Assessing Iraq's Sunni Arab Insurgency
Three years after the U.S. invasion of
Iraq and the fall of Saddam Hussein, confusion and controversy still
surround the insurgency in Iraq's Sunni Triangle. Part of this is
due to the nontraditional character of the Sunni Arab insurgency,
which is being waged by amorphous, locally and regionally based
groups and networks lacking a unifying ideology, central leadership,
or clear hierarchical organization.1
The ambiguities inherent in insurgent warfare
also make insurgencies difficult to assess. In conventional military
conflicts, we can compare opposing orders of battle, evaluate capabilities,
and assess the fortunes of belligerents using traditional measures:
destruction of enemy forces, capture of key terrain, or seizure
of the enemy's capital city.
Insurgents are often not organized into regular
formations, making it difficult (even for their own leaders) to
assess their numerical strength accurately. Usually, there are no
front lines whose location could offer insight into the war's progress,
and, at any rate, military factors are usually less important than
political and psychological considerations in deciding the outcome
of such conflicts. As a result, we need different analytic measures
to assess the insurgency's nature, scope, intensity, and effectiveness.2
The Insurgency's Origins and Nature
Assumptions about the roots and origins of
the Sunni Arab insurgency color assessments of its nature and character.
Analysts and officials who believe that Saddam Hussein anticipated
his defeat and planned the insurgency before the invasion of Iraq
tend to downplay the complex array of factors that influenced its
origin and development. No evidence exists that Saddam planned to
lead a postwar resistance movement or that he played a significant
role in the insurgency's emergence. However, prewar preparations
for waging a popular war against invading Coalition forces in southern
Iraq, or for dealing with a coup or uprising, almost certainly abetted
the insurgency's emergence following the regime's fall. The first
insurgents were also able to draw on relationships, networks, and
structures inherited from the old regime, which helps account for
the rather rapid onset of the insurgency in the summer of 2003.3
U.S. officials have also differed over the
nature of the violence in post-Saddam Iraq, with some seeing it
largely as the work of former regime "dead enders," and
others seeing it as a multifaceted insurgency against the emerging
Iraqi political order.4 Part of the
confusion stems from the fact that Coalition and Iraqi Security
Forces (ISF) face a composite insurgency whose elements act on diverse
motives. These elements include former regime members and Iraqi
Islamists, angry or aggrieved Iraqis, foreign jihadists, tribal
groups, and criminal elements, each of which draws considerable
strength from political and religious ideologies, tribal notions
of honor and revenge, and shared solidarities deeply ingrained in
the population of the Sunni Triangle.
Among the factors driving the insurgency are-
_ The humiliation engendered by the Coalition
military victory and occupation.
_ The sense of entitlement felt by many Sunni
Arabs who consider themselves the rightful rulers of Iraq.
_ Anxiety over the growing power of Shiite
and Kurdish parties and militias.
_ The fear that Sunni Arabs (some 20 percent
of Iraq's population) will be politically and economically marginalized
in a democratic Iraq.
_ A potent brand of Iraqi-Arab nationalism
that is deeply ingrained in many Sunni Arabs.
_ The popularity of political Islam among sectors
of the Sunni population.
_ A desire to gain power-as individuals, as
members of a dispossessed elite, or as a community.
Some senior civilian and military officials,
at least early on, failed to grasp the protracted nature of insurgency
and counterinsurgency warfare. On several occasions (after the December
2003 capture of Saddam, the June 2004 transfer of authority, and
the January 2005 elections), a number of officials expressed confidence
that these events presaged an early end to the insurgency. In each
case, their hopes were dashed by subsequent events. Such expectations
were unrealistic and ran counter to the weight of historical experience.
Insurgencies are often bloody, drawn-out affairs
that last for years, frequently for a decade or more.5
This occurs for several reasons:
_ Insurgents must act with great caution to
avoid being killed or captured by government forces. even basic
tasks take longer to accomplish than they would in a permissive
_ It takes time to win over civilians (who
tend to remain neutral until one side clearly has the upper hand)
and to create new institutions of governance in areas under insurgent
_ The insurgent and counterinsurgent are locked
in a struggle to disrupt and undermine the other's activities; progress,
for both sides, frequently suffers setbacks and reverses.
_ Insurgents often see time as an ally in their
efforts to clandestinely mobilize and organize the population and
to build up their military strength; they consider patience a virtue.
_ Insurgents often start off militarily weak
and generally avoid engaging government forces decisively until
they feel confident of success.
The Sunni Arab insurgency in post-Saddam Iraq,
however, has departed from the typical pattern in at least four
_ The insurgents were able to "fall in"
on existing structures in Iraqi society-the tribe, religious institutions,
and the underground Baath Party-to quickly organize and begin operations.
_ Because of insufficient Coalition intelligence
and forces, the insurgents were relatively unfettered from the outset,
allowing the insurgency to gather momentum quickly.
_ The insurgents were well armed because the
former regime armed its supporters before the war, many soldiers
took their weapons with them when the army went home, and postwar
looters cleaned out the regime's weapons stores.
_ The insurgents were well financed from the
start, using former regime funds and looted monies. These factors
put Coalition forces and the new Iraqi Government at an initial
disadvantage, making it more than likely that the struggle in Iraq
would be prolonged and difficult.
The Scope of the Insurgency
Because insurgencies are complex, dynamic,
adaptive systems, an assessment of the Sunni Arab insurgency should
employ both quantitative and qualitative measures and must examine
multiple dimensions over time, including the insurgency's operational
environment; its structures, processes, and functions; and the degree
to which it has penetrated public and private institutions in the
Sunni Triangle and won over Sunni hearts and minds.
The insurgency is occurring in a complex and
evolving human and geographic "landscape" which it influences
and to which it responds. Demographic, social, geographic, religious,
and economic factors are key elements of this operational environment.
Demography and insurgent strength. Although
numbers might not indicate the insurgents' prospects for success,
they might suggest the amount of popular support the insurgents
enjoy, the effectiveness of their recruitment and mobilization efforts,
their capacity for action, and the efficacy of Coalition and Iraqi
Government countermeasures. Estimates of insurgent strength should
include combatants (guerrillas and terrorists who are currently
active or available for future operations) and members of the insurgent
underground involved in recruiting, training, financing, propagandizing,
and conducting political activities in support of the insurgency.6
We can assess the insurgency's mobilization
potential by looking at Iraq's male Sunni Arab population.
In a total population of about 27 million,
5.4 million are Sunni Arab, with 1.35 million Sunni men of military
age (for our purposes, 15 to 49). This is the theoretical mobilization
potential of the Sunni Arab community.7
Central Command General John Abizaid has stated
that the number of Iraqis participating in the insurgency amounts
to less than 0.1 percent of the country's population, and most likely
does not exceed 20,000 (fighters plus members of the underground).8
historically, insurgent movements have generally mobilized some
0.5 percent to 2 percent of the population.9
If insurgents make up less than 0.1 percent of the total population
(and given the scope and intensity of the insurgency, this figure
might be low), the Sunni Arab insurgency would be among the smallest,
percentage wise, in modern times.
Even doubling or tripling this estimate would
yield a relatively small insurgency by historical standards, which
probably explains why Sunni Arab insurgent groups seem never to
lack for manpower or to have problems recouping their losses.10
employing only a small fraction of their potential mobilization
base means the insurgents have no difficulty recruiting or impressing
new members to replace combat losses. Because these groups are organized
into compartmentalized cells and networks that recruit locally by
drawing on various social solidarities, they are well adapted to
replacing losses, though not to the generation of large field forces.
Large forces might not be necessary, however, if the insurgents
hope to prevail by winning over or intimidating the civilian population,
disrupting ISF recruitment, and undermining the U.S. will to fight,
rather than by defeating U.S. forces in combat-as seems to be the
case in Iraq.
There are probably hundreds of thousands of
Sunni Arab males with intelligence and security, military, or paramilitary
training who are prime candidates for recruitment by the insurgency.
Furthermore, the number of Sunni Arab males with a strong sense
of grievance (the result of losing a family member or being humiliated,
mistreated, or wrongly detained by Coalition or Iraqi Government
forces) is probably in the high tens of thousands, at the least.
This group of "angry Iraqis" provides another source of
Sunni Arab insurgents swim in a largely sympathetic
sea, with opinion polls suggesting that broad sectors of the Sunni
Arab population support insurgent attacks on Coalition forces. Still,
many Sunnis are skeptical of the insurgency's prospects and oppose
the use of force for political ends.11
Terrorist-type attacks on Sunni targets are also creating disenchantment
with the insurgency's extremist elements, such as al-Qaeda in Iraq,
and Sunni Arab participation in the October 2005 constitutional
referendum and the December 2005 elections indicates that many Sunnis
see some positive potential in the political process.
