Archive for the 'Ansar al Sunna' Category



The Waning of Al Qaeda in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years ago

There has been recent chatter over jihadist web sites that point to yet another attempt at consolidation of insurgent forces.  SITE Intel gives us the translation.

Following both the announcement of the Mujahideen Shura Council’s establishment as an amalgamated insurgency group in Iraq and Sheikh Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi selected as its Emir in mid-January 2006, there has been much chatter amongst the online jihadist community on this issue. Following the announcement about the Council, the Jihadi forums ran a “Thousand signature campaign on supporting the Mujahideen Shura Council,” which indeed, the online jihadists posted their signatures. Members stressed the unification of the mujahideen under one flag as a boon for the insurgency; one suggesting that Ansar al-Sunnah join the Council to further bolster the unification, and another in an interview on a forum, Hani el-Sibaei, a former leader of the outlawed Egyptian group Islamic Jihad, who now runs an Islamic affairs research center in London, who congratulates the Council.

Another member of a jihadist forum addressed the seeming disappearance of Sheikh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq, stressing that the Muslims should not follow Western pundits and analysts who equate jihad in Iraq with one man in Zarqawi. He congratulates the founding of the Mujahideen Shura Council and its Emir, Sheikh Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, and states: “The jihad did not stop and what it proves is that jihad is continuous until now with the Grace of Allah”.

The Mujahideen Shura Council is composed of eight insurgency groups in Iraq: al-Qaeda in Iraq, Victorious Army Group, the Army of al-Sunnah Wal Jama’a, Jama’a al-Murabiteen, Ansar al-Tawhid Brigades, Islamic Jihad Brigades, the Strangers Brigades, and the Horrors Brigades, collaborating to meet the “unbelievers gathering with different sides” and defend Islam.

It is noteworthy that the jihadists are calling for a combination of forces, these same forces battling each other in the earlier days of the insurgency in Ramadi, as we covered from Army intelligence sources in Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq.  For instance, it was never al Qaeda which controlled the hospital in Ramadi.  Rather, it was Ansar al Sunna, and al Qaeda stayed out of the innermost parts of Ramadi due to the inherent danger.  Each sect of Sunni insurgency fought with all other sects, and this inability to combine forces is part of its failure.

Just as remarkable is the followup press release of al Qaeda in Iraq (the internet swarm was obviously preliminary to this more formal action by al Qaeda), in that the strategy is only ostensibly one of jihad against the evil Crusader Americans, and is in reality one of the power and cultural identity of Sunnis.

The purported leader of al-Qaida’s affiliate in Iraq called in a new Internet audiotape Tuesday on Sunni fighters who switched sides and joined the American push to pacify Sunni areas of the country, to return to the insurgency.

In the recording, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who allegedly heads the Islamic State of Iraq, called on Sunni unity and urged Sunnis in the Iraqi army, police and the so-called “Awakening Councils” to abandon fighting the mujahideen, and instead turn their guns toward the “Crusader” enemy shorthand for U.S. troops in Iraq.

The 30-minute audio was posted on Islamic Web sites known as clearing houses for militant messaging. Its authenticity could not be independently confirmed. Washington-based SITE Institute which monitors militant Internet messaging, also intercepted the recording.

No photo has ever appeared of al-Baghdadi, whom the U.S. describes as a fictitious character used to give an Iraqi face to an organization dominated by foreigner al-Qaida fighters. The U.S. has said that under interrogation, a top al-Qaida member revealed that speeches by al-Baghdadi who often echo the messages of his patron, Osama bin Laden are read by an actor.

“The scholars of the faith and the honorable sheiks of the tribes are charged with calling and urging the children of the Sunni sheikdoms to leave the army and the police … and the Awakening Councils, on the basis that all arms … be directed at the Crusaders and those who support them,” al-Baghdadi said in the latest recording.

The Sunni fighters who went to the American and Iraqi government side have contributed nothing to benefit the Sunni nation in Iraq, al-Baghdadi claimed, and were themselves deceived by unfulfilled promises of payments and contracts with the U.S. and Iraqi forces.

The Awakening Councils first surfaced last year in the Sunni province of Anbarwest of Baghdad, but have since also spread to other Sunni-populated areas in central Iraq.

Al-Qaida has never publicly acknowledged losing control in the Anbar to the U.S.-Iraqi anti-insurgency push, but al-Baghdadi has in the past blasted the Awakening Council’s “collaboration” with the U.S. troops in the region.

Noting that five years have passed since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, al-Baghdadi claims the “enemy has reaped humiliation and loss” and faces an “exceptional state” of economic collapse.

Meanwhile, the al-Qaida affiliate will remain firm on the path of jihad, al-Baghdadi said.

Allegedly motivated by Sunni tribesmen wishing an end the Sunni infighting, al-Baghdadi claimed a project has been agreed upon in which a committee of scholars will intervene to resolve conflicts in Sunni areas between tribes, mujahideen, and others.

Referring to the recent U.S.-Iraqi drive to flush al-Qaida out of northern Iraqi strongholds around the city of Mosul, al-Baghdadi warns Sunnis there to exercise “caution.”

“The malice against you is great, and you will see humiliation if you abandon your children, the mujahideen. They are from you and for you. They are the source of your pride and honor. They are the secret of your power,” he said.

There is no call for the Shi’a to abandon the fight against al Qaedain the name of jihad.  The fight, says the spokesman, is about the source of their pride and honor, the secret of the Sunni power.  The days when the Sunni believes that he will return to power in Iraq as part of the majority party are gone, and the appeal of al Qaeda to this quaint notion is a sign of its waning power.

Operations in Northern Iraq: Hard Times for the Terrorists

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

Having been driven out of Anbar and with Baghdad being much more difficult terrain than a mere year ago, the loosely coupled and sometimes competing terrorist organizations al Qaeda, Ansar al Sunna and others, have headed to the North of Iraq to conduct operations.  “Despite a decline in violence in Iraq, northern Iraq has become more violent than other regions as al-Qaida and other militants move there to avoid coalition operations elsewhere, the region’s top U.S. commander said Monday. Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling said al-Qaida cells still operate in all the key cities in the north.  “What you’re seeing is the enemy shifting,” Hertling told Pentagon reporters in a video conference from outside Tikrit in northern Iraq.”  In fact, the terrorists are claiming credit for a series of recent attacks in this region.

An al-Qaida-linked militant group has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks it says it had launched in northern Iraq, including a suicide bombing last week that killed six people and seriously wounded a top Kurdish policeman in the city of Kirkuk.

In claims of responsibility posted on militant Internet sites Sunday and Monday, Ansar al-Sunnah said it also was behind attacks in the cities of Tikrit and Mosul north of Baghdad.

Strictly speaking and contrary to this report,  Ansar al Sunna is not affiliated with al Qaeda, but is in competition with them.  Continuing:

Ansar al-Sunnah identified the Kurdish policeman in Kirkuk as Brig. Gen. Khattab Omar, saying he was the commander of the police’s “Quick Response Force” in the city.  It said eight of his guards were killed in the suicide car bombing.

Police in Kirkuk, 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad, have said a suicide bomber rammed his car into a police patrol Nov. 15, killing six people and wounding more than 20 — many of them children walking to school. They said the bomber’s apparent target was Omar’s six-car convoy. Three of the commander’s officers were killed, along with three civilians, they said, but the commander survived with serious injuries to his chest and head.

Kirkuk has been seeing a spike in violence in recent weeks as tensions rise between the city’s Kurdish, Arab and Turkomen communities ahead of a possible referendum to decide the fate of the region. Iraq’s Kurds claim the city as their own and want to annex it to their self-rule region, but Kikruk’s Arab and Turkomen — ethnic Turks — dispute the Kurdish claim.

In another attack in Tikrit, Ansar al-Sunnah said it had used a “unique and unparalleled” technique when it bombed a police station Sunday by using a roadside bomb buried in a fake device. It gave no further details, but police in the city said a policeman was killed and two others, including a lieutenant colonel, when they tried to defuse a roadside bomb they took inside the city’s police forensic laboratory after retrieving it from the street outside …

In Mosul, it said its fighters on Nov. 4 attacked the headquarters of the city’s “Awakening Council” — the name given to the command of tribal forces which joined the U.S. and Iraqi forces in the fight against al-Qaida.

But rather than controlling regions (such as Anbar), cities (such as Ramadi or Fallujah) or thoroughfares, the terrorists are reduced to discussing individual attacks at great length in order to publicize their exploits.  The standard has been lowered. Morever, Coalition forces are finding a target rich area in Tikrit where Operation Iron Hammer is underway.

Iraqi Security Forces and Multi-National Division – North Soldiers have made significant progress against al-Qaeda in four provinces in northern Iraq after two weeks of Operation Iron Hammer.  The operation to disrupt al-Qaeda involves three U.S. brigade combat teams and four Iraqi Army divisions.

During the operation, Coalition Forces and ISF have undermined al-Qaeda operations and discovered more than 50 caches across the Multi-National Division-North area of operations. The caches have contained more than 500 mortar and artillery rounds, three tons of homemade explosives, countless IED-making materials, hundreds of anti-tank and personnel mines and more than 100 machine guns.  Beyond the weapons found, CF and ISF discovered various documents and related information material.  CF and ISF have also detained hundreds of suspected al-Qaeda members.

Operation Iron Hammer consists of three U.S. brigade combat teams and four Iraq Army divisions … as many as 200 insurgents have been detained in the provinces of Diyala, Kirkuk, Mosul and Salaheddin. Officials said Iraqi and U.S. troops retrieved Al Qaida documents that outlined the insurgency network.  The operations have also netted some high value targets.  “During operations In Mosul, Coalition forces killed a wanted individual believed to have been a senior leader in Mosul’s terrorist security network. Reports indicate the wanted individual planned attacks against Iraqi Security and Coalition forces, which included multiple suicide car-bombing attacks.  Reports also indicate he purchased weapons and explosives for the terrorist network.”

Al Qaeda is about as far North as they can reasonably go.  Kurdish territory will be extremely inhospitable to them, where the Peshmerga - the “first to die” – would quickly capture or kill them due to the lack of willingness of the Kurdish population to abide their presence (this is even true of Ansar al Sunna which has historical ties with the Kurds).  At The Captain’s Journal we have discussed and strongly advocated payment to concerned citizens and neighborhood watch programs and even sheikhs as a means to assist heads of household to support their families.  While some or even most of the foreign fighters in Iraq come for religious motivation from Africa, Chechnya and Western China, many of the locals fight for money to feed their family.  But there is indication that the terrorist’s resources are drying up.

Abu Nawall, a captured al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, said he didn’t join the Sunni insurgent group here to kill Americans or to form a Muslim caliphate. He signed up for the cash.

“I was out of work and needed the money,” said Abu Nawall, the nom de guerre of an unemployed metal worker who was paid as much as $1,300 a month as an insurgent. He spoke in a phone interview from an Iraqi military base where he is being detained. “How else could I support my family?”

U.S. military commanders say that insurgents across the country are increasingly motivated more by money than ideology and that a growing number of insurgent cells, struggling to pay recruits, are turning to gangster-style racketeering operations.

U.S. military officials have responded by launching a major campaign to disrupt al-Qaeda in Iraq’s financial networks and spread propaganda that portrays its leaders as greedy thugs, an effort the officials describe as a key factor in their recent success beating down the insurgency.

“I tell a lot of my soldiers: A good way to prepare for operations in Iraq is to watch the sixth season of ‘The Sopranos,’ ” said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of U.S. forces in central Iraq, referring to the hit HBO series about the mob. “You’re seeing a lot of Mafioso kind of activity.”

In Mosul, a northern city of 2 million people that straddles the Tigris River, U.S. officials are also spending money to buoy the Iraqi economy — including handing out microgrants sometimes as small as several hundred dollars — to reduce the soaring unemployment that can turn young Iraqi men into insurgents-for-hire.

Col. Stephen Twitty, commander of U.S. forces in Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province, said the dismantling of insurgent financing networks is the primary reason that violent attacks here have dropped from about 18 a day last year to about eight a day now.

“We’re starting to hear a lot of chatter about the insurgents running out of money,” said Twitty, of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. “They are not able to get money to pay people for operations.”

With the available hospitable terrain for al Qaeda and Ansar al Sunna decreasing along with the resources drying up, the ability to conduct major operations is decreasing due to such factors as the surge of U.S. forces, the tribal alliances to fight the terrorists, the expenditure of largesse by the coalition, and the return of functioning local and regional security apparatus.  These are hard times for the terrorists in Iraq.

