Iraq Insurgency Larger Than Thought

AP – Iraq Insurgency Larger Than Thought

THE Iraq insurgency is far larger than the 5000 guerillas previously thought to be at its core, US military officials say. And it is being led by well-armed Iraqi Sunnis angry at being pushed from power alongside Saddam Hussein. Although US military analysts disagree over the exact size, dozens of regional cells, often led by tribal sheiks and inspired by Sunni Muslim imams, can call upon part-time fighters to boost forces to as high as 20,000 – an estimate reflected in the insurgency’s continued strength after US forces killed as many as 4000 in April alone. Some insurgents are highly specialised – one Baghdad cell, for instance, has two leaders, one assassin, and two groups of bomb-makers.

The developing intelligence picture of the insurgency contrasts with the commonly stated view in the Bush administration that the fighting is fuelled by foreign warriors intent on creating an Islamic state. “We’re not at the forefront of a jihadist war here,” a US military official in Baghdad said.

All of this, except perhaps the numbers involved, has been well known for months; I’m not sure why it’s news. We’ve always known that the core of the movement was Ba’athist “dead enders” (aka, “former regime loyalists”) and foreign jihadists. Indeed, I reported this back in November:

[F]rom what I’ve gathered listening to people who know what they’re talking about on the Iraqi insurgency–most notably Steven Metz of the Strategic Studies Institute–there are many factions involved, with the former regime loyalists (FRLs) being but one. The others include foreign jihadists–al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other Islamic terrorists who started reconstituting in Iraq after the Taliban regime was deposed in Afghanistan–and “new internationalists”–Iraqis who hated Saddam but who resent the presence of non-Muslim soldiers in their land. This is a complicated problem, since measures necessary to root out FRLs and jihadists will exacerbate tensions among the local populace, likely increasing the number of “new internationalists.”

Back to the story:

The official and others told The Associated Press the guerillas have enough popular support among nationalist Iraqis angered by the presence of US troops that they cannot be militarily defeated. The military official, who has logged thousands of kilometres driving around Iraq to meet insurgents or their representatives, said a skillful Iraqi government could co-opt some of the guerillas and reconcile with the leaders instead of fighting them. “I generally like a lot of these guys,” he said. “We know who the key people are in all the different cities, and generally how they operate. “The problem is getting actionable information so you can either attack them, arrest them or engage them.”

Even as Iraqi leaders wrangle over the contentious issue of offering a broad amnesty to guerrilla fighters, the new Iraqi military and intelligence corps have begun gathering and sharing information on the insurgents with the US military, providing a sharper picture of a complex insurgency.

That’ll help. Ultimately, the insurgency will have to be put down by an Iraqi government. The presence of Western troops in the country just fuels it. Further, the brutality necessary for putting it down is simply not something an outside force can exercise in the media age.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Iraq War, National Security
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.