Morning Report: May 30, 2007

A look at mortar attacks and missiles in this morning's post.

Update on Baghdad security.  Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at CTB:

Shortly after arriving in Iraq, I blogged about the worsening security situation in the International Zone (IZ, also sometimes known as the "green zone"). In criticizing the media's coverage of the increase in mortar attacks against the IZ, I noted that the press has failed to answer some basic questions: "has there been an increase in attacks, or just an increase in their lethality? When did the IZ begin to see the increase in lethal mortar strikes? Are they being carried out by Sunnis are Shias? What is motivating these attacks?" At the time I wrote that, my sources in the IZ were unable to answer all of these relevant questions -- but a recent briefing by Major Brynt Parmeter has helped to clarify these critical questions for me.

Major Parmeter and Major Guy Wetzel informed me that there has been an increase in the number of mortar attacks hitting the IZ, and not just an increase in the attacks' accuracy. I have also heard the same from reliable eyewitnesses in the IZ. One American contractor working there e-mailed me: "Believe me, rocket attacks are way more frequent than when I first got here. Last night one came screaming over my office and detonated a block away . . . . I got intimate with the floor in my office as I waited for the next one to drill in. (They're usually launched in twos and threes.) That rocket hit a villa across the street from where some of my coworkers are lodged."

So who is carrying these attacks out? Major Parmeter said, "The chance of these attacks all being coordinated by one group is basically nil." I previously reported that U.S. forces haven't gotten much of a chance to interview the people who have been carrying out the attacks -- basically because the Americans have been killing the attackers rather than capturing them. Despite that, the officers delivering the briefing were confident that the attacks are being carried out by both Sunnis and Shias. This is because we have good "fingerprints" of the neighborhoods from which the mortars are being launched, and they are consistently being launched from both Sunni and Shia areas.

I speculated in my last post that the timing of the increase in mortar attacks suggests a propaganda purpose. The majority of military sources I spoke with agreed with this assessment. However, Major Parmeter introduced another relevant factor to the analysis: the seasonal nature of attacks. He reminded me that April through June are the peak months for insurgent attacks. So the relevant base of comparison isn't just levels of violence in the IZ now versus where they were two months ago: instead, a comparison to the same period last year, in 2005, etc. would help to account for spikes and valleys that are driven by factors like climate and holidays. The majors delivering the briefing did not have the relevant data on hand to undertake such a comparison, but such an analysis would help us determinatively understand if the current increase in mortar attacks outstrips the general seasonal variation.

TMG on Russia.  Kat at The Middle Ground:  'BBC reports on the strange case of apparent growing affluence barely covering the potential crash and burn of the economy. Russia, though apparently full of local products, is still a major importer of goods and not an exporter. Except for oil and natural gas.  At the same time, the state, fearing the complete break up of Russia into many mini-states who can be manipulated and use their economic power (dare I say, energy power?) for their own benefit (cutting off the main land from exports/imports and any income from energy). Putin fears this most. He may indeed love Russia, but he loves it more than any principle or idea. He loves the land and being Russia. If it is a democracy, a kleptocracy, an autocracy or any other beauracracy, Putin doesn't care as long as Russia is Russian as close to the empire of old (evil or not).   It is this fear that continues to see Russia placing itself in opposition to the US even if it seems counter-intuitive; even onto manufacturing reasons to do so.'