Counterinsurgency Paradigm Shift in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

There appears to be a paradigm shift in the counterinsurgency strategy being employed by the U.S. forces in Iraq.  This shift goes further than the changes associated with the security plan of which many observers are aware (e.g., deployment out of Forward Operating Bases into the cities to combat operation posts).  The changes point to a fundamental shift in the way the U.S. sees the battle for Iraq.

The schema until now seems to have been focused on the notion that the Iraqi people, separated from the rogue elements in their midst, long for freedom and self-determination, with al Qaeda in Iraq, Ansar al Sunna, and foreign suicide bombers standing in their way.  Defeating the insurgents has primarily been seen as defeating AQI.  One need only to go back through the Multi-National force press releases to see how many references there are to AQI.  But it is becoming increasingly clear that this schema bears little resemblance to the realities on the ground in Iraq.

With AQI and AAS standing only at several thousand, for a country the size of Iraq, there simply aren’t enough to pull off destabilization of a country.  There are more gang members in most medium size American cities than there are al Qaeda in Iraq. Until recently, the Sunni militants were seen in the role of assisting AQI, but the view seems to be changing to one of the disaffected Sunnis (i.e., Fedayeen Saddam, former Iraq security police, former senior Iraqi army leadership and hard line Baathists) being primarily in the lead with AQI and AAS being secondary in their affect and power.

There are reports that the security situation in Ramadi might be improving.  Once again, AQI is mentioned as of paramount importance regarding the security situation in Ramadi, but the NewsDay article ends with an interesting admission concerning the Anbar province and other areas of Iraq.

The U.S. military has struggled for nearly four years to secure this city, which had become a magnet for Sunni insurgents and a lawless haven for al-Qaida militants.

Now – slowly, and in halting steps – something appears to have given way. At least by its own tortured standards, Ramadi seems to be calming.

“It’s much safer than it was, but is it perfectly safe? No,” said Army Col. John Charlton, the commander responsible for the city 75 miles west of the capital.

“As long as al-Qaida is operating in Iraq, it’s not going to be.”

Ramadi offers a snapshot of the Pentagon’s latest strategies to quell violence in Iraq. Neighborhoods are being walled off to keep insurgents out. Military units are moving off major bases and setting up smaller U.S.-Iraqi posts in violent areas downtown.

Alliances are being struck with influential Sunni sheiks once arrayed against the Americans, and tribal leaders have provided people for a police force …

While the U.S. military claims progress, Ramadi remains a place where fear shadows even commonplace acts. Shoppers and school children carry white flags in desperate attempts to show neutrality.

“A lot of people are still scared in their hearts,” said Mahmoud, an elderly man who gave only his first name.

“Jihadists were all around … killing everybody. They could come back anytime.”

In large part to allay those fears, Charlton said 70 percent of U.S. forces live downtown.

“We used to go on patrols and get shot at, then go back to base, eat chow and do it all again,” said Army 1st Sgt. Michael Jusino, also in Ramadi two years ago.

“But we realized … you have to go into the city and stay there.” Suicide bombers still strike, the most recent one on April 6.

But troops show off graphs indicating a recent turnaround in violence. Compared to 20 to 30 daily attacks a year ago, now there often are just a few bursts of small-arms fire in a day.

Marine Brig. Gen. Charles Gurganus, commander of U.S. ground forces in Anbar, said insurgents who fled Ramadi are still in Anbar.

“They’re going to places we aren’t. They regroup … but wherever they go, we’re going to go with them.”

As I have discussed before, Fallujah is currently a hot spot of insurgent activity, so some of the Sunni fighters have fled from Ramadi only a few kilometers East.  Another hot spot is Baqouba, in the Diyala Province.

They maneuver in squads, like the U.S. infantrymen they try to kill. One squad fires furiously so another can attack from a better position. They operate in bad weather, knowing U.S. helicopters and surveillance drones are grounded. Some carry GPS receivers so mortar teams can calculate the coordinates of U.S. armored vehicles. They kidnap and massacre police officers.

