5 years ago
The Combating Terrorism Sentinel has an extremely interesting and well-informed piece entitled The JRTN Movement and Iraq’s Next Insurgency. It’s well worth the reading time invested in it, and it explains why we no longer need to be in Iraq at all without significant changes to the Status of Forces Agreement where we would be allowed to operate more autonomously than we currently are. I’ll leave the balance of the report to the reader, but the money quote (for the point I’m trying to make) is this.
JRTN’s branding and messaging has yielded a number of significant advantages for the group. One private security analyst with access to U.S. and Iraqi Security Force officers stated: “At the operational level, JRTN’s appearance of a religious connection gives it credibility in the eyes of the population and therefore increases the support offered and reduces the interference by the local population.” The analyst noted that JRTN’s stated “policy of only attacking the ‘occupiers’ and not the local population (whatever their ethnic or religious group) makes it one of the least ‘interfered with’ terrorist groupings. The population turned its back on many of the foreign fighters but JRTN are still seen as Iraqis first.” In areas along the federal-Kurdish line of control, JRTN’s anti-Kurdish agitation may have assisted its penetration of Sunni security forces. Kurdish factions recently accused JRTN of influencing the 12th Iraqi Army division in southern Kirkuk and flying JRTN’s flag on Iraqi Army vehicles during anti-Kurdish protests. Through sympathizers in the security forces, JRTN is assumed by U.S. officers to have at least some basic insight into the workings of joint U.S.-Iraqi operations centers, including Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and signals intelligence.
The apparent focus on U.S. forces (plus its capacity to intimidate local judges and call upon tribal support) has earned the movement sympathetic treatment by some parts of the Iraqi security forces and judiciary. One intelligence officer from Diyala noted that his Iraqi counterparts “rarely stated in public that JRTN was much of a threat and every time we detained a JRTN leader, we had to fight tooth and nail to keep them detained. In other words they did not accept that JRTN was a serious risk to the [government of Iraq], only to Americans.” JRTN appears to have successfully used loopholes in Iraqi law that means “resistance activities” are not treated as seriously as crimes with Iraqi victims. According to one analyst, this legal aspect “is one reason that [JRTN] is deliberately not leaving a trail of evidence and claims connecting it to car bombings or assassinations that target Iraqis.”
The Iraqis want our logistical capabilities, our MEDEVAC capabilities, our stability, our discipline, and so on. They don’t want us to operate in such a manner that we quell an insurgency, or target Iranian forces who destabilize Iraq. We should be killing insurgents, and instead we are still tipping our hat to incarceration of insurgents, which we have demonstrated is never a successful strategy in counterinsurgency (kill them or let them go – prisons are counterproductive in COIN). And with the current state of affairs in Iraq, we can’t even do that against favored insurgent groups.
So be it. It’s time for the Iraqis to go it alone. Our military forces shouldn’t play second fiddle to anyone.