Pity. Such an attractive bunch.
One of the things which is striking about this chart, and about this map of AQI safe havens, is the directness of the line it describes up the Tigris, and westward into Syria. They seem to keep drawing lines in the sand, only to have them turn into chalk outlines. And, as Michael Yon reports in his March 23rd Dispatch (a ripping good read, as usual), AQI's reputation has preceded them, and they are finding it markedly more difficult to cow the local populations into submission with their signature brutality.
None of this bodes well for the fate of the Caliphate in Iraq, and the prognosis for AQI as a going concern is growing increasingly grim. With a combination of serious and sustained COIN operations (to win the trust, respect, and cooperation of the local populations) and fiercely effective strikes by increasingly well-informed Special Forces and regular US and Iraqi military units (to excise the tumors in those populations' midst), the Jihadis are getting low on options.
As Michael Yon predicted, we are seeing an increased tempo of operations in Tal Afar, Mosul, and other cities of Northern Iraq. No grand set-piece battles, mind you; just good solid COIN and surgical assaults. But with this steady effort, the foundations of AQI's ability to wreak havoc on Coalition Forces and on innocent Iraqis are being progressively eroded. It may be that they are nearing total collapse. Still, as Yon points out:
There are no guarantees, but this could be the endgame for major combat operations in Iraq. Combat is likely to heat up in Mosul and western Nineveh by about May. There likely will be some reports of increased US and Iraqi casualties up here, but this does not mean that we are losing ground or that al Qaeda is resurging – though clearly they are trying. If there is an increase in casualties here as we go into the summer of 2008, it is because our people and the Iraqi forces are closing in. We have seen just how deadly al Qaeda can be. This enemy is desperate. They know they are losing. They are not likely to go out easy. The enemy is smart, agile and adaptive. Likely they will land some devastating blows on us, but at this rate, our people and Iraqi forces appear to be driving stakes through al Qaeda hearts faster than al Qaeda is regenerating.
Between these developments and the continued brisk pace of operations against Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias in Baghdad and environs, we may just have the draw on our foes in Iraq. They are banking on us to flinch. Let us hope most fervently that that will be their last in a long series of deadly mistakes.