National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  September 26, 2003

Iraq insurgency is no monolith

U.S. must abandon simplistic approaches to head off further deterioration

Pacific News Service

The insurgency in Iraq that is killing American soldiers daily has been incorrectly characterized by the Bush administration as acts of violence against American troops by former regime supporters. Although some ex-supporters of Saddam’s rule are involved, the opposition is not a monolith. At least a dozen groups are carrying out attacks for a variety of reasons.

Based on statements claiming responsibility for the attacks, the insurgents can be roughly divided into three groups. Even within each grouping, the organizations have different motives and goals.

  • Regime loyalists who believe they have no option but to continue fighting, and who are convinced that the United States will tire long before they do. They are trying to apply the experiences of other guerrilla/terrorist organizations -- such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas -- to their operations. They include: The General Command of the Armed Forces, Resistance and Liberation in Iraq, Popular Resistance for the Liberation of Iraq, Patriotic Front, al- Awdah (The Return), and Jihaz al-I’ilam al-siasi lil hizb al-Ba’th.
  • Nationalist and patriotic individuals and insurgent groups who resent the U.S. presence and are angered by U.S. failure to restore law and order, and by U.S. operational methods perceived as deliberately humiliating to Iraqis and their honor. These individuals or groups rely heavily on kinship and tribal ties to provide them with shelter and succor as they plan and execute their operations. They include Iraq’s Revolutionaries -- Al-Anbar Armed Brigades and the Black Banner Organization, which has called for the sabotage of Iraq’s oil industry.
  • Islamists who have come out of the woodwork after decades of suppression by the Baathist regime. Brave though they may be -- and there was considerable evidence of this during the war itself -- many are amateurs. But they learn quickly and have the experiences of other Islamist organizations to help with their learning curve. They include: Al-Faruq Brigades, which refers to itself as the military arm of an Islamic resistance organization called the Islamic Movement in Iraq; the Mujahideen of the Victorious Sect; Mujahideen Battalions of the Salafi Group of Iraq; and the Jihad Brigades/Cells, which threaten to assassinate those who collaborate with the U.S. occupation.

With so many motives and goals, no single strategy will stabilize this situation, and a military solution alone will never work. Political and social strategies must be coordinated with military operations if Iraq is to achieve social order. Measures that deal effectively with the ex-Baathists, for example, will not work with the religious oppositionists.

Even among the religious opposition, philosophies and actions differ. Many Sunni Arabs are convinced that America is there to obliterate Iraq’s identity and turn it into an economic colony. Some have chosen to confront these alleged U.S. machinations politically. Others have chosen the route of insurgency.

The Shiite populace and clerics have shown a more subtle approach. At the national level, Shiite clerics express joy that the oppressive Saddam regime is gone, but they are ambivalent about the U.S. presence in Iraq. The statements of senior Shiite clerics can essentially be summed up as, “Thank you for getting rid of Saddam -- now please go.”

In order to develop an effective counter to the complex Iraqi situation, the American administration must rid itself of its pervasive arrogance and address its cultural ignorance. These two factors promote a tendency to simplistic approaches, such as the single-explanation theory for the attacks against the United States. Such limited theories are prone to failure operationally, and are successful only in perpetuating mutual incomprehension and demonization and the institutionalization of violence. Military and diplomatic personnel must be willing to seek out and engage actively with the whole spectrum of interest groups in Iraq today.

The insurgency lies -- at present -- somewhere between a gut-level resistance to the occupation and a classic guerrilla war. If the United States wants to avoid a further deterioration of the situation, its unflinching goal must be to ensure the emergence of a politically stable, democratic and reconstructed Iraq. We must restore law and order and basic services, and give the Iraqis the substance, not the appearance, of greater political freedom and sovereignty. In this context, the military part of the counterinsurgency or counterguerrilla war must always be subordinated to political and social objectives. We cannot destroy the country in order to save it.

Ahmed Hashim is professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. He specializes in Middle East strategic issues. His views are his own and do not represent those of the institution with which he is affiliated.

National Catholic Reporter, September 26, 2003

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