Reorganizations and Defections Within the Insurgency in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

In Iraq: al Qaeda’s Quagmire, we noted that al Qaeda in Iraq had lost one of its few remaining allies in Iraq, Asaeb al-Iraq al-Jihadiya, or “the Iraqi Jihad Union,” due to pointless violence perpetrated on them by elements affiliated with al Qaeda in the Diyala province.  These jihadists are similar in nature to Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia in that violence doesn’t have to be directed or meaningful, per se.  It only has to intimidate.  Those who suffer in its wake are fodder for a power grab.  But it always has unintended consequences, and has never won the long term struggle for the soul of a population.

There are reorganizations within both the indigenous insurgency and foreign terrorists, partly to avoid the appearance of affiliation with al Qaeda, and partly because the typical response to a losing strategy is usually to reorganize.

Six main Iraqi insurgent groups announced the formation of a “political council” aimed at “liberating” Iraq from U.S. occupation in a video aired Thursday on Al-Jazeera television.

The council appeared to be a new attempt to assert the leadership of the groups, which have moved to distance themselves from another coalition of insurgent factions led by al-Qaida in Iraq.

In the video aired on Al-Jazeera, a man identified as the council’s spokesman — wearing traditional Iraqi garb, with his face blacked out — announced the council’s formation and a “political program to liberate Iraq.”

He said the program was based on two principles.

“First, the occupation is an oppression and aggression, rejected by Islamic Sharia law and tradition. Resistance of occupation is a right guaranteed by all religions and laws,” he said. “Second, the armed resistance … is the legitimate representative of Iraq. It is the one that bears responsibility for the leadership of the people to achieve its legitimate hope.”

The groups forming the council include the Islamic Army of Iraq, the Mujahideen Army, Ansar al-Sunna, the Fatiheen Army, the Islamic Front for the Iraqi Resistance (Jami) and the Islamic Movement of Hamas-Iraq.

The step could be a bid by the insurgents for a more cohesive political voice at a time of considerable rearrangement among Sunni insurgent groups and Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority.

Splinter factions of two insurgent groups, the 1920 Revolution Brigades and the Mujahideen Army, have cooperated with U.S. forces in fighting insurgents allied to al-Qaida in Iraq.

Earlier this year, other groups — the Islamic Army of Iraq, the main faction of the Mujahideen Army, a branch of Ansar al-Sunna and the Fatiheen Army — formed a coalition called the Jihad and Reform Front opposed to al-Qaida in Iraq, though they have continued attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces.

The context of this reorganization is complicated.  In Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq, I argued that while foreign terrorists were a signficant force within Iraq, they didn’t constitute the majority of insurgents; rather indigenous Iraqis constituted the majority of the insurgency (albeit some of which was under the leadership of foreign elements).  I further argued that U.S. forces were waging a double war: (1) a war of counterterrorism against foreign elements (partly led by al Qaeda), and (2) a classical counterinsurgency.

Bill Ardolino was recently in Fallujah, and used the opportunity to interview a Fallujan translator for the U.S. forces.

INDC: When I speak to Fallujans, many say that it was all outsiders causing the insurgency, but a lot of it was certainly driven by locals. What portion of the insurgency was really local? Most of it?

Leo: Yes.

INDC: So why are people afraid to say, “Yeah, we used to fight the Americans??

Leo: No, not everyone. Many people you miss who will say, frankly, “Yes, we fought you.? But maybe he will say, “I didn’t [personally] fight you, but [the Fallujan people] fought you. [Resistance] is a normal thing, and a right for everyone.

INDC: Right. And so when al Qaeda came in, and by “al Qaeda? I really mean all of the outside jihadists, the Fallujans welcomed them to help fight the Americans?

Leo: Yes …

The war has been complex, with dozens of competing insurgent and terrorist groups, some acting as allies with each other, while still others wage war upon other groups in a power struggle.  Common to all groups, however, has been war on U.S. forces - that is, up until about a year ago.  The tribal “awakening” began in or around Ramadi, with tribal leaders one by one turning against the foreign terrorists due to violence perpetrated on the Anbari people, started by Shiekh Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha.

But even this “awakening” had a context.  Shiekh Sattar didn’t turn on al Qaeda and the other foreign elements until his own smuggling line was shut down by kinetic operations of U.S. troops.  This was all quickly followed up by other measures in other areas of Anbar.  The storied city of Haditha, suffering from a terrorist problem from being close to the Syrian border, was isolated from these foreign fighters with sand berms.  Intense force projection, a robust Iraqi police presence and kinetic operations by U.S. troops managed to turn Haditha around.

Ramadi and Haditha being too difficult for major operations, many insurgents and terrorists fled to Fallujah.  From this point, an important account is brought to us by Damien McElroy of the Telegraph that sheds even more light on the relationship between indigenous insurgents, foreign terrorists, and where the most recent hot spots in Anbar have been.

A unique tribal reconciliation process is allowing repentant former al-Qa’eda loyalists to return to homes and families free from the threat of arrest by coalition forces.

The voluntary scheme has gained the backing of American commanders but is being run by local chieftains to rehabilitate sons of the region who no longer follow the path of violence.

Al-Qaim, a district in the far west of Anbar province, has reported dramatic gains against al-Qa’eda cells in the area but now faces a dilemma over the return of ex-residents who had joined the ranks of radical Islamic fighters after the American invasion in 2003.

In the fight against al-Qa’eda which has raged since last year, hundreds of residents of the region were forced out by fighting but have since signalled a wish to go home.

Sheikh Kurdi Rafi al-Shurayji, who as factor for the paramount sheikh acts as a chief representative of the tribes in the area, revealed a formal system had been established to rehabilitate ex-residents that renounced al-Qa’eda.

“Many of our people want to come back to their families,” he said. “If they are young, they can’t get married or get a job outside their own people. The older ones who worked with al-Qa’eda want to get back to resume their lives.”

Sheikh Kurdi has forged a deal with the American coalition that gives US commanders a supervisory role in the rehabilitation process.

An applicant’s first point of contact is his own sheikh, who must agree to sponsor his plea and vouch that he will not resume insurgent activity.

“We conduct background checks on the individuals to ensure that they do not have Iraqi blood on their hands,” said Sheikh Kurdi. “If they are clean we ask them to reveal all they know about insurgent activity. In this way we have found weapons caches and even discovered unknown cells.”

Before American Marines regained control of the area, which lies on the Syrian border, al-Qaim was a popular ‘rat-run’ for foreign fighters travelling to Iraq for jihad. Since the inception of the rehabilitation programme almost 50 residents have applied and 40 individuals have been accepted.

One of the successful returnees was Eid Mehlif Alab, a school friend of Sheikh Kurdi who had operated safe houses and gathered intelligence for terrorist groups.

“When the Americans took control Fallujah was the only place to seek safety,” he said. “But it was tiring to be away from home, family and friends. When it became clear that al-Qa’eda were not in Iraq for holy war but terrorism, the option of returning back in peace was there.”

In Fallujah, Marines with 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment, conducted intense kinetic operations in the second quarter of this year, and in Operation Alljah, implemented gated communities, biometrics, and high visibility force projection with the Iraqi Police (see also Bill Ardolino’s important article on Operation Alljah).  The city has turned around, the Iraqi Police are taking over city security, and a Marine hasn’t been killed in months.  With the last safe haven being taken away from the insurgents and terrorists, the indigenous fighters are returning home – at least, those who would make peace.  There is no point in fighting forces (U.S. Marines) who will not be beaten and who will not go away.  But Fallujans befriending U.S. Marines has brought peace to a once war-torn city.

The reorganization of groups discussed earlier is a mixed bag (with Ansar al-Sunna being foreign and the Islamic Front for Iraqi Resistance being indigenous), but is not a sign of strength.  Rather, like corporate America, when the strategy fails, the typical solution is to cut losses, reorganize and regroup.  This is what is happening in Iraq at the moment.  Al Qaeda is the big loser, and no one wants to be affiliated with this savage group, even among other foreign elements.  What is left of the die hard fighters (ex-Ba’athists, Afghan fighters with Ansar al-Sunna, other foreign jihadists) will slowly dissipate and diminish.

In the mean time, they will be able to pull off some spectacular suicide bombings using rogue foreign elements who wish to die due to religious motivation, but they will not be able to pull off any major joint military operations.  They are no longer a major force in the Anbar Province.  Transporting this model to the balance of Iraq will be the subject of future articles.

The Anbar Narrative: Part 2

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

In The Anbar Narrative: Part 1, I provided an excerpt from a speech by Major General John Kelly on the counterinsurgency campaign in Anbar.  By all accounts, it was a magnificent, well-executed and hard fought campaign, with each city and area of operation being slightly to significantly different from the others.  Adaptability and improvisation have marked the effort all across the province.  Like I have argued before concerning the necessity for a military blow to al Qaeda to enable the awakening, while pointing to the significance of the population turning against al Qaeda, he also sets the necessary backdrop for this.

… by relentless pursuit by a bunch of fearless 19 year olds with guns who never flinched or gave an inch, while at the same time holding out the carrot of economic development, they have seen the light and know AQ can’t win against such men. By staying in the fight, and remaining true to our word, and our honor, AQ today can’t spend more than a few hours in Fallujah, Ramadi, or the Al Anbar in general

There is no question that the campaign was a military victory, but it is helpful to hear all perspectives, even contrary viewpoints.  In The Daily Star, Muhammad Abu Rumman published a commentary entitled “Deconstructing Iraq’s Sunni armed groups,” in which he gives an alternative perspective.

Although there have been ideological and political struggles among armed Sunni factions in Iraq since the beginning of the occupation, until recently they were kept quiet. In early 2007, differences came out into the open in the form of warring public statements between the Islamic State of Iraq (a coalition including Al-Qaeda) and the Islamic Army in Iraq, exposing previously unacknowledged animosity.

As the two groups went at each other in the media, other Sunni groups began a complicated process of splintering and reformation. The 1920 Revolution Brigades split into two military factions, Fatah and Jihad, with Fatah later reclaiming the 1920 Revolution Brigades name. Hamas-Iraq, which emerged as the first armed movement to build political and media institutions parallel to its military activities, joined forces with the Iraqi Resistance Islamic Front. In early May 2007, the Jihad and Reform Front was formed, incorporating the Islamic Army in Iraq, the Mujahideen Army, and the Sharia Committee of Ansar al-Sunna (which split from its mother organization, Ansar al-Sunna), with the Fatiheen Army joining later. Then in early September seven factions, including the 1920 Revolution Brigades and the Al-Rashideen Army, joined forces to establish the Jihad and Change Front.      

This period of upheaval has left four main blocs in the Iraqi Sunni resistance: first, Jihadist Salafism, which is an extension of Al-Qaeda. This bloc consists primarily of the Islamic State of Iraq and is close to Ansar al-Sunna as well.

Second, nationalist Salafism, which observers believe toes the Saudi Salafist line and receives material and moral support from abroad. The groups in the Jihad and Reform Front belong to this bloc. 

Third, the Muslim Brotherhood trend, mainly Hamas-Iraq and the Resistance Islamic Front. Observers believe it is associated with the Islamic Party, which participates in politics within the Iraqi Accord parliamentary bloc.

And fourth, the nationalist Islamist trend, including the Jihad and Change Front groups (such as the 1920 Revolution Brigades and Al-Rashideen Army). This bloc is ideologically close to the Brotherhood trend and is considered an extension of the Association of Muslim Scholars, the leading group of Iraqi Sunni clerics. 

While keeping the players straight is admittedly difficult, it is important to understand why Sunni groups are experiencing such turmoil. Two factors – US discussion of withdrawal from Iraq and genuine ideological and political differences among Sunnis – can explain what is taking place.

First, signs of American military failure and the rising chorus of voices in Washington calling for withdrawal have changed the focus of Sunni insurgents. As militants sense that a US withdrawal is approaching, defeating the occupation has lost primacy as a goal in favor of maneuvering to fill the power vacuum in the post-occupation stage.

In this context, several factors have fueled tensions among resistance factions. For example, the Islamic State of Iraq (Al-Qaeda and its allies) has not only tried to spread its influence among the other factions, it has also demanded that many faction members pledge allegiance to its emir, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. At the same time, Arab countries (particularly Jordan and Saudi Arabia) have begun to worry about who will fill the power vacuum after the US withdraws. Such countries are concerned about preventing the dual threat of increasing Iranian influence and the rising power of Al-Qaeda in western Iraq, the latter of which constitutes a clear and direct threat to their security.

