Meanwhile, Sunni insurgents are stepping up their "surge."
While the military has built up troops in an ongoing campaign to secure Baghdad, the security companies, out of public view, have been engaged in a parallel surge, boosting manpower, adding expensive armor and stepping up evasive action as attacks increase, the officials and company representatives said. One in seven supply convoys protected by private forces has come under attack this year, according to previously unreleased statistics; one security company reported nearly 300 "hostile actions" in the first four months.
The majority of the more than 100 security companies operate outside of Iraqi law, in part because of bureaucratic delays and corruption in the Iraqi government licensing process, according to U.S. officials. Blackwater USA, a prominent North Carolina firm that protects U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, and several other companies have not applied, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. Blackwater said that it obtained a one-year license in 2005 but that shifting Iraqi government policy has impeded its attempts to renew.The security industry's enormous growth has been facilitated by the U.S. military, which uses the 20,000 to 30,000 contractors to offset chronic troop shortages.
With everyone but the Mahdi Army surging (for the time being), what do you think happens?
It is indicative of the U.S.'s inability to crush the insurgency that commanders are trying to find ways to split it. The military is urging Sunni nationalist groups to take up arms against their former al-Qaeda allies and has begun supplying some of them with weapons. In the immediate future, however, such efforts are unlikely to protect U.S. troops from an increasingly sophisticated and tenacious enemy — and may even put Americans at greater risk. A TIME investigation reveals that militant groups have responded to the U.S. surge with a big push of their own, unleashing a flurry of new or rarely used tactics and innovations designed to maximize the death toll. Their most potent weapons are the roadside bombs being fashioned by men like Abdallah, which now account for roughly 80% of U.S. deaths, up from 50% at the start of the year. "People are calling me all the time, asking for new ways to ..." Abdallah says, pressing down his right thumb on an imaginary remote control, and adds, "... Boom!"
The military's current security push in Baghdad, known to Iraqis as Operation Fard al-Qanoon, or Imposing Law, has elicited opposite responses from Iraq's two warring sects. Shi'ite militias like the Mahdi Army have decided to lie low; their leaders went underground or on vacation to Iran. Sunni groups, especially al-Qaeda's Iraqi wing, have girded for battle. Groups associated with the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization controlled by al-Qaeda, began to confer with one another and with other Sunni groups. "The first thing we realized is that we would need lots of IEDs and car bombs," says al-Nasr Salahdin's field commander, who was involved in some of the discussions. "Once the Americans were fully deployed, it would be hard to move bombs around, so we had to make them quickly and distribute them."
Some insurgent commanders fell back on tactics that worked before, such as moving their operations into areas where there are relatively few U.S. troops. Al-Qaeda elements driven out of Anbar province by the Marines and a coalition of local tribes began to cluster in Diyala. In recent weeks, bombers have struck even farther north, in Mosul, Kirkuk and long-peaceful Kurdistan. But most groups remained in Baghdad and even called in reinforcements. Many al-Qaeda fighters moved from Anbar to the capital, and the Islamic Army, the largest Iraqi insurgent group, called on its fighters to rally there for a cataclysmic showdown with U.S. and Iraqi troops. They began to attack new targets, like U.S. helicopters and important bridges that connect Baghdad to the rest of the country. "These were all new kinds of attacks, and there were so many of them, it was hard to keep track," says a Western official in Baghdad, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak with the media. "The message from al-Qaeda was, You do your surge, we'll do ours."