by the Shia and Kurds. The failure of the guerrillas to disrupt the political process in Iraq puts the Sunni leadership in a difficult position. They supported the insurrection based on expectations that have not borne fruit -- the political process was not aborted. They now must adjust to a reality they did not anticipate. In effect, they bet on the guerrillas, and they lost. The guerrillas have not been defeated, but they have not won. More to the point, there is no scenario now under which the guerrillas can do more than hold in the Sunni regions. The rising cannot turn into a national rising, because there is no Kurdish or Shiite force even flirting with that possibility anymore. The guerrillas' failure to win has forced a choice on the Sunnis.

That choice is whether to pull the insurgents' base of support out from underneath them. The guerrillas are able to operate because the Sunni elders have permitted them to do so. Guerrillas do not float in the air. As Mao and Giap taught, a guerrilla force must have a base among the people. In the Sunni regions of Iraq, the key to the people are the elders. If the elders decide to withhold support, the guerrillas cannot operate. They can operate by intimidation, but that is not a sufficient basis for guerrilla operations.

The United States is trying now to exploit this potential breach. The elders find the guerrillas useful: They are the Sunnis' only bargaining chip. But they are a dangerous chip. The guerrillas are not fighting and dying simply to be a bargaining chip in the hands of the Sunni leaders.

For their part, neither the Shia nor the Kurds have wanted to give the Sunnis guarantees of any sort. They distrust the Sunnis and want to keep them weak and on the defensive. The United States, therefore, has had to play a two-sided game. On the one hand, the Americans have had to assure the Sunnis that they would have a significant place in any Iraqi government. To achieve this, the United States must convince the Shia of two things: First, that an Iraqi regime including the Sunnis is a better alternative to an ongoing civil war, and second, that the United States is, in the final analysis, prepared to abandon Iraq -- leaving it to the Shia and Kurds to deal with Iranian demands and Sunni violence.

Thus, Washington has a very complicated negotiating position. On the one hand, it is negotiating and making promises to the Sunnis and some guerrillas. On the other hand, U.S. officials are projecting a sense of weariness to the Shia, increasing the pressure on them to make concessions. Donald Rumsfeld's statements on Sunday -- confirming meetings between U.S. and Iraqi Shiite leaders with insurgent groups -- were designed to try to hit the right notes, a difficult task. So too were recent offers of amnesty for the insurgents.

But in fact, it is not negotiations but the reality on the ground that drives these moves. The Shia have shown no appetite for a civil war with the Sunnis. That might change, which is a concern for the Sunnis, but they are in a bargaining mode. The Sunnis understand that even were the United States defeated, they would have to deal with the Shia, who outnumber them and are not likely to knuckle under. Simply defeating the United States is in the interests of the jihadists -- particularly the foreigners -- but those who live in Iraq face a more complex reality: An American withdrawal would open the door to disaster, not pave the way for victory. This is not Saigon in 1975. Defeating the United States is not the same thing as winning the war -- not by a long shot. The Sunni leaders know that they can defeat the United States and still be massacred by their real enemies.

Therefore, an American departure is not in the interest of any of the combatants -- except for the jihadists -- at this moment. This is an odd thing to assert, since the insurgents have placed U.S. withdrawal from Iraq as a primary agenda item. Nevertheless, the internal political configuration makes the United States useful, for the moment, to most players. The non-jihadist insurgents want the United States as not only a target, but also as a buffer. The Iraqi Shia, concerned about domination by the Iranians, use the Americans as a counterweight. The Kurds are dependent on U.S. patronage on a more permanent basis. The paradox is this: Everyone in Iraq hates the Americans. Everybody wants the Americans to leave, but not until they achieve their own political goals. This should not be considered support for U.S. domination of Iraq; it is simply the calculus of the moment. But it opens a window of opportunity for the United States to pursue a new strategy.

The United States cannot defeat the guerrillas in combat. It could, however, potentially split the guerrilla movement, dividing the guerrillas controlled by the Sunni leadership from the hard-core jihadists -- whom Bush designated in his June 28 speech as the true enemy in Iraq. If that were to happen, the insurrection would not disappear, but it would decline. Even if the Sunnis were not prepared to engage the jihadists directly, the simple withdrawal of a degree of sanctuary would undermine their operations. The violence would continue, but not at its current level.

From the jihadists' standpoint, this would be an intolerable outcome. They must do everything possible to keep this from happening. Therefore, they must make a maximum effort to deflect the Sunni leadership from its course, harden the position of the Shia, and deny the United States both room to maneuver in Iraq and credibility at home. An increase of violence is, in fact, built into this scenario, and the United States cannot defeat it. Violence frequently increases as a war moves into its political phase.

For this reason, then, our view is that (a) the United States has lost control of the military situation and (b) that the political situation in Iraq remains promising. That would appear to be a paradoxical statement, but in fact, it points to the reality of this war: Massive failures by the administration have led it into a situation where there is no military solution; nevertheless, the configuration of forces in Iraq provide the United States with a very real political solution. All evidence is that the United States is in the process of attempting to move on this political plan. It will not eliminate violence in Iraq. It can, however, reduce the scope.

But before that is possible, the violence will continue to rise.