Overall, Sunnis have not stopped supporting
the insurgency, especially that part engaged in what is widely considered
in Iraq as resistance to occupation. Thus, it is likely that armed
Sunni insurgents number in the thousands, that unarmed members of
the insurgent underground number in the tens of thousands, and that
the insurgents can draw on a large pool of sympathizers, as well
as associates, friends, family members, and fellow clan members
and tribesmen. The minimum number of Sunni Arabs "involved"
with the insurgency in one way or another likely approaches 100,000
(and might be much higher), although the number might fluctuate
in response to changing political, military, economic, and social
The insurgency has probably mobilized only
a fraction of the Sunni population that supports attacks on Coalition
forces or has some kind of military or paramilitary training. Should
insurgent groups exploit this untapped demographic potential more
effectively, insurgent violence could further intensify.
Social solidarities. The Sunni insurgency draws
on personal and kinship ties, shared military experiences, membership
in former regime organizations, attendance at insurgent-associated
mosques, business relationships, and other connections. These relationships
bind insurgents and their supporters in complex ways. They overlap
and reinforce one another, producing cells and networks founded
on multiple associations, and they contribute to the flexibility
and resilience of insurgent organizations. They also provide the
basis for recruiting, establishing bonds of trust, and fostering
cooperation among widely dispersed and ideologically disparate groups.
Geography. Insurgent activity is closely tied
to Iraq's human and physical geography and follows the dominant
pattern of urban settlement along those segments of the Tigris and
Euphrates Rivers that run through the Sunni triangle. There are
also multiple corridors or zones of resistance: Baghdad-Fallujah-Ramadi;
Tikrit-Baquba; northern Babil Province (the so-called Triangle of
Death); and the Euphrates River Valley from Husbaya on the Syrian
border to Ramadi.13
Insurgent cells and networks tend to be concentrated
in neighborhoods, villages, and towns that are home to large numbers
of ex-Baathists and former regime military and security personnel;
in areas where unemployment is rampant; in neighborhoods, villages,
and towns associated with certain tribes; and in the vicinity of
certain mosques used by insurgents as weapons depots, recruiting
centers, and meeting places.
Insurgent armed action in Iraq has been persistent
and pervasive. Areas that experienced insurgent activity in 2003
generally continue to do so today, albeit at reduced levels in some
important places (such as Fallujah, Mosul, Tal Afar). Some 75 percent
of insurgent violence occurs in the four governorates comprising
the Sunni triangle (al-Anbar, Salahuddin, Ninawa, and Baghdad),
although significant insurgent activity also occurs in Diyala, Babil,
and Ta'amim governantes.14 By these
measures, the insurgency remains widespread in Sunni areas and in
areas where Sunnis are a significant presence (figure 1).15
Although a plurality of reported incidents-
between 20 and 35 percent-occur in Baghdad, most U.S. troops killed
in action (KIA) have fallen in Anbar Province (figure 2). This likely
reflects the intensity of engagements there, especially Fallujah
I and II during April and November 2004, the prolonged struggle
in Ramadi, and U.S.-ISF operations in the Western Euphrates River
Valley during the second half of 2005. In Anbar, both U.S. forces
and the insurgents have evinced a willingness to incur significant
casualties to achieve their objectives.
Religion. In Sunni areas, religion offered
solace to those who suffered under Saddam's regime, comfort to those
harmed by the post-Saddam order (which brought the humiliation of
occupation, de-Baathification, and the dismantling of the Iraqi
army), and inspiration for those now fighting Coalition forces.
Not surprisingly, Iraqi insurgents, even those who are probably
not true believers or Islamists, make extensive use of religious
language, symbols, and imagery. About half of all Sunni insurgent
organizations mentioned in the media bear Islamic names. Examples
include some of the most prominent insurgent organizations, such
as the army of Muhammad, the Islamic army in Iraq, the Iraqi National
Islamic Resistance, the Mujahidin army, and Ansar al-Sunna.16
Economy and reconstruction. Many Iraqis consider
security and the economy to be the two most urgent issues facing
the country.17 War, sanctions, years
of neglecting the country's infrastructure, Coalition policies,
and insurgent violence have created an economic environment favorable
to the insurgents. Economic conditions have fueled anger against
the Coalition and the Iraqi Government and created a large pool
of unemployed (25 to 50 percent of the general labor force, and
up to 70 percent of the labor force in Sunni areas hit hardest by
insurgent violence, some of whom are apparently willing to attack
Coalition forces or emplace improvised explosive devices [IEDs]
for money).18 Nearly 3 years after
Saddam's fall, electricity and oil production are below prewar levels
(although oil revenues have soared thanks to high oil prices). Both
industries are frequently the targets of sabotage, resulting in
the disruption of basic services, a decline in the standard of living,
and lost government revenues.19
Structures, Processes, and Functions
Although attention tends to center on the most
visible insurgent activities (daily violent incidents and mass-casualty
attacks) these are but a fraction of the insurgency's range of activities,
and they leave in the shadows the structures, processes, and functions
that sustain the war.
Organization. The Sunni insurgency is not organized
in a strict hierarchy (like the communist insurgencies in Malaya
and Vietnam) and, in this sense, is not a classic insurgency. It
is a hybrid with some elements of hierarchy combining with a looser
cell structure. It has an informal leadership with elements, entities,
and organizations grouped into cells linked by personal, tribal,
or organizational ties (figure 3).
According to some reports, the insurgency's
senior leadership consists of 8 to 12 individuals who meet occasionally
inside or outside of Iraq to discuss organization and tactics. The
group includes members of the former regime's intelligence and security
services, former Baathists, Iraqi and foreign jihadists, and tribal
figures. These leaders reportedly provide resources and direction
to many insurgent groups. Personal, family, tribal, and religious
ties are believed to facilitate cooperation and coordination.20
Insurgent groups have also created mujahidin Shura councils or other
collaborative mechanisms to coordinate operations in localities
like Fallujah or to synchronize the activities of like- minded groups
operating in the Sunni Triangle, such as the Mujahidin Shura Council
currently associated with abu Musab al-Zarqawi.21
Action elements include insurgent groups and
criminal organizations (for example, the Islamic army in Iraq, the
army of Muhammad, the Mujahidin army, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and so on),
each with its own leaders and decisionmaking process. These make
up a web of networks linked by personal, tribal, or organizational
ties that communicate by various means, such as cell phones, the
Internet, and couriers. Each group is believed to be involved in
a range of activities, including recruitment, training, financing,
propaganda, political activities, guerrilla, and (sometimes) terrorist
attacks. Terrorist attacks appear to be largely the Province of
jihadist organizations like al-Qaeda in Iraq and Ansar al-Sunna,
although former regime elements might also be involved, at least
in a supporting role.22
While the jihadists have garnered the most
attention because of their emphasis on mass-casualty attacks and
because they take credit for almost every major attack that occurs,
the "national resistance" is probably responsible for
most attacks on Coalition forces and Iraqis associated with the
government. The organizational boundaries between these groups,
however, are probably not well defined. While al- Zarqawi did not
"hijack the insurgency," his organization appears to have
cooperated at least with Baathist elements of the insurgency to
carry out actions and achieve shared tactical and operational objectives.23
The influence of the jihadists, however, goes
beyond the immediate impact of their operations. By striking fear
into the hearts of their enemies and drawing the ire of Coalition
military officials, they are undoubtedly influencing some Iraqis
and inspiring others to join their ranks (as demonstrated by the
involvement of four Iraqis in the 9 November 2005 bombing of three
hotels in amman, Jordan, by alQaeda in Iraq). To ensure their long-term
viability in Iraq, foreign jihadist groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq
are engaged in a process of "Iraqification," the recruiting
of local members in order to sink roots into Iraqi society.24
Nevertheless, jihadist operations are apparently
producing strains within the insurgency, and between jihadist insurgent
groups and the Sunni population, particularly the more tribal elements.
This strain has been most pronounced in Anbar Province, but it has
also been noted in Samarra, in Salahuddin Province. While disputes
and clashes between nationalist and jihadist insurgent groups, and
between tribal elements and jihadists, have been reported for some
time, these have clearly worsened since summer 2005. However, the
extent of any split within the ranks of the insurgents remains unclear,
and major insurgent groups, including the Islamic army in Iraq,
the 1920 revolution Brigades, and the army of the Mujahideen in
Iraq have issued statements denying any such split.25
For both the national resistance and jihadists,
cells seem to be the dominant form of organization, although some
kind of limited hierarchy exists, with cells controlling the activities
of sub-cells. Some cells appear to be multifunctional, carrying
out attacks using small arms, light weapons (such as rocket-propelled
grenades), and IEDs. Other cells are specialized and might be involved
in preparing forged documents or propaganda materials, or in planning
and executing attacks with mortars, rockets, IEDs, or vehicle-borne
Financing. The insurgency's varied activities
require a steady income stream with extensive and sophisticated
financing operations. Although open-source information on this topic
is scarce, the insurgents do not appear to lack for financial resources,
despite Coalition and Iraqi Government efforts to disrupt their
The insurgency receives financial support from
inside and outside Iraq. Internal sources include donations from
sympathizers, charities, and mosques, and income generated by legitimate
businesses and criminal activities (robbery, extortion, smuggling,
counterfeiting, narcotics trafficking, and kidnapping for ransom).