The Sunni guerrillas and extremists who now dominate this city demonstrate a sophistication and lethality born of years of confronting U.S. military tactics. While the “surge” plays out in Baghdad just 35 miles to the south, Baqouba has emerged as a magnet for insurgents from around the country and, perhaps, the next major headache for the U.S. military.

Some insurgents have moved into Baqouba to escape the escalation in Baghdad. But the city has been attracting insurgents for years, and particularly after U.S. officials in Baghdad proclaimed it and surrounding Diyala province relatively pacified more than a year ago and drew down their troop presence.

When 70 insurgents broke out of a Mosul jail last month, for example, escapees from Chad, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan were apprehended here, the Iraqi police said. And Sunni fighters continue to heed calls by insurgent leaders to converge here.

It is impossible to say how many insurgents there are in Baqouba now. Some military officials put the number around at least 2,000, a nasty stew that includes former members of Saddam Hussein’s army and paramilitary forces, the Fedayeen; angry and impoverished Sunni men; criminal gangs; Wahhabi Islamists; and foreigners. That is similar to the number of insurgents in Fallujah in 2004, before a bloody Marine offensive to retake the city, said Lt. Col. Scott Jackson, deputy head of the provincial reconstruction team in Diyala, who fought in Fallujah.

As the insurgent ranks have swelled, attacks on U.S. troops have soared. The 5,000-strong brigade that patrols Diyala province has had 44 soldiers killed in five months, more than twice the number who died in the preceding year.

This account more clearly summarizes the current state of the insurgency than merely calling them al Qaeda.  U.S. forces are reponding to the increased insurgent activity in Baqouba, even if senior leadership still points to AQI as being the primary enemy.  “Soldiers with 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment continued their systematic attack on terrorist forces in Baqouba with another clearing operation in the city April 10.  In this latest effort, Soldiers of 5-20 Inf. Regt., 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, from Fort Lewis, Wash., spent three days clearing the neighborhood of Buhriz, described by Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Bruce Antonia as “al-Qaida’s battleground.”

The much-heralded tribal split with al Qaeda is a positive sign in the Anbar Province, but it must be remembered that even if AQI loses in this showdown, the insurgency is not defeated.  One side of the insurgency has merely gained supremacy over the other.  This modified schema of seeing the insurgency as being primarily borne on the shoulders of disaffected Sunnis is supported in this informative and interesting report by Michael Totten from Kirkuk (Patrick Laswell has an equally interesting report from Kirkuk).

“Most, if not all, the terrorists are the old Baath Party members,? Mam Rostam said. “They changed their names and became an Islamist party. But they are the same guys. They have unified with some Sunnis around the Southwest of Kirkuk because they are living in this area. They are making these attacks to make this democratic experiment after Saddam fail.?

This effects of the paradigm shift are obvious in the strategy being employed to quiet the Sunni population centers.  First, there is an increasingly important effort underway to reverse the Baathist purge in Iraqi politics and administration.  Second, there is an effort underway to isolate population centers from each other, relying on concrete walls to prevent cross-pollination of violence between religious sects.  Maliki has ordered a cessation of construction of the wall, and the outcome of this power stuggle to determine counterinsurgency strategy will be important.  But this strategy, if implemented, closely follows (whether intentionally or accidentally) that recommended by Nibras Kazimi over fourth months ago (see Notes on Counterinsurgency and De-Ba’athification).

Finally, in a stark admission of the degree to which sectarianism has infiltrated the Iraqi security forces and police, training Iraqi troops is no longer a driving policy of the U.S. effort.  The U.S. has acquiesced to the notion that if the insurgency is to be defeated, it will be the U.S. who does it.


You are currently reading "Counterinsurgency Paradigm Shift in Iraq", entry #497 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,Small Wars and was published April 23rd, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

If you're interested in what else the The Captain's Journal has to say, you might try thumbing through the archives and visiting the main index, or; perhaps you would like to learn more about TCJ.

