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Evolution in Iraq's insurgency

Attacks on US troops are down 22 percent since January, but some are more sophisticated.

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After the lowest monthly US casualties in a year, insurgents have come back this week with widespread strikes, killing several Americans and pulling off a sophisticated attack on Abu Ghraib that showed an evolution in planning and tactics.

Attacks on US forces have dropped 22 percent since the Jan. 30 election, to about 40 a day, about the rate they were a year ago. In March, 36 US troops were killed, the lowest figure in a year, according to icasualties.org, which tracks casualties announced by the government.

But this week, four soldiers and a marine were killed - and Saturday's well-organized attack on Abu Ghraib prison, in which 40 US troops and 12 prisoners were injured, suggests that fighters may be shifting to fewer but better executed operations, including ones that directly engage US forces.

Iraq's political process will have more impact on the strength of the insurgency than any military operation. That effort got a boost Wednesday when the national assembly voted Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani president. That step enables the rest of the government to be formed, a process that could take up to six weeks but is expected to be finished in the next week or so.

Despite excitement over the naming of the president, the rest of the government will have to be named quickly and produce tangible improvement in daily life if it is to erode support for the insurgency.

"Counterinsurgency is about governance," said Col. Thomas X. Hammes, an insurgency expert at the National Defense University in Washington. "You have to prove to the people you can govern them fairly and effectively - then they will tell you who the bad guys are."

Still, the insurgency's trends indicate that even at an average pace, the tough guerrilla warfare seen today is likely to continue for many years. "Don't expect solutions now. We're two years into this," Hammes says. "We're at the top of the third inning and this is a nine-inning game."

Iraqi targets

During the past few months, attacks on Iraqi forces and civilians have increased, the US military says, although they don't keep exact figures.

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