Iraq Insurgency: The Struggle for Power
conflict in Iraq is not perceived anymore as a monolithic organization committing acts of
violence against U.S. troops as Saddams loyalists, fanatical fundamentalists or
foreign terrorists linked to Al Qaida. It is an insurgency waging guerrilla warfare,
predominantly urban guerrilla (terrorism) and, like most uprisings in recent history,
Iraqi guerrilla started with a myriad of groups and objectives aligned against a common
enemy. Presently, there are several formations and subgroups carrying out attacks for a
variety of reasons, motives and goals.
rebellion hot spots have to outgrow the initial phase of an insurgency and evolve into a
national guerrilla in order to survive. The major armed groups leaders would have to
agree on a common cause, an integrated leadership and on sharing their popular base and
logistics. This is likely to happen if two primary common grounds preexist and a
charismatic leader (or leaders) emerges to tie them together and bridge the factions
differences. The Iraqis perception of the enemy and Islam, a shared
catalyst, constitute the common grounds. These two essential attributes coexist in Iraq
even if they are at a gestation stage.
glance, it appears that the Iraqi insurgents are far from converging into a unified
movement. They seem to be plagued with ethnic rivalries:
Arabs, Kurds, Chaldeans
and Turkmen. Islam, the unifying
thread, comes across as a house divided: Sunnis versus Shiites and there is no leader of
national stature in sight.
precondition, peoples perception of the enemy, seems to prevail in Iraq. Except for
most Kurds and the members of the interim government, their partisans and backers,
virtually all Iraqi nationalist and patriotic individuals share the insurgent groups
feeling: the resentment of the U.S. presence and the anger toward the U.S. failure to
restore law and order. At this stage of guerrilla evolution, the adhesion of all the
people is not vital for the guerrilla to spread nationally, as long as most Iraqis share a
common feeling toward a perceived enemy. Initially, insurgencies rely heavily on kinship,
tribal and inter-tribal ties and alliances to provide them with shelter, intelligence and
assistance. When they consolidate their operational base, they round up the rest of the
population to their cause and overpower any resistance by intimidation and violent means.
prerequisite, Islam, seems to be a deeper divide between insurgents. Islam in Iraq appears
to be split into Sunnis and Shiites, and further fragmented within each sect. The
predominant guerrilla Islamic ideology would probably arise from the coming together of
splinter groups from all Islamic factions.
groups overcome their religious differences? How really far apart are the Sunnis and
Shiites? Actually, our frame of reference for Shiism is Iran and the Sunni
triangle (Saddams loyalists) for Sunnis. It is a misleading paradigm because
what comes to mind when the word Shiite pops up are the Iranian Ayatollahs, a parochial
autocracy for which the Western world is Satan, American hostages humiliated for months,
persecution of people in the name of God, etc.
are not ethnically related to Iranians. Nomadic Arab tribes who settled down and took up
agriculture populated central and southern Iraq. In the south, those tribesmen converted
to the Shi'ite sect while their kinsmen remained Sunnis. They share the Arab culture and
attributes. The differences between them are primarily political rather than ethnic or
cultural and their struggle is for power over the right to govern and to define the future
of Iraq. The Shiites political orientation is influenced by Iraqi nationalism with its
distinct values and heritage and on a wider Arab nationalism for the Sunnis. Together,
they constitute 75 percent of the population and Shiites became a majority in Iraq only
during the nineteenth century. The two groups are linked by a large number of mixed
marriages and shared social codes and cultural values built on the strong Arab tribal
character. Both communities endeavored to preserve the country's territorial integrity
ever since the British creation of modern Iraq in 1921. During the Iran-Iraq War of
1980-1988, Iraqi Shiites, who formed a majority of the foot soldiers of the Iraqi
infantry, fought against their Iranian coreligionists and affirmed their allegiance to
Iraq in spite of their discontent with Saddams regime and their sectarian affinity
with Iran. The large majority of Iraqi Shiites
probably have no wish to imitate the Islamic Republic of Iran. They do not want to replace
a secular tyrannical dictatorship that oppressed them for decades by a domineering
society is not homogeneous and each community is itself diverse. There are secularists,
including liberals and communists, urban and rural dwellers, rich and poor and various
religious groups but all share a mutual Islamic culture. There is no single leader (or
group of leaders) who can speak for all Iraqis, a leadership vacuum that both violent and
non-violent groups would like to fulfill.
group that might take the lead and unite all fighters into a national guerrilla should
have at least the following traits: be known as fiercely opposed to foreign occupation; is
already waging a violent guerrilla warfare against the enemies; has no
previous or current ties to the U.S. or to the interim government; has adopted an Islamic
creed that appeals to most groups and; has already attracted a wider popular support
beyond its community and sect. There are dozen of insurgent organizations that,
theoretically, fit some of that profile. Each major Iraqi community produced at least one
such group, active or still dormant but, so far, the Mahdi Army is well ahead of the
crowd. The Mahdi Army, also known as Jaish-al-Mahdi, is largely composed of young unemployed
and often impoverished men from the Shiite urban areas and slums in Baghdad and the
southern Shite cities. The Mahdi Army area of operation stretches from Basra in the south
to Sadr City in central Iraq and some scattered Shiite militia in Baquba and Kirkuk, where
Shiite minorties exist.
young, fiercely anti-US Shiite Islamist cleric, Moqtada
al-Sadr, commands this armed group estimated at 3,000
to 10,000 fighters. This movement involves
only a small percentage of Iraqs Shiites but it is gaining momentum and popularity.