Second, there are genuine ideological and political disagreements – mostly centering on questions of nationalism and religious ideology – among armed factions. The Islamic State of Iraq employs a universalist rhetoric, and is more concerned about defeating the US occupation and waging a war of attrition than agreeing on the nature of a new Iraqi political system. These groups’ close ties with Al-Qaeda’s central command give them a broad agenda, whereas the goal of other Sunni factions is essentially confined to bringing about a US withdrawal from Iraq.

On political-religious ideology, the Islamic State of Iraq also adopts a more uncompromising rhetoric than the other factions on key questions such as attitudes toward the Shiites. The Jihad and Reform Front also takes a hard-line position on the Shiites, though less so than groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda. The Jihad and Change Front groups, meanwhile, see their priority as defeating the US occupation, although they do not conceal their concern about Iranian ambitions in Iraq. Regarding what should come after the US withdrawal, the Jihad and Reform Front seeks to establish rule by Sharia (Islamic law). For their part, the Jihad and Change Front groups say they would allow a popular consensus to determine democratically what type of political regime would prevail.

Several ideas give this analysis away as propaganda.  First, the statement about the “American military failure” is so over-the-top absurd that it calls into question the credibility of the author and remaining analysis and casts some degree of doubt on any usefulness that it might have.  The surge and security plan has thus far been militarily successful, but aside from that, the surge had nothing to do with the Anbar campaign.  The seeds of security were planted in Anbar long before the surge was ever conceived, and in fact the surge can rightly be said to be modeled after the Anbar campaign.  If there is any failure it would be the internal political machinations in Iraq, but that is no fault of the U.S. military.

Second, the statement about the “rising power of al Qaeda in Western Iraq” forces us to wonder exactly where the author has been the last year.  Al Qaeda resides in the suburbs and surrounding small towns of Baghdad (such as Tarmiyah) and to the North and Northeast of Baghdad in the Diyala Province, but can find no safe haven in Anbar.  Their last haven in Anbar, Fallujah, was taken from them in Operation Alljah.

If for no other reason, this analysis is helpful for the current breakdown of the Sunni insurgency as he sees it, and for understanding the propaganda value of calling the counterinsurgency campaign a “defeat” for the U.S.

But setting aside the propagandistic nature of the commentary, there is one final bit of useful information.  “As militants sense that a US withdrawal is approaching, defeating the occupation has lost primacy as a goal in favor of maneuvering to fill the power vacuum in the post-occupation stage.”  Indeed, this pressure and violence towards competing elements – including the government – is well underway.  “Sunni Arab extremists have begun a systematic campaign to assassinate police chiefs, police officers, other Interior Ministry officials and tribal leaders throughout Iraq, staging at least 10 attacks in 48 hours.”

A complete stand down of U.S. forces seems to be what the insurgency not only wants, but sees on the horizon.  Their plans appear to have been crafted around just such an eventuality, and if the U.S. obliges the insurgency, the military gains – however magnificent they have been - may come to no avail.

Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 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? insurgent groups are portrayed as bit players on the sidelines of the epic.

Finally, the foreign fighters of the Al Qaeda in Iraq and its umbrella group the Islamic Emirate of Iraq (aka Islamic State of Iraq) may be as few as 1,500 fighters and supporters and may also have direct links to the two other tiers. Overwhelming evidence exists that that the FRLs have been waging the lion’s share of the insurgency. Until 2004 they were considered a separate part of the insurgency but recently they have been called ‘Al Qaeda-associated’ because AQI was operating in their area of operations … by 2007 it wasn’t hard for Washington to make a semantic and rhetorical leap to refer to all insurgency forces as “Al Qaeda.?

This is an error worth remembering. For over four years the FRLs (especially the paramilitary Saddam Fedayeen and Special Republican Guard) almost exclusively carries out IED, indirect fire (IDF), sniping, aircraft shoot downs and ambush attacks with conventional weapons with alarming regularity which account for the lion share of the US forces’ 3,500 KIAs. The smaller IREs did the same type of attacks but occasionally peppered their missions with Suicide bombings. AQI almost exclusively perform carries out suicide car bombings and suicide vest bombings (SVBIED/SPBIED). They occasionally perform IED, rocket, MANPAD and even a few impressive massed infantry attacks on Iraqi Police and government buildings (such as the symbolic assault on Abu Ghraieb prison in 2005). In fact, AQI’s impact on US forces is actually quite small in comparison to the FRLs and IREs …

AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) and AAS (Ansar al Sunna) have indeed brought into Iraq funding, experience and religious commitment that at least some of the indigenous Sunni insurgency didn’t have.  Thus they have been involved in a disproportionate level of high profile violence.   However, on the whole TCJ will concur with Nance’s basic thesis.  Based on press reports and discussions with a well informed and strategically placed military contact (in Anbar), the picture of AQI being put out by the Multinational Force web site began to make little sense to us, and In Counterinsurgency Paradigm Shift in Iraq, TCJ offered the following analysis:

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 …

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 difference in understanding we have of the insurgency in Anbar came as a result more than just of press releases.  Around the time of the worst Ramadi violence, TCJ communicated with a contact in the Anbar Province, who gave the following view of the insurgency (we haven’t divulged the contents of this communication until now; (1) it is somewhat dated and thus less sensitive, and (2) it is still ‘scrubbed down’ to remove remaining sensitive information).

There is Al Qaeda in Iraq, lead by a couple non Iraqis with a few highly place Iraqi leaders as well.  The are situated outside Ramadi (mainly East and North of the city).  They conduct their operations in Ramadi, Habiniyah and Khalidiyah, but for the most part use the Ramadi area as an R and R area.  In fact most attacks in those areas that are Al Qaeda attacks are locals paid to conduct the attacks.  They are one of the two the big dogs in town because of their small but well trained and ruthless core of foreign fighters.  These FF are used to kill competitors, not Americans.

Ansar Al Sunnah is the other big dog in town.  Most of the individuals identified as Al Qaeda in Ramadi were most likely actually AAS.  These guys are lead almost entirely by Iraqis Arabs Sunnis.  (By the way the connectiveness of Ansar Al Sunnah and Ansar Al Islam is more a result of similar name and wishful thinking then reality on the ground … [parts redacted]).  These are the guys that operated in the central part of Ramadi.  The Hospital was controlled by them (as opposed to Al Qaeda).  These guys have excellent access to suicide bombers (not sure if you realize it, but the vast majority of FF in Iraq are only there as suicide bombers.  Organizations (not particularly associated with Al Qaeda) based in Syria and Jordan “sell” them to Iraqi insurgents).  The reason we see these guys as Al Qaeda is because the info we have proving they are Al Qaeda is paid for, and we pay more for info about Al Qaeda.

Local Iraqi Insurgents.  Although they are comprised of a number of groups I think of them as the Islamic Army in Iraq.  The strength is to the North West and South West near Ramadi, North of the River near Khallidiyah and then East towards Fallujah and Bagdad.  We chased these guys before and during the time I was there under the impression they were Al Qaeda associated, even though nearly every time we caught one we found out otherwise (look up Nu’Man Brigade and Muhammad Daham, or the Butcher of Ramadi).

Upon the capture of Muhammad Daham in May of 2005, the Multinational Force – West PAO issued a press release in which they mentioned his possible link to the AMZ network, and upon capture of his successor (and leader of the Nu’man Brigade) in September of 2005, the Multinational Force specifically mentioned capturing an al Qaeda leader, and filled in the end of the press release with the words that would become so common in future press releases: “We are degrading the overall effectiveness of the Al-Qaida in Iraq terror network and its ability to conduct operations in Iraq.”  Continuing with our communication:

Daham turned out to be very anti-Al Qaeda, and although not mentioned the Butcher turned out to be a low level, local insurgent with no ties to Al Qaeda. These guys will actually call American Intel and report other local insurgents as Al Qaeda in order to knock off competitors.  Many of these groups are actually just thieves and thugs looking for a few bucks.  They will at times work with AAS or AQI, or depending on the groups fighting against them.

The last groups is the Iraqi criminal organizations.  They are also very closely linked to many of the local insurgent groups.  Daham was actually one of these guys originally.  The leader of this group currently in Ramadi is … [redacted].  [Other parts redacted].  These groups will sometimes work with AAS or Al Qaeda or locals.  They go back and forth.  They also kidnap people for ransom, or for political reasons if paid to do so [parts redacted].

Al Qaeda isn’t “IN” Ramadi.  They stay out for safety reasons.  AAS is in Ramadi, but some of their leaders live in “Safe” zones (i.e. near the Marines base at Hurricane Point.)  Others have been trained to not fight, but rather pretend to be “good” Iraqis when we came raiding.  IEDs and snipers are their speciality (they have the best sniper in town, an ex-Iraqi special forces sniper). They might pay local kids to attack the Americans during the push, but they will hide and try to stay safe.  The locals are just that, and the more we kill the worse it will get.

Returning to the seminal article at the SWJ Blog, Nance concludes that this mischaracterization of the insurgency as entirely al Qaeda adversely affects the going-forward strategy.

Still some classify any Iraqi insurgent support of AQI objectives, active or passive, is often pointed to as a reason to classify all insurgent groups as Al Qaeda. This reading of the enemy does not take into account the diverse strategies, goals, personalities and political linkages of the other insurgents. It lumps them all into one pot and uses the same hammer to try to smash them. Hammering this particular insurgency is like smashing a ball of mercury with your palm. You may get a little of it under your control (and the toxins that come with it) but the rest will disperse, roll away and reform as they please.

But Nance’s article, his many vocal critics, and this present article may be behind the times.  The going-forward strategy has already been developed and is in stages of implementation.  The so-called “Anbar Awakening” is about more than just enlisting the assistance of the tribal Sheiks.  The magnitude and brilliance of this coup by U.S. forces should not be underestimated.  To assert that AQI was the only enemy in Anbar belittles the scope of the accomplishment and ignores the intricate military, political, religious and anthropological machinations that were involved to pull off this coup.  Regardless of the disposition of OIF, the pacification of Anbar by the United States Marines will go down as the greatest counterinsurgency campaign in history and will be studied in professional war college classrooms for generations to come.  Contrary to Nance’s suggestion, requesting that Syria or Iran fake cooperation with the U.S. is not necessary.

With respect to al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other foreign elements (e.g., suicide bombers and Ansar al Sunna), their members and actions never met the classical definition of insurgency because they were not aiming to govern or provide for the population.  Rather, they brutalized the population with torture, houses of horror, beatings, bombings and other tactics aimed at forcing the population into submission.  They terrorized the population because they are terrorists.  It was not uncustomary to find electric drills used to put holes through each rib in the ribcage of some poor victim.

This terrorization of the population (and competing groups) managed to achieve its goal of keeping the population in submission, at least until the Marines prevailed over the course of several years at hunting down and killing many of the rogue elements.  It has been observed that  ”Americans learned a basic lesson of warfare here: that Iraqis, bludgeoned for 24 years by Saddam’s terror, are wary of rising against any force, however brutal, until it is in retreat. In Anbar, Sunni extremists were the dominant force, with near-total popular support or acquiescence, until the offensive broke their power.”

When the population observed that the Marines had no intention of retreat and never lost a military engagement, and also when the tribal leaders saw that the rogue elements were subsuming their role as chieftans and leaders of their people, the storied alliance developed.  This alliance may have been strategic and convenient at first, but is now pivotal and absolutely essential to the success of pacification of Anbar.

The coup is not merely that the tribal chiefs and their people are cooperating with U.S. forces.  It is larger than that.  The coup is that the insurgency, properly defined as indigenous fighters rather than terrorists and foreign fighters - those who were previously pointing a gun towards U.S. troops – are now pointing them at the terrorists.  Not only have many of them made peace with the U.S., but in a development just as important, the U.S. forces have made peace with them.  This has been accomplished with the new difficulty introduced by globalization (foreign fighters), and the new difficulty introduced by religious fanaticism (suicide bombers), and the new difficulty introduced by technology (stand off weapons such as roadside bombs).  This is a counterinsurgency tour de force, and as time judges this victory it will take its rightful place in the great military campaigns of world history.

In Settling with the Enemy, we discussed the reports of U.S. forces making allies of erstwhile enemies.

Shi’ite and Kurdish officials expressed deep reservations yesterday about the new US military strategy to partner with Sunni Arab groups to help defeat the militant organization Al Qaeda in Iraq.

“They are trusting terrorists,? said Ali Al Adeeb, a prominent Shi’ite lawmaker who was among many to question the loyalty of the Sunni groups. “They are trusting people who have previously attacked American forces and innocent people. They are trusting people who are loyal to the regime of Saddam Hussein? …

The collaboration has progressed furthest in the western province of Anbar, where US military commanders enlisted the help of Sunni tribal leaders to funnel their kinsmen into the police force by the thousands. In other areas, Sunnis have not been fully incorporated into the security services and exist as local militias.