At least some funds have been siphoned off from Iraq's oil industry.
External sources include donations from wealthy private donors in
Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Europe, and the Gulf states (especially
saudi Arabia and the United Arab emirates); expatriate former regime
elements; and members of transnational charities. The government
of Iran might also be providing some funding for Sunni insurgent
Insurgents are believed to use at least three
types of networks to collect, move, and disburse money: former regime
financial networks, traditional informal hawala networks, and clerical
networks/ charitable religious endowments. Couriers are the preferred
means of transport.29 These networks
extend across Iraq's borders and are probably interconnected. Until
recently, the Syria-Iraqi border was the most important route for
such activity, although improvements in security on both sides of
the border might be affecting this path (figure 4).30
as with other insurgent activities, their financial operations have
evolved and adjusted to changing conditions and Coalition and Iraqi
Government countermeasures, which has allowed the insurgency to
weather the seizure of large amounts of cash, the detention or death
of financiers, and the 2003 exchange of Saddam-era currency for
Political activity. The destruction of Saddam's
regime left the Sunnis temporarily leaderless and in disarray. Moreover,
because the insurgents violently opposed the January 2005 elections
and largely succeeded in preventing meaningful Sunni involvement,
Sunni Arabs were left without an effective voice in the Iraqi Transitional
Government, although the insurgency provided them with a degree
of influence over the political process that they would not have
had otherwise.31 Nevertheless, virtually
from its onset, the insurgency had a political face. The clearest
manifestation of this was the rise of the Muslim Clerics association
as a political advocate of the Sunnis and as an overt voice articulating
political positions similar to those of the insurgents: opposition
to the occupation, the illegitimacy of the occupation-imposed political
process, and the right of legitimate resistance.
In addition to overt political groups voicing
positions supportive of the insurgents, the insurgents themselves
developed political organs.32 These
political bureaus or political wings have been used to articulate
the political positions of the insurgent groups and to establish
that these groups are more than just violently nihilistic with nothing
to offer for the future of Iraq. They have also served to keep the
insurgency and its Sunni audience informed of changes in the political
situation and the significance of these changes. Thus, both the
October referendum and the December election generated insurgent
A critical issue is the relationship between
the insurgency and the overt and legitimate Sunni political parties
that have emerged as a result of the political process. While some
Sunni parties emerged rapidly after the fall of the regime (especially
those such as the Iraqi Islamic Party, which maintained an underground
presence in Iraq under the Baath), this process accelerated after
the January 2005 elections and is still continuing. Sunnis now have
significant political parties and a significant presence in the
parliament (with more than 50 of 275 seats).34
The election of large numbers of Sunnis to
the parliament and their aggressive advocacy of Sunni interests
have created a political arena with both potential risks and rewards
for the insurgents. The insurgents must play in this arena or risk
isolation from the Sunni community. While resistance rhetoric (especially
that emanating from jihadist elements such as the Mujahidin Shura
Council) regarding the legitimacy of the political process remains
largely negative, insurgent supporters and insurgents alike are
likely involved with and active in the new parties and will almost
certainly attempt to use their positions in government to influence
governmental activities and policy in ways favorable to the insurgency.35
"Military" operations. The insurgents
conduct purposeful activity; they do not attack randomly, as is
sometimes suggested. They act along several broad lines of operation:
_ Counter-Coalition-attacks against Coalition
personnel and infrastructure (excluding convoys and air transport).
_ Counter-collaboration-attacks against the
ISF, Iraqi Government personnel and facilities, Iraqi translators
working for Coalition forces, tipsters, and virtually anyone working
for or with the Iraqi Government or Coalition forces.
_ Counter-mobility-attacks against convoys;
road, rail, and air transport; and bridges.
_ Counter-reconstruction-attacks on contractors,
oil and power infrastructure, foreign companies and international
aid organizations, banks, and medical infrastructure.
_ Counter-stability-attacks against civilians;
religious sites; tribal, community, and political leaders; foreign
(non-Coalition) diplomats; and international and nongovernmental
A sixth, temporary line of operation-counterelection-was
implemented before the January 2005 elections and consisted of attacks
against voters, polling centers, election officials, and candidates.
No similar line of operation preceded the 15 October 2005 constitutional
referendum or the 15 December 2005 general elections, although in
both cases local boycotts, acts of intimidation, and a small number
of attacks occurred in a few places.
Taken together, the insurgent lines of operation
represent the operational expression of the insurgent strategy to
achieve consensus objectives: ending the occupation and undermining
or taking control of the Iraqi government. Here, individual incidents
and short-term variations are less important than cumulative effects
and long-term trends.
To date, the most important insurgent lines
of operation have been counter-Coalition, counter-collaboration,
and counter-stability (figure 5). Counter-Coalition attacks have
taken a significant physical and psychological toll and reduced
the Coalition's operational freedom of action by creating a nonpermissive
environment. Routine movements by U.S. troops are treated as combat
patrols, and in areas where the insurgency is well established,
road movements are constrained. Just keeping open the road from
Baghdad International airport to the International Zone in Baghdad
requires a substantial commitment of U.S. and Iraqi forces.36
The insurgent campaign against collaborators, including ISF recruits
and members, has succeeded in killing large numbers of Iraqis working
for the government or connected to the reconstruction effort, and
it has intimidated many more; but it has not stopped Iraqis from
lining up in large numbers to join the ISF or seek government jobs.
Counter-stability attacks have achieved important
successes, leading to a significant reduction in UN and NGO operations,
and rising sectarian tensions. In particular, the destruction of
the Shiite Askariyya shrine in Samarra in February was a highly
successful "shock and awe" operation that greatly increased
sectarian violence in Iraq.
Thus far, insurgent operations do not appear
to be a form of strategic bargaining, in which the scope or nature
of insurgent actions is tied to concessions from the Coalition and
Iraqi Government. Rather, insurgent operations have aimed to weaken
or frustrate the Coalition, the Iraqi Government, and the political
transformation process. Strategic bargaining might come into play,
however, as the political face of the insurgency develops.
Shifts in emphasis between lines of operation
suggest changes in insurgent effort or strategy. Thus, since the
January 2005 elections, countercollaboration and especially counter-stability
attacks appear to have become more important. This likely reflects
an insurgent assessment that the Iraqi Government and the ISF are
greater long- term threats and easier targets than Coalition forces
and, in the case of the jihadists, that civilians are legitimate,
vulnerable, and useful targets.
Rhythms and cycles. Highs and lows in insurgent
activity might be associated with the religious calendar (for example,
Ramadan, Ashura), seasonal weather patterns, political events (such
as elections), or anniversaries (figure 6).37
In Iraq, Ramadan 2003 saw an increase in activity, but any such
increase in 2004 was obscured by the large spike in incidents associated
with the second battle of Fallujah. Ramadan 2005 coincided with
the constitutional referendum in October, so it was again difficult
to discern its effect. Jihadist groups apparently seeking to foment
civil war have also launched major attacks during the Shiite commemoration
Weather might likewise be a factor in the insurgency
in Iraq, although the evidence is ambiguous.38
Thus, February and early March 2004 saw relatively low levels of
insurgent activity, as did February and March of 2005. In both cases,
insurgent activity increased after these winter lulls, which might
have been caused by inhospitable (cold and/or rainy) weather conditions.
This pattern appears to be repeating itself in 2006.
Insurgent activity also declined sharply after
the two battles of Fallujah. The insurgents might have needed time
to rest and recover, assess their options, and replace their losses
following surges in activity during Fallujah I and II (April and
November 2004, respectively), and before the January 2005 elections.
The period of intensified insurgent activity preceding the January
2005 elections suggests that the insurgents can temporarily more
than double the number of attacks undertaken in support of their
strategy. By contrast, insurgent strategy for the October 2005 constitutional
referendum and the December 2005 general elections was largely political,
with Iraqi insurgent elements by and large supporting "get
out the vote" campaigns during October and December.
Resiliency. Arrayed against the U.S. military,
the insurgents have fought a ruthless, relentless war. Although
thousands of insurgents have been killed and tens of thousands of
Iraqis detained, incident and casualty data reinforce the judgment
that the insurgency remains robust and lethal.39
The insurgents have made good on their losses
by drawing on their large manpower reserves, augmented by recruits
from outside Iraq, although the flow of foreign volunteers has apparently
been reduced in recent months, thanks to efforts to seal the border
with Syria and to interdict insurgent "ratlines." Insurgent
cells have likewise demonstrated that when they incur losses they
can recruit new members or merge with other insurgent cells, while
leaders detained or killed by Coalition forces have been replaced
without fundamental disruptions to insurgent operations.40
Individuals might also be recruited on a "cash"
basis to attack Coalition forces (for example, by emplacing IEDs).
As long as cash reserves are plentiful and unemployment rates in
Sunni areas remain high, the insurgency will be able to hire freelancers
to mitigate attrition and enhance its lethal punch.41
The insurgency's loosely organized cells and
networks contribute to its resilience and effectiveness. Successes
against one group are not fatal for others or to the larger cause.
