Life as an AQI footsoldier


The Institute for War and Peace Reporting has published some interesting testimony from an ostensibly reformed nationalist footsoldier for Al Qaeda in Iraq. While it’s quite possible that this man is putting his best spin on things to distance himself from his unpopular former employer, much of it echoes my research for a project documenting the rise and fall of the insurgency in Fallujah.

In Anbar, many of the non-radical Iraqi insurgents were motivated by a mix of inflamed cultural and religious sensibilities, Chomskyan politics, civilian casualties, nationalism, and xenophobia stoked by populist Imams and insurgent leaders. Some of the motivations overlapped with those of the foreign and theologically conservative insurgents, but in the case of the radicals, these issues were dwarfed by religious fervor and a desire for martyrdom.

Nationalist concerns about the Americans became secondary, however, when aspects of the insurgency (especially AQI) displayed radicalism, criminality, and barbarism that established them as a greater threat than the occupiers. Another important turning point came when many of the nationalist insurgents began to realize that Americans were not nakedly pursuing Iraq’s territory or natural resources, and that our political will had policymakers itching to leave Iraq, rather than colonize it. In this latter aspect, I’m certain that some of the Fallujans came to follow American politics more closely than many Americans do.

To wit, this quote I received from a former insurgent in January of 2007:

Through my [experience as an enemy], the way I look at Americans, I look at them and feel like they are occupiers, occupying my country when the invasion happened. But when other parties showed up – especially the radicals and the Iranian militias, both who are not Iraqis – now I prefer the Americans. I’ve met [various Americans working for Fallujah]. It is my feeling that [they are] working hard, and (before I knew) you (Americans) I had a different image. Now that I know the Americans, I have a different impression. Now I deal honestly with them and feel they are really working for the benefit of my side. I think the Americans are more for Iraq than the Iraqis themselves.

Another, from a Fallujan security volunteer in September 2007:

At first, Americans were not doing a good job, because if they were attacked, they would kill [civilians] in the surrounding area, but now they are good to the people and trying to help. They are going out sooner or later, and it is a good gesture of them to try to help us before they leave.

Paraphrased, this man went on to say that his opinion also changed when he realized that the Americans were “not after the oil, after all.”

And ironically, just as Anbar’s Sunnis realized the Americans wanted out, they began to hope we’d stay, as many astutely realized that any hope of dealing with the Shia-dominated central government would require US brokerage.

This quote from the former AQI in the IWPR article makes the point:

Now it’s better to stand back and watch because the battle is not over yet. I worry that the Sunni may ask us to take up arms again if Iran gains political power after the US pullout.

I used to support the US withdrawal but now I don’t want it to happen so quickly. They (the Americans) should end the Iranian influence before they pull out. If they withdraw and Iran is in Iraq this will create a new Sunni armed uprising.

Many of his sentiments in the rest of the article are commonly mentioned by both American intelligence officials and Iraqis. I personally disagree with many of his perceptions, of course; but differences of opinion with a former insurgent are distinct from understanding the frame of reference that can spark smoldering insurgency into wider rebellion. The piece is highly recommended.

One portion is unusual and compelling, given the source:

Islam teaches us to tell the truth, even if it is against us. There was a Marine who fought bravely against us in 2004. He fiercely repelled many of our attacks on his own. But he couldn’t keep it up for long because he was outnumbered by al-Qaeda fighters.

He went down during the engagement, clutching his dog tag. I respected him a lot because of his fighting. I wished that the Iraqi government had half of this Marine’s courage and his sacrifice. Iraq would have been a better place.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Third party photo replaced because a badge likely differentiated originally pictured militants from being AQI. Thanks to those who provided feedback.

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  • Solomon2 says:

    Chomskyan politics?

  • BullsEyes says:

    Aren’t those Shia Militia members?
    Sunni insurgent never wear plastic cards with religious motifs on their clothing.
    Just wondering. Great article!

  • Abu Nasr says:

    I think your AQI fighter photos might be Jaysh al Mahdi fighters. The badge looks like it has a graphic of Mohammed Sadeq al Sadr in his white death shroud with Muqtada’s image just below. I could not zoom in close enough to verify, but I would double check if you have a higher resolution photo.

  • Bill Ardolino says:

    In addition to being known for linguistics, Noam Chomsky is a widely understood critic of US foreign policy and what he perceives as ” American Empire.” (this parallel does not apply to Chomsky’s domestic politics)
    Many Iraqi insurgents and civilians who are critical of the United States have political views about American foreign policy that closely mirror this sentiment. Often, these views are enhanced (and in some cases, obtained) by paying attention to Western commentators, as well as regional media. This is especially true to the extent they revolve around believing the US invasion was a pretext for a straightforward grab for land or energy resources.
    Alternate adjective candidates: “Gorevidalian,” “Oliverstonian,” “SeymourHershian,” or a personal favorite, “Michaelmoorian.” Hope that helps.


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