Some of these groups, believed to be affiliated with such organizations as the Islamic Army or the 1920 Revolution Brigades, have received weapons and ammunition, usually through the Iraqi military, as well as transportation, food, handcuffs, and direct assistance from US soldiers. In Baghdad’s Amiriyah neighborhood, a local group of Sunnis, the Baghdad Patriots, were driven around earlier this month in American and Iraqi vehicles and given approval by US forces to arrest suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq members.

In Fallujah, Regimental Combat Team 6 is training former insurgents to fight AQI and AAS.

Marine Sgt. Tony Storey doesn’t like to think about what-ifs as he watches the young Iraqis he is helping to train take target practice. He recalls one man who was a natural with his AK47.

“Where’d you learn to shoot like that?? Storey asked.

“Insurgent,? the man said with a smile.

“Was he joking?? Storey asked while surveying the 50 men from the Albu Issa tribe firing their weapons at a distant target. “I don’t know.?

For the men of Regimental Combat Team 6, who are training members of Anbar province tribes to fight Al Qaeda, Storey’s question isn’t simple curiosity. Less than a year ago, the tribes viewed Al Qaeda in Iraq as an ally in their effort to push Americans out of the province.

Now, the tribes see Al Qaeda as a threat to their society and their businesses — many of them dependent on illegal smuggling — and they’ve turned to the U.S. military for help.

An analogous strategy is being implemented in the Diyala Province, where erstwhile enemy fighters are being used to rout the terrorist elements in their midst.

The situation is so desperate that U.S. forces over the last month decided to seek uncomfortable alliances with some of the groups that have killed Americans but now say they hate the group Al Qaeda in Iraq even more, and are willing to fight it.

Members of the 1920 Revolution Brigade, a Sunni resistance group that is dedicated to the expulsion of U.S. forces and takes its name from the revolt that pushed out the British occupation, are among those newly granted the right to patrol with U.S.-supplied uniforms and be exempt from AK-47 weapons seizures, said Lt. Col. James D. George, the acting American commander in the province.

Just a year ago, this region appeared to be nearly pacified. Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi was killed just outside Baqubah, and U.S. commanders decided the province was ripe for the transfer of primary responsibility for security to Iraqi forces.

Instead, Al Qaeda quickly regained a sanctuary in the province and imposed its extremist interpretation of Islam. U.S. and Iraqi security forces scarcely venture into west Baqubah, where smoking is prohibited, as is the sale of women’s clothing by men. Even placing a cucumber next to a tomato in the markets is forbidden because they have been gendered male and female …

U.S. forces in Diyala are looking past the Iraqi police and army for help driving Al Qaeda from the province. Dozens of militia members have been outfitted by American troops with brown T-shirts spray-painted with numbers and will soon be provided with cards identifying them as members of “the Concerned Local Nationals.”

The gunmen are allowed large caches of AK-47s and ammunition, and they are promised eventual positions in the Baqubah police force.

George said the group included members of the 1920 Revolution Brigade and other fighters who have engaged in violent battles with Americans, but he said no one on a “high-value target” list would be able to evade American capture.

“Since we came here, the No. 1 priority has been to drive a wedge between insurgents and terrorists, and this is one of the only ways to do that,” George said.

The delineation that Lt. Col. George makes between “insurgents” and “terrorists” is precise and highly technical, and comports exactly with the understanding we have.  The Maliki administration understands exactly what the U.S. is doing and has done, and has voiced their displeasure.

… one of  Al-Maliki top aides, Hassan al-Suneid, was quoted as saying the U.S. was treating Iraq like “an experiment in an American laboratory.” He sharply criticised the U.S. military, saying it was committing human rights violations, embarassing the Iraqi government with its tactics and cooperating with “gangs of killers” in its campaign against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Al-Suneid, a Shiite lawmaker close to al-Maliki, told The Associated Press that al-Maliki has problems with the top U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus, who works along a “purely American vision.” He criticized U.S. overtures to Sunni groups in Anbar and Diyala, encouraging former “insurgents” to join the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq. “These are gangs of killers,” he said.

Of course they’re gangs of killers.  This was the strategy.  The difference between them and the Shi’ite militias is that they have shown a willingness to reconcile and settle, while the Mahdi army and Sadrists have shown a hardening of their position over the past months.  Because of refusal to reconcile (mainly on the part of the Shi’a), along with lack of oil revenue sharing legislation, Iraqi politics is at a standstill.  Couple this with the U.S. allowing Moqtada al Sadr to go unmolested, free to disrupt Iraqi politics and security, and the result is a witch’s brew of present and future problems.

Here at TCJ, we have chided the Multinational Force for allowing Sadr to go unmolested (and have recommended his ‘strategic disappearance’), as has Omar Fadhil of Iraq the Model.  When recently pressed during a blogger’s interview with Tony Snow about Sadr, laughing, Snow said “we do not engage in assassinations.”  But while America preens and fluffs its moralistic feathers and struts its righteousness in front of the world, there have been and currently are indigenous Iraqi elements who would prevent success in Iraq.  The Sunnis have shown a willingness to reconcile, and are actively helping to rout rogue elements in Anbar.

The hard work has been done with the the Sunnis.  The question remains whether the U.S. will do the hard work and take the hard actions with the Shi’a that will finally be necessary to finish the job in Iraq.  If not, the lives of U.S. troops in OIF will have been to no avail.

Postscript

On July 16, 2007, the New York Times published an interesting and informative article that clearly substantiates our position, both with respect to the indigenous Sunni fighters, their new cooperation with U.S. forces, and the recalcitrance of the Shi’a army.

Abu Azzam says the 2,300 men in his movement include members of fierce Sunni groups like the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade and the Mujahedeen Army that have fought the American occupation. Now his men patrol alongside the Americans, who want to turn them into a security force that can bring peace to this stretch between Baghdad and Falluja.

A few miles away, in the town of Abu Ghraib, Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Hiti and his brigade of Iraqi Army soldiers also have the support of the American military. But they have a different ambition, some American commanders here say: doing everything they can to undermine Abu Azzam’s men, even using a stolen membership list to single them out for wrongful detention.

General Nassir, a 37-year-old former special forces officer, denies that, but says he has strict orders not to support “unofficial? groups and to arrest armed men, no matter who they are. He says he supports those who join the security forces but objects to “those who have Iraqi blood on their hands and who kill our soldiers.?

The gulf between Abu Azzam’s men and the Iraqi soldiers remains vast, with American troops sometimes having to physically intercede. And it is an unmistakable caution that the full depths of the problems facing Iraq cannot be measured in the statistics about insurgent attacks and sectarian killings that carry so much weight in Washington.

The United States has placed great hope in its deepening ties with Sunni leaders like Abu Azzam who have vowed to fight Islamist militants. But his mostly Sunni group, the Volunteers, is different from the American-allied tribes in the Sunni heartland of Anbar Province, in part because it patrols only 40 minutes from central Baghdad and close to large Shiite districts. So American commanders view this as a crucial test case for whether Shiite leaders will tolerate new alliances with Sunni groups.

If General Nassir’s unit, the Muthanna Brigade, is any indication, the outlook is not promising, said Lt. Col. Kurt Pinkerton, a 41-year-old California native who has spent the past months cultivating his relationship with Abu Azzam.

About a month ago, the Iraqi brigade, which is predominantly Shiite, was assigned a new area and instructed to stay away from Nasr Wa Salam, Colonel Pinkerton said. But he said he believed that the Iraqi soldiers remain intent on preventing Sunni Arabs, a majority here, from controlling the area. He cites a pattern of aggression by Iraqi troops toward Abu Azzam’s men and other Sunnis, who he believes are often detained for no reason.

Recently, and without warning, Colonel Pinkerton said, 80 Iraqi soldiers in armored vehicles charged out of their sector toward Nasr Wa Salam but were blocked by an American platoon. The Iraqis refused to say where they were going and threatened to drive right through the American soldiers, whom they greatly outnumbered.

Eventually, with Apache helicopter gunships circling overhead and American gunners aiming their weapons at them, the Iraqi soldiers retreated. “It hasn’t come to firing bullets yet,? Colonel Pinkerton said.

A few weeks ago, he said, a Sunni detainee was beaten to death while in custody of the Muthanna Brigade. And in the past year, he said, Muthanna soldiers detained two of Abu Azzam’s brothers, both of whom said they were abused, and raided Abu Azzam’s house.

Colonel Pinkerton’s experiences here, he said, have inverted the usual American instincts born of years of hard fighting against Sunni insurgents.

“I could stand among 1,800 Sunnis in Abu Ghraib,? he said, “and feel more comfortable than standing in a formation of Iraqi soldiers.?

He credits the Volunteers for taking on Sunni extremists, including Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown group that claims loyalty to Osama bin Laden’s principles. Abu Azzam’s men, including some local Shiites, have been lining up by the hundreds every day to submit to retina scans and fingerprinting so they can apply to join the Iraqi police. Some already stand guard, with loaded Kalashnikov rifles, alongside American troops.

Read the whole New York Times article.

Splits, Reorganization and Realignments Within the Insurgency in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 11 months ago

From Adnkronos International:

It’s been a bad week for the al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq. While initial reports that its leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri or allied Islamist State of Iraq chief Abu Omar al-Baghdadi had been killed were proven false, it did lose one top man, ‘information minister’ Muharib Abdulatif al-Juburi. But far more damaging in the growing isolation of al-Qaeda has been the birth of a new alliance between part of Sunni insurgent groups Ansar al-Sunna and the Islamic Army calling itself the Jihad and Reform Front.

The Ansar al-Sunna in a statement posted Friday to the internet made a scathing criticism of the new born front which comprises three groups, the Islamic Army the Mujahadeen and a breakaway cell of al-Sunna.

The declared cause of their anger is that inside the new formation is a group calling itself “Ansar al-Sunna Sharia Committee”.

“We write this letter on your first day of activity” said a statement from Ansar al-Sunna’s leadership “because we see that you have committed a horrible mistake. You say that among the founder members of the Front there is a so-called Sharia Committee of Ansar al-Sunna”.

“There is no such thing as a Sharia committee inside al-Sunna” the group complained. “What happened is that two leaders of our group, Abi Sajad e Abu Hind, who formed a new outfit with their name”

The damaging split within Ansar al-Sunna was first revealed by the Al Jazeera network two weeks ago, to the amazement of Islamist cybernauts who, not having found any trace of the news on Islamist forums asked whether the report was true or whether the Qatar based broacaster had got it wrong. Only the official launch of the new Jihad and Reform Front on Thursday provided proof of what was really happening inside the Sunni insurgent formation.

Though not explicitly stated in the foundation document posted to Islamist internet sites on Thursday, the group has a clear anti al-Qaeda role, challenging the principles and strategies of its armed struggle.

“The group’s aim is to continue the resistance in Iraq and throw out the occupiers but at the same time to restate that Jihadi operations will strike the occupiers and their agents and not innocent civilians whom we should protect,” reads the statement.

The new cartel goes on to ask the Islamist militiamen to think seriously about the consequences of their attacks before carrying them.

These words, and the final part of the document which refers to an interpretation of Sharia law which can change according to the requirements of a military strategy, appear to be a pointed criticism of al-Qaeda in Iraq which is increasingly isolated within the insurgency.

This report by AKI leaves some things in need of clarification.  The loss of senior al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) leadership was possibly at the hands of competing insurgent groups, but is has been speculated that the loss in AQI leadership was at the hands of insurgents who are now working with coalition forces.  This seems somewhat dubious, but be that as it may, this alignment with U.S. interests (if it exists) must be seen as temporary and tenuous.  In Counterinsurgency Paradigm Shift in Iraq, I said “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.”

Foreign fighters are still a significant influence in Iraq, especially concerning suicide bombers (crossing the Syrian border) and weapons supply (crossing the Iranian border).   It is certainly the case that should AQI diminish or even disappear from Iraq, the results will be positive.  But in the total absence of AQI and Ansar al Sunna (AAS), there would still be an insurgency among the hard line Baathists and Fedayeen Saddam (although it is now becoming apparent that the Baathists, as a political party, are beginning the process of self-destruction).  This reorganized insurgency will be opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq, and in fact, the real purpose of the split in the current insurgency is made clear in their vision for the future.

The Islamic Army in Iraq, the Mujahideen Army and Ansar Al Sunna (Shariah Council), an offshoot of the established Ansar Al Sunna group, said they would avoid spilling civilian blood, according to an Internet statement.

