The awful events yesterday in Mosul meant more than just tragedy for 14 American soldiers' families and friends. The attack on Forward Operating Base Marez is a harbinger of even worse things to come in Iraq, Tom Ricks argues in a must-read story in today's Washington Post:

The major difference between the latest attack and the earlier incidents is that it was an attack on a U.S. base, rather than on troops in transit in vulnerable aircraft. That difference appears to reflect both the persistence of the insurgency and its growing sophistication, as experts noted that it seemed to be based on precise intelligence. Most disturbingly, some officers who have served in Iraq worried that the Mosul attack could mark the beginning of a period of even more intense violence preceding the Iraqi elections scheduled for Jan. 30."On the strategic level, we were expecting an horrendous month leading up to the Iraqi elections, and that has begun," retired Army Col. Michael E. Hess said.Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst of Middle Eastern military affairs, said he is especially worried that the insurgents' next move will be an actual penetration by fighters into a base. "The real danger here is that they will mount a sophisticated effort to penetrate or assault one of our camps or bases with a ground element," he said...The attack also indicates that the insurgency is growing more sophisticated with the passage of time. One of the basic principles of waging a counterinsurgency is that it requires patience. "Twenty-one months" -- the length of the occupation so far -- "is not a long time to tame the tribal warfare expected there," said retired Marine Lt. Col. Rick Raftery, an intelligence specialist who operated in northern Iraq in 1991. "My guess is that this will take 10 years."Another principle, less noted but painfully clear yesterday, is that insurgents also tend to sharpen their tactics as time goes by. Over the past 20 months, enemy fighters have learned a lot about how the U.S. military operates and where its vulnerabilities lie."The longer you are anywhere, the more difficult it becomes," said Hess, who served in northern Iraq in 1991 and in Bosnia in 1996. "They have changed their tactics a lot in the year-plus."
THERE'S MORE: "Worried about recent artillery attacks on American mess halls in Iraq, the U.S. military was just days away from completing a reinforced dining area at the camp where a rocket attack killed more than 20 people in a tent the bunker was meant to replace."AND MORE: The Mosul blast now appears to have been the work of a suicide bomber. And that's even worse news than a rocket attack. Because it means that insurgents are slipping into American bases, the Times explains.
The announcement on Wednesday of the likely cause of the Mosul attack produced a new source of concern by leaving a crucial question unanswered: How was the attacker able to infiltrate a heavily guarded military base in one of the most hostile regions of Iraq?It also raised the possibility that one of the most commonly discussed fears of American soldiers stationed at forward operating bases in Iraq had come true - that an Iraqi or other foreign worker had been able through special access, knowledge and privileges to sabotage the troops he was supposed to be serving.Other heavily guarded compounds have been infiltrated, including the main American governmental zone in Baghdad, where suicide bombers killed five people in October. But the attack on Tuesday far exceeded the size and devastation of any previous strike on American troops within a secured compound."I've been expecting it," said Wayne Downing , a retired four-star Army general who headed the inquiry into the bombing at the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996. "They're trying to get in. We have a terrible problem. We have all this indigenous labor. We don't wash our dishes, cook our own food. When you bring indigenous laborers into camps, you immediately have a security problem."
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