Monday, May 16, 2005

What is the Insurgents' Strategy?

In Sunday's New York Times, James Bennet explores "The Mystery of the Insurgency":

The insurgents in Iraq are showing little interest in winning hearts and minds among the majority of Iraqis, in building international legitimacy, or in articulating a governing program or even a unified ideology or cause beyond expelling the Americans. They have put forward no single charismatic leader, developed no alternative government or political wing, displayed no intention of amassing territory to govern now.

Rather than employing the classic rebel tactic of provoking the foreign forces to use clumsy and excessive force and kill civilians, they are cutting out the middleman and killing civilians indiscriminately themselves, in addition to more predictable targets like officials of the new government. Bombings have escalated in the last two weeks, and on Thursday a bomb went off in heavy traffic in Baghdad, killing 21 people.

This surge in the killing of civilians reflects how mysterious the long-term strategy remains - and how the rebels' seeming indifference to the past patterns of insurgency is not necessarily good news for anyone.



Bennet's piece is a thoughtful exploration of this question, and is worth reading. As he rightly points out, wantonly slaughtering civilians is not a strategy for winning hearts and minds. Ralph Peters, in his May 13th New York Post column, suggests that the terrorists have given up on building popular support, and are only interested in "Punishing Iraqis" for choosing the "evil principle of democracy" over the glories of jihad:

The terrorists feel betrayed.

So they kill. Poor laborers gathered to beg for part-time work. Women and children. Police recruits. Low-level officials. Students. And any passers-by who get in the way. Simple Muslims slain by "holy martyrs of Islam" in suicide vests. By the fountains of paradise, Mohammed must be weeping.

Such attacks won't win Iraqi hearts and minds. They're not intended to. Allah's self-appointed executioners are simply plunging deeper into their pagan bloodcult. This week's bombings echoed the 9/11 attack on Manhattan. The purpose was to offer human sacrifices to a vengeful, bloodthirsty god.

It's easy to be misled by the grisly headlines. Byline-hungry journalists report as if all of Iraq is getting worse. It isn't. Iraq's getting better every single day. Building the first true Arab democracy in a ravaged country isn't easy. But it's working. Inshallah.


There is plenty of evidence to support Peters' hypothesis. A number of media reports from the al-Qaim region of northwestern Iraq, site of Operation Matador, indicate how unpopular al-Qaeda is with the local population. StrategyPage, in its May 15th Iraq update, makes the point that "(t)he foreign terrorists are, to put it mildly, disliked even in this part of Iraq."

Leslie Gelb, of the Council on Foreign Relations, recently returned from Iraq and described popular atttudes towards the insurgency as follows:

One of the things that struck me [in Iraq] was that, for all the frustration and anger there is toward the United States, there is real hatred toward the terrorists and what they are doing to Iraq. And if there is a government that is reasonably democratic, that conducts open politics, that is not too corrupt--corruption is a terrible problem--the vast majority of Iraqis would prefer it to any leadership by these terrorists and insurgents.


The terrorist insurgency in Iraq has shown nothing beyond its demonstrated ability to kill people and destroy property. It doesn't even pretend to offer the Iraqi people an alternative to pluralism and democracy. That is why it will be defeated.

1 Comments:

Blogger C.D. Ward said...

I want to add this to the list of possibilities why the insurgency, specifically Al-Quida in Iraq, is killing civilians:

Propaganda to assist the American political left in their efforts to force an 'end to the war', i.e. a pullout.

They know standard rebel tactics won't work against the US. They can't out 'hearts and minds' the US. 1) We're too disciplined and precise to allow ourselves to be goaded into causing excessive civilian casualties. 2) we're too well funded and altruistic to be able to make an argument that we're an oppressor (It's hard to drum up resentment against a force that's built the village a well while handing out stuffed toys to the kids).

Therefore, their only hope to succeed in the long term is to get the Americans out of the equation before the Americans and Iraqis can get them out of the equation. Their best hope of doing that is encouraging political opposition to the war in the US. The best way to do that is to blow stuff up and kill people.

Doing that supports the American political left's arguments that war always brings negative results, the war is being managed incompetently, the insurgency is growing not fading, the initial invasion was a mistake, and our presence there now is only making matters worse. The more they can help popularize those arguments, the greater the chance of public pressure on Congress to force a withdrawal.

That's the point of the suicide bombs, because if they get that, they win:

Al-Quida can trumpet successfully pushing the US out of Iraq, boosting their foreign recruitment, allowing them to bring the show on the road to Afghanistan. What works in Iraq would likely work there as well. None of this requires popular support of the Iraqis, so angering them in the short term is a calculated risk they're willing to take in order to gain their main objective.

Political victory was the only way the US military has ever lost a war, and they know this. For them every suicide bomb is a little Tet Offensive - a political attack on US public opinion, not a military tactic.

5:50 PM  

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