Smaller groups are more likely to innovate, and their propensity
for sharing expertise and experience (either through face-to-face
meetings or via the Internet) ensures that innovations are passed
on, allowing groups to achieve broader tactical and operational
effects than they could on their own.42
Penetration of Sunni Arab Society
Insurgencies center on the struggle to control
or win over the hearts and minds of a society's civilian population.
In Iraq, the status of the insurgency can be measured by the degree
to which it has penetrated public and private institutions of the
Sunni Arab community and its "thought world" (figure 7).
The insurgency has established a significant
presence in broad sectors of Sunni Arab society, including the social,
economic, religious, political, and criminal spheres. While the
depth of penetration is uncertain, a strategy of combined persuasion
and intimidation has enabled the insurgents to largely succeed in
undermining efforts to extend government institutions, such as village
and town councils, into Sunni Arab areas.
The failure of Sunnis to participate in significant
numbers in the January 2005 elections reflected the powerful influence
of the insurgents in the Sunni Arab community. The rallying of the
Sunnis against the draft constitution during the October 2005 referendum
also showed how Sunni Arab attitudes can mesh with insurgent objectives.
The insurgents have also managed to penetrate
the Sunni Arabs' thought world, which consists of at least the following
1. Beliefs about the occupation and resistance.
2. Images of Coalition forces.
3. Images, myths, and stories of the resistance.
4. Beliefs about political transformation.
5. Beliefs about the Iraqi Government.
6. Beliefs about Shiites and Kurds.
7. A sense of entitlement and grievance.
8. Religious notions and sensibilities.
9. Beliefs about the future.43
These interconnected components represent a
belief structure shaping Sunni Arab attitudes and actions that determine,
to a significant extent, where Sunni Arabs will likely fall on the
Polling data, media commentary, and anecdotal
reporting indicate that, among Sunni Arabs in Iraq, ideas and beliefs
sympathetic to the insurgency have become widespread, including
views of the occupation, Coalition forces, and the Iraqi Government.
These findings permit a number of cautious assertions to be made
about the beliefs that embody the thought world of many Sunni Arabs:
_ The country is headed in the wrong direction.44
_ The occupation is the proximate cause for
the Sunnis' loss of power and privilege, and for this reason it
should come to an end as soon as is practically possible.45
_ The Coalition came to despoil Iraq's oil
wealth- a view also shared by many Shiite Iraqis.46
_ The Shiite-dominated Iraqi Government is
controlled by Iran (with the connivance of the United states) and
is making war on the Sunni Arabs.47
_ Violent "resistance" against the
Coalition is legitimate; attacks on Iraqi civilians, especially
Sunnis and security forces, are not.48
_ The Sunni community is deeply divided over
whether its future lies with the insurgency, the political process,
_ The insurgent "narrative" runs
counter to that of the Coalition and Iraqi Government; it is a blend
of fact and (mostly) fiction, and contains vivid images and mythic
stories of a heroic, pure resistance.50
Sunni Arab political behavior reflects the
complexity of this thought world, which varies from place to place
in Iraq, and has evolved over time. Attempts to influence the Sunni
Arab community that are not based on a sophisticated understanding
of this thought world are apt to fail and liable to produce unintended
An assessment of insurgent effectiveness on
the tactical or operational levels must track and assess trends
in insurgent strength, number of attacks, and Coalition and ISF
casualties. Assessing insurgent effectiveness on the strategic level
requires a different set of analytical measures and might, therefore,
yield different answers. And because political and psychological
factors play critical roles in determining the outcome of insurgencies,
analysts must develop measures of success that tap into these dimensions
of the conflict. What matters most in insurgencies, however, is
the political outcome of the struggle, which is the ultimate measure
of insurgent effectiveness.
Measures of tactical and operational effectiveness.
At the tactical and operational levels, there is a tendency to rely
on quantitative measures-metrics-to assess insurgent effectiveness.
But a number of factors might limit the utility of metrics often
used to analyze the tactical and operational dimensions of insurgencies:
data might be flawed or subject to multiple, conflicting interpretations,
and proper interpretation might require a degree of insight into
insurgents' thought and practice that cannot be readily attained.51
A more fundamental limitation of quantitative
measures is that a lack of measurable success on the battlefield
might not necessarily prevent the guerrilla or insurgent from attaining
key political objectives. Thus, guerrillas or insurgents might lose
nearly every battle and still win the war, as did the algerian National
Liberation Front against the French (1954- 1962), the Viet Cong
against the United States (1961- 1972), and Hezbollah against Israel
in Lebanon (1982-2000). Nevertheless, tactical or operational metrics
might be useful as indicators of strategic success and might provide
insight into factors that can influence the strategic direction
of the war. (For example, the volume of tips regarding insurgent
activity might indicate the degree of popular support for insurgents
in Sunni Arab areas.) Other measures (for example, changes in the
number or tempo of insurgent attacks) might signal shifts in insurgent
strength, capabilities, or strategy, or popular support for their
cause. Thus, tactical and operational metrics, if properly understood,
can shed light on key trends and developments in the insurgency.
One measure of insurgent activity is incident
rates, usually measured as incidents per day, week, or month. Because
incidents might differ dramatically in terms of effort invested
and effects produced, incident rates represent a relatively crude
measure. (For example, a brief sniping incident and a complex attack
involving scores of insurgents might both be counted as a single
incident.) Incident rates are nonetheless an important indicator
of the status of the insurgency (figure 8).
The gradual but generally steady increase in
the rate of attacks during the first 30 months of the occupation
(ranging from 10 to 35 attacks/day in 2003, to 25 to 80 attacks/day
in 2004, to 65 to 90 attacks/day through most of 2005, according
to U.S. Department of Defense [DOD] figures), strongly suggests
that the insurgency has grown in strength and/or capability, despite
losses, Coalition countermeasures, the rapid growth of the ISF,
and the unfolding political process.52
as for the dip in attacks since November 2005 (attacks averaged
75/day during this period, according to DOD figures), it is too
soon to tell whether the dip is caused by operational rhythms or
seasonal cycles, the impact of recent Coalition operations in the
Western Euphrates River Valley, or a decision by insurgents to reduce
their tempo of operations in order to facilitate the December 2005
elections and subsequent negotiations to form a government.
Iraqi and Coalition casualty rates (and, when
available, insurgent casualty rates) provide a measure of the intensity
of violence and combat in Iraq. Combining incident and casualty
rates can help gauge trends in the lethality of the insurgency.
American KIA rates have been fairly steady during the insurgency,
averaging 49/month in 2003 and 71/month in both 2004 and 2005, for
an average of 65 KIA/month since the fall of Baghdad. ISF KIA rates
ranged between 100 to 300/month in 2005. The rate at which Iraqi
civilians are being killed in violent incidents increased from 750/month
in early 2004 to 1,800/month in late 2005.53
Attrition imposed by the insurgents has been
steady rather than dramatic, with a few exceptions (for example,
April and November 2004). But the costs have added up, and now the
insurgency is a major factor affecting domestic support for U.S.
Iraq policy (figure 9). According to U.S. government reporting,
from the end of major combat operations (1 May 2003) to 1 February
2006, 1,665 U.S. troops had been killed in action, and 16,111 wounded
in action in Iraq, for a total of 17,776 combat casualties, which
represents nearly 50 killed and 500 wounded per month.54
For the insurgents, a small but steady stream of U.S. casualties
might be more advantageous politically than large numbers of casualties
produced in infrequent, intense clashes.
A key measure of insurgency capability is the
complexity and tactical sophistication of its attacks. Elements
of complexity include the number of insurgents or insurgent elements
involved, scheme of maneuver, numbers and types of weapons used,
numbers and types of targets engaged or objectives assaulted, and
use of denial and deception measures.
A review of reported incidents between February
and August 2005 indicates that most attacks are relatively simple.55
Moderately complex actions are less frequent and generally target
the ISF. Highly complex attacks are initiated to achieve important
operational or strategic objectives, but they are infrequent (figure
10). A key reason for this is that, generally speaking, the insurgents
carefully manage risk, to minimize losses by avoiding large clashes,
especially with U.S. forces. However, an emerging trend is an increase
in moderately complex attacks against ISF elements, especially the
While attacks by fire (ABF) represent the largest
category of insurgent attacks, the use of IEDs has increased dramatically
over time. They now represent nearly 50 percent of all attacks on
Coalition forces and account for more than 60 percent of U.S. KIA.56
suicide bombings, involving either an individual with an explosive
vest (SIED) or a suicide car bomb (SVBIED), and VBIEDs, became major
categories of attack in 2004 and 2005 (figure 11). The number of
IED attacks during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) has been staggering
and, according to DOD figures, includes more than 75 suicide vest
bombings, 550 suicide car bombings, 1,300 car bombings, and more
than 16,500 roadside bombings in nearly 3 years of combat.57
The one-day high for major types of IED attacks included 8 VBIEDs,
9 SIEDs, and 15 SVBIEDs (figure 12).58
Suicide attacks generally focus on high value
targets: Coalition and ISF convoys, ISF recruiting centers and installations,
and concentrations of Iraqi civilians (such as at Shiite religious
Such attacks often result in heavy casualties
and are intended to produce instability and a climate of fear and
sectarian tension, and to discredit the Iraqi Government and the
ISF. The dramatic increase in suicide attacks in fall 2004 and spring
2005 likely reflected changes in insurgent targeting priorities,
organizational dynamics, and capabilities. Suicide bombings have
been a major tactical and operational success for the insurgents
and have driven international and aid organizations from Iraq, dramatically
increased sectarian and ethnic tensions, demonstrated the inability
of the Coalition and the Iraqi Government to protect the population,
and forced the Coalition to devote significant resources to countering
Insurgent operations and corresponding incident
data reveal some important aspects of insurgent effectiveness at
the tactical and operational levels. The insurgents-
_ Have employed violence effectively to achieve
important military and political goals.
