Here's an interesting datum about suicide bombings in Iraq:
[T]he number of vehicle-borne improvised explosive device [VBIED] attacks in Iraq has declined dramatically in recent months. According to a source familar with the totals, there were rougly 125 VBIED attacks in Iraq in May; by August, that number had declined to 68. Another stat you won't find in The New York Times: since the Iraq War began, at least 25% of all VBEIDs have been found and cleared before they detonated. That translates into hundreds--perhaps thousands--of lives saved. With the decrease in VBIED attacks, there has been a corresponding increase in attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs). But (again) you won't hear the reason for that shift in tactics. Using IEDs allows the jihadists to conserve strained personnel resources. Apparently, there are fewer suicide bombers willing to die for the cause, and fewer fighters available for direct attacks against coalition forces, prompting a shift to less risky IED attacks, which require fewer personnel.I noted in November 2004 that,
Speaking again of jihadis, I think the volunteer pool is getting pretty dry. Notably absent from bin Laden's recent tape was his usual clarion call for more "martyrdom operations." Whassamatta, Osama, the line is forming, like, nowhere? Martydom might be a fine thing in the abstract, but I'm guessing that it has much less appeal in the concrete. "Martyrdom operations" are literally self defeating anyway: they consume your own troops at a 100-percent rate and leave no one to come home a hero, where gleamy-eyed potential recruits can gaze gauzily at them, wanting to be one, too. As for the ladies, they sure see no future in marrying a future martyr. ... There is also the important question of why holy jihadist warriors are losing badly to the infidel dogs, making the Arab street (remember it?) probably wonder whether Allah intends to show up for the match anytime soon.On the other hand, Saudi expatriate Alhamedi profiled a failed Saudi jihadi named Ahmad who went to Iraq and lived through his self-immolation in Iraq. Now Ahmad is in Saudi custrody.
He's now going to appear on TV, supposedly to discourage others. However, for those who are reassured by the fact that suicide bombing is not a hereditary profession, take heed of the fact that Saudi Arabia's unfulfilled womenfolk are fuelling one of the largest birthrates in the world, and there are plenty more where Ahmad came from. Also, and I've no doubt that this opinion will not be universally popular, ten years ago Ahmad and his like would have spent their lives in useless but low-key hedonism, eventually dying a peaceful but definitely lonely death. Iraq has changed all that. For those who believe that invading Iraq has somehow reduced the world's sum total of terrorists, think of Ahmad, and all those who preceded him, and all those who will follow him.So who is right? The trend on the ground in Iraq is that al Qaeda has almost given up attacking US forces directly because they lose badly every time. They have turned instead to attacking Iraqi Security Forces, which are a softer target. Bit the ISF troops are increasing in number and competence week by week. In fact, the ISF performed very well in rooting al Qaeda out of Tal Afar recently in conjunction with US Army units. This operation has been basically concluded now.
The combined force killed about 150 insurgents and captured roughly 350 more. [US Army Gen. George W. ] Casey said officials estimate this accounted for about 75 percent to 80 percent of the foreign fighters and other insurgents they believed were in the city. "It looked like a pretty tough fight," he said. Strong support from the Iraqi government made the soldiers' mission significantly easier, Casey said. In the days leading up to the military assault, Iraqi government representatives spent time in Tal Afar and brokered an agreement with local leaders from all local ethnic groups: Shiia, Sunni and Turkoman. "The other piece of this that sometimes gets lost is the Iraqi government was very much involved in setting the conditions for success," he said. Casey explained that local sheiks signed statements saying basically: "We've had enough. We ask for the military to come in and clean the terrorists and foreign fighters out of Tal Afar." This led to support for the mission from the city's civilian population. "That had a huge impact on what we had to deal with with respect to the population of that city," Casey said.Five hundred jihadis killed or captured puts a big dent in al Qaeda's personnel status. As one Army briefer said last week, the quality and skill of the terrorist fighters Iraqi-American troops faced in Tal Afar was very significantly lower than have been heretofore encountered. And a piece of Alhamedi's essay offers an insight into that, too:
Now [bomber] Ahmad is not trained to fire a rocket launcher or a machine gun. That would be a bit beyond him, and anyway, that's reserved for the Iraqi insurgents who are mostly army trained and certainly plan to "fight another day". Why go and kill yourself when hordes of stupid Saudi kids are streaming across the border asking for the privilege? The Iraqi insurgents are not daft. So he learns to drive his oil tanker.So Alhamedi was right on to call Ahmad "cannon fodder." The apparent low quality of newly-recruited jihadis and the open-battle incapacity of the jihadist fighters led al Qaeda's Iraq "mastermind" (hardly a term to apply to one leading the losing side) Abu Musab al Zarqawi to declare war against Iraqi Shiites, then quickly backtrack when he apparently realized that was a losing proposition in a country that is 80 percent Shia. It didn't really play well across much of the Arab world, either, even among some other Islamists:
