Ebb and Flow
Tim Klimowicz has an excellent animated map of coalition casualties from March 20, 2003 to the present. (Hat tip: JBG) View the map by following this link and pressing the big red button to start the presentation. It plays out casualties summarized at the rate of one frame per day. The chosen method does not differentiate between casualties incurred while attacking the insurgents and those suffered while being attacked. Despite this, Mr. Klimowicz's animated map produces useful information about the distribution of casualties over time. You can actually see the pattern of engagements move on the map.
Imagine a large "X" leaning slightly to its left, with Baghdad at the intersection of the arms of the "X". This corresponds to the Euphrates and Tigris rivers which, rising from the northwest and north, momentarily converge on Baghdad before diverging again (only to region in the south and flow into the Persian Gulf). The upper arms of the "X" represent the main theater of the war. It is at once evident that the main action in centered around Baghdad, the Ramadi-Fallujah area, Qusabayah, Mosul and the area immediately south of Baghdad. An indication of the number of casualties in a single incident is given by the depth of red with which the blip is represented. If you have a sound card, it is matched by a tic sounded per casualty. Readers should watch the presentation for themselves.
The reader may be interested in overlaying an ethnic and religious map of Iraq over Klimowicz's presentation. It will be immediately evident why the fighting in Iraq is sometimes referred to as the 'Sunni insurgency'. Kurdistan and the purely Shi'ite areas are largely free of incident. Viewed over time, the action is flowing in a north and northwestern direction. Until about mid-2004 (look to the calendar display on the upper right corner) most of the fighting was in the environs of Baghdad and the towns immediately to the north, west and south. After that, more fighting could be observed in the upper reaches of the Tigris and the Euphrates. The exception is Mosul, which has been in steady combat almost from the beginning. It is important to the Sunni insurgents because:
The Mosul area sits astride a crossroads of commercial and oil transit routes, dominating the main trucking road from Turkey to Baghdad as well as some 500 miles of oil pipelines linking Iraq's northern oilfields to the export hub at Ceyhan, Turkey. ... Mosul and Nineveh province are of exceptional strategic importance in the struggle for Iraq, given their location along key transportation lines (for oil and for support flowing from Syria to Iraqi insurgent groups) and their status as rich recruiting ground for the Sunni resistance.
In retrospect, the US posture in Iraq appeared predominantly defensive until about mid-2004 but the Sunni insurgency was on the attack a full half year before. The Sunni insurgency's rear areas were in the upper Euphrates and Tigris and along the Syrian border from whence they more or less securely struck at Baghdad and its environs. These rear areas were not struck in force until after the Second Fallujah. The picture has changed somewhat, with many of the engagements now in the Sunni rear but they have not, so far, throttled down the tempo in either Mosul or Baghdad areas.
(Speculation alert) What can we deduce of the goals of the Sunni insurgency from this pattern of operations? That its probable aim to deny the new government legitimacy over a new unitary nation and to create doubt over the security of the oil resource. Consequently its strategic targets are going to be high profile political targets (such as Arab ambassadors) doing anything that would lessen recognition on the new government. It will aim to keep ethnically divided Mosul in a state of turmoil. If so, the real goal of the insurgency isn't restoring the status quo ante: the resubjugation of the Shi'ites and Kurds is now beyond their power; but a more attainable goal would be to salvage a rump as an independent Sunni area (or state) with a conceded share in the oil revenues. The idea would be to persuade the Shi'ites and Kurds to buy them off in exchange for security.
The political goals of the Sunni insurgency may be complicated by its association with the absolutist Al Qaeda, which aims to drive the accursed American away from the Land Between the Rivers. Simply put: the Sunni nationalists may want to make a deal for a Sunni homeland, but the Al Qaeda will not. Unfortunately, the more ferocious the Sunni attacks on the Shi'ites and Kurds, the less likely they are to agree on the expulsion of their guarantor. The Shi'ites and Kurds will remember the real lesson from Vietnam: how easily Washington abandons its allies after ground troops have been withdrawn. The American antiwar Left drew a peculiar and narrow lesson from Southeast Asia. For the rest of the world the moral of Vietnam is that if you are going to fight a war with American help it is essential to keep them engaged until victory or your entire constituency will wind up refugees.
For this reason, the creation of a new Iraqi constitution and government is of paramount importance to the US. The longer it stays in power, the more likely it is going to become a permanent fixture. By another irony which guerilla strategists may appreciate, it is America that wins in Iraq for so long as it is isn't defeated. But Tim Klimowicz's animated map shows why America won't be defeated. The tide of battle has moved into the depth of the Sunni area.