_ Have, over the course of the insurgency,
sustained operations at progressively higher levels and shown that
they can more than double the number of attacks during surge periods.
_ Continue to exact a growing toll on Iraqi
civilians, the ISF, and to a lesser extent, Coalition forces.
_ Have managed to enhance their operational
capability by employing more sophisticated IEDs and demonstrated
an ability to mount complex operations against important targets.
_ Retain the initiative and the ability, within
limits, to conduct operations at a time and place of their choosing,
particularly against Iraqi civilians and the ISF.
On the other hand, what did not happen during
the past year is also noteworthy. During 2005, not a single Iraqi
police station was overrun-although the insurgents have had substantial
success in engagements with ISF, especially police elements. Not
one U.S. military adviser was captured by insurgents (although it
is not clear that this has been an objective of the insurgents),
and not one U.S. base was penetrated by insurgents, despite attempts
to do so. Not a single city or town fell to the insurgents, although
the insurgents exercised control over a number of towns and neighborhoods
during the year, especially in the west, and exercised partial control
in others, such as Ramadi.
In sum, the insurgents have scored important
tactical and operational successes, particularly against the ISF
and the Iraqi Government. They have been able to translate these
"battlefield" successes into a number of important short-term
political gains, but still face the challenge of using these "military"
capabilities to achieve long-term political objectives.
Measures of strategic success. What are the
insurgents' goals in the current phase of the struggle for Iraq?
For some, it might be to strengthen their hand in current negotiations
to form a government and in future negotiations to amend the constitution.
For others, it might be to derail the political transition and seize
power. For the jihadists (such as al-Qaeda in Iraq and Ansar al-Sunna),
it might be establishing an Islamic caliphate in Iraq.59
The insurgents are pursuing a number of common
objectives that each group believes will help them achieve their
own particular goals. These common objectives include-
_ Bringing an end to the occupation by inflicting
a constant toll of casualties on U.S. forces, to turn the American
public against the war effort.
_ Undermining government institutions and establishing
control over predominantly Sunni Arab areas of Iraq.
_ Attacking and subverting the ISF, to prevent
it from becoming a serious threat to the insurgents.
_ Fostering a climate of fear and insecurity
to intimidate the population, cripple the economy, and undermine
the legitimacy of the government.
_ Restoring Sunni Arab pride and honor in order
to fan the fires of resistance and bolster the popular standing
of the insurgency.
_ Bending the political process to support
Sunni and insurgent interests.
_ Reestablishing the Sunnis as an important,
if not dominant, presence in Iraq.
Finally, the jihadists hope to foment a civil
war between Sunnis and Shiites in order to prevent the emergence
of a predominantly Shiite government in Baghdad, and to inflict
a major defeat on the United States.
After nearly 3 years of fighting, what progress
can the insurgents claim toward achieving their objectives? They
_ Succeeded, through assent or intimidation,
in establishing themselves as a major, if not the dominant, social
and political force in the Sunni Triangle.
_ Won the support of large portions of the
Sunni Arab population for attacks on Coalition forces and at least
tacit support for attacks on the ISF and the Iraqi Government.
_ Deterred many residents of the Sunni Triangle
from working for or joining the new government and coerced others
_ Made the security situation a major issue
of concern for many Iraqis, giving the Sunnis a strong (if largely
negative) voice in determining Iraq's future.
_ Complicated the political transition by engineering
a successful boycott of the January 2005 elections in the Sunni
Triangle, and supporting Sunni opposition to the draft constitution
in October 2005.
_ Slowed the pace and raised the cost of reconstruction,
reduced government revenues, degraded the quality of life, maintained
high unemployment, and generally undermined confidence in the Iraqi
Government and its institutions.
_ Contributed to popular dissatisfaction in
the U.S. with the war and its handling and to Washington's decision
to start drawing down its forces in Iraq in 2006.60
The insurgents have, however, experienced a number of setbacks during
this period. They have-
_ Not succeeded in derailing the political
process, which continues to move forward, and many Sunni Arabs now
seem committed to influencing the process from within.
_ Been unable to deter large numbers of Iraqi
youths from joining the ISF.
_ Lost (at least temporarily) important sanctuaries
in several major towns in the Sunni Triangle to joint Coalition-ISF
operations, including Fallujah and Tal Afar.
_ Not succeeded in building substantial support
among either the Iraqi or the American public for a rapid and total
U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
Moreover, they have alienated many Sunni Arabs
because of attacks that have killed numerous innocent civilians
and because of the extreme version of Islam some groups imposed
on areas temporarily under their sway.61
While experiencing some setbacks, the insurgents
have scored a number of important successes. Most important of all,
they have made the Sunni Arabs a force to be reckoned with. The
main Shiite and Kurdish parties and the United States have had to
recognize the need for substantial, credible Sunni Arab participation
in the political process and to accommodate at least some of the
key demands of Sunni Arab representatives in the new government.
Sunni politicians will participate in the new government at the
ministerial level, and some may be able to alter the dynamics of
Coalition and Iraqi Government counterinsurgency decisionmaking,
perhaps in ways that will benefit the insurgents. The insurgency's
future will depend to a significant degree on its ability to craft
a political-military strategy that can guarantee its survival and
its relevance while advancing the interests of the broader Sunni
The Sunni Arab insurgency poses major analytical
and operational challenges. It is pervasive in Sunni Arab areas,
yet because it lacks a clear ideology, leadership, or organizational
center, it defies easy categorization. It is not dependent on external
resupply or internal or external sanctuaries, and while the manpower,
materiel, and funds that come from external sources are not insignificant,
they are not necessary to the insurgency's survival.
The insurgency has access to all the weapons,
explosives, and trained manpower it needs in amounts sufficient
to sustain current activity levels indefinitely, assuming continued
Sunni political support; and its networked nature makes it a resilient
and adaptive foe. The insurgency also has at least the beginnings
of a political face and enjoys support from overt Sunni political
The insurgents also know that Coalition forces
are constrained in how they use force to deal with them. These are
among the reasons that combating the insurgency has proven so difficult.
The insurgents' tactical repertoire, however,
still consists mainly of IED, hit-and-run, and terrorist-type attacks,
and the insurgency has a number of weaknesses that could limit its
potential, if properly exploited by the Coalition and the Iraqi
_ The insurgency has little appeal beyond the
Sunni Arab community; thus, the Coalition must avoid pushing the
insurgents into tactical alliances with aggrieved members of other
_ Many Sunni Arabs are ambivalent toward the
insurgency and divided over whether their future lies with the insurgents,
the political process, or both; they must be convinced that legitimate
grievances can be addressed through the political process.
_ Some insurgent attacks are done by freelance
insurgents on a commission basis; therefore, improving the economy
and cutting unemployment might reduce the pool of paid freelancers.63
_ The political transition is making it more
difficult to preserve unity of purpose among insurgent groups and
could help identify those insurgent groups with whom compromise
and reconciliation are impossible.
_ The extreme beliefs and brutal tactics of
the jihadists have alienated erstwhile allies in the insurgency
and at least some Iraqi Sunnis, making the jihadists vulnerable
to attempts to isolate them from local and external bases of support.64
Given their limited military capabilities and
the substantial Coalition presence, the insurgents are unlikely
to stage a successful coup or to attempt a march on Baghdad. Moreover,
U.S. forces are likely to remain in Iraq for as long as they are
tolerated and needed, in part to prevent such an outcome. The resulting
stalemate might provide an opportunity for the evolving political
process to produce a settlement that all parties can live with.
Thus, the war might yet yield an acceptable
outcome-a relatively stable, democratic Iraq-provided that the political
process is not undermined from within, derailed by escalating civil
violence, or scuttled by a premature U.S. withdrawal. The path to
an acceptable outcome is likely to be protracted, costly, and punctuated
by additional setbacks. For the U.S., Iraq will be a major test
of its national will, its political leadership, and its military's
ability to prevail over a new type of enemy, one that it is likely
to confront again elsewhere in the future.
1. For convenience, we refer
to the Sunni Arab insurgency in the singular, although it actually
consists of a number of locally and regionally based insurgencies
waged by various groups pursuing diverse objectives.
