An Empty Insurgency
While the Iraqi insurgency has shown an aptitude for dispensing violence, the question remains as to what exactly the insurgents and al Qaeda have to offer as an alternative political plan. Donald Sensing weighs in with an insightful post (which must be read in full), comparing the Iraqi insurgency and the strategy advocated by Carlos Marighella in the Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla.
Marighella believed that abject violence would lead to brutal repression by state security forces, and drive the people to support the insurgency. Reverend Sensing rightly points out that the alternative to the elected government is a return to Baathism, which the Iraqis are all too familiar with, or a Taliban-like government, and that a repressive crackdown is not necessarily the likely outcome:
There are two fundamental errors of the theory that it cannot overcome and that play to Iraq's long-term favor. The first error is the belief that in Iraq the increasing level of terrorist violence by either al Qaeda in Iraq or FREs [Former Regime Elements] will merge the terrorists with "popular causes," that is, make them one with the people. In Iraq, except for the minority of Sunnis aligned with the old Baathist party or Saddam's clan, the people's cause is freedom and democracy. Violence by Saddam's regime is what terrorized the people for more than 20 years; it will not lead them to submit to Baathist rule again. Quite the contrary, terrorist violence is unifying the Iraqi people with the new, sovereign government. As for al Qaeda's terrorism, the Iraqi people certainly have no desire to live under Islamism (see here) and al Qaeda's gruesome murders only convince the people evermore to shun it.
Al Qaeda is more guilty of this delusion than the FREs. Baathism in Iraq was never anything but simple, nepotistic despotism to begin with; the ruling elite never was deluded that the Iraqi people were anything but subjects to be ruled with an iron hand. But one of Osama bin Laden's (and hence al Qaeda's generally) basic premises is that the Muslim ummah, the masses, are thirsting to live in a strict sharia society. But their powerlessness in the face of the apostate, repressive Arab governments keeps the ummah from their Islamic fulfillment. Since 9/11, though, events have proven that the Muslim masses are thirsting not for Islamism but for its opposite.
The second basic error in Marighella's theory is that increasing government countermeasures inevitably become so repressive of the ordinary people that the masses are driven thereby into embracing the revolutionary cause. Uprising results, the government is overthrown and the revolutionaries gain power But again, history shows that harsh reactionary repression is not inevitable. The European countries never did it, the United States never did it and Israel hasn't done it either, although Israel's security measures are very strict. The first test case was Uruguay, where the Tupamaros succeeded in goading the government into the crackdown.
We have documented numerous instances of Iraqis growing weary of the insurgency and taking risky action to turn in insurgents or even fight them. The Iraqis clearly do not long for a return to Baathism or a repressive Islamic state.
Two recent articles highlight the Iraqi Security Forces' dealings with fighting the insurgency. The Washington Post describes the trials of the 302nd and 305th Battalions of the Iraqi Army as they patrol the mean streets of Haifa, formerly one of the most dangerous sections of Iraq.
The New York Times Magazine (hat tip Pundita) documents Iraqi General Adnon and his 5,000 strong Special Police Commandos. This unit is made up of former security officers from Saddam's regime, and has been highly effective at fighting the insurgency in Mosul, Ramadi, Samarra, Baghdad and elsewhere in the Sunni Triangle.
Both of these articles are slanted to portray the Iraqi Security Forces as excessive in their use of force with prisoners and suspects (they are the New York Times and the Washington Post, after all). In both instances, the Iraqi Security Forces have a difficult mission, and their tactics are rough compared to American/Western standards. But these troops are ideally suited to fight the insurgency as they are native Iraqis with an understanding of the language, culture and lay of the land in their respective areas of operations.
The Iraqi people are willing to deal with some measure of rough treatment of prisoners to quell the insurgents. The Iraqi Security Forces have not come close to engaging in tactics that will alienate the citizens of Iraq who know the real meaning of terror living under the reign of Saddam and the violence of the insurgents. And as history has borne out, the odds are against the insurgents in succeeding in turning the Iraqis against their government.
Ma Deuce Gunner has an interesting interview with NPR well worth the listen.