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July 02, 2007

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bb

Fascinating report.

Given that the non AlQ insurgency has universally adopted the language of AlQ and the global jihad doesn't this in itself explain why the US is able to label all the insurgents as AlQ?

It also might explain why the middle class professional Sunnis have quit the country rather than stay home to help the fight the occupation?

And helps explain why none of the insurgent groups has been able to mount effective operations in Anbar province since the local sheikhs made an alliance of convenience with the US?

Why are the supposedly nationalist groups unable to articulate their goals in nationalist terms rather than jihadi rhetoric? Seems to demonstrate without question that it is AlQ who is continuing to set the agenda for the insurgency even if its numbers are smaller, and that the arab Iraqi Sunnis understand this?

aardvark

No, that's wrong- the whole ISI-IAI conflict in April was framed around the "global jihad vs local struggle" divide.

Abu Ghayib

That's a decent analysis, and a line of thinking I've adhered to for a long time, but I've now got serious doubts. You need to take a step back and think about what you're saying.

You say that the divisions between AQ and IAI etc. have been incessantly hyped in the media--an undeniable fact, especially on Arabiya--and I would go one further and say that they've been hyped by the nationalist insurgents themselves on the internet. (I'm sure you'd agree with this, the 5 April IAI statement, the breakup of 1920RB, and the recent Amiriya fighting being great examples).

You also say that these divisions are real. Of course, theoretically, and in terms of their media representation, these divisions are quite real. One is a radical, salafi-jihadist, global caliphate, AQ-style endeavor, while the other is a moderate nationalist resistance with Islamist overtones, a la Hamas. Both are as opposed to the American presence in Iraq as anyone could possibly be.

The key question I have for you, however, is what is the basis for your belief that the nationalist insurgents are actually powerful and in force on the ground? If it's true that the media is all hype, do you have some sort of independent way of verifying their true strength? If it were as the U.S. says, and 90% of insurgent attacks are AQ, how do you know that's not true? Correct me if I'm wrong, but your primary sources of information are the jihadi websites and the mainstream Arab media. By your own admission, these sources have their own agendas and are far from factual reporting.

Why isn't it possible that the strength of the nationalist insurgents is a media created illusion? I'm not attacking you--I honestly am very sympathetic to your analysis. I just can't get around these questions.

bb

Going by that chart the only genuine nationalist movement seems to be the Mujadinin Army which claimed 36% of all attacks against US foces in March and only 4 against the IGF?

What are the nationalists doing using language like apostate and anti christ to describe the Shiites? Surely this is recipe for post withdrawal bloodbath?

If the insurgency speaks AlQ language in all its public pronouncements one presumes it has to in order to keep recruits and funds flowing in. In which case it's not surprising the IAI has given in to the ISI? And the old Baathists must have been sidelined long ago.

MadSufidotcom

This is an excellent weblog! I have added it to my blogroll. Your insights are valuable but I wish that you would make a distinction between Wahhabis and Sunnis, as the former are not accepted as Sunnis by the vast majority of Muslims.

Peter Principle

I know it's the least likely scenario, but I can't help wondering if maybe this time the Cheney administration and Centcom are actually telling the truth: Not that all Iraqi insurgents are Al Qaeda, but rather that it's now American policy to focus as much as possible on fighting Al Qaeda/ISI, while either ignoring or seeking to negotiate cease fire deals with other Sunni insurgent groups.

The rationale, perhaps, would be that this helps clear the way to combat the REAL enemy in Iraq -- Iranian influence over the Shi'a parties and militias.

daleyrocks

One of the biggest problems with analysis such as reenwal's is that it ignores the actual military action and reporting on the ground in Iraq in pursuit of his meme. Confederate Yankee ably demonstrated that the MNF is not soley concentrating on Al Qaeda or labelling every threat Al Qaeda in its releases, but people supporting Greenwald's meme conveniently ignore these facts. They look for any conceivable information at all to backfill in support of the meme, including potentialy dubious self reporting by insurgent groups such as you present here. Why not discuss the gradual "Sunni Awakening," which Greenwald apparently just recently realized was occurring and spreading, which would lend credence to an Al Qaeda as enemy number one policy.