2. On the challenges
of assessing insurgencies, see Thomas C. Thayer, War Without Fronts:
The American Experience in Vietnam (Boulder, CO: Westview Press,
1985). On the importance of selecting proper analytical measures,
see James G. Roche and Barry D. Watts, "Choosing Analytic Measures,"
The Journal of Strategic Studies, 14, 2 (June 1991): 165-209.
3. For reports that
suggest the insurgency was preplanned, see thom Shanker, "Hussein's
Agents Behind Attacks, Pentagon Finds," New York Times, 29
April 2004, A1, and Edward T. Pound, "Seeds of Chaos,"
U.S. News & World Report, 20 December 2004, 20-22, 24-26. For
a report that suggests Saddam Hussein was the catalyst behind the
postwar insurgency, see Joe Klein, "Saddam's Revenge,"
Time, 26 September 2005, on-line at <www.time.com/time/archive/preview/0,10987,1106307,00.
html>, accessed 12 April 2006. For an explanation of why the
insurgency was likely not preplanned, see Michael Eisenstadt, "Understanding
Saddam," National Interest (Fall 2005): 117-21, on-line at
accessed 12 April 2006. The regime likewise had longstanding contingency
plans to deal with the possibility that it might be ousted by domestic
rivals and would once again have to go underground, reorganize,
and seize power, as it did between 1963 and 1968. Such planning
probably also facilitated the emergence of the Sunni Arab insurgency
following the conclusion of "major combat operations"
in May 2003.
4. See for example,
the comments by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at a Press
Stakeout Following Close Briefing for Senators on Iraq, 27 June
2003, on-line at <www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2003/tr20030627-
secdef0303.html>, accessed 12 April 2006, and the comments by
U.S. Central Command GEN John Abizaid, "DOD News Briefing-Mr.
Di Rita and Gen. Abizaid," 16 July 2003, on-line at <www.
12 April 2006.
5. For a more detailed
discussion of the history of insurgencies, see Michael Eisenstadt
and Jeffrey White, "Assessing Iraq's Sunni Arab Insurgency,"
Washington Institute Policy Focus # 50, December 2005, 5, on line
at <www.washingtoninstitute. org/html/pdf/PolicyFocus50.pdf>,
accessed 12 April 2006.
6. For more on the insurgent
underground, see Andrew R. Molnar and others, Undergrounds in Insurgent,
Revolutionary, and Resistance Warfare (Washington, DC: Special Operations
Research Office, The American University, 1963), 47-124.
7. Even in the socially
conservative Sunni triangle region, women likely participate in
the insurgency on some level-although probably in small numbers.
(Thus far, only a handful of the more than 600 suicide bombers in
Iraq have been women.) For our purposes, to simplify matters, we
will count only men in the recruitment pool. The population data
cited here are drawn from the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), Iraq
Living Conditions Survey 2004, vol. I, 15-19, on-line at <www.iq.undp.
org/ILCS/overview.htm>, accessed 12 April 2006. The estimate
of men of military age was arrived at by multiplying the UNDP estimates
of the number of Iraqi males in the 15- to 49-year-old cohorts by
0.20. It therefore assumes that the age distribution among adult
Sunni Arab males mirrors that of the general Iraqi population (UNDP,
Iraq Living Conditions Survey, 18).
8. Abizaid interview
on Face the Nation, 26 June 2005, on-line at <www.cbsnews. com/htdocs/pdf/face_062605.pdf>,
accessed 12 April 2006. One-tenth of one percent of the population
would be 27,000 people.
9. Molnar and others,
13-16. These data are not doctrinal norms of any sort, but reflect
the simple fact that to survive, insurgent movements generally mobilize
only a small fraction of their potential recruitment base in the
early phases of their struggle to avoid being detected and crushed
by government forces.
10. See robert thompson,
Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam
(New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1966), 41, for a similar explanation
for insurgent resilience in Malaya and Vietnam.
11. See, for instance,
Nancy Mendrala and Sarah Hornbach, Iraqis Do Not Fear Civil War
Despite Widespread Security Concerns (Washington, DC: 8 August 2005),
U.S. Department of State (DOS), Office of Research and Opinion Analysis,
2-4; Mendrala and Christopher Cole, Iraqis Sense Improved Security,
DOS, Office of Research Opinion Analysis (Washington, DC: 18 April
2005), 2, 8; and Dina Smeltz and Mendrala, Fear a Key Factor on
Iraqi Political Outlook, DOS, Office of Research Opinion Analysis
(Washington, DC: 18 January 2005), 4, 9.
12. In trying to assess
the strength of any insurgency, one should keep in mind the observation
of t.e. Lawrence regarding the Arab guerrilla forces he led during
the Arab Revolt in World War I: "No spies could count us .
. . Since even ourselves had not the smallest idea of our strength
at any given moment" (Seven Pillars of Wisdom [New York: Doubleday,
of Defense (DOD), Regular Briefing with Pentagon Spokesman Lawrence
Di Rita and Chief of Operations, J3, LTG James Conway, 10 May 2005,
on-line at <www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2005/tr20050510-2721.html>,
accessed 12 April 2006.
14. The Washington
Institute, Iraq Incident Data Base. By comparison, according to
the DOD, 85 percent of incidents occur in the four major Provinces
("Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq," Report to
Congress, DOD, October 2005, 21), on-line at <www.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2005/d20051013iraq.pdf>,
accessed 12 April 2006. The insurgency is the overwhelming fact
of life in parts of Iraq, and it has made many Iraqis virtual prisoners
of their homes when they are not working, shopping, or going to
school. It has curtailed nightlife in parts of Baghdad and greatly
influenced public life in large parts of the Sunni triangle. On
the other hand, many areas of the country are virtually untouched
by insurgent violence. In those regions, the residents' dominant
concern includes inadequate electricity (available only a few hours
a day throughout much of the country), ethnic and religious tensions,
the presence of Coalition forces, lack of adequate housing, high
prices, corruption, unemployment, and crime. For instance, see a
recent poll by the International Republican Institute, "Survey
of Iraqi Public Opinion," 6-12 September 2005, 13, on-line
at <www.iri.org/pdfs/09-27-05- Iraq%20poll%20presentation.ppt
>, accessed 12 April 2006. See also Mendrala and Hornbach, 1-2,
6-7, and Ellen Knickmeyer, "Where Charter is Least of Worries:
Local Issues Top List in Town in S. Iraq," Washington Post,
7 October 2005, a12.
15. Incident data
used for the charts in this paper are derived from the washington
Institute for Near East Policy Iraq incident database. This project
was initiated in May 2003 under the direction of Jeffrey white,
with data search and entry conducted by Washington Institute research
assistants. The unclassified database now contains over 8,000 incidents,
reaching back to April 2003. Each incident is tracked for a number
of variables, including date, location (city/Province), forces involved,
types of weapons, type of attack, casualties (including Iraqi casualties),
and other factors. Data are drawn from open-source reporting and
represent a sample of perhaps 15 percent of the incidents reported
by the Coalition. The data are used to analyze operational and tactical
trends in the insurgency, the effectiveness of insurgent forces,
and shifts in operational and tactical activity. Data generally
track with broad trends revealed in official data.
16. David Baran and
Mathieu Guide_re, "Iraq: A Message from the Insurgents,"
Le Monde Diplomatique (May 2005), on-line at <mondediplo.com/2005/05/01iraq>,
accessed 12 April 2006. How many insurgent groups are actually operating
in Iraq is unclear. Some organizations might use more than one name,
and new names appear with some frequency. Moreover, some of the
names used by insurgent groups such 50 May-June 2006 _ Military
review as the Al-Qa'qa' Brigades and the Salah Al-Din Brigades,
have both nationalistic and religious connotations. This makes it
difficult to discern the group's motives and identity, which at
any rate might be mixed. (Al-Qa'qa' bin 'Amr al-Tamimi, was a warrior-poet
and hero of the battles of Yarmuk in 636 C.E. And Qadisiya in 637
C.E. Salah Al-Din was a great military leader who led a Muslim army
to victory over the Crusaders at the battle of Hittin and in the
subsequent reconquest of Jerusalem, both in 1187 C.E.)
17. Mendrala and Cole,
18. T. Christian Miller,
"U.S. Criticized on Iraq Rebuilding," Los Angeles Times,
19 July 2005, A5. Economic conditions in Iraq are such that some
Shiites are alleged to have taken money from the Zarqawi group to
attack their co-religionists (Akeel Hussein and Colin Freeman, "Shia
Iraqi Hitmen Admit they were Paid to Join Sunni Insurgency,"
The Telegraph, 24 April 2005, on-line at <www.telegraph.co.uk/news/
/ixworld. html>, accessed 12 April 2006.)
19. Michael E. O'Hanlon,
Nina Kamp, "Iraq Index: Tracking Variables of Reconstruction
& Security in Post-Saddam Iraq," 13 February 2006, 28,
30, on-line at <www. brook.edu/fp/saban/iraq/index.pdf>, accessed
14 April 2006.
20. Thanassis Cambanis,
"Hussein's Outlawed Former Party Gaining Influence in Iraq,"
Boston Globe, 15 May 2005, on-line at <www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.