“The Jihad and Reform Front … pledges to continue with the duty of jihad in Iraq until all objectives, including the complete withdrawal of the occupiers in all their guises and the establishment of God’s religion …. are met,? it said.

“The military actions of the mujahideen will target the occupiers and their collaborators and will not target the innocents whom jihad aims to lead to victory.?

Much of the internecine warfare among the insurgency is reorganization and realignment.  If the insurgency has become experienced enough to move on to what David Galula roughly describes as care and governance of the population rather than brutalization of them, the reorganization and realignment may be a harbinger of a transition in strategy and tactics.

The background of AAS is described in summary fashion for us by an expert on the subject.

“Ansar al-Islam was formed out of a merger of the majority Kurdish groups Hamas (inspired by but not identical to the Palestinian group of the same name), Second Soran Unit, and al-Tawhid. I think September 2001 was the last time that they were majority Kurdish, because after that they started receiving a heavy influx of “Afghan Arabs? – you know the drill – and they soon outnumbered the original Kurdish fighters.

Fast forward to OIF in 2003. Most of the group is killed by the US and the battered remnants flee to Iran. They reorganize under the protection of the IRGC, but there is a lot of internal controversy.

Some members want to go join Zarqawi (AMZ), while others blame him and the international attention he brought to their activities for their current plight. By November 2003, the split finalizes and about half join AMZ while the others go back into Iraq as Jaish Ansar al-Sunnah.

They are pro-AQ but anti-AMZ and keep sending nasty reports back to AQ HQ talking trash on AMZ. Right now with AMZ dead, the major concern is that they will merge with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) since its new supremo doesn’t carry the personal baggage that AMZ did with the Ansar al-Sunnah leaders. If you look at the list of captured or killed AQI leaders that CENTCOM just released, you will note that at least one of them was an Ansar al-Sunnah leader who was discussing such a merger.

AQI has never been majority Kurdish, now or at any time in the past since its formation in October 2004. Its predecessor group al-Tawhid wal Jihad was the same thing, made up primarily of Palestinian Jordanians from AMZ’s Bani Hassan tribe with a healthy sprinkling of international jihadis, mostly Algerians and Saudis. After the capture of Saddam, they were able to use AMZ as an alternate “alpha male? for a lot rank-and-file Baathist henchmen and picked up most of Saddam’s former lapdogs.

Bottom line, the Kurdish component in Iraqi jihadis has always been small and is likely to remain so in the future. The only time when Kurds made up a majority of Iraqi jihadis was when there were only 500-800 of them back in 2001 and most of those are captured or dead.?

Enemy Operations in Baghdad and Fallujah

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

There have been additional deployments to the Diyala Province due to the flight of AQI and other insurgents from Baghdad just prior to the increase in U.S. force size.  But there currently appears to be two foci – two points of importance in the counterinsurgency campaign – that are shaping up.  The first is Baghdad, where radical Shi’a are running out of patience even at the beginning of the security plan.  The second is Fallujah where radical Sunni, being squeezed in Ramadi and other parts of the Anbar Province, are wreaking violence and causing intimidation.

Al Sadr, believed to be in Iran, recently issued a statement explaining exactly where he and his leadership stood regarding the security plan for Baghdad.

“The occupiers want to harm this beloved (Sadr City) and tarnish its name by spreading false rumors and allegations that negotiations and cooperation are ongoing between you and them,” the statement said. “I am confident that you will not make concessions to them and will remain above them. Raise your voices in love and brotherhood and unity against your enemy and shout ‘No, No America!”

In tempo, a Sadr City official who has cooperated with the U.S. security plan was attacked, the attack wounding him and killing his two body guards.

An attack against the top Sadr City official has created tension in the ranks of Shiite militiamen with some blaming a faction unhappy about cooperation with Americans, a local commander said Friday.

Gunmen opened fire on the convoy carrying Rahim al-Darraji Thursday in eastern Baghdad, seriously wounding him and killing two of his bodyguards on Thursday, police and a local official said.

Al-Darraji was the principal negotiator in talks with U.S. officials that led to an agreement to pull fighters off the streets in Sadr City, a stronghold of the feared Mahdi Army, and a local commander said suspicion fell on a group of disaffected militiamen who are angry about the deal.

‘This is a faction that enjoys some weight,’ the Mahdi Army commander said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

He said the attack has created tension within the ranks of the militia and renewed a debate on the merits of allowing the Americans to operate in Sadr City without resistance during a security sweep aimed at ending the sectarian violence that has raged since a Feb. 22, 2006, bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.

Some Mahdi army members have splintered off from al Sadr, and notwithstanding this splintering the Mahdi army is a loose knit organization anyway.  But it is clear now that al Sadr has given marching orders to his loyal followers, and his orders do not include participating with any security plan for Baghdad.  Not missing an opportunity to spin the events in a positive light, the Multi-National Force said:

“We’re very encouraged by what we’re seeing on the ground right now in Sadr City,” said Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the U.S. military’s chief spokesman in Baghdad. “There is a tremendous amount of cooperation and dialogue ongoing. It’s proven to be very beneficial to both sides.”

Some reports have even gone so far as to suggest that Sadr is losing his grip on the Mahdi army.  We do not believe that this is so, any more than we believe that there is a “tremendous amount of cooperation” between the hard line Sadrists and the Multi-National Force.  What we believe concerning Sadr is summed up previously in Intelligence Bulletin #3.

General David Petraeus said that discussions are ongoing with Sadr’s organization, adding that “over time the Mahdi Army, as with all the militias, has to be disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated into society in some fashion.  The militia will not be allowed to join the Iraqi security forces as an organization.?  We would dryly observe that unless Moqtada al Sadr himself is out of the picture, this is probably not possible.  It must be remembered that Sadr is not merely the spiritual leader of a movement.  He essentially commands the largest voting bloc in the Iraqi parliament.

Further, if Sadr returns to Iraq, his arrest or disappearance might incite such a firestorm of problems that the Baghdad security plan is brought to a halt.  The Mahdi army doesn’t like even the presence of combat operation posts or bases in Sadr City.  Sadr will never be convicted in a court in Iraq, and a show trial that exhonerates him would be the worst of all possible outcomes.  The U.S. is tracking the whereabouts of Sadr.  Major General William Caldwell said that Sadr was still inside Iran as of 24 hours ago.  This seems like a confident report, and assuming its accuracy, it gives lattitude for the appropriate action to remove Sadr from the political and spiritual scene, thus enabling the security plan to succeed.  We highly commend the notion of a strategic disappearance of Sadr as one key to the overall success of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Recent events and al Sadr’s statement have only strengthened this view.

Turning our attention to Fallujah, it is helpful to read a report from an embedded reporter directly from the front in Fallujah.  Andrew Lubin gives us a first hand account of recent kinetic operations in Fallujah.

“AQI is both feared and hated,? Capt Broekhuizen said, referring to Al Qaeda in Iraq.  “They’ve been running a brutal terror campaign.  No city leaders are left here who will take a leadership role.? Marines from Golf Company said they recently fished two bodies out of the local river: a man had been decapitated, and his 4-year old tied to his leg before both were thrown into the river and the little boy drowned.  The killings were a product of Al Qaeda terror …

Last night, 4th Platoon won a small victory in the battle against AQI.  Under the command of Lieutenant Anthony Friel, four Marine humvees on patrol spotted a white Toyota parked close to a house along the Euphrates River.  Both the Toyota and the house looked suspicious.  Quickly, the Marines surrounded the latter, and knocked on the door.

Inside the house were several young men (with dubious identification), women and children, as well as an older man.  The squad leader, Corporal Jon Bates, and his Marines thoroughly searched the young Iraqis.  After discovering one ID marked in English “Progressive Mosque Security,? a subsequent search of the young man’s Toyota turned up sophisticated IED triggering devices, a pressure plate and an AK-47. Two were detained.

At the same time, another pair of locals were pushing a small skiff up the river, and seemed to be moving to land at the house.  The Marines on the riverbank spotted an AK-47 in the boat’s bottom, and they fired a pyrotechnic flare.  The locals turned the boat around and fled downriver.  The Marines chose not to pursue.

As it turned out, the older gentleman was the real prize. He was Sheik “X?, the local Okhash tribal elder, and he was fully aware of how the Marines and Sheiks were cooperating in rebuilding Ramadi thirty miles west (ON Point reported from Ramadi last week).  Having tribal connections in the Ramadi area, Sheik X said that he wanted to use it as a model for Marine assistance to drive AQI and the others from his city.  He said that he had been “biding his time? before contacting them.

Calmly, the Sheik watched as the Marines detained the two young men in the house, volunteering that if they were “bad guys? he was happy to see them go.  “You and I are going to find a way to work together to make this area better,? he told Lt Friel, “like Ramadi.?  The Sheik added that it was “Iranians and foreigners? who were destabilizing his tribal area. “Iranians are forcing out the doctors and teachers.  Soon this town will look like Afghanistan.?

This report from Dr. Lubin is thematically consistent with our discussions, including the themes of brutality as the primary tactic of the insurgency, security as a necessary pre-condition for political solutions to take effect, the necessity to prevent Iranian influence inside Iraq, and the global jihadist war on educators.

Consistent with the first theme, chlorine attacks are becoming more commonplace in the attempt to terrorize the tribal leaders into submission to al Qaeda in Iraq (more from Foxnews).

Suicide bombers sent another chilling message to Sunni Arab tribal leaders who have rebuffed Al Qaeda, blowing up three trucks rigged with chlorine-laden explosives in Al Anbar province, the military said Saturday. At least two people were killed, and more than 350 were sickened by the noxious clouds, including seven U.S. troops.

Since January, suspected Sunni insurgents have waged six attacks involving a combination of explosive devices and chlorine, killing 26 people. One of the bombings, in the provincial capital Ramadi, left 16 people dead.

The latest bombings appeared to be part of a vicious campaign by Sunni insurgents against local sheiks who had once harbored them but turned against them last fall in the face of relentless attacks against civilians.

Caught in the middle is the province’s overwhelmingly Sunni population, whose mosques, homes and roads have been targeted in retaliation for their elders’ decision to work with the Iraqi government and the U.S. military.

Last month, at least 37 Iraqis were killed in a bomb attack as they were leaving a Sunni mosque in the province. A preacher at the mosque in Habbaniya, 40 miles west of Baghdad, had delivered a blistering sermon a day earlier condemning Al Qaeda activities in Iraq, an official in the town said at the time.

Witnesses say one of the latest attacks targeted the home of a sheik who is part of the newly formed Anbar Salvation Council, a Sunni group that has led calls to oppose Al Qaeda.

The effects of acute exposure to chlorine inhalation can range from mild irritation to death, but given that explosive ordnance is far more effective in destruction and loss of life than chemical weapons, along with the fact that airborne contaminants disperse per Guass’s law with the square of the radius from the point of origin (with no wind), it is obvious that chlorine attacks are being used as an instrument of terror rather than for their usefulness as a weapon (and with wind, the contaminants still disperse according to meteorological theory, possibly in the unintended direction).  While the force due to conventional explosive ordnance also decreases with the square of the radius, conventional ordnance can be delivered directly to the desired point (given the weapons currently available to the insurgents), whereas the trucks used to deliver the chlorine can be interdicted.  If the insurgents continue to use these means, we predict that it will instill terror but yield meager tactical results.

In further action in Fallujah, today on March 18 “an Iraqi army base was fully destroyed on Sunday morning when a truck crammed with explosives detonated in eastern Falluja, leaving an unidentified number of casualties, a police source said. An Iraqi army base was fully destroyed on Sunday morning when a truck crammed with explosives detonated in eastern Falluja, leaving an unidentified number of casualties, a police source said.”  In other action slightly east of Ramadi in between Ramadi and Fallujah, “armed tribesmen in the Eastern Husayba village (5 km east of Ramadi) in the Anbar Governorate managed to drive out a local insurgent group associated with the Al-Qaeda in Iraq organization from their village.”  Sunday also saw the capture of five suspected terrorists with alleged ties to vehicle-borne IED and rocket attacks against Coalition Forces.

We continue to believe that the strategic disappearance of Moqtada al Sadr is a cornerstone of the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and without it, any surge of coalition troops, no matter how long it lasts, will be waited out by the more loyal Sadrists.  Further, recent terrorism and combat action shows that robust kinetic operations against al Qaeda in Iraq and Ansar al Sunna is necessary to provide security and thus pacify the Anbar Province, with Fallujah being a current hot spot of action.