The backfilling is too obvious.

bb

Are there any Shiite jihadi sites on web equivalent to these Sunni (Wahhabi) sites? For eg, does Muqtada/Sadrists have one? If so, what are they saying? Do they agitate against Sunnis in similar absolutist terms? Isn't this significant in relation to Iraq where the Shiites comprise around 80% of the demographic in arab Iraq?

bb

Abu A - There's a very detailed and informative article on the insurgency by a Dr Akram Hijazi posted on Jihad Unspun : http://www.jihadunspun.com/intheatre_internal.php?article=108390&list=/index.php&

I'm particularly interested in its claims that IAI and MA has lost substantial members to ISI since the State was declared last October and that this has forced a merger between IAI and MA? It also details the extraordinarilly (to me) widespread political connections the IAI apparently has with the Sunni Arab states. Can Dr Hijazi be regarded as an authoritative source?


aardvark

Akram Hijazi is important - his essays are always posted on the major forums and taken very seriously. I'm not sure about the jihad unspun link, but in general I always read what Hijazi writes.

aardvark

daley - I wrote quite a lot about the 'awakening', before almost anyone else actually. Check the archives.

Steve&Molly

As usual, a very good analysis from AA but much can be added to this picture. First of all the problem with taking the website postings alone as an indicator of what is happening in Iraq is fraught with difficulty. To take the March ’07 table of RFE/RL and compare the attack numbers against the DoD figures from their latest quarterly report, we can see that they represent only about 24% of the total reported “significant” incidents against Coalition troops and their Iraqi allies in the ISF and police. Who is responsible for the other 76%? Surely not the 1920 Revolutionary Brigades. However, you’re absolutely right to point to the pitiful showing of AQI in their postings (taking credit at all being a very un-Salafist thing to do given that for a devout Muslim credit must always be accorded to God) and, when set in the broader context of the overall figures, they are indeed dwarfed by others who we know very little about.

We spent 10 months doing our on-the ground reporting for our film, Meeting Resistance (www.meetingresistance.com) and many of the insights we gained into the motivation and methodology of people involved in the insurgency have proved to be invaluable in sorting through the noise that surrounds this subject both in the legacy media and on the web.

You’re probably right in your assessment of Gen Petraeus’ Information Operations strategy and that it will probably turn out to be short-sighted. You may recall the attempt to “leverage the xenophobia” of the Iraqi’s during the 2004/5/6 with the psy-ops promotion of Musab al Zarqawi as the foreign leader of the insurgency. That seems to have backfired in a spectacular way by considerably enhancing his fundraising capability throughout the Arab and Muslim world. This enrichment of AQI and the resources that money enabled gave the organisation a capability Zarqawi could previously only dream of. Similarly, the present attempt at undermining the nationalist groups – and setting the insurgency against itself – will probably result in more recruits for the more extreme factions as they peel away from the more “moderate” and an attendant worsening of the security situation.

The main problem with the thinking on this strategy is the failure or refusal to understand the fundamental relationship between the leaders of the insurgency and those they lead. Any move by the nationalist group leaders to enter into negotiations with the United States for any reason other than a withdrawal of forces agreement will lose them their following and/or get them killed by their followers. People who collaborate with the US are killed as traitors, why would a head of one of the resistance groups begin talking to the US? They, of course, are fully aware of this and would probably regard negotiation or collaboration with the US military as something akin to suicide, making the widespread reports of this highly suspect.

If Gen P’s plan is as you believe (and we see no reason to disagree) we see two possible outcomes: The first is that the information operation is successful in undermining the nationalist groups leadership and we will see a haemorrhaging of their manpower over to the more extreme groups. Alternatively, the rank and file will be persuaded that this is yet another plan by the US and Iraqi government to sow divisions among the Iraqi people (not a difficult idea to sell to the Iraqi’s) and this will strengthen the nationalist groups against the AQI agenda. The latter option would most likely have the nationalists inheriting a good deal of manpower and resources which they would direct against the occupation and, in our view would be the most probable outcome.

bb

According to Malcom Nance posting on SmallWarsJournal it is the nationalist Muhajideen Army (which he calls Former Regime Elements)which conducts the bulk of attacks, about 100 a day. Would this account for the missing 76%? If so, why do they not claim them? Also, what role are the nationalists playing today in Anbar which is/was reputedly the Sunni nationalist stronghold? Have they left the province? Are they lying low for tactical reasons? Or are the US/ASC claims of relative quiet throughout Anbar all spurious?