14 April 2006; "US Knows of About 10 Leaders of Iraq's Insurgency,"
AFP, 26 July 2005, on-line at <www.spacewar.com/reports/US_Knows_Of_About_
10_Leaders_Of_Iraqs_Insurgency_Pentagon.html>, accessed 13 April
21. See for example
"The Mujahideen Shura Council Claims responsibility for a Suicide
Bombing Targeting Iraqi Police in al-Sayediya"; "Detonation
of Several IEDs on 'Crusader' and Iraqi Forces in Baghdad, Diyala,
and Samarra," and "Assassinating a Captain of the Iraqi
Federal Police in Baquba"; SITE Institute, 2 February 2006,
on-line at <http://siteinstitute.org/bin/articles.cgi?ID=
accessed 13 April 2006; Jackie Spinner and Karl Vick, "Fallujah
Talks and Battle Planning Continue," Washington Post, 28 October
2004, a21; "Iraqi insurgents unite against al-Qa'ida,"
Reuters, 26 January 2006, on-line at <www. theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/
0,5744,17930220%255E2703,00. html> (this article is no longer
22. See, for instance,
Aparisim Ghosh, "Professor of Death," Time, 17 October
2005, on-line at <http://www.time.com/time/archive/preview/0,10987,1118370,00.
htm>, accessed 13 April 2006, which describes the role of Abu
Qa'qa' al-Tamimi, an entrepreneurial former Republican Guard officer
and "born-again Muslim" who facilitates and coordinates
suicide bombing attacks for various jihadist and nationalist insurgent
23. Bradley Graham,
"Zarqawi 'Hijacked' Insurgency: U.S. General Says Foreign Fighters
Now Seen as Main Threat," Washington Post, 28 September 2005,
24. Greg Miller and
Tyler Marshall, "More Iraqis Joining Zarqawi's Cause,"
Los Angeles Times, 15 September 2005, 1.
25. See for example
Anthony Loyd, "Murder of Sheikh Provokes Sunnis to Turn on
al-Qaeda," London Times, 10 February 2006, on-line at <www.timesonline.
co.uk/article/0,,7374-2033304,00.html>, accessed 13 April 2006;
Rick Jervis, "General Sees Rift in Iraq Enemy," USA Today,
25 January 2006, 1; Louise Roug and Richard Boudreaux, "Deadly
Rift Grows Among Insurgents," Los Angeles Times, 29 January
2006, on-line at <www.navcops.com/magazine/blogs/
45/Deadly-Rift-Grows- Among-Insurgents >, accessed 13 April 2006;
Iraqi Resistance Report "Resistance Refutes Puppet Regime Claims
of Divisions within Resistance Ranks," for events of 6 February
2006, on-line at <www.freeArabvoice.org/Iraq/Report/report422.htm>,
accessed 13 April 2006.
26. James Janega,
"Obscure Figures Hunted in Iraq," Chicago Tribune, 20
April 2005, 3; See for example Greg Grant, "Inside Iraqi Insurgent
Cells," Defense News, 1 August 2005, 1, 8, 12, for a description
of improvised explosive devices (IED) cells. See also Montgomery
McFate, "Iraq: The Social Context of IEDs," Military Review
(May-June 2005): 37-40.
27. Testimony of Acting
Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Daniel Glaser and Caleb Temple,
Director (Operations), Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating
Terrorism, Defense Intelligence Agency, before the House Armed Services
Committee Hearing on the Financing of the Iraqi Insurgency, 28 July
2005, on-line at <www. dod.gov/dodgc/olc/docs/test05-07-28temple.doc>,
accessed 14 April 2006. See also Michael Knights and Zack Snyder,
"The Role Played by Funding in the Iraqi Insurgency,"
Jane's Intelligence Review (August 2005): 8-15.
28. Glaser, 1-2. See
also David Enders, "The Business of Jihad," The Nation,
7 March 2005, on-line at <www.thenation.com/doc/ 20050307/enders>
(this item is no longer available); Robert F. Worth and James Glanz,
"Oil Graft Fuels the Insurgency, Iraq and U.S. Say," New
York Times, 5 February 2006, 1; Glaser, 1-2.
29. Glaser, 2-4, 5-6;
Temple, 2, 3; Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the
DCI on Iraq's WMD, vol. II, "Regime Finance and Procurement,"
30 September 2004, 1-299; Douglas Jehl, "U.S. Aides Say Kin
of Hussein Aid Insurgency," The New York Times, 5 July 2005,
A1; Agence France Presse, "U.S. Fears Iraq's Cash Economy Offers
Easy Money to Insurgents," 12 May 2005.
30. Ann Scott Tyson,
"Tighter Borders Take a Toll in Iraq," Washington Post,
11 February 2006, a12, on-line at <www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/
article/2006/02/10/ar2006021001927.html>, accessed 14 April 2006.
31. Sunni Arabs stayed
away from the polls in large numbers. In Anbar Province perhaps
less than 5 percent of the population voted. Anecdotal accounts
from other areas (Samarra and Bayji, for example) also suggest the
Sunni turnout was small-less than 10 percent. In mixed Provinces,
voting was higher, but this reflected the nationwide surge to the
polls by Shiites and Kurds. In the four Provinces most closely identified
with the insurgency (Anbar, Salahuddin, Ninawa, and Baghdad) voting
averaged 24 percent, but all except Anbar have significant Kurdish
or Shiite populations. On balance, 10 to 15 percent is probably
a reasonable estimate for the Sunni Arab vote.
32. The Baath party
has as its political organ the Political Information and Publication
33. See for example
Maamoun Youssef, "Militant Groups Denounce Iraqi Elections,"
Associated Press, 12 December 2005, on-line at <www.breitbart.com/
news/2005/12/12/D8eerOi00.html>, accessed 14 April 2006.
34. The Iraqi Accord
Front gained 44 seats, and the National Dialogue Front gained 11.
See Yahoo News, "Iraqi Election Results Certified," 10
February 2006, on-line at <www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2006-02-10-iraq-elections_x.htm>,
accessed 14 April 2006.
Crisis Group, "In Their Own Words: Reading the Iraqi Insurgency,"
Middle East Report No. 50, 15 February 2006, 17-19, on-line at <www.crisisgroup.
org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=3953>, accessed 14 April 2006.
That both insurgent supporters and insurgents are likely involved
with the new parties is strongly suggested by the case of Mishan
al-Jibouri who, despite links to the former regime, established
himself as a legitimate politician. He won election to the parliament
but was later implicated in the transfer of oil revenues to the
insurgents. See robert F. Worth and James Glanz, "Oil Graft
Fuels the Insurgency, Iraq and U.S. Say," New York Times, 5
February 2006, 1, on-line at <www.nytimes.com/2006/02/05/international/middleeast/
accessed 14 April 2006.
36. Spinner, "Easy
Sailing Along Once-Perilous Road To Baghdad Airport: Army Steps
Up Presence to Quell Attacks," Washington Post, 4 November
2005, a15, on-line at <www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/03/
ar2005110302600.html>, accessed 14 April 2006.
37. During the Algerian
civil war (early to mid-1990s), the onset of the holy month of Ramadan
was often marked by an increase in attacks by the islamic opposition.
See Avi Jorisch, "U.S. Military Operations and the Question
of Ramadan," Washington Institute PolicyWatch #581, 2 November
2001, 2, on-line at <www.washingtoninstitute. org/templateC05.php?CID=1459>,
accessed 14 April 2006.
38. During the Vietnam
war, the tempo of communist military activity followed seasonal
weather patterns. For instance, the onset of the rainy season (September
through January) generally saw a significant slowdown in combat
operations (Thayer, 11-13).
39. See Baran and
40. Prior to the effort
to seal the border, 100 to 150 foreign fighters reportedly crossed
from Syria into Iraq each month, one or two at a time. See Bradley
Graham, "Forces Bolstered in Western Iraq," Washington
Post, 21 September 2005, a18, on-line at <www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/20/ar2005092001527.
html>, accessed 14 April 2006. More recent articles give the
impression that few if any foreign fighters are now entering Iraq
from Syria. See Jonathan Finer, "Among Insurgents in Iraq,
Few Foreigners are Found," Washington Post, 17 November 2005,
a1, on-line at <www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/16/
ar2005111602519.html>, accessed 14 April 2006; ann Scott tyson,
"tighter Borders Take a Toll in Iraq," Washington Post,
11 February 2006, a12. Whether the foreign insurgents can adapt
to tightened border security remains to be seen; See also Grant,
41. According to one
source, some 70 to 75 percent of attacks in Iraq are done on a commission
basis by freelancers. This figure, however, seems improbably high,
and it is questionable whether reliable data on this phenomenon
exist. See LTC David Kilcullen, "Countering Global Insurgency,"
Small Wars Journal, 8, 35, on-line at <www. smallwarsjournal.com/documents/kilcullen.pdf>,
accessed 14 April 2006.