Intelligence Bulletin #3

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

The Intelligence Bulletin is an aggregation and commentary series, and this is the third entry in that series.

Intelligence Bulletin #3 covers the following subjects: [1] More forces deploy to Diyala province, [2] Disappearance of Jilal Sharafi yields intelligence bonanza, [3] More on international war against the CIA, [4] U.S. tracking whereabouts of al Sadr (and why his ‘strategic disappearance’ is necessary for the success of the security plan), [5] Balancing act by Saudi Arabia, [6] Martyrdom operations by Ansar al Sunna, and [7] Gates rolls back defense intelligence.

More Forces Deploy to Diyala Province

In The Surge and Coming Operations in Iraq we discussed the redeployment of insurgents from Baghdad to surrounding areas just prior to the implementation of the security plan, most particularly to the Diyala Province.  True to form, the insurgents are beginning to cause problems wherever they are, and more U.S. forces are being deployed to Diyala.

More than 700 U.S. troops rolled into Diyala on Tuesday in armored vehicles to help quell escalating violence in the Iraqi province that has become a haven for insurgents targeted by the Baghdad security crackdown.

The Army battalion was transferred from Taji to Baqubah, capital of the religiously mixed province that extends from Baghdad to the Iranian border, the military said. It joined about 3,500 U.S. troops already stationed there.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, the U.S. commander for northern Iraq, had requested the reinforcements to confront a rise in sectarian and insurgent attacks in outlying regions since U.S. and Iraqi troops began a crackdown in Baghdad last month.

U.S. commanders believe insurgent fighters have moved into the province from Baghdad and Al Anbar, the western Iraqi province that is the center of the Sunni Arab insurgency.

“We see the Sunni insurgency trying to desperately gain control of Diyala, because it helps in their effort to control Baghdad and to prevent the government of Iraq from succeeding,” Mixon told Pentagon reporters via video link from Iraq last week.

U.S. officials did not specify how long the new battalion would be based in Diyala. But Mixon said he was “cautiously optimistic that in the next 30 to 60 days that we’re going to see some significant differences in the security situation in Diyala.”

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said Monday that U.S. commanders had anticipated that the Baghdad crackdown could drive some insurgent and militia leaders into areas such as Diyala. He said troops would spread out into communities on Baghdad’s fringes, where insurgents are believed to be operating car-bomb factories (italics mine).

The talk of anticipating the influx of insurgents to Diyala seems forced.  If this had been properly anticipated as claimed, troops deployments should have been done to Diyala prior to implementation of the security plan.  Failure to do so doesn’t point to the need to avoid a heavy footprint in Iraq, since the tribal leaders in Diyala had requested that they be included within the security plan.  This appears to be a numbers problem.  Larger force size would have given U.S. command the ability to avoid the chase.

Disappearance of Jalal Sharafi Yields Intelligence Bonanza

The disappearance of Jalal Sharafi and five other Iranians has apparently yielded an intelligence bonanza for the U.S.

The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security has revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that it had no updates regarding its investigation into Jalal Sharafi’s disappearance early last month. Kidnapped in front of the Iranian state-owned Bank Melli in Baghdad, it is alleged that Sharafi was abducted by US-supported Iraqi Defense Ministry elements. Likewise, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the al Quds Brigade’s investigations have failed to yield any leads pertaining to their members who have disappeared in Iraq over the past few weeks.

According to statements made by an official from the Iranian armed forces, the possibility of the detention of eight members from the IRGC and five elements from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence by US forces was “likely?, as the concerned parties had no evidence of their escape …

Furthermore, the information supplied by the five Iranian officials detained in Irbil last month [US troops confiscated vast amounts of documents and computer data], considered highly classified information has facilitated and enabled US forces to arrest more figures from the IRGC and al Quds Brigade in Iraq.

In a humorous sidebar, it should be noted that Iran has demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq due to the fact our presence is fueling the violence.  In related news, General Petraeus has come out strongly concerning the role of Iran and Syria in Iraq.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq said in an interview released Monday that it’s “indisputable” Iran is training and arming militants to fight against U.S.-led troops in Iraq.

Gen. David Petraeus also told ABC News that suicide bombers are streaming across Iraq’s border from Syria and making their way into the country’s volatile western Anbar province.

His comments follow a harsh exchange of words over the weekend between the U.S. and Iran at a conference in Baghdad on Iraq’s security.

More on International War Against the CIA

In Intelligence Bulletins #1 and #2 we covered the international war against the CIA, exemplified in the formal charges against CIA agents in Italy and Germany, and we noted that the U.S. has refused any discussion of extradition.  The Strategy Page gives us a little more detail concerning how this war is shaping up and who the players are.

A new trend has emerged. Germany is charging 13 CIA operatives in connection with the capture of one suspected terrorist. Italy has charged 26 with the capture of another suspected terrorist. Again, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in involved with these efforts.

In essence, the CCR is trying to protect terrorists from the United States military. For an example of who they are protecting, one of their clients, Mohammed al Khatani, is worth a closer look. Khatani is believed to have been slated to be the 20th hijacker on 9/11. Information he gave up provided leads that enabled the break-up of terrorist cells before they could carry out attacks.

Khatani’s interrogation diary was leaked to Time Magazine in 2005. The methods used during the detainee’s interrogations were portrayed as routine. They were not – the techniques had been authorized as part of a special protocol. Naturally, human rights groups have been complaining about this, and their concerns are amplified by sympathetic news reports. Having lost in the legislative arena, they now have turned to foreign courts.

And the foreign courts are all too happy to oblige (although with all due respect to the Strategy Page, the war against the CIA has more players than just CCR).

U.S. Tracking Whereabouts of al Sadr

General David Petraeus said that discussions are ongoing with Sadr’s organization, adding that “over time the Mahdi Army, as with all the militias, has to be disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated into society in some fashion.  The militia will not be allowed to join the Iraqi security forces as an organization.”  We would dryly observe that unless Moqtada al Sadr himself is out of the picture, this is probably not possible.  It must be remembered that Sadr is not merely the spiritual leader of a movement.  He essentially commands the largest voting bloc in the Iraqi parliament.

Further, if Sadr returns to Iraq, his arrest or disappearance might incite such a firestorm of problems that the Baghdad security plan is brought to a halt.  The Mahdi army doesn’t like even the presence of combat operation posts or bases in Sadr City.  Sadr will never be convicted in a court in Iraq, and a show trial that exhonerates him would be the worst of all possible outcomes.  The U.S. is tracking the whereabouts of Sadr.  Major General William Caldwell said that Sadr was still inside Iran as of 24 hours ago.  This seems like a confident report, and assuming its accuracy, it gives lattitude for the appropriate action to remove Sadr from the political and spiritual scene, thus enabling the security plan to succeed.  We highly commend the notion of a strategic disappearance of Sadr as one key to the overall success of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Balancing Act by Saudi Arabia

In Regional Wars in the Middle East we pointed out that Saudi Arabia has been equipping and training Sunni extremists in Iraq (as has Jordan).  But there is an interesting twist in the case.  Al Baghdadi claims that Saudi Arabia is trying to undermine the extremists in Iraq.

Saudi Arabia is involved in a conspiracy to undermine the project of the Islamic State of Iraq, the group’s leader has announced in online remarks, according to a report in Arabic on al-Jazeera Net.

In a recording of spoken remarks, published online, a voice attributed to the figure known as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader, accuses the kingdom of attempting to break its link with its “popular base? in Iraq, by funding other armed groups to attack it, and involvement in a media campaign against it.

The recorded remarks continue on to claim responsibility for operations around Iraq, including the brazen raid on Badoush prison, near Mosul, last week which freed scores of prisoners.

And there is yet another twist given to us by the Strategy Page:

The war in Iraq has been very useful for Moslem nations trying to deal with Islamic radicals. Many of the most dangerous Islamic radicals have gone off to fight, and die, in Iraq. Those that come back home are far fewer than those who left, and easier to keep an eye on. Many are not transformed into “experienced terrorists” by their time in Iraq, but into disillusioned and shell shocked veterans of things they had not expected to encounter.

Most Islamic clerics have a hard time condemning the “martyrs” who “died for the faith.” But Islamic governments see an opportunity to overcome this, because in Iraq, the Islamic terrorists appear to have crossed the line. The numerous murders of Moslems, especially women and children (who are traditionally left alone when Moslems fight each other), has appalled most Moslems, and al Qaeda is way down in the popularity polls as a result. The Islamic radicals have openly condemned the new program to support moderate Islam, which indicates that this new policy may help. By declaring all “moderate Moslems” to be enemies, the Islamic radicals isolate themselves even more in the Islamic world.

The Saudi strategy seems to be to allow the radicals to cross the border into Iraq so that the U.S. can take care of the problem.  This has a beneficial side effect, in that a stronger Sunni population keeps the Shi’a in check, and thus prevents Iran from having complete control over Iraq as well as preventing the diminution of the Sunni presence in Iraq - or so the thinking goes.  After all, Iran is the biggest problem that Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt face.  After the removal of the Iraqi regime, the Middle East now lacks the strongman to hold Iran back.

But there is a huge difference between funding secular Sunnis, those who have been deposed from power and don’t like it, and religious lunatics like al Baghdadi.  The strengthening of the very enemies that could threaten the stability of the Saudi regime is risky and presents a bridge too far.  The goal is to assist those who would hold Iran in check, while also undercutting those who would be a risk not only to Iran, but the house of Saud as well.

Martyrdom Operations by Ansar al Sunna

The MEMRI blog has a description of recent martyrdom operations carried out in Mosul, and the description of the suicide bomber is important.

“Abu Al-Bara was the youngest son in his family. He told us that his mother loved him very much because he obeyed her and used to help her with the housework. A few days before he set out on the operation, his brothers the jihad fighters called his family in Syria, and he spoke with his mother and told her: ‘I bought a car and I am getting betrothed today. My brothers are with me and they are preparing to accompany me to the marriage ceremony.’ His mother replied, with tears in her voice: ‘Oh my son, do as you wish, and as Allah is my witness, I wish you and your brothers every success. Go on [your way], and may Allah bless you.’ Next, he spoke with his brothers and sisters and told them to obey Allah… and after finishing this call, he set out on the operation.”

Take note of where the suicide bomber calls home: Syria.

Gates Rolls Back Defense Intelligence

The National Journal has a must-read article on Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan to roll back defense intelligence.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is considering a plan to curtail the Pentagon’s clandestine spying activities, which were expanded by his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, after the 9/11 attacks. The undercover work allowed military personnel to collect intelligence about terrorists and to recruit spies in foreign countries independently of the CIA and without much congressional oversight.

Former military and intelligence officials, including those involved in an ongoing and largely informal debate about the military’s forays into espionage, said that Gates, a former CIA director, is likely to “roll back” several of Rumsfeld’s controversial initiatives. This could include changing the mission of the Pentagon’s Strategic Support Branch, an intelligence-gathering unit comprising Special Forces, military linguists, and interrogators that Rumsfeld set up to report directly to him. The unit’s teams work in many of the same countries where CIA case officers are trying to recruit spies, and the military and civilian sides have clashed as a result. CIA officers serving abroad have been roiled by what they see as the Pentagon’s encroachment on their dominance in the world of human intelligence-gathering.

A former senior intelligence official who knows Gates said that the secretary wants to “dismantle” many of the intelligence programs launched by Rumsfeld and his top lieutenants, Stephen Cambone, the former undersecretary for intelligence, and Douglas Feith, who was Rumsfeld’s policy chief. The former official added that the Defense Intelligence Agency, which has also expanded its human spying efforts, could be returned to a more analytical role.

Given the deplorable record of the CIA in HUMINT, Gates’ plan is completely inexplicable and perhaps headed for disaster.

Insurgency in the Shadows

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 1 month ago

There are shadowy operations going on in the Anbar Province conducted by AQI and other militant groups, these operations being directed against each other and spilling over into the broader population in an attempt to gain support.  As we have pointed out in Hope and Brutality in Anbar (and prior), although AQI has used persuasion in the form of money for some support (such as paying children to spy on U.S. snipers), their primary tactic has been intimidation, torment, torture and houses of horror to keep the population in submission and thus ensure safe haven for their terrorist activities.  However, the intimidation has taken a turn for the secretive, as we saw in Samarra.

The letter from Al Qaeda in Iraq to the members of the local police was clear.

Come to the mosque and swear allegiance on the Koran to Al Qaeda, the letter warned, or you will die and your family will be slaughtered. Also, bring $1,200.

It had the desired effect on American efforts to build an Iraqi security force here.