Steve&Molly

BB, we worked predominantly in the Adhamiya district of Baghdad and believe we spoke to people from at least half a dozen groups who – though living in Adhamiya - went to fight in different area's of the capital and in the provinces - especially Anbar and Diyala. Our guess – based on our own knowledge and other information we’ve seen - is that the 76% of attacks are being carried out by autonomous or semi-autonomous groups that may be affiliated to larger organizations for funding and weapons purposes or may be entirely self-sufficient and structured in tight cells. Most of these groups wouldn’t even have a name let alone want to post on the internet. For the people we spoke to being in the fight was enough.

About your comment on nationalists/Ba’athist; just because a group is described as nationalist doesn't mean it's made up of FRE's (a great rarity in our knowledge and experience) and doesn't mean they're devoid of any religious motivation. One of the great myths of pre-war Iraq was created by a failure to draw a distinction between a secular state and a secular country. Iraq was, indeed, the former but a long way from being the latter.

With regard to Anbar (where we had only some personal experience but about which we heard a great deal) the nationalists and the Islamists are really one and the same; local people with a religious upbringing and - like most of Iraq - ardently nationalistic. Where are they now? Once again, the DoD figures tell us that although Baghdad has now overtaken Anbar as the source of most attacks (after being more or less neck and neck for most of the war) Anbar still produces close to 24% overall against Baghdad's 29%. The increase in Baghdad is probably due to the surge producing more targets.

In the wording of your question, you seem to be in danger of falling into the trap laid by military spokesmen who would like us to believe that the people they're fighting in Iraq are military formations that move around as units. In some cases that may be true but, for the most part, they're ordinary Iraqi's who fight (or plant IED's) as groups and then go home to their families.

By the way BB; thanks for the Jihad Unspun link. That's a rare look behind the scenes and a valuable contribution. One little tidbit was how late IAI came into the fight - after Zarqawi.


bb

Thanks muchly for those insights. Have long been puzzled as to what are the political aims of the non jihadi side of the insurgency since no spokespeople ever seem to articulate them beyond being against the occupation. ie: they don't ever say what they are "for" in terms of how they envisage Iraq should be governed? If the bulk of the attacks are being made by grass roots semi autonomous or autonomous groups then that probably explains it. However am not sure about their future if they don't have a political agenda - they would be in danger of being swallowed up eventually by those that do?

Understand your point about the "military formation" trap, but in fact was familiar in my 20s with the Viet Cong and other communist insurgencies and how they operated. The communists of course had a very clear political agenda which enabled them to achieve a monopoly of force over their insurgency which is what it seems AlQI is attempting in Iraq.

Your film sounds great. I'll contact you about that via your website! Thanks again.

bb

Thanks muchly for those insights. Have long been puzzled as to what are the political aims of the non jihadi side of the insurgency since no spokespeople ever seem to articulate them beyond being against the occupation. ie: they don't ever say what they are "for" in terms of how they envisage Iraq should be governed? If the bulk of the attacks are being made by grass roots semi autonomous or autonomous groups then that probably explains it. However am not sure about their future if they don't have a political agenda - they would be in danger of being swallowed up eventually by those that do?

Understand your point about the "military formation" trap, but in fact was familiar in my 20s with the Viet Cong and other communist insurgencies and how they operated. The communists of course had a very clear political agenda which enabled them to achieve a monopoly of force over their insurgency which is what it seems AlQI is attempting in Iraq.

Your film sounds great. I'll contact you about that via your website! Thanks again.

Steve&Molly

These were, of course, questions we were constantly asking. For the most part the answer from people who were involved in the violence - at all levels - was to have no agenda beyond ending the occupation. Some wanted the return of Saddam Hussein (but usually not the Ba'ath which, in its pre-war form, had become widely despised) and, latterly, there are those who would like to see the formation of an Islamic Caliphate.

