The Desired Effect

Iraq’s insurgency is only as strong its local Sunni supporters will allow it to be. Without the local support infrastructure of the Sunni tribes, the foreign terrorists of al Qaeda will have an increasingly difficult time mounting effective large scale attacks against Coalition forces and the Iraqi government. Arthur Chenkoff’s special correspondent Haider Ajina reports two large Sunni political parties that sat out of January’s elections have had a change of heart, and will participate in the next round:

“The following is a translation of a headline and article in the April 23rd Edition of the Iraqi Arabic newspaper Nahrain:

” ‘Iraqi Sunni Accord confirms that Sunnis will participate in the next elections’

” ‘Adnan Mohamed Selman president of the Iraqi Sunni Accord confirmed that Iraqi Arab Sunnis will participate in the next elections. This was backed up by Nasier Alaani, a leader in the Iraqi Islamic Party (a Sunni party) who said that it is of utmost importance that all Iraqis of all factions participate in the writing of the constitution’.”

Strategy Page (April 23 entry) reports that attacks on civilians are becoming increasingly unpopular, and that the terror activities, while deadly, are not effective enough to alter the course of progress as they are not widespread enough to achieve the desired effect.

Attacks on civilians are still attempts to discourage people from cooperating with the government, or to encourage support for the terrorists. But once you do a lot of this, you are tagged a loser. Such terror only works if you can do it on a large enough scale to control the entire population. But the terrorists are almost entirely Sunni Arabs, and more and more of their terror is being directed against other Sunni Arabs. This isn’t working, with Islamic terrorist becoming more and more unpopular among Sunni Arabs. This has not changed the attitudes of Sunni Arabs, who are not happy with being out of power, and reduced to the status of a minority (about 20 percent of the population.) But the Sunni Arabs have concluded that terrorism won’t get them back in power quickly. So the plan now is to take the long way around, cooperate, and stage a coup down the road, when conditions are right. That’s worked in the past.

Perhaps the Sunnis leadership is plotting a future coup, but in the meantime this means their support for the existing insurgency will ebb. And they just may discover while cooperating with the government that conditions in Iraq are not as bad as they had feared.

Its not just attacks on Iraqi civilians that are seen as problematic by the Sunni population. Locals have fingered the terrorists who shot down the Bulgarian civilian helicopter and murdered the surviving pilot in cold blood. Note that multiple Iraqis participated in their arrest, and did not fear the consequences of turning in the terror cell:

The arrests were made on Saturday following tip offs from Iraqi civilians who led U.S. forces to where the suspected attackers lived… “The Iraqi citizen told the soldiers he knew where the blue pickup truck the terrorists used during the attack was parked and led them to the site,” the U.S. military’s 3rd Infantry Division said in a statement. “When the soldiers got there, several other local residents confirmed the first tip and showed the soldiers where the terrorists lived.” Three men and bomb-making material were found in one house, and three others who in the process of making bombs were found in a second house, the military said. All six were detained for questioning.

The Telegraph publishes an account of Shiite terrorists responsible for multiple acts of violence. The cell members admit to being in the pay of Zarqawi, despite his outward hatred of Shiites and his desire to cause a civil war between the groups; “Asked why he had carried out attacks on his own people, he said he had been attracted by the salary and the chance of becoming an insurgent “emir” – the title given to fighters who can prove they have killed 10 people or more.” It seems the ideology of al Qaeda had little to do with these Shiites’ motivations to murder, it was money and prestige.

So what is the status of affairs in Iraq today? There is an insurgency that is becoming increasingly unpopular among Iraqis, even Sunnis, who freely admit the methods of the insurgents are failing. Iraqi citizens continue to provide intelligence on insurgents and terrorists to Coalition forces despite the inherent risks involved. Sunni political parties continue to move towards entering the political process and participate in the government. The Iraqi government is close to completing its formation, and the security forces continue to grow in both size and effectiveness.

Al Qaeda’s roadside bombings and various other terrorist attacks have little effect on altering the status of Iraq’s democracy. Zarqawi pays locals ten times the going rate to attack Coalition forces and Iraqi civilians, while his large scale attacks on American military bases are distinct failures that incur high casualties on his forces. As terrorist leaders and cells are turned or taken out, the question that remains is can al Qaeda replenish the manpower in a timely fashion? Without the support of the Sunnis, this will become increasingly difficult. As experienced local and foreign fighters are eliminated, any new outsiders (foreign al Qaeda) will not have the advantages of situational knowledge of the local area or the support from friendly locals. Al Qaeda will still be able to conduct attacks, but their impact will not have the desired affects. It’s not a good picture if you are in the leadership of al Qaeda, who are looking for an Afghanistan-style victory in Iraq.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Terry Gain says:

    The terrorists continue to strike Iraqi police and army recruits outside their headquarters. This may be a stupid question from a civilian (Canadian yet) but is it not possible to put some eyes in the sky at these sites ( predator drones) to both offer protection and a way of tracking the perpetrators.

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  • USMC_Vet says:

    Bill, to parallel your post noting the decline in support for Sunni terrorist activities, check the latest from Chrenk appearing in this morning:
    Recently the BBC decided to conduct an informal survey around Iraq…
    The use of Predators or SatIntel on Police stations in Iraq would be a gross misallocation of resources. What precisely would the camera operator be looking for? The attacks have come from car bombs primarily. Which car/truck on the streets passing carries a bomb? Hard to discern from a video camera.
    Without actionable intelligence on specific cells/activities, the Predator approach unfortunately would prove inneffectual. With actionable intelligence, however, a different usefulness presents itself as specific targets can be tracked/targeted.
    Surely to some degree (assuming there has been actionable intel at some point) this has already been employed. Even more likely that rather than employing aerial drone engagement, more economic engagement has been used.
    (Hope you or Bill don’t mind me jumping in on that one. That’s just how I would see it if I were a commander allocating resources.)

  • Bill Roggio says:

    No trouble with jumping in. UAVs have been used to attempt to spot IED deployments in certain hotspots, so this isn’t out of the question. A while back I linked to a NY Times article on UAV increased usage, there are some problems with full airspaces at the moment, so there are issues as well. I think using UAVs depends on the frequency of the attacks in a certain location. Its not out of the question, but as The Sarge mentioned, it is a matter of resources.

  • Tom Lefebvre says:

    Your comments to this Gillian fellow are well taken, especially the summary one at the end – he needs a high school education. Perhaps even more than that he needs some basic history and civics courses. I, like you, thought the Marine’s response to Gillian’s yada-yada was much more PC than it needed to be but VERY effective.
    Love your blog and have got my 78 year old Dad reading it – he has thoroughly enjoyed it.


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