Nearly a third of the local police force went to the mosque, paid the money and pledged their allegiance. Another third was killed. By late October, only 34 local police officers were left to try to maintain order in this city of 100,000.

Secrecy is being used as a force multiplier, and this tactic is being repeated in Fallujah in a slightly different form but with the same general theme and intent.

A shadowy new militia apparently emerged in Falluja over the weekend, Slogger sources report.

Residents awoke to discover flyers and banners around the city bearing the name of a new militia, the “Chosen Soldiers of God.?

The flyers carry strange supernatural stories about the militia. One claims that the militia are actually angels who fought with Falluja’s Sunnis against American forces in 2004, its soldiers taking the shape of spiders, or the form of giant humans, residents report.

The flyers claim that the militia had received orders from God to depart from Falluja in order to fight elsewhere, but had now returned to deliver the city from corruption and to bring salvation to the people of the city, according to eyewitnesses.

Two days later, new flyers appeared, apparently from the Chosen Soldiers group, this time calling for a public conference, with the goal of bringing together the al-Qa’ida affiliated group al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad and the Abu Risha of the Anbar Salvation Front. The Front has recently fought against al-Qa’ida-allied forces in Anbar. The conference is apparently intended to bring the two parties into negotiation in order to establish a united front against the Iraqi government and the US occupation, according to eyewitness accounts.

It is necessary to get the appropriate backdrop in order to contextualize these tactics.  There is currently a war going on between rival terrorists in Iraq, and Anbar is the center of gravity of these battles.  Actually, this war has been going on for some time, and it is beneficial to rehearse the nuts and bolts of this war with a positive assessment of the nature of an enemy which battles itself, while we will also supply an assessment that is somewhat less sanguine.  We’ll begin with Nibras Kazimi writing at Talisman gate who, on February 17, discussed Mishaan al-Jebouri, a previous mouthpiece for AQI, and who began issuing anti al Qaeda remarks on his satellite station Al Zawra:

Yesterday, however, Al-Jebouri gave a whole anti-Al-Qaeda speech and this drove the jihadists berserk: the premier jihadist organ had begun to badmouth the jihad!

These are al-Jebouri’s main points:

  1. Al-Qaeda provoked the Shi’as and then failed to protect the Sunnis from retaliation.
  2. Al-Qaeda is forcing all the other insurgent groups to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq under Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, and is punishing the hold-outs.
  3. Al-Qaeda is killing and abducting Sunni notables who were part of the insurgency.
  4. Al-Qaeda wants to impose a Taliban-like Islamic State on Iraqi Sunnis, who are the worse for it—they don’t even have enough to eat.
  5. Al-Qaeda killed an emissary sent by al-Jebouri, who has wanted to negotiate with al-Baghdadi.
  6. Iraqi Sunnis across the board are preparing to clash with Al-Qaeda as is already happening in Anbar Province.

Al-Jebouri gets into details and names names, and he addresses his speech to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, questioning the validity of pledging allegiance to an anonymous phantom.

There is nothing new here for veteran readers of Talisman Gate, for I recently wrote:

Al-Baghdadi also feels compelled to tell his fighters to take it easy with the other jihadist groups, which have yet to join the Islamic State of Iraq, while at the same time telling the holdouts that their obstinacy smells of sedition. There are other reports that insurgents are clashing among themselves as Al Qaeda imposes its hegemony over one and all, to the point that al-Baghdadi is compelled to tell his guys that “I am certain that the sincere monotheists are surely coming” our way “eventually, so be tender, be tender.”

And before that I wrote:

For most Sunnis, the insurgency has come to be about communal survival, rather than communal revival. They no longer harbor fantasies of recapturing power. They are on the run and are losing the turf war with the Shiites for Baghdad.

Sunni sectarian attacks, usually conducted by jihadists, finally provoked the Shiites to turn to their most brazen militias — the ones who would not heed Ayatollah Sistani’s call for pacifism — to conduct painful reprisals against Sunnis, usually while wearing official military fatigues and carrying government issued weapons. The Sunnis came to realize that they were no longer facing ragtag fighters, but rather they were confronting a state with resources and with a monopoly on lethal force. The Sunnis realized that by harboring insurgents they were inviting retaliation that they could do little to defend against.

Sadly, it took many thousands of young Sunnis getting abducted by death squads for the Sunnis to understand that in a full-fledged civil war, they would likely lose badly and be evicted from Baghdad. I believe that the Sunnis and insurgents are now war weary, and that this is a turnaround point in the campaign to stabilize Iraq.

On March 12 Kazimi updated his analysis in an article with The Sun entitled Jihadist Meltdown.

Six months ago, many of the strategists behind the Sunni insurgency, faced with a more effective counterinsurgency effort, began to wonder just how long they could keep their momentum given their diminishing resources and talent. These strategists realized that their “resistance” would just peter out over time, as classical insurgencies tend to do. Some argued that, given one last push, the Americans would be sufficiently distressed to grab at cease-fire negotiations that would end with a hasty American withdrawal, leaving the insurgents to work things out with a much-weakened Iraqi government on more favorable terms.

Others, like Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the organization founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, saw that there was no future for their vision of establishing a Taliban-like state should these negotiations with the Americans get underway, which would only serve to strengthen the hand of the rival insurgent factions that counsel this course.

This sense that they were running out of time compelled Al Qaeda to take a bold initiative of declaring the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq four months back, appointing the hitherto unknown Abu Omar al-Baghdadi as its head. This was no propaganda stunt for Al Qaeda. This was the real thing: the nucleus state for the caliphate, with al-Baghdadi as the candidate caliph.

After dissecting the methodology chosen for starting this caliphate, Kazimi continues with his analysis of the insurgency in Anbar:

When the insurgency started in mid-2003, it was largely led, funded, and mobilized by the Baathists. But over time, and through Zarqawi’s pioneering work, the jihadists began to take over, and the role of the Baathists, per se, diminished. Zarqawi converted Baathists and Saddam-loyalists into jihadists by fanning the flames of sectarianism. He had to gradually wean them off the secular, and ostensibly nonsectarian, ideology of Baathism to his way of thinking, and to do that, he needed a dark force that could appeal to the Baathist rank and file: hardcore anti-Shiism …

Initially, Zarqawi’s strategy worked very well, and it almost brought Iraq to the verge of an all-out civil war that would have pushed the Sunnis to submit to Al Qaeda as their only protectors. But something else happened that rendered his approach as yet another strategic mistake: The Sunnis realized that Al Qaeda wasn’t strong enough to beat back a full Shiite assault — the group couldn’t even protect Sunni communities from Shiite death squads — and that Al Qaeda’s vision for reestablishing the caliphate would mean decades of unending warfare. Most Sunnis thus fell in with the crowd that counseled finding a negotiated settlement with the Americans and the Iraqi government — this time, at whatever cost. After four years of this insurgency, the Sunnis have grown weary and tired, and they want to move on.

But that is something that Al Qaeda would not brook, and it set out to force the other jihadist groups to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and to al-Baghdadi himself, or else. Almost everyone balked at this threat, and sharp words were exchanged among them on the streets of the Sunni triangle and on jihadist Internet discussion forums, and then a bloodbath ensued. Things have deteriorated to the point where these other jihadist groups have begun informing on the whereabouts of Al Qaeda’s leaders and local headquarters to the Iraqi government, so that American and Iraqi forces could raid these locations and arrest those who only recently were fellow insurgents of the guys now snitching.

Further coverage on this and related issues can be found at IraqSlogger.  At TCJ, due to contacts in the intelligence community, we have known for months that a war was underway between the various insurgent factions in Iraq, and more particularly, in Anbar.  There is no doubt that there is internecine warfare occurring between the disaffected Sunnis, Anbar tribes, AQI, AAS, and various other factions, some striving for superiority, others (like some of the Anbar tribes) striving for survival.

But it is wrong to identify each and every terrorist in Anbar as AQI, and frankly, most of the individuals identified in Ramadi as AQI are in fact AAS.  The hospital in Ramadi has been under the control of AAS, regardless of the fact that there are reports that AQI controlled it.  Suicide bombers regularly come across the border from Syria and Jordan, and are hired by both AQI and AAS to perpetrate acts of terror mostly on each other.

But there are criminal gangs and disaffected Sunnis, Sadaam Fedayeen and other Baathists who cannot accept the reduction in class that a new Iraq brings, who constitute a significant portion of the violence in Anbar and throughout Iraq.  Some of these rogue elements sell their services to the highest bidder, and will not be a part of any new Iraq regardless of what tribe agrees to what in Anbar or who constitutes the opposition.

There are encouraging signs that the insurgency is turning on itself due to competing philosophical and ideological beliefs.  But to assume that this internecine war will kill the insurgency is wrong.  Someone will win.  The winner must be killed or captured, and they will not be amenable to negotiations.  The letters and myths and secret intimidation of the population is a tactic to force them to take sides with one group or the other.

The Petraeus Thinkers: Five Challenges

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 2 months ago

The Small Wars Journal has a fascinating discussion thread that begins with a Washington Post article by reporter Thomas Ricks, entitled “Officers with PhDs Advising War Effort.”  Says Ricks:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, is assembling a small band of warrior-intellectuals — including a quirky Australian anthropologist, a Princeton economist who is the son of a former U.S. attorney general and a military expert on the Vietnam War sharply critical of its top commanders — in an eleventh-hour effort to reverse the downward trend in the Iraq war.

Army officers tend to refer to the group as “Petraeus guys.” They are smart colonels who have been noticed by Petraeus, and who make up one of the most selective clubs in the world: military officers with doctorates from top-flight universities and combat experience in Iraq.

Essentially, the Army is turning the war over to its dissidents, who have criticized the way the service has operated there the past three years, and is letting them try to wage the war their way.

“Their role is crucial if we are to reverse the effects of four years of conventional mind-set fighting an unconventional war,” said a Special Forces colonel who knows some of the officers.

But there is widespread skepticism that even this unusual group, with its specialized knowledge of counterinsurgency methods, will be able to win the battle of Baghdad.

“Petraeus’s ‘brain trust’ is an impressive bunch, but I think it’s too late to salvage success in Iraq,” said a professor at a military war college, who said he thinks that the general will still not have sufficient troops to implement a genuine counterinsurgency strategy and that the United States really has no solution for the sectarian violence tearing apart Iraq.

The related conversation in the discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal ranges from doctrinal observations on counterinsurgency strategy to personal reflections on the public’s view of the military concerning whether there is sufficient brain power in the conventional military to develop a strategy to pull off a victory in Iraq.

I do not find it at all odd that ‘warrior-philosophers’ or ‘warrior-scholars’ would be involved in the development of strategy, while at the same time I see no compelling argument to suggest that they are situated any better than their predecessors or the balance of the military to develop the going-forward doctrine for OIF.

While a wildly unpopular view, I have been critical of the recently released counterinsurgency manual on which General Petraeus spent much of the previous couple of years developing.  In War, Counterinsurgency and Prolonged Operations, I contrasted FM 3-24 with both Sun Tzu (The Art of War) and the Small Wars Manual, regarding the understanding of both of the later of the effect of prolonged operations on the morale of the warrior, and the reticence of the former on the same subject.  In Snipers Having Tragic Success Against U.S. Troops (still a well-visited post), I made the observation that while snipers were one of two main prongs of insurgent success in Iraq (IEDs being the other), FM 3-24 did not contain one instance of the use of the word sniper.  The retort is granted that FM 3-24 addresses counterinsurgency on a doctrinal level rather than a tactical level, but the objection loses its punch considering that (a) the Small Wars Manual addresses tactical level concerns, and (b) the fighting men from the ‘strategic corporal‘ to the field grade officer work with tactical level concerns on a daily basis.  If FM 3-24 does not address tactical level issues, one must question its usefulness.

I have also questioned the Petraeus model for Mosul, stating that at all times and in all circumstances, security trumps nonkinetic operations, politics and reconstruction.  The question “what have you done to win Iraqi hearts and minds today,? should have been replaced by the question, “what have you done to provide security today??  Yet the questioning attitude has not stopped with Petraeus and the Mosul experience, but extended to the previous defensive strategy in Iraq (in Habitually Offensive Operations Against Guerrillas).  While it is laudable that the previous strategy has led to low casualties (i.e., the withdrawal to safe FOBs for force protection and reliance on patrols), the argument goes that not only is withdrawal to FOBs a losing strategy, but in the end it will be more costly in U.S. lives and treasure.

