Iraqi Insurgents Now Outnumber Coalition Forces

Iraqi insurgents now outnumber coalition forces (Times of London)

IRAQ’S rapidly swelling insurgency numbers 200,000 fighters and active supporters and outnumbers the United States-led coalition forces, the head of the country’s intelligence service said yesterday. The number is far higher than the US military has so far admitted and paints a much grimmer picture of the challenge facing the Iraqi authorities and their British and American backers as elections loom in four weeks. “I think the resistance is bigger than the US military in Iraq. I think the resistance is more than 200,000 people,” General Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani, director of Iraq’s new intelligence services, said.

Bomb attacks killed another 18 people yesterday, almost all of them members of the security services, and the head of the Baghdad division of the Iraqi National Guard admitted that his paramilitary police force had been infiltrated by people who are leaking information to the guerrillas.

General Shahwani said that there were at least 40,000 hardcore fighters attacking US and Iraqi troops, with the bulk made up of part-time guerrillas and volunteers providing logistical support, information, shelter and money. “People are fed up after two years without improvement,” he said. “People are fed up with no security, no electricity, people feel they have to do something. The army (dissolved by the American occupation authority) was hundreds of thousands. You’d expect some veterans would join with their relatives, each one has sons and brothers.”

While this report is disturbing, my gut tells me that no one has any idea how large the insurgency is. Jim Henley is right:

It’s probably a swag. There’s a chance that General Shahwani has something to gain by wildly overestimating the numbers of his (declared) enemies. (“[Shahwani] admitted that his paramilitary police force had been infiltrated by people who are leaking information to the guerrillas.”) But here’s a brief history of estimates of the size of the insurgency:

Summer 2003 – There’s no insurgency! Just some bandits.
Winter 2004 – A few hundred to a couple thousand dead=enders.
Summer 2004 – As many as 5,000.
Fall 2004 – Up to 20,000.
Winter 2005 – About 40,000 dedicated, up to 160,000 kibitzers.
Summer 2005 – ?

Our handling of the issue has left something to be desired. I can understand why we would want to give the impression that the insurgency is small in order to give Iraqis the confidence to go about their daily lives–not to mention maintaining domestic support for the operation. Still, understating the problem can certainly backfire in terms of lost credibility if people’s daily experiences belie the government talking points.

That said, my guess is that the “40,000 dedicated, up to 160,000 kibitzers” figure is in the ballpark, at least in terms of ratios. The vast number of “fighters” are almost certainly soft supporters of the insurgency that are doing so for the same reasons that youth in our inner cities join street gangs–anger at the establishment and fear of being outside the organization. If this month’s elections are successful and a truly independent Iraqi government can begin to turn the tide against the insurgency, it will evaporate. We’ve learned in two wars that Iraqis have no taste for fighting when the going gets rough.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
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.

Comments

  1. kappiy says:

    “The vast number of “fighters” are almost certainly soft supporters of the insurgency that are doing so for the same reasons that youth in our inner cities join street gangs–anger at the establishment and fear of being outside the organization.”

    I would add to this list: complete lack of economic opportunities. Elections may create a sense of legitimacy for a new government, but a 60% unemployment level is of significant worry. One of the tragedies of the occupation was Medal of Freedom winner, Paul Bremer’s decision to fire thousands of public empolyees creating immediate hostility and penury for many Iraqis. It is very difficult to win over people’s “hearts and minds” when their stomachs are grumbling.

  2. NJvoter says:

    I’m totally sure that this is Bill Clinton’s fault.

  3. DC Loser says:

    It’s obvious Shahwani has “gone off the reservation.” Pessimists like him are not welcomed in the new Iraq.

  4. Some Guy says:

    “One of the tragedies of the occupation was Medal of Freedom winner, Paul Bremer’s decision to fire thousands of public empolyees creating immediate hostility and penury for many Iraqis.”

    Ummm, yeah, Kappiy. Or, he could have left the Ba’athists in office and told the majority Shi’ites and the pro-American Kurds that the U.S. cares more about employing party members than addressing years of human rights atrocities, government abuse, cronyism, and corruption.

    I guess that was an option. Bremer could have left both the “good” and bad Ba’athists in power while his folks evaluated each case individually over the course of a year or two, then fired the really nasty ones individually.

    And let the Ba’athists keep control over state industries. And let the Ba’athists send the message that the Americans were not going to bring Justice to those Nazi bastards. And let the Ba’athists consolidate new entries into the corridors of power. And let lefty newsfolk (and idiots like you) complain about how the Bushies were in bed with the Ba’athists.

    Just like Eisenhower could have left the Nazis in control…they did make the trains run on time, after all!

    Seriously, get real. In your haste to blame Bremer, you exposed yourself as a complete tool.

  5. kappiy says:

    Um…, “Some Guy,” I don’t think I “blamed” Bremer for anything–I was simply describing his actions and pointing out that those actions had significant consequences.

    “And let lefty newsfolk (and idiots like you) complain about how the Bushies were in bed with the Ba’athists.”

    Uh..what is your evidence for my complaints about ‘Bushies being in bed with Bathists’?

    I would suggest you actually read what people post instead of letting your ideology and insecurities get the better of you.

  6. Sgt Fluffy says:

    200,000??? I think they pulled that number out their ass. If there are 200,000 why haven’t they massed for a push on the Green Zone or a city. There were only an estimated what 2000 in Fakujah? C’mon, I’m still waiting for the 10,000 plus body bags that were to appear in the first few months of Iraq , Afghanistan and the First Gulf War.

  7. LJD says:

    Huah, SGT Fluffy.