Co-opting the Sunni Insurgency’s Leadership

The political war against the Sunni-led insurgency proceeds in conjunction with military operations. Strategy Page details how successful military operations help feed the success on the political front. Intelligence on the Sunni leadership is gained via the death or capture of terrorists and insurgents, or suspected insurgents, which in turn is used to identify the players in the insurgency. A picture of the insurgency develops over time, and the Coalition acts by either enticing the leaders to join the political process, or kill them if required.

Each month, 100-150 terrorists (al Qaeda or Baath Party supporters) are killed, and many are identified. Each month, 700-1,000 terrorist suspects are arrested. Most are quickly released once it is confirmed that they are not involved in any violence. But these men, and those who are not quickly released, all provide bits of information that, once collated, provides a pretty good picture of who is doing what for whom, and for how much…

It’s not that the bad guys are running out of money, or people willing to die for a few hundred bucks. What the terrorists are running out of is Sunni Arab leaders willing to continue tolerating the violence. Each month, a few more neighborhoods shift sides, becoming an unwelcome place for terrorists, and more tolerant of Iraqi soldiers and police. American intelligence and the Iraqi government each have lists of the key Sunni Arab tribal, religious and business leaders they need to convert or, in a few cases, kill, in order to end the Sunni Arab violence. Each month, especially since the January elections (that elected the interim government), one percent, or a few percent, of the people on that list, move over to the government side. Another few percent become potential converts.

Evidence of the co-opting of small segments of the Sunni leadership abounds. We’ve discussed some of the evidence in Splitting the Sunni’s Insurgency; “the Albu Mahal’s fight with al Qaeda on the Syrian border, the agreement by three prominent Sunni parties not to boycott the constitutional referendum, and…an amnesty offer to junior officers of Saddam’s defunct army.” Yesterday’s New York Times reports on yet another influential grouping of Sunnis entering the political process.

A large group of tribal leaders, academics and other professionals met on Saturday in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, the only Iraqi province in which the population is almost entirely Sunni Arab, for a campaign kickoff by the new group, the National Public Democratic Movement, leaders said today.

The meeting, in the house of Sheik Hamid Turki al-Shawka, a prominent tribal leader from Ramadi, lasted five hours and included Sunni Arabs from Qaim, near the Syrian border, Mosul, in northern Iraq, and Baquba, north of Baghdad, as well as some Kurds and a few Shiites, the leaders said. The leaders said they had quietly registered the movement with Iraq’s electoral commission last month.

As Strategy Page indicates, the attrition of Sunni insurgency’s leadership creates a command vacuum, which over time increasingly becomes difficult to fill. al Qaeda still has a vital interest to continue the fight, and is attempting to stem the bleeding of the leadership with foreign fighters. Middle East News Line reports al Qaeda is sending in Saudi leaders to shore up the insurgency’s leadership; “It seems that senior Al Qaida operatives in Saudi Arabia have moved their operations to Iraq, where they are well-financed by prominent Saudis who don’t want to see a democratic Iraq.”

The foreign fighters are the most ferocious and ruthless elements of the insurgency, and will inflict brutal crimes on the Iraqi people and Coalition soldiers. But the Islamists’ tactics have driven elements of the population that make up the insurgency’s natural base to support the government, lest they submit to the depredations of Taliban-like rule of law. It is important to provide the proper security environment to give these citizens an alternative to al Qaeda’s brand of politics.

From the wider perspective of the War on Terror, Saudi al Qaeda leaders that were holed up in Saudi Arabia are coming out of the shadows and openly engaging in combat in Iraq, where they are being hunted by U.S. and Iraqi troops. As they are killed or captured, their support organizations become exposed as well.

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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  • vuc says:

    {deleted by site administrator, this comment had absolutely nothing to do with the subject at hand}

  • Justin Capone says:

    The entire goal of the December elections is to give the Sunnis a new set of elected leaders that will split the Sunni community between those that follow the new leaders and those that follow the insurgents. We will see how well it works. Personally I have quite high hopes.
    I also finished reading “No True Glory” the Battle of Fallujah today by Bing West and I must say it is by far the best war book I have ever read. It really gets at the intersection between politics and military operations, when it comes to the US and when it comes to the Sunni community.

  • Mike Rentner says:

    This is all very hopeful, and I remain hopeful and indeed convinced that we will win this war, but my experience in Al Anbar was that no matter how many leaders we killed, there were always plenty to step in to take charge without their missing a beat.
    Attrition is not how we will win this war, and numbers of enemy killed are largely irrelevent. It’s the changing of minds of the people that matters. Killing a lot of muj helps them change their minds and support the Iraqi government, but more than that, just bringing peace and security is the main impelling factor.

  • Dave From Chicago says:

    Hey guys, how come the Iraqi troops are still using those dinky riffles? If they are going on misions with us shouldn’t have the best firepower.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    When I said “the attrition of Sunni insurgency’s leadership” I was mainly referring to the leaders lost by being brought into the political process. However, over time the dismantlement of leadership does have an effect on any organization. al Qaeda’s problems in Northern Iraq are largely due to dismantling the leadership of Abu Talha’s network.

