Iraqi Insurgents Proving Hard to Suppress

In Iraq, insurgents are steadily adding to the death toll, even as U.S. forces try to rout them from their strongholds. On Sept. 14, more than 160 people died in a string of bombings, the biggest single-day killing spree yet. Retired U.S. Army Col. Patrick Lang offers his insights to Debbie Elliott.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

It's been a deadly week in Iraq. Another 30 people were reported killed today in a car bombing east of Baghdad. More than 250 Iraqis have been killed since al-Qaeda and Iraq declared war on the country's Shiite Muslim majority four days ago. The US military reported today that two alleged members of that group had been arrested. Amid the mounting death toll, a new CBS-New York Times poll indicates more than half of Americans want US troops to leave Iraq as soon as possible. To discuss US policy options, we invited in retired US Army Colonel Patrick Lang. I asked him about the reported arrest of the al-Qaeda and Iraq leaders.

Colonel PATRICK LANG (Retired, US Army): Well, it is significant. The foreign international jihadi group are a small percentage of the insurgents. You know, actually there are a number of different insurgencies and they are one of them. But they're the people who have come in from all across the Islamic world under the banner of Osama bin Laden and they're the people doing all the suicide bombing in Baghdad and places like that.

ELLIOTT: Colonel Lang, has this insurgency become a civil war?

Col. LANG: Well, I have thought for some time that it was a civil war already. I think we're avoiding the use of the word `civil war' because it has all kinds of political loading on it. But, in fact, if you look in the dictionary, a civil war is defined as a war inside a state between different factions or ethnic groups for control of the state. If that's not what's going on, I can't imagine what it really is. So, yeah, I think we're already in a civil war, just we're going to eventually admit it.

ELLIOTT: Does that make it hard for the US to figure out what its role is?

Col. LANG: I think it's bad idea to keep kidding yourself about the nature of the insurgents, the various enemy forces and what's going on on the ground, because if you do that, you run the risk of doing something which is inappropriate to the real situation and instead act instead on some situation that you imagine or that you wish it was, in fact, the case.

ELLIOTT: We have been seeing time and time again that when US and Iraqi forces do launch an offensive and insurgents disappear, they'll only pop up again later to fight again. Does it make sense to have that kind of a strategy?

Col. LANG: Well, you have to. You know, in the end, if you're going to beat the insurgents, you're going to have to control the population. The problem for us is that American forces are not large enough to be able to protect our installations, run our logistical convoys, go out and fight in the field and then stay in these places once we clear them of guerrillas. And the great test is going to be to see whether or not once the battle's over and our people have to leave, whether or not the Iraqi forces they have brought in with them will be able to hold these towns. If they can old the towns, then our strategy is pretty successful in fact. If they can't hold the towns, then we're going to have to do some rethinking.

ELLIOTT: Some analysts have said that instead of launching these offensives that the US should concentrate instead on providing security and services in population centers like Baghdad. The theory is that this would somehow win over the hearts and minds of people and take away support from the insurgency.

Col. LANG: Well, I think it is important to hold Baghdad and it isn't well enough held, but it's not possible to go off and ignore as well the things that go on over in places like along the Syrian border because what they're doing out there, the guerrillas, is they're getting more and more entrenched. So, in fact, we can't let them establish themselves. They'll in effect create a separate country within a country out there.

ELLIOTT: The poll today indicates that most Americans are ready for the US to get out of Iraq. What would happen if the US did pull out quickly?

Col. LANG: First of all, I think it would be an irresponsible thing to do. Having disrupted the social order in this country and release these various forces who are struggling for control of what has been called Iraq since the First World War, I think we have a responsibility to make sure something is in order before we leave, but if we did leave suddenly precipitously, I think there's no doubt that all these groups would continue to fight each other one way or another.

ELLIOTT: Retired US Army Colonel Patrick Lang joining us here in the studio.

Thank you for your time, sir.

Col. LANG: You're welcome.

ELLIOTT: Just ahead on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, taking care of hurricane victims one patient at a time.

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