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US strategy in Iraq: Is it working?

Major sweeps show results in western Iraq. But insurgents keep adapting and attacking.

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The US military strategy in Iraq has been consistent for months now: Use aggressive military operations to disrupt the flow of foreign fighters entering the country and the insurgent support lines that run along the Euphrates River west to the Syrian border. Simultaneously, the US is training Iraqi troops to fill the security vacuum that persists in the center and north of the country.

By any metric of tactical military success, it's working, say analysts. US forces have strung together victory after victory. Marine and Army operations from Najaf in the south to Fallujah in the heart of the Sunni triangle and on to Mosul in the north have ended with thousands of insurgents killed and captured and tons of enemy munitions destroyed with minimal US casualties.

This is what Vice President Dick Cheney probably had in mind when he told "Larry King Live" last week that the insurgency is in its "last throes."

But if another measure of success is used - a reduction in the number and lethality of insurgent attacks - the US and the new Iraqi government are failing. In the past two days, for example, US Marines and Army soldiers carried out Operations Spear and Dagger (designed to disrupt insurgent capabilities between Baghdad and Syria). At the same time, separate suicide attacks killed 20 policemen in the Kurdish city of Arbil and 23 people in a Baghdad restaurant popular with policemen, while insurgents overran a police station in southern Baghdad, killing eight officers.

The gap between tactical victories on the one hand, and few tangible improvements in the overall Iraqi security situation on the other, is creating a widening disagreement over whether the US is winning or losing the war in Iraq.

The Bush administration and its supporters insist the current course is the right one and, given enough time, will succeed. Administration officials say there's anecdotal evidence that more and more Iraqis are turning from the insurgency, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News on Sunday. The insurgents "are losing the Iraqi people," the US and its allies are "making steady progress," and political developments inside Iraq point to "a strategic breakthrough," she said.

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