Although the groups with this agenda seem to be acquiring manpower at an alarming rate - which is part of the exploration in which Marc is engaged here - the ability of these groups to actually realize these dreams is extremely limited. Their recruitment success is probably due more to their current resources - money and weapons - along with their high profile in the information war. Also, as indicated earlier by Marc, Gen P seems to be doing his best to help that process along by undermining the credibility of the nationalist leaderships.

We understand why you'd say these quieter groups never say what they are "for" (they don't say much of anything really) but to look at it from their point of view, they are for an end to foreign occupation and a return to sovereignty and self determination. For them these are lofty goals and enough to be getting on with.

Thanks for checking in on the website. There's a sign up page on there (http://www.meetingresistance.com/contact.html) and we use the mailing list to keep people updated on where we are in the release process.

Nibras Kazimi

Hi Marc,

There is a serious error in your extrapolation from these numbers: what you missed in Daniel’s chart are the composite operational numbers. The press release style of Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq is to lump a number of operations (variously against Allied, Iraqi and Shia targets) in these reports.

A quick tally of a week’s worth would show hundreds of operations that were not included in the “13” and “40” tallies. The Islamic Army of Iraq tends to make a bigger deal out of individual operations in their media releases; their “composite operational numbers” (…which are fewer to start with) hover around 5 to 7, while the ISI’s average ranges from 15 to 30. That is where you misjudged who’s more active than the other in the Iraqi jihadist battlefield. Al-Qaeda’s output is easily double that of all the other jihadist groups lumped together—and when judged on military effectiveness (e.g. armed raids vs mortar rounds), Al-Qaeda is far deadlier.

Take a look at these reports (starting March 1) here:

http://www.alfirdaws.org/vb/forumdisplay.php?f=57&page=35&order=desc

And ending (March 30) over here:

http://www.alfirdaws.org/vb/forumdisplay.php?f=57&page=29&order=desc

And this will give you an idea about what I mean. Daniel’s table is misleading but when read closely it shows that he acknowledges the composite numbers and did not intend the table to compare relative jihadist operational activity but rather what their media output looks like.

Best,

Nibras

aardvark

Hi Nibras -
I'll check it out, but based on following these things fairly regularly I don't think I agree with your reading (reserving the right to change my mind when I have the chance to go back and look more closely). Sure, Daniel is talking about their self-reporting, but he also makes a good case that this is an important indicator of their activity - I assume you agree, since you follow them as closely as I do. You're right about the IAI releasing info on each attack and ISI releasing composite reports, but I thought that Daniel's compilation took that into account. The real missing piece is that the Jaysh al-Mujahideen and Ansar al-Sunna don't play the media release game like IAI and ISI, so their numbers "disappear" along with all the smaller groups. But moving from media reports to reality, not even the US military claims that the ISI/AQ carries out the share of the attacks you suggest here - when they have every incentive to do so..

Nibras Kazimi

Hi Marc,

I actually don't agree with that assessment. When one crunches the numbers, and then matches them to the reports, both published and unpublished, of violence in Iraq, one comes to the realization that Al-Qaeda's ISI accounts for around 70-75 percent of the violence in Iraq since April 2007. Consequently, I believe that the IAI, Jaish al-Mujahideen, Ansar al-Sunnah and the smaller groups (such as the 1920 Revolt Brigades/factions and the Salahaddin Brigades) account for the rest, with the IAI taking the lion's share. The JM and the AS are likewise very determined to get their claims of responsibility out and they do, but in reality they are very junior in the game when compared to the ISI and the IAI. There is a further baseline of 1-2 percent perpetrated by the Ba'athist factions, including Douri's outfit and the Jaish al-Haqq (...the re-incarnated Jaish Mohammed) in the same timeline.

As for where I stand on US military claims and their incentives, as well as some of the media's reluctance to attribute claims of responsibility to the ISI, I expressed my objections in this column from February:

http://talisman-gate.blogspot.com/2007/02/media-blackout.html

Thanks for responding, and I hope we can continue this conversation.

Best,

Nibras
PS: at least my numbers are more conservative than Abu Omar al-Baghdadi's take: he claimed 90 percent of the overall jihadist activity for his ISI in his last speech, citing US numbers as evidence! ;)

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