Sadr constitutes a serious threat to the traditional Shiite religious hierarchy, the
interim government and to Iraqis who cooperate with the enemies.
rise to insurgency leadership came after
shut down his daily newspaper, Al Hawza, on March 29, 2004 and arrested Mustafa
al-Yaqubi, his senior aide on April 3, 2004. Several protests followed those
events. On April 4, 2004, another protest turned violent: thousands of armed members of
Sadrs Mahdi Army took over police stations and engaged in gun battles with coalition
forces in four cities across Iraq. Since then, clashes
and truces with US forces became Sadrs game plan. His scheme is to send mixed
signals: at times he calls for a
national rebellion against foreign troops and Iraqi police. At others he promises to disband his militia and
become involved in the political process. This strategy keeps him in the limelight in
Iraq, the U.S. and the world and the sporadic truces allow him to regroup.
Sadr seems to
have all the attributes and background to be the insurrection leader who might unify the
major groups into a national guerrilla or, at least, shape its doctrine and objectives. In
addition, Sadr has a highly reputable lineage. His
father-in law, was a leading Shiite activist before his execution by the government of
Saddam Hussein in 1980. His father, a well-respected figure throughout the Shi'a world,
was murdered along with two of his sons in February 1999 in Najaf by the same regime. Sadr
went underground after his father and two brothers assasssination. He appears to be the
umblemished resistant. He also attracted sympathies and support across
religious lines and opposed any breakup of Iraq according to ethnic, religious, or other
forms. It is obvious that Sadr survived all crisis with his standing enhanced, insuring
him a major role in the political and military establishment in Iraq. Will he join the
political fray, as he is invited to do so by the interim government, and become a small
fish competing against experienced politicians with international networks? Or will he
exploit his momentum and aim for guerrilla leadership? Regardless of what
happens to Muqtada al-Sadr, the struggle for guerrilla supremacy will go on. Jockeying for
guerrilla leadership is like national election, one day is a long time.
force succeeded in preventing a unified national guerrilla. It thwarted a civil war. It
forestalled the spread of violence to the whole country. It built a solid foundation in
spite of enemys propaganda: it got rid of a dangerous and cruel dictator, liberated
the Iraqi population from decades of oppression, put Iraq in a path to freedom and
democracy and made a commitment to help the Iraqis achieve their peaceful objectives. We
want what most Iraqis want: security, freedom and economic opportunity.
We now need
to do what Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Iraqi Interim Government Finance Minister said almost a year
ago: The Americans are coming to understand that they cannot change everything
they want to change in Iraq. They need to let the Iraqi people decide the big issues.
He might be right and the biggest issue is the violence that is crippling Iraq. The U.S.
should leave the fight against the insurgents to the Iraqis themselves. We know that a
formidable army and highly sophisticated arsenal cannot overwhelm a guerrilla. An
insurgency can only be eradicated if the majority of the people want to and, according to
all reports from the field, most Iraqis are opposed to violence. If that is the case,
Iraqis should fight the counter-guerrilla on guerrillas principles: by each
individual, his family, his clan, his tribe, his community and religious association.
Guerrilla is long-term, low intensity warfare and the longer it last, the more it benefits
the radical groups of the insurgency and widens the apathy of the people. The coalition is
not going to be there forever and if the Iraqi people cannot defeat the guerrilla, it is
not the Iraqi army and police we are training that are going to do it, no matter the level
of their ability.
should continue to bolster support for Iraq's interim government but also seek out and
engage actively with the whole spectrum of interest groups in Iraq and allow nonviolent
avenues of political expression and participation. We should be working to win the support
of Shiites, Sunnis, Arabs, Kurds, Chaldeans and Turkmen who could contribute to rebuilding
their country, regardless of their affiliation, their belief or which side they fought
continuous field intervention can only create more enemies. The U.S. military part of the
counter-guerrilla war should be subordinated to political, social and economic objectives.
We should help the Iraqi leadership to restore law and order and basic services, and give
the Iraqis greater political freedom and sovereignty.
situation cannot be sustained indefinitely and a military victory alone is a short-term
fix. A skilful U.S. and Iraqi leadership could co-opt the guerrillas and reconcile with
their leaders. Historically, some guerrilla and terrorist leaders successfully built and
lead countries after conflict resolution, and some of them became our closest allies in
the war against terrorism.
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