State of the Iraq insurgency

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Dozens of people were killed in a wave of bombings across Iraq this week. Officials have been blaming al-Qaeda and correspondents say the violence highlights fears about the stability of Iraq ahead of the formal end of US combat operations next week. The World's Jeb Sharp reports on the who the insurgents are these days and what they're fighting for.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. Insurgents in Iraq killed more than 60 people in attacks in 13 cities yesterday. And there were more attacks today. The surge in violence appears timed to coincide with the withdrawal of US combat troops which had been scheduled for some time. As The World's Jeb Sharp reports, the attacks raise questions about the strength of the insurgency and its current makeup.

JEB SHARP: Analysts who track events in Iraq were not surprised by the attacks. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says insurgents have had months to prepare for this moment.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: The main thing is this was a time period in which they could get maximum media attention because the US was leaving.

SHARP: But the drawdown doesn't mean the war is over, Cordesman says. He says the insurgency is largely defeated.

CORDESMAN: But we haven't, by any means, ended it. And from the start it was recognized that as we withdrew it would be at least several years before a combination of a better, more stable government and more effective Iraqi security forces could really take this level of violence and bring it down to a level so small that it effectively defeated the insurgency and drove them out of the country or simply led them to cease military action.

SHARP: These days the insurgency is made up of various groups with different origins and aims. But Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says Sunni Arab grievances still drive most of the violence.

MICHAEL KNIGHTS: The most active and determined insurgent groups in Iraq are predominantly Sunni Arabs. And that's not surprising because they have lost the most since Saddam fell in 2003. The Shia and the Kurds will tell you that there was almost definitely somebody hurt or killed in their family by the Saddam regime. If you speak to Sunni Arabs they will predominantly tell you that almost nobody in their family was hurt or killed under the Saddam regime, but a great many members of their extended families have been hurt or killed since the regime fell during the insurgency.

SHARP: Knights says the Sunni Arab insurgents still tend to fall into two categories, the Islamist groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq that have a religiously motivated goal of establishing a caliphate in Iraq. And the non-Islamist nationalist groups that started with former Baathists. What's happening now is that the two kinds of groups have been forced to join hands to survive.

KNIGHTS: Even though our attention is often focused on the suicide type operations carried out by al-Qaeda in Iraq, the nationalist Sunni militants are far more dangerous in terms of the number of attacks that they undertake, their ability to assassinate individuals, to penetrate the government. For this reason the Sunni militant groups who are more nationalist in composition are the one who will probably be the long-term threat.

SHARP: Spectacular as recent attacks have been in Iraq, Knights believes they represent the tail end of resistance there.

KNIGHTS: We tend to be fixated on mass casualty attacks, particularly in Baghdad where they're highly visible, where all the media are present. But we shouldn't forget that overall numbers of incidents are going down and down every month. So Iraq is slowly stabilizing even if we still see a dozen or two dozen mass casualty attacks every month. Eventually those attacks will disappear and what's left underneath is an increasingly peaceful society.

SHARP: As for whether the US drawdown helps or hurts the insurgency, Anthony Cordesman says it's a mixed bag.

CORDESMAN: Obviously having fewer US forces means less protection, but on the other hand you have to consider the fact that many Iraqis wanted the US to leave. That what has happened really beginning in June when US forces left the cities is the Iraqi forces have taken over.

SHARP: And Cordesman points out the departure of US troops robs the Iraqi insurgency of one of the greatest reasons for its existence. For The World, I'm Jeb Sharp.