Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 8 months ago

The insurgency in the Anbar Province, while being called “al Qaeda” in hundreds of press releases, has had a significant part indigenous Sunni fighters.   Before pacification of Anbar could occur, the following two things were necessary: (a) robust kinetic operations to rout al Qaeda and Ansar al Sunna, and (b) settling with erstwhile indigenous insurgents, formerly enemies of U.S. forces, and forthwith allies in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Sources from Anbar are cited specifying the ‘breakdown’ of the insurgency; the counterinsurgency ‘tour de force’ involved in the pacification of Anbar is discussed, and Shi’a refusal to reconcile is discussed as the largest remaining hurdle to ending OIF.

At the Small Wars Journal blog, Malcolm Nance has a provocative article entitled Al Qaeda in Iraq – Heros, Boogeymen or Puppets?   Nance’s article has been highly criticized as has a recent opinion piece at the New York Times.  These articles are part of a “renewed push by the antiwar crowd to discredit the idea that the war in Iraq has any real connection to the war on terror,” it has been said.

At TCJ we understand The Long War, but believe that motive cannot be ascribed to these articles based on our reading of the content.  The schema presented in them is either right or wrong (or perhaps wrong but containing nuggets of truth), and it is important to ascertain who the enemy is and determine the appropriate strategy based on identification of the enemy.  High strung reactions to probing questions and alternative viewpoints do not significantly add to our understanding, and are thus not very helpful.

We agree with much the core of Nance’s assessment of the insurgency (with qualifications and caveats, and with insurgency differentiated from the terrorists, an important distinction that will be discussed later), while holding that the solution he proffers is a false dilemma.  The entire article is worth reading, but the core of his analysis is contained in these few paragraphs.

It is well documented that the Sunni insurgency is composed of three wings of insurgents. It is composed of the nationalist Former Regime Loyalists (FRLs) and their former military elements (FREs). This force may be upwards to 29,000 active combatants carrying out over 100 unconventional attacks per day using improvised explosive devices, rockets and automatic weapons ambushes. The FRL-originated Jaysh al-Mujahideen is composed of former Saddam Fedayeen, Special Republican Guard intelligence officers, former-Ba’athists, Sunni volunteers and their families. The second wing is the nationalist Iraqi Religious Extremists (IREs). These are forces including the Islamic Army of Iraq, Ansar al-Sunnah and other smaller groups, which may total approximately 5,000 fighters, sprinkled throughout western, central and northern Iraq. On occasion come into the conversation when one of their attacks is particularly daring or when the coalition claims it is negotiating their departure from the battlefront. Inevitably these “lesser

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10 Comments on "Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq"

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Mark Eichenlaub
Member

Interesting post. Hope that your son stays safe and you can continue providing us these sorts of reports.

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Since it’s pretty clear that the new bin Laden message is just a clip from a message that apparently was filmed in 2001 and aired in May of 2002, many people are concluding that the PoS is dead. It makes…

Gray
Member

The unspoken problem still seems to be: what exactly does victory look like?

Japan and Germany surrendered unconditionally, and I say this while acknowledging that we spent years mopping up in the post war period.

Korea ended with a hot truce.

We left Vietnam after a decade of anti-US collusion between the overt enemy, a well oiled domestic 5th column, and a lack of political resolve to fight war in a war-like manner.(Research General Giap’s words re W. Cronkite.)

The sinuous, symbiotic relationship of Islam and the combatants of the (greater) war we are now fighting makes it almost impossible, if not improbable to separate the issue. (Although those who fear offending Muslims contort wildly in the attempt.) As we speak, Pakistan is one bullet away from granting AQ a well developed arsenal.

Back to my initial question; when all is said and done and we are ready to say that we have accomplished the mission, what does that look like.

TallDave
Member

Informative, but clearly wrong on a couple points here.

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.

Obviously untrue. American gangs do not load up dumptrucks with artillery shells and set them off in churches and shopping malls. If a single AQ member can kill 10 – 100 people with a massive bomb, that means several thousand AQ could kill hundreds of thousands, if allowed to do so. In a country of 25 million, that is serious destabilization. Additionally, Iraq has sectarian fault lines which AQ exploits. Even a single spectacular AQ attack (like in Samarra) can spark outsized consequences in a country like Iraq — something AQ takes full advantage of.

Also, you approvingly cite Nance here:

by 2007 it wasn’t hard for Washington to make a semantic and rhetorical leap to refer to all insurgency forces as “Al Qaeda.

TallDave
Member

Herschel,

I didn’t characterize, I merely cited. And again, on the whole I found the analysis informative and insightful, with the exceptions I noted.

I don’t care what his politics are, Nance is just very, very wrong when he says the admin or military ‘refer to all insurgency forces as “Al Qaeda.

Slab
Member

Herschel, I’m coming into this a bit late as I was in Louisiana at the time, but do you feel any concern about these Sunni insurgents turning back against Iraqi and Coalition Forces once AQI has been largely dealt with? I’m a bit worried about the risk of something analogous to the classic Latin American “paramilitary” organization such as the AUC.

Slab
Member

I’m still a bit nervous about these Sunni groups, especially with proclamations of victory in Anbar going around. Turning insurgent groups is a classic and highly successful COIN strategy, but as you’ve mentioned, it’s also a risky one. I guess all we can do is just be prepared in case these groups turn against the Iraqi government or the Shia population.

wpDiscuz

You are currently reading "Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq", entry #544 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) al Qaeda,Ansar al Sunna,Fallujah,Iraq,Marine Corps,Small Wars,War & Warfare and was published July 16th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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