Jordan's Sunni Islamists Monday blasted the war against Iraqi Shiites declared by al-Qaida`s chief in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian national. A statement by the Islamic Action Front said, 'We utterly reject the edicts and calls that target part of the Iraqi population because of their sectarian affiliation.' The statement said Zarqawi's call to kill Shiites 'violated all Islamic laws and exceeded the limits of reason and logic and are aimed at harming Iraq and undermining its unity, freedom and independence.' 'Such calls are sheer attempts to partition and divide Iraq and incite destructive strife,' it added. The Jordanian Islamists also urged Iraqis to close ranks, uniting against foreign occupation and opposing attempts to partition Iraq and incite internal strife.The Iraqis are indeed increasingly closing ranks and "uniting against foreign occupation," except they are comprehending in rapidly increasing numbers that the foreign occupiers are not the Americans, but al Zarqawi and cohort. So now, "After declaring war on Shiites in Iraq last week, al-Qaeda in Iraq, the group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has issued a new statement stating that 'not all Shiites are our target.'" He now says that certain Shia groups are off the target list:
[A]l-Zarqawi specified that 'all Shiites who condemn the crimes committed against the Sunnis at Tel Afar and who don't support the occupation will be excluded from attacks by the mujahadeen'. Those groups therefore include three Shiite movements: those of al-Sadr, al-Khalisi and al-Hussani."It needs be noted that these Shias are quite outnumbered by the Shias who "remain targets for al-Qaeda." Al Qaeda in Iraq is unable to launch effective attacks against US or Iraqi forces, which are punishing al Qaeda more and more effectively. (It needs be noted that insurgents in Iraq, whether Baathists or al Qaeda, have never been able to do this.) While many attacks have been deadly, sad to say, they have not been effective. The loss of Tal Afar to al Qaeda and Zarqawi's frantic rhetoric afterward show that he is unable now to mount even a minimally effective defense. So all he can do is what he has been doing in recent days: blow people up, a capability that he still has in spades. But it is the only capability he has. The great majority of his victims have and continue to be Iraqis. It is not a tactic that can win hearts and minds. But al Qaeda has never really be interested in gaining a popular mandate, anyway. Because it cannot give effective battle, it's only resort is to try to incite fighting between Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Turkomens, heck, anybody who will fight each other. But that's not working, either. Zarqawi is lashing out brutally and bloodily, but he can't hide the fact that al Qaeda in Iraq is steadily being boxed in and losing strength day by day. The otherwise-unemployable, driftless young Saudi men like Alhamedi profiled can't plug the gaps.
Update: I also recommend reading two other essayists' analysis. One is, "Al Queda is Losing It," which points out,
Everything but IED deaths and Bullet deaths have been trending down since May. This directly correlates with the soldiers reports that things have been settling down in Iraq. The bullet deaths are trending upwards, but that reflects the soldiers being more aggressive. IEDs have a slight trend upwards, but that also reflects that the insurgents have become much weaker. About the only thing they can do now is skulk around at night and plant bombs, they're too weak to mount much of a direct effort against the troops. Now look at that last month, September. Its too early to say for sure given that we're halfway through the month, but look at the steep decline. Most of the numbers are zero! This almost seemed too good to be true, so I double checked on the Centcom site. Very few casualty reports.There's more, including graphical plots. Next up is Belmont Club:
The enemy has probably set out to prove, in the light of the recent one-sided combat, that they can still cause US casualties. The enemy strikes do not appear to be "complex" operations which rely on the combined and coordinated application of different types of attack. In the case of the attack on the diplomatic convoy, the enemy expended a VBIED, which is pretty much their ultimate weapon, against a vehicle which did not contain any targets of a high propaganda value to them, although they must have believed the middle vehicle, which was attacked, may have contained a diplomat probably because of its location in the convoy. The deaths of these Americans are a tragedy. However, there is nothing yet in the operational pattern which suggests that the enemy is able to strike at other than targets of opportunity: they are killing whoever they can. This is pretty much consistent with the strategy of causing a political, rather than an overtly military impact on US forces. ... However, the relatively unsophisticated method of attack when compared to his previous efforts, when he would combine IEDs with mortar fire, snipers and the opportunistic selection of targets suggests that he is operationally hurt. Hurt, but not yet fatally hurt.Which is why I say that al Qaeda's attacks are not effective. They are tactically and especially strategically impotent. Nonetheless, there are many here who never see a silver lining without wanting to enshroud it in a cloud of "wistful thinking."
Update: Confederate Yankee has more on the subject. Update: Who said this?
There was a time not long ago when Al-Qaeda might have been analyzed or interpreted as a manifestation of Arab discontent, a violent quest for political reform or an aggressive statement against American or Zionist domination. But the most recent operations called for by Al-Qaeda's frontman in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, ought to finally disprove such theories. His declaration of war against Iraqi Shiites illustrates that Al-Qaeda has lost any and every possible claim it may have had to moral, noble or rational objectives. In declaring war against Iraqi Shiites, Al-Qaeda has proven itself to be nothing more than a ruthless, sectarian gang. It is not unlike many other sectarian militias that we have seen in the region; the only difference is that it is much more vicious and has a much wider reach.\The Daily Star, Lebanon (15 Sept 2005), quoted here.