  • rob says:

    #4 “Hey guys, how come the Iraqi troops are still using those dinky rifles? If they are going on misions with us shouldn’t have the best firepower.”
    Some elements of the iraqi military have been given the same types of weapons as the u.s. soldiers (check out the video often shown on Fox of some type of unit demonstration, unit is carrying M-4’s) However the weapons used by the majority of the army (AK-47, AK-74,PKM) are nothing to shake a stick at, in fact they are good, reliable, powerful guns that even U.S. troops have recovered from the battlefield and used to good effect. (Remember the U.S. tankers using AK’s early in the war.) High tech helps, but in the end it is not the gun but the training and warrior spirit of the man holding the gun that counts

  • Tom W. says:

    I read an article somewhere that said most Iraqis–civilian, military, and police–know how to field strip and fire AK-47s. We’re trying to get the Iraqi security forces up to snuff as fast as we can, so the decision was made not to resupply them with our own weapons.
    The one thing we’re really working on is marksmanship. Apparently most Iraqi soldiers and cops had an “Insh’allah” approach to firing. They’d point their weapon in the general direction of the enemy and fire off an entire clip, and if God willed it, they’d hit the target. Thankfully, a lot of terrorists still use this approach, which is why they’re relatively ineffective against trained troops.

  • cjr says:

    Hum. While reading about the DoD anouncement about the next OIF troop rotation:
    I came across:
    “Additionally, the 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan., previously notified to prepare to deploy in early December, has been advised it will not deploy prior to Dec. 31, 2005.”
    I wonder if the part left out was “…and if favorable conditions continue, deployment will be cancelled”
    Could this be the first sign of reduction of US troops in Iraq?

  • cjr says:

    Transcript of Gen Petraeus remarks at CSIS forum on 11/7:
    “Iraq’s evolving forces”

  • Super 6 says:

    Only six brigades listed for mid 2006 OIF deployment. I wonder if this is the beginning of the draw down or will others be added at a later date. My son’unit was on standby for December deployment but it has also been delayed.

  • Super 6 says:

    “My son’unit ” Should read “My son’s unit”. Bad editing…sorry

  • DWPittelli says:

    The AK-47 and variants is inherently not as accurate as the M-16 and variants. (It is generally accurate enough, and more accurate than most of the people who fire it could ever get.) But the AK-47 is inherently more reliable in a dirty environment, or when receiving less-than-perfect maintenance and cleaning. This is for some of the same reasons as the lesser accuracy, notably its large gas-tube and heavy reciprocating piston, and (on the original AK-47) larger calibre / lower velocity round.
    I would keep most of the Iraqi troops on the AKs, but I am not particularly a critic of our M-16.

  • exhelodrvr says:

    THere is also the advantage that so many Iraqis are already familiar with that weapon, so the learning curve is not so steep.

  • C-Low says:

    And some said the Fly Paper stradegy made no sence. Soudi leadership being blead off into a lossing cause of Iraq. I love it. True we cant win a war of attrition (our media would fight it the whole way our leadership wont do what it takes to keep up moral) but at the same time our goal is to always blead the enemy, while at the same time we build a ally on the 80% of the muslim population that dont beleive the 20% radicals crap. Making Iraq free democratic and enableing their military to fight the 20% is our best way to victory the alternative plan is nothing nice. The Iraqi army will win the long war of attrition. But in the short term it is great to get to blead thier reserve. The Saudi guys are expeirenced and capable thier death will go along way.
    On the AK vs M-4 the two are good weapons the AK has more kill power where the M-4 will wound. In normal war senerio I would go M-4 but against terrrorist were wounded fade into pop and come back and they use liquid edrinalin and such to get jacked up and nearly painless the Kill power would have the advantage. These factors would make me lean to AK However Personally I think the M-4 with a LaMas round would be the ultimate. Light with supperb penetration and literally obliterating Kill power. I read a story of a blackwater that shot a terrorist in the but with one of these and he laid right thier leg barley attached blead to death dead, that is stopping power a regular 5.56 would have stung like hell but he would have made it to cover and probably even faught on.
    I know this is against the rules of war crap and I even will somewhat give credince to that in regular Nation State Warfare BUT we are not fighting soldgiers that honor the rules of law we are fighting blood thirsty Radicals that have no rules cut mens heads off like they are pigs with no remorse kill women children and deserve no holds barred warfare. Everytime we wing one of these radicals they should pay maximum payment.
    warning very very explicit footage of who we fight what they do to Prisoners even civilian contractor ones hell even fellow muslim bretheren get the same and Why We Must Win.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    Super 6,
    Six Army Brigades, plus the normal marine rotation, makes 8. 8 Brigades of OIF IV have yet to rotate in, or are on there way. At least 1 of the brigades, possibly 3, have been held off until after the first of the year.
    IMHO TF Bagdhad will be gradually drawn down after the first of the year. MNF-NC and MNF-NW will be merged. MNF-West will maintain troop levels until at least the middle of 2006.

  • leaddog2 says:

    Can the Saudi killers succeed in replacing the Iraq Islamist killers in the short term? That is the real question? Eventually, we have to eliminate ALL Wahhabi clerics and all aspects of Wahhabism in Saudi. The world will not survive otherwise, in my opinion.

  • westhawk says:

    Dear cjr and Super 6:
    In our post
    Winding down Iraq
    we analyze and discuss the U.S. Defense Department’s troop rotation plan for 2006.
    We conclude that there will in fact be a large reduction in the most visible (in both Iraq and U.S. politics) U.S. conventional maneuver units. On the other hand, there will be an increase in the less visible, but none the less very important, U.S. training and advisory teams that are attached to Iraq formation.


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