26th MEU (10)
Abu Muqawama (12)
ACOG (2)
ACOGs (1)
Afghan National Army (36)
Afghan National Police (17)
Afghanistan (675)
Afghanistan SOFA (4)
Agriculture in COIN (3)
AGW (1)
Air Force (28)
Air Power (9)
al Qaeda (83)
Ali al-Sistani (1)
America (6)
Ammunition (13)
Animals in War (4)
Ansar al Sunna (15)
Anthropology (3)
AR-15s (34)
Arghandab River Valley (1)
Arlington Cemetery (2)
Army (34)
Assassinations (2)
Assault Weapon Ban (24)
Australian Army (5)
Azerbaijan (4)
Backpacking (2)
Badr Organization (8)
Baitullah Mehsud (21)
Basra (17)
BATFE (44)
Battle of Bari Alai (2)
Battle of Wanat (15)
Battle Space Weight (3)
Bin Laden (7)
Blogroll (2)
Blogs (4)
Body Armor (16)
Books (2)
Border War (6)
Brady Campaign (1)
Britain (25)
British Army (35)
Camping (4)
Canada (1)
Castle Doctrine (1)
Caucasus (6)
CENTCOM (7)
Center For a New American Security (8)
Charity (3)
China (10)
Christmas (5)
CIA (12)
Civilian National Security Force (3)
Col. Gian Gentile (9)
Combat Outposts (3)
Combat Video (2)
Concerned Citizens (6)
Constabulary Actions (3)
Coolness Factor (2)
COP Keating (4)
Corruption in COIN (4)
Council on Foreign Relations (1)
Counterinsurgency (214)
DADT (2)
David Rohde (1)
Defense Contractors (2)
Department of Defense (113)
Department of Homeland Security (9)
Disaster Preparedness (2)
Distributed Operations (5)
Dogs (5)
Drone Campaign (3)
EFV (3)
Egypt (12)
Embassy Security (1)
Enemy Spotters (1)
Expeditionary Warfare (17)
F-22 (2)
F-35 (1)
Fallujah (17)
Far East (3)
Fathers and Sons (1)
Favorite (1)
Fazlullah (3)
FBI (1)
Featured (159)
Federal Firearms Laws (14)
Financing the Taliban (2)
Firearms (241)
Football (1)
Force Projection (35)
Force Protection (4)
Force Transformation (1)
Foreign Policy (27)
Fukushima Reactor Accident (6)
Ganjgal (1)
Garmsir (1)
general (14)
General Amos (1)
General James Mattis (1)
General McChrystal (38)
General McKiernan (6)
General Rodriguez (3)
General Suleimani (7)
Georgia (19)
GITMO (2)
Google (1)
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (1)
Gun Control (187)
Guns (501)
Guns In National Parks (2)
Haditha Roundup (10)
Haiti (2)
HAMAS (7)
Haqqani Network (9)
Hate Mail (7)
Hekmatyar (1)
Heroism (4)
Hezbollah (12)
High Capacity Magazines (11)
High Value Targets (9)
Homecoming (1)
Homeland Security (1)
Horses (1)
Humor (13)
ICOS (1)
IEDs (7)
Immigration (28)
India (10)
Infantry (3)
Information Warfare (2)
Infrastructure (2)
Intelligence (22)
Intelligence Bulletin (6)
Iran (169)
Iraq (377)
Iraq SOFA (23)
Islamic Facism (33)
Islamists (37)
Israel (17)
Jaish al Mahdi (21)
Jalalabad (1)
Japan (2)
Jihadists (70)
John Nagl (5)
Joint Intelligence Centers (1)
JRTN (1)
Kabul (1)
Kajaki Dam (1)
Kamdesh (8)
Kandahar (12)
Karachi (7)
Kashmir (2)
Khost Province (1)
Khyber (11)
Knife Blogging (2)
Korea (4)
Korengal Valley (3)
Kunar Province (20)
Kurdistan (3)
Language in COIN (5)
Language in Statecraft (1)
Language Interpreters (2)
Lashkar-e-Taiba (2)
Law Enforcement (2)
Lawfare (6)
Leadership (5)
Lebanon (6)
Leon Panetta (1)
Let Them Fight (2)
Libya (11)
Lines of Effort (3)