The Petraeus strategy holds the promise to be more population-centric, and while this strategy is more aggressive than the previous, the model has some significant hurdles to jump in order to be an effective means of long term pacification.  I have previously addressed problems with the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq, as well as made recommendations for moving forward.  Those main ideas will be recast in this article to address the going-forward strategy in Iraq in terms of five challenges that the “Petraeus thinkers” face: [1] unmet expectations for Iraqi behavior, [2] small footprint model, [3] single insurgency focus of the COIN model versus realities on the ground, [4] ‘security first’ versus violence as an exclusive-use procedure by the insurgency, and finally [5] the dynamic battlespace.

Unmet Expectations for Iraqi Behavior

The “we will stand down when the Iraqis stand up” mantra has been pivotal in the way in which the U.S. has approached the Iraq counterinsurgency for most of the four years since cessation of conventional operations.  But because of religious affiliations, tribal loyalties and years of brutality under the previous regime, trust and responsibility are hard to come by in Iraq.  The prevailing opinion of the Iraqi troops currently engaged in the Baghdad security plan is that they are ill-trained, ill-equipped and unprofessional as compared to the U.S. forces.  Retired Iraqi officers are said to have been ’shocked’ at their performance during recent operations.

In addition to the lack of military readiness of the Iraqi security forces, the recent Karbala attack and kidnappings show once again that the apparent should not be confused with the real, and that deception is a way of life in Iraq.  This issue might mark the most serious failure of the U.S. strategy since the start of the war.  A counterinsurgency strategy must take into account religious and societal characteristics of the population, and in fact, these might be as important as the military approach.  I have previously covered this in Iraq: Land of Lies and Deceipt, from which I quote a contractor’s view of the cultural norms in Iraq.

Are lies being told to obtain blood money payments? Some insight comes in this response to the collapse of the British trial by Stephan Holland, a Baghdad-based US contractor.

I’ve been in Iraq for about 18 months now performing construction management. It is simply not possible for me to exaggerate the massive amounts of lies we wade through every single day. There is no way – absolutely none – to determine facts from bulls*** ….

It is not even considered lying to them; it is more akin to being clever – like keeping your cards close to your chest. And they don’t just lie to westerners. They believe that appearances–saving face–are of paramount importance. They lie to each other all the time about anything in order to leverage others on a deal or manipulate an outcome of some sort or cover up some major or minor embarrassment. It’s just how they do things, period.

I’m not trying to disparage them here. I get along great with a lot of them. But even among those that I like, if something happens (on the job) I’ll get 50 wildly different stories, every time. There’s no comparison to it in any other part of the world where I’ve worked. The lying is ubiquitous and constant.

This well-known fact about the Iraqi culture caused one astute commenter in the discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal to remark, ” … it sounds like the local Iraqi Police and Army is heavily infiltrated with militias. Getting rid of FOBs and setting up strongpoints with the locals sounds great but I’m not sure I would like to be bunking up with them.”

In “Surging Doubts,” published by the National Journal, Frederick Kagan goes on record conveying doubts about both the size and length of the so-called “surge.”

Despite his support for the Bush strategy, Kagan worries that the administration has fallen short in two areas — sending troops into Baghdad for too short a time and relying too heavily on the Iraqis’ taking the lead. In their report, Kagan and Keane recommend a surge in U.S. force levels lasting 18 to 24 months, a timeline that many experts doubt is feasible given the lack of political backing at home.

“When I hear Bush administration officials talk about this being an Iraqi plan with Iraqis in the lead, it also raises a big red flag to me,” Kagan said. “Iraqi security forces have not been up to the task in the past, and this plan needs to succeed even if they fail again.”

It appears that the current plan does indeed rely on the Iraqis for success.

The Small Footprint Model

The small footprint model has been used throughout OIF.  Its roots stem from just war theory, and specifically the tenet of proportionate force.  Its strategic justification stems from post-Vietnam counterinsurgency doctrine that attempts to prevent forces from appearing to be an occupying army.  Its pragmatic justification stems from the fact that the U.S. cannot field more troops in the Iraq theater, whether because of the troops or the equipment to support them.

But the promulgation of the small footprint model has prevented the force size and force projection necessary to provide security in Iraq.  Even if the U.S. has not formally and officially acknowledged that the force size was inadequate, Australia’s General Michael Jeffery has, stating that “there weren’t enough soldiers to seal Baghdad off.  Because that didn’t take place everything went counter to the way the coalition and the Iraqi Government were hoping.  A lack of troops, a lack of police, the structures weren’t there, the numbers weren’t there and this is a vitally important time immediately after the first battles.”

Further, force size is not equivalent to force projection, and I have pointed out that force projection is inversely proportional to the need to exercise that force.  For a reminder of the value of appropriate force projection, we can turn to Thomas Ricks again in his Making the Corps.

The diverse approaches of the Army and Marines to the use of force in the Somalia mission caused the two services to inflict casualties in ways that are counterintuitive … the Marines went into Mogadishu wielding firepower for all to see.  The Army tried to act more diplomatically.  Paradoxically, the Marines probably would up killing fewer than 500 Somalis, most shot by Marine snipers who were using force precisely, mainly to protect fellow Marines.  The Army was initially far more restrained, but then, as its mission fell apart, retaliated with greater firepower, using attack helicopters to fire on mobs in the alleyways of Mogadishu.  By some estimates, these tactics killed more than 5000 Somalis.

The contrasting approaches of the Marines and Army were noted by others on the ground, friend and foe.  Robert Oakley, the veteran U.S. diplomat who was the Bush administration’s special envoy to Somalia, observed that “the departure of the heavily armed, aggressively patrolling Marines from south Mogadishu obviously had a much greater psychological effect (sic) on the Somalis … than the continued presence of the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) from the (Army’s) 10th Mountain Division.?

The Small Wars Journal discussion thread mentioned above contains a query: will there be a surge-II?  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has hinted that the answer is no, and that forms the backdrop for the force size problems that the Petraeus thinkers have going forward.  The same small footprint model that at least in part led to the current lack of security in Iraq continues unabated as the going-forward strategy.  The “surge” is not large enough and does not last long enough.

The Single Insurgency Focus of Traditional Counterinsurgency Doctrine

The counterinsurgency doctrine outlined in FM 3-24 and flowing from the Vietnam experience is primarily tooled to address an insurgency.  That is, the current understanding of COIN addresses the insurgency as a monolith, subject to well-aimed and executed kinetic and nonkinetic operations to pacify the population.  As I have discussed in The Surge and Coming Operations in Iraq, contrary to the assertion by Gates that there were four wars going on in Iraq, I have asserted that there are no less than eight distinguishable wars:

  1. The sectarian violence in and around Baghdad, especially in areas where there are mixed religious traditions living together.
  2. The AQI war against U.S. and Iraqi forces.
  3. The AAS war against the same, coupled with the war between AQI and AAS for dominance in the region.
  4. The war of terrorism being waged by foreign fighters, jihadists whose suicide services are purchased by AQI and AAS from right across the Syrian border.
  5. The Sunni insurgency in Iraq (primarily in Anbar), populated by the Saddam Fedayeen and other diehard Baathists, coupled with internecine tribal warfare between tribes loyal to their own purposes and those loyal to AQI.
  6. The war between the Shi’a and Kurds for control of Kirkuk and its oil supply.
  7. The purported operations between the Turkish forces and the Kurds.
  8. The regional covert war being waged against the U.S. by Syria and Iran.

The difficulty with such battlefield chaos is that whether kinetic or nonkinetic operations, any action by the U.S. forces stands the risk of upsetting the balance within the region.  Some operations have consequences that are so upsetting to this balance that they attempt to achieve mutually exclusive goals.  What may weaken one group of insurgents serves to strengthen another.  The Shi’a applaud when U.S. forces target Sunnis, and AQI benefits as we take out AAS.

Security First

Continuing a long-standing theme, in Hope and Brutality in Anbar, I asserted once again that “so-called ‘nonkinetic’ operations to win the hearts and minds of the population (candy for the children, reconstruction for the adults, pedialyte for infants) are ineffectual when violence and torture win the day.  A piece of candy can’t compete with a few holes put into your rib cage with a power drill because you cooperated with the Americans … Security, i.e., a substantially defeated insurgency, is the antecedent for a successful Iraq.”  The insurgents and terrorists employ violence and torture as an exclusive-use procedure to keep the population in submission because it works.  They have not had to transition to government and caretaking of the population (as with traditional counterinsurgency doctrine) because their goal is not care of the population.  This concern is also raised in the aforementioned National Journal article.

Perhaps the biggest mistake in the effort to rebuild Iraq, in the view of some experts, was the belief that meaningful economic development was even possible absent a base level of security that was never met in Baghdad and in other parts of the country.

“Iraq today is essentially a failed state that cannot consistently enforce the rule of law, secure its own people, or even deliver services in the face of a violent civil war,” said Carlos Pascual, the former coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization at the State Department. “Frankly, in such an environment, it’s next to impossible to get governmental and nongovernmental civilians to come in and effectively establish programs to employ the tens of thousands of people who need jobs. If you look at Bosnia and other civil wars, what you find is that economic activities only take root after a peace accord is signed.”

Presupposing the accuracy of this view along with the salience of the first three challenges mentioned above, there may be too many insurgencies with too few U.S. troops and too many ill-prepared Iraqi troops to provide the needed security for Iraq to succeed.

The Dynamic Battlespace

In The Broader War: Redefining our Strategy for Iraq, I discussed the continual stream of insurgents crossing the border into Iraq, and the dynamic battlefield space that this creates, stating that “The battlefield, both for military actions and so-called “nonkinetic? actions to win the people, is dynamic. As one insurgent is killed, another pops up in his place, coming not from any action the U.S. has or has not taken in Iraq, but rather, coming from hundreds or even thousands of miles away due to a religious hatred that has been taught to him from birth. The war in Iraq is both figuratively and quite literally a war without borders.?

It has been said, and correctly so, that the loss in Vietnam didn’t cause the enemy to follow us home, while a loss in Iraq will.  Counterinsurgency doctrine flowing from Vietnam was unprepared for jihad – holy war – against U.S. interests, including the homeland, flowing from religious indoctrination of children from their infancy all the way through to adulthood.  Pacification of cities in Iraq has usually suceeded due to the elimination of the foreign threat from the population.

It is a painful thing for the administration finally to face and admit the significance of the role of Iran in the affairs of Iraq (and in fact, in support for terror world wide).  But without addressing this threat, the thinkers are surely in the unenviable position of knowing that there is nothing that can be done to win the counterinsurgency in Iraq.  It is a regional war, and will require a regional solution.  There is a chorus of voices urging talk with Iran and Syria, but the thinkers surely know that twenty five years of talking has placed us precisely where we are at the moment.

Will the thinkers be able to persuade the administration that we must engage the regional war in order to win in Iraq?  The latest Strategic Forecasting intelligence report waxes bleak.  Concerning the Karbala attack and kidnapping, along with the kidnapping of the Iranian embassy official Jalal Sharafi, Friedman and Bokhari summarize a lengthy and sweeping report with the following assessment of the U.S. situation.

An action like the Sharafi abduction allows the signal to be sent, while still falling short of mounting overt military strikes against Iran — something for which the United States currently has little appetite or resources. A covert war is within the means of the United States, and the Americans might hope that their prosecution of that war will convince Iran they are serious and to back off. Therefore, even if the kidnapping had nothing to do with the United States and Iran misreads the incident, it still could serve American interests in signaling American resolve. Given the state of the U.S. position in Iraq, the strategy well might fail — but once again, it is one of the few cards the United States has left to play.

Stratfor may be right.  Even now an Iranian agent is active in the Iraqi parliament (h/t Blogs of War).

A man sentenced to death in Kuwait for the 1983 bombings of the U.S. and French embassies now sits in Iraq’s parliament as a member of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s ruling coalition, according to U.S. military intelligence.

Jamal Jafaar Mohammed’s seat in parliament gives him immunity from prosecution. Washington says he supports Shiite insurgents and acts as an Iranian agent in Iraq.

U.S. military intelligence in Iraq has approached al-Maliki’s government with the allegations against Jamal Jafaar Mohammed, whom it says assists Iranian special forces in Iraq as “a conduit for weapons and political influence.?

This kind of open, blatant warring against Iraq and the U.S. interests suggests that there is more than just a covert war occurring, with the U.S. still not fully engaged.  But the importance of what is happening in Iraq cannot be underestimated.  Victor Davis Hanson has expressed it well, saying We are in a rare period in American political history, in which the battlefield alone will determine the next election, perhaps not seen since 1864. The economy, scandal, social issues, domestic spending, jobs, all these usual criteria and more pale in comparison to what happens in Iraq, where a few thousand brave American soldiers will determine our collective future.


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