42. Jervis, "Militants
Sharing Bomb Expertise," USA Today, 24 October 2005, on-line
x.htm?POE=NEWISVA>, accessed 14 April 2006.
43. Thought worlds
represent the beliefs on which people, individuals and groups act.
They are culturally dependent and can create different perceptions
of reality, proper behavior, and truth. For a discussion of the
concept of foreign thought worlds, see J.W. Barnett, "Insight
Into Foreign Thoughtworlds for National Security Decision Makers,"
Institute for Defense Analysis, January 2004, on-line at <www.fas.org/irp/
eprint/thoughtworlds.pdf>, accessed 14 April 2006; Baran and
republican institute, Survey of Iraqi Public Opinion, 6 September-12
September 2005, 5, on-line at <www.iri.org/09-27-05-IraqPoll.asp>,
accessed 14 April 2006. See also, "What the Iraqi Public Wants:
A WorldOpinionPoll.org Poll," 31 January 2006, 8 .
45. Mendrala and Cole,
46. Ibid., 9.
47. See Sameer N.
Yacoub, "Shiite Forces Blamed for Sunnis' Deaths," Associated
Press, 29 August 2005.
48. The distinction
between legitimate and illegitimate resistance is evident in the
reaction of Sunnis to terrorist-type actions by the Zarqawi group.
Both Sunni Arab political leaders and resistance organizations have
condemned specific actions by Zarqawi and his declaration of war
against the Shiites. See for example the 1 October 2005 statement
by the Iraqi Islamic Party condemning the terrorist attacks in Balad
on 29 September 2005 in Spinner, "U.S. Troops Target Rebels
in Far Western Iraq," Washington Post, 2 October 2005, A21;
Narrow to broad majorities of Sunni Arabs surveyed in a June 2005
poll characterized those who attacked Coalition forces as patriots
or freedom fighters, while in most Sunni areas polled, large majorities
characterized those who attacked Iraqi civilians or soldiers as
criminals or terrorists. (Mendrala and Hornbach, 4, 12.) See also,
"What the Iraqi Public Wants: A WorldOpinionPoll.org Poll,"
January 31, 2006, p.5 .
49. Mendrala and Hornbach,
50. Various myths
and stories of resistance have come out of Iraq. These include the
myth of allah's sniper, the wily Sunni Arab who kills U.S. Soldiers
from Afar with impunity; virgin fighters, young boys who are killed
resisting U.S forces; and woundless death, the notion that the bodies
of martyred resistance fighters do not bear the horrific wounds
normally inflicted by modern weapons. How deeply these stories affect
Sunni Arabs is impossible to say, but they present powerful images
of pure, noble resistance. See, for instance, Halah Jaber, "The
Chilling Toll of Allah's Sniper," The Times, 20 February 2005,
on-line at <www.timesonline.co,uk/article/0,2089- 1492179,00.html>,
(this item no longer available).
51. A drop in the
number of incidents in certain areas might indicate that the insurgents
are either on the run or that they effectively control the area
in question (Thompson, 169).
52. U.S. Government
Accountability Office (GAO-06-428T), Rebuilding Iraq: Stabilization,
Reconstruction, and Financing Challenges (Washington, DC: U.S. Government
Printing Office, 8 February 2006), 6, on-line at <www.gao.gov/new.
items/d06428t.pdf>, accessed 14 April 2006. The steady increase
in attacks generally mirrors data in The Washington Institute Iraq
53. The exact number
of Iraqis killed by the insurgents is unknown but is clearly in
the thousands. According to DOD data, the trend in daily Iraqi casualties
has been rising since January 2004, with an average of 25/day from
January-March, 30/day from April-June, 40/day from June-November,
50 per day during the election period from late November 2004 to
early February 2005, slightly below 50/day from February-August,
and 60/day from September-October 2005. See "More than 26,000
Iraqis Killed, Injured Since 2004: Estimate," AFP, 30 October
2005, on-line at <http:news. yahoo.com/s/afp/20051030/pl_afp/iraqusunresttoll>,
(this item no longer available). Since January 2005, ISF losses
have fluctuated between 100 to 300 killed in action monthly, according
to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, on-line at <www.icasualties.
org/oif/IraqiDeaths.aspx>, accessed 14 April 2006.
54. DOD, "Operation
Iraqi Freedom (OIF) U.S. Casualty Status," 13 February 2006,
on-line at <www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf>, accessed
14 April 2006. it should be noted that the tally of killed and wounded
includes casualties incurred during the two Muqtada al-Sadr uprisings
of 2004. By way of comparison, in 1968, at the peak of U.S. Involvement
in Vietnam, U.S. casualties amounted to 14,594 troops killed and
87,388 wounded in combat, which equates to an average of more than
1,200 killed and 7,250 wounded a month (more than the average annual
rate for Iraq). During the month-long Battle of iwo Jima, one of
the most intense battles of world war ii, U.S. casualties amounted
to 7,000 killed and 19,000 wounded. See on-line at <www.swt.usace.army.mil/library/tdr/1998/tdr0398.pdf>,
accessed 14 April 2006, and <www.Vietnamwall.org/pdf/casualty.pdf>,
(this item no longer available).
55. The chart in figure
8 reflects the period since the January 2005 elections, which was
a reasonably representative period of insurgent activity. By contrast,
the preceding period, lasting from November 2004 to the end of January
2005, was characterized by significant fighting between U.S. and
insurgent forces in Fallujah. Because many simple attacks that occur
in Iraq are never reported, and are therefore not reflected in the
database, the chart at figure 10 probably overstates the percentage
of moderately complex and highly complex attacks.
56. John ward anderson,
Steve Fainaru, and Jonathan Finer, "Bigger, Stronger Homemade
Bombs Now to Blame for Half of U.S. Deaths," Washington Post,
26 October 2005, a1.
57. Jervis, "Attacks
in Iraq Jumped in 2005," USA Today, 23 January 2006, 1. During
the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) which lasted from 2000-2004,
Palestinian groups launched nearly 150 suicide bomb attacks on Israel.
58. Washington Institute
Iraq Incident Database.
59. For more on Al-Qaeda's
strategy in Iraq, see Abu Musab al-Zarqawi letter to the leadership
of al-Qaeda, February 2004, on-line at <www.state.gov/p/nea/rls/31694.
htm>, accessed 25 April 2006; Reuven Paz, "Zarqawi's Strategy
in Iraq-Is there a 'New Al-Qaeda?'" PRISM Occasional Paper,
3:5, August 2005, on-line at <www.e- prism.org/images/PRISM_no_5_vol_3_-_Iraq_strategy.pdf>,
accessed 25 April 2006. See also letter from Al-Qaeda leader Ayman
al-Zawahiri to Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi July
2005, on-line at <www.dni.gov/release_letter_101105. html>,
accessed 25 April 2006.
60. For U.S. public
opinion toward the war, see Dana Milbank and Claudia Deane, "Poll
Finds Dimmer View of Iraq War," Washington Post, 8 June 2005,
a1. Regarding the decision to draw down U.S. forces in Iraq, see
David Ignatius, "A Shift on Iraq: The Generals Plan a Slow
Exit," Washington Post, 26 September 2005, a23.
61. See for instance
Knickmeyer and Finer, "Insurgents Assert Control Over Town
Near Syrian Border," Washington Post, 6 September 2005, a20.
62. The fact that
the insurgency in Malaya (1948-1960) was rooted mainly in the country's
ethnic Chinese minority and that the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya
(1952- 1956) involved only the Kikuyu tribe are key factors explaining
the failure of those insurgencies. See David Galula, Counterinsurgency
Warfare: Theory and Practice (Science 101) (Praeger Security International
Paperback, 1964), 20. Ensuring that the insurgency did not spread
beyond these minority communities was a key element of British counterinsurgency
strategy in Malaya and Kenya.
63. For an assessment
showing that improved social services and employment opportunities
for the mainly Shiite slum-dwellers of Sadr City in Baghdad led
to a sharp decrease in recruitment to and attacks by Muqtada Sadr's
Mahdi Army, see MG Peter W. Chiarelli and MAJ Patrick R. Michaelis,
"Winning the Peace: The Requirement for Full-Spectrum Operations,"
Military Review (July-August 2005): 4- 17. Whether such an achievement
can be replicated in the largely Sunni Arab areas of Iraq remains
to be seen.
64. For an example
of how tensions and factionalism in the insurgency were exploited
by Coalition forces in the run-up to and during the second battle
of Fallujah, see LTG John F. Sattler and LTC Daniel H. Wilson, "Operation
Al Fajr: The Battle of Fallujah-Part II," Marine Corps Gazette
(July 2005): 12-24. For more on the tensions between foreign Jihadists
and Iraqis, see Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, "The New Sunni Jihad: 'A
Time for Politics,'" Washington Post, 27 October 2005, a1.
For the vulnerability of Jihadists to strategies of isolation and
"disaggregation," see Kilcullen, 39-47.
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