Littoral Combat (7)
Logistics (46)
Long Guns (1)
Lt. Col. Allen West (2)
Marine Corps (229)
Marines in Bakwa (1)
Marines in Helmand (67)
Marjah (4)
MEDEVAC (2)
Media (22)
Memorial Day (2)
Mexican Cartels (20)
Mexico (21)
Michael Yon (5)
Micromanaging the Military (7)
Middle East (1)
Military Blogging (26)
Military Contractors (3)
Military Equipment (24)
Militia (3)
Mitt Romney (3)
Monetary Policy (1)
Moqtada al Sadr (2)
Mosul (4)
Mountains (9)
MRAPs (1)
Mullah Baradar (1)
Mullah Fazlullah (1)
Mullah Omar (3)
Musa Qala (4)
Music (16)
Muslim Brotherhood (6)
Nation Building (2)
National Internet IDs (1)
National Rifle Association (13)
NATO (15)
Navy (19)
Navy Corpsman (1)
NCOs (3)
News (1)
NGOs (2)
Nicholas Schmidle (2)
Now Zad (19)
NSA (1)
NSA James L. Jones (6)
Nuclear (53)
Nuristan (8)
Obama Administration (204)
Offshore Balancing (1)
Operation Alljah (7)
Operation Khanjar (14)
Ossetia (7)
Pakistan (165)
Paktya Province (1)
Palestine (5)
Patriotism (6)
Patrolling (1)
Pech River Valley (11)
Personal (16)
Petraeus (14)
Pictures (1)
Piracy (13)
Police (99)
Police in COIN (3)
Policy (15)
Politics (132)
Poppy (2)
PPEs (1)
Prisons in Counterinsurgency (12)
Project Gunrunner (20)
PRTs (1)
Qatar (1)
Quadrennial Defense Review (2)
Quds Force (13)
Quetta Shura (1)
RAND (3)
Recommended Reading (14)
Refueling Tanker (1)
Religion (70)
Religion and Insurgency (19)
Reuters (1)
Rick Perry (4)
Roads (4)
Rolling Stone (1)
Ron Paul (1)
ROTC (1)
Rules of Engagement (73)
Rumsfeld (1)
Russia (27)
Sabbatical (1)
Sangin (1)
Saqlawiyah (1)
Satellite Patrols (2)
Saudi Arabia (4)
Scenes from Iraq (1)
Second Amendment (133)
Second Amendment Quick Hits (2)
Secretary Gates (9)
Sharia Law (3)
Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahiden (1)
SIIC (2)
Sirajuddin Haqqani (1)
Small Wars (72)
Snipers (9)
Sniveling Lackeys (2)
Soft Power (4)
Somalia (8)
Sons of Afghanistan (1)
Sons of Iraq (2)
Special Forces (22)
Squad Rushes (1)
State Department (17)
Statistics (1)
Sunni Insurgency (10)
Support to Infantry Ratio (1)
Survival (9)
SWAT Raids (46)
Syria (38)
Tactical Drills (1)
Tactical Gear (1)
Taliban (167)
Taliban Massing of Forces (4)
Tarmiyah (1)
TBI (1)
Technology (16)
Tehrik-i-Taliban (78)
Terrain in Combat (1)
Terrorism (86)
Thanksgiving (4)
The Anbar Narrative (23)
The Art of War (5)
The Fallen (1)
The Long War (20)
The Surge (3)
The Wounded (13)
Thomas Barnett (1)
Transnational Insurgencies (5)
Tribes (5)
TSA (10)
TSA Ineptitude (10)
TTPs (1)
U.S. Border Patrol (4)
U.S. Border Security (11)
U.S. Sovereignty (13)
UAVs (2)
UBL (4)
Ukraine (2)
Uncategorized (38)
Universal Background Check (2)
Unrestricted Warfare (4)
USS Iwo Jima (2)
USS San Antonio (1)
Uzbekistan (1)
V-22 Osprey (4)
Veterans (2)
Vietnam (1)
War & Warfare (210)
War & Warfare (40)
War Movies (2)
War Reporting (17)
Wardak Province (1)
Warriors (5)
Waziristan (1)
Weapons and Tactics (57)
West Point (1)
Winter Operations (1)
Women in Combat (11)
WTF? (1)
Yemen (1)

about · archives · contact · register

Copyright © 2006-2014 Captain's Journal. All rights reserved.