Military Successes Drive Anbar Casualties to Post-Invasion Low

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:24pm EDT

( - U.S. causalities in Iraq's once-volatile Anbar Province have dropped in recent months to the lowest levels since the U.S. invasion in March 2003, a fact some analysts attribute to the success of the 2004 Battle of Fallujah and the more recent "surge" strategy that increased U.S. troops in the province.

U.S. casualties in Anbar peaked in November and December of 2004 and January of 2005, during a U.S. offensive aimed at Sunni insurgents and terrorists who were then occupying the city of Fallujah, a Cybercast News Service analysis of Defense Department data shows. The U.S. offensive there began on November 8, 2004.

That month, U.S. forces suffered more than 300 casualties in Anbar. In December 2004, U.S. forces suffered more than 100 casualties in Anbar. In January 2005, they suffered 53.

U.S. casualties in the province were never that high again, although they reached a secondary peak in the late fall of 2006, before the surge began, with Anbar casualties going as high as 45 that December.

In the first five months of 2008 combined, there have been 14 U.S. casualties in Anbar, according to U.S. Defense Department reports. That is a decline of 89 percent from the 124 casualties that took place in Anbar in the first five months of 2007, according to the Cybercast News Service analysis.

U.S. casualties in Anbar in the first five months of 2006 and 2005 held steady at 116 and 115, respectively. In 2004, there were 108 U.S. casualties in Anbar during the same January-to-May period.

There were 51 U.S. casualties in Anbar during all of 2003, the first year of the war.

'My generation's Normandy'

The U.S. military assault on Fallujah in 2004 yielded a significant U.S. victory both in moral and tactical terms, David Bellavia, a former staff sergeant with the U.S. Army who served with the First Infantry Division for six years, said in an interview.

"I call it my generation's Normandy because it identified for the enemy what the American fighting man was all about," he said. "They completely underestimated us and had this idea that because we couldn't use our technology, we wouldn't have intestinal fortitude to see the battle through, but this is what ultimately delivered us."

In 2005, Bellavia received the Conspicuous Service Cross, the highest award for military valor in New York state. He is also the author of "House to House," which chronicles the Battle of Fallujah in graphic detail.

In downtown Fallujah, "a global jihadist all-star team" was assembled to take on the U.S. military, Bellavia recalled.

"The majority of the fighting was inside and not outside, up close and personal," he said. "That's what I experienced. That's what my peers experienced. When we are talking about hand-to-hand combat, there is basically no opportunity to engage your weapon system. I was bitten, had my hair pulled and my eyes gouged. These are not wounds you expect in 21st century combat."

Contrasting views of Bush policy

Supporters and critics of the Bush administration strategy in Iraq both acknowledge a substantial decline in violence over the past months in Anbar and in other parts of the country where al Qaeda previously held sway. But the prospects for national reconciliation in the aftermath of President Bush's troop surge remain a matter of debate.

There are a substantial number of "displaced persons" in addition to the Iraqi refugees now living in Syria, Jordan and elsewhere who further complicate the already difficult political challenges, Brian Katulis, a national security expert with the Center for American Progress (CAP), pointed out in an interview.

Anywhere from one-in-six to one-in-nine Iraqis live in locations they did not live in back in 2003, he said. For this reason, the elections will not necessarily produce results that are genuinely representative of local interests, Katulis argued.

"Does an Iraqi who is displaced vote in his current place of residence or in his previous place of residence prior to displacement?" he asked. "That's a critical question."

It is difficult to put a firm figure on the number of "displaced individuals," but most estimates range from 3 million to 5 million, Katulis said.

Surge architect says political progress underestimated

However, the "Anbar Awakening" has already yielded significant political gains, which are spreading into other parts of the country, Fred Kagan, an advocate of the surge strategy, told Cybercast News Service in an interview.

Kagan, who is also a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), said that "multiple political parties" are now finding expression in Anbar and elsewhere that provide citizens with genuine alternatives.

Moreover, the combat divisions that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki used to combat militia groups in Basra included an army division from Anbar, he said. This particular Iraqi army division included a mixed Sunni-Shiite formation that "fought in very hard but restrained and professional way," Kagan said.

In terms of national reconciliation, the central government in Baghdad has already provided Anbar with roughly $100 million for reconstruction.

Furthermore, Sunnis who are fighting on behalf of the national government in their pursuit of militia elements connected with Muqtada al-Sadr's Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) have been well received in Shiite areas, Kagan observed.

"That the Shiite government is willing to deploy heavily Sunni forces from Anbar into the Shia heartland is an amazing story in itself of reconciliation," he added.

But Katulis, the CAP scholar, is not convinced current gains will hold up over time.

"A lot of what was going on with the surge could be described as a policy of supporting warlordism in the different parts of the country," he argued.

The direct U.S. aid to some the Sunnis connected with the "Sons of Iraq" has been in direct opposition to the central government of Iraq and could work against future stability, he observed.

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