Archive for the 'Ansar al Sunna' Category

The Waning of Al Qaeda in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 3 months 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
16 years, 8 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
16 years, 9 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?

The Anbar Narrative: Part 2

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 9 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
17 years 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

Splits, Reorganization and Realignments Within the Insurgency in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
17 years, 2 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,

Enemy Operations in Baghdad and Fallujah

BY Herschel Smith
17 years, 4 months 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.

Intelligence Bulletin #3

BY Herschel Smith
17 years, 4 months 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

Insurgency in the Shadows

BY Herschel Smith
17 years, 4 months 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 Petraeus Thinkers: Five Challenges

BY Herschel Smith
17 years, 5 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,

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