Al Qaeda Forces in Iraq Engaging in Conventional Battles

Al Qaeda is training disciplined units which are engaging U.S. forces in conventional battles.

Sunni Arab militant groups suspected of ties to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia have established training camps east of Baghdad that are turning out well-disciplined units willing to fight American forces in set-piece battles, American military commanders said Thursday.

American soldiers fought such units in a pitched battle last week in the village of Turki, 25 miles south of this Iraqi Army base in volatile Diyala Province, near the Iranian border. At least 72 insurgents and two American officers were killed in more than 40 hours of fighting. American commanders said they called in 12 hours of airstrikes while soldiers shot their way through a reed-strewn network of canals in extremely close combat.

Officers said that in this battle, unlike the vast majority of engagements in Diyala, insurgents stood and fought, even deploying a platoon-sized unit that showed remarkable discipline and that one captain said was in “perfect military formation.” Insurgents throughout Iraq usually avoid direct confrontation with the Americans, preferring to use hit-and-run tactics and melting away at the sight of American armored vehicles.

Lt. Col. Andrew Poppas, commander of the Fifth Squadron, 73rd Cavalry, a unit of the 82nd Airborne Division, said in an interview that the fighters at Turki “were disciplined and well-trained, with well-aimed shots.” “We hadn’t seen anything like this in years,” he said. The insurgents had built a labyrinthine network of trenches in the farmland, with sleeping areas and significant weapons caches. Two anti-aircraft guns had been hidden away.

Insurgents were apparently able to establish a training camp after American combat forces moved out of the area in the fall of 2005, Colonel Poppas said. Sunni Arab militants there belong to the fundamentalist Wahabbi strain of Islam and are believed to be led, at least in part, by a man known as Abu Abdul Rahman, an Iraqi-Canadian who moved from Canada to Iraq in 1995 after marrying a woman from Turki, the colonel said.

This is actually a classic phase of insurgent warfare following Mao Zedong’s model. Insurgents fight in guerrilla mode while they are weak but must ultimately win conventional battles to press their advantage and make major advances. In so doing, they either win or get routed and fall back into guerrilla mode and try to regroup. It worked for Mao in China and for Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Michael says:

    I would expect this to happen once US troops started leaving Iraq, the insurgents can probably hold their own against the Iraqi forces. But I can’t help but think they’re jumping the gun by transitioning so soon. If they do it now, they just make themselves easier to identify and kill by the superior US forces. If I remember, the North Vietnamese made this mistake, and it almost cost them the war.

  2. Anderson says:

    But I can’t help but think they’re jumping the gun by transitioning so soon.

    They may be testing us out, wondering if we have retreat on our minds & thus aren’t wanting to fight back.

  3. Michael says:

    They may be testing us out, wondering if we have retreat on our minds & thus aren’t wanting to fight back.

    They they’re idiots too. Even if we do have retreat on our minds, the logistics of it are time consuming, and I doubt anyone thinks we won’t shoot back while planning a retreat. Insurgency is good for getting your adversary to think about retreat, and to break their will to fight. But back them into a corner they can’t get out of, and provide them with a big centralized target, that’s pure stupidity.

    I hope some US commanders are smart enough to use this new-found arrogance against the insurgency. A well time’s pullout announcement, and taking US troops out of key regions in mock retreat could give us just the target we want.