April 22, 2005

Iraq: Thoughts on the Insurgency – April 2005

In the wake of increased insurgent attacks in Iraq over the past week, one could get the impression that the insurgency is on the rise and we are in the middle of an offensive. In reality, the insurgency is probably no stronger than it was just prior to the January 30 elections.

Perhaps we should define the insurgents. As I see it, there are two main groups. These two groups have divergent strategic goals, but they are tactically allied against the coalition and the new Iraqi government. The forner regime members, mostly Ba'thists, want to restore themselves to power. The Al-Qa’idah in Iraq faction led by Abu Mus’ib Az-Zarqawi, composed of mostly foreigners, wants to install a fundamentalist Islamic state. Their common goals of forcing the coalition to leave and the destruction of the new government transcend their differences.

Many, but not all, of the recent attacks have been in the Baghdad area. The insurgents are finding it more difficult to operate at will throughout the country. The Kurdish area in the north continues to be relatively calm. The only insurgent operations in this area have been in the formerly regime-controlled cities of Mosul (Al-Mawsil) and Kirkuk, and the city of Irbil. Attacks in Mosul and Kirkuk are possible because of the presence of large Sunni Arab populations sympathetic to the regime of Saddam Husayn.

In the predominantly Shi’a south, there has been a marked drop in insurgent attacks. The Shi’a believe that their best interests are in supporting the nascent government (which they dominate). There are ongoing attempts by the insurgents, both the former regime elements as well as the Az-Zarqawi faction, to create a rift, to spark a civil war between the Sunni Arabs and the Shi’a. Thus far, repeated attacks on Shi’a mosques and funerals have not provoked the intended Shi’a response.

Why have the Shi’a not responded to the provocation? The Shi’a are a much more coherent and cohesive group than the Sunnis. As an oppressed majority, they have coalesced throught the years into a cohesive community led by their clergy. The senior Shi’s clerics, most notably the Grand Ayatollah ‘Ali Al-Sistani, exercise great moral authority. They have told the Shi’a not to respond to the Sunni provocations. Thus far, they have not.

Since the selection of the president, Kurd Jalal Talabani, we have been waiting for the prime minister designate, Ibrahim al-Ja’afari, to form a new government. The insurgents want to let the population, primarily the Sunnis, that they will continue to target anyone in, cooperating with, or contemplating becoming part of the government.

The nature of the attacks has changed as well. The insurgents continue to use the improvised explosive device and car bombs. All other tactics have for the most part been rendered ineffective by adaptive American tactics. When the insurgents have tried massed force on force attacks against American forces, such as at Abu Ghurayb earlier this month, it failed and resulted in significant insurgent casualties.

In the end, however, it is not American or coalition forces that will defeat the insurgency. On MSNBC last night, Chris Matthews in an interview with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman asked if we would leave Iraqi forces with “an insurgency we couldn’t handle.” I think there has been a realization all along that it will have to be the Iraqi forces that will defeat the insurgency. That will happen only when the Iraqi people, particularly the Sunnis in the so-called “Sunni triangle,” cease being “fence-sitters” and commit to the new government and begin cooperating. Once that happens and the increased intelligence flow that began after the elections increases, the insurgency will face defeat.

When the Iraqi forces gain the upper hand, they will be dealing with both factions of the insurgency. Although some fo the Iraqis in the insurgency may choose to become part of the new system, most of them and virtually any of the Al-Qa’idah faction that stay will have to be hunted down and killed.

April 21, 2005

Iraq: Murder along the Rivers


Over 70 Iraqi bodies were discovered yesterday in two separate locations, one on the Tigris River and one on the Euphrates River.

At least 50 bodies were pulled from the Tigris yesterday morning southeast of Baghdad and down river from the town of Mada'in (15 miles southeast of Baghdad), the location where Shi'a residents last week claimed that as many as 100 of their fellow Shi'a were taken hostage by Sunni insurgents. When Iraqi and American forces searched the area, they found no evidence of hostages, nor was there any concrete information on the number of hostages. Some Sunnis in town claim the hostage situation was a hoax to incite violence.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is speculating that the bodies are those of the Mada'in hostages from last week. If that is the case, these will be Shi'a remains, killed at the hands of Sunni insurgents. The Shi'a have already said they will not be baited into a response. The Shi'a clerics exercise great moral authority and discipline - so far.

Along the Euphrates, there were also 19 Iraqis National Guardsmen killed in Hadithah, 130 miles northwest of Baghdad. This is in the so-called Sunni triangle. There are indications that many of the residents are getting sick of the Iraqi on Iraqi violence, especially after the Sunni Clerics Association cleared the way for young men to join the National Guard.

Although the dead were initially identified as guardsmen, they were subsequently indentified as fisherman who may have stumbled on to an insurgent camp.

April 18, 2005

Iraqi Insurgents Watch Al-Jazeera

Following up my earlier post today about Al-Jazeera, recent urgent news from the station reveals an interesting fact of the insurgency in Iraq.

مقتل اللواء عدنان ثابت أحد قادة عملية المدائن في هجوم استهدف منزله بجنوب بغداد


Major General ‘Adnan Thabit, one of the commanders of the Mada’in operation, was killed in an attack targeting his house in south Baghdad.


The general had appeared in an interview on Al-Jazeera shortly after the operation, in which he briefed the reporter on the operation. Hours later, he was killed in an insurgent attack on his house.

The insurgents are watching Al-Jazeera.
The insurgents are capable of finding specific individuals and mounting an operation against them on short notice.

Al-Jazeera Bureau Office in Iran Closed

Al-Jazeera, the 24-hour Arabic language news network was virtually unknown in the West prior to the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom (American operations against Al-Qa'idah and the Talaban in Afghanistan) – it has become a household world to millions of people watching coverage of events in the Middle East. To some Americans, the name means anti-American slanted news coverage beamed to an under-informed Arabic-speaking audience. To that Arabic-speaking audience, it has emerged as their principal source of news with over 35 million viewers. While there are other Arabic-language satellite channels, none has the reach - or clout - of Al-Jazeera.

On April 18, Tehran ordered that the network cease operations in Iran, blaming the channel for inciting anti-government violence in the Arabic-speaking Iranian province of Khuzestan in which several people were killed.


Al-Jazeera is based in Doha, Qatar, and is owned by the Emir of Qatar. The word al-jazeera, or more properly al-jazirah, means “the island,” but is also translated in this context as “the peninsula.” For years the only available continuous television news service available in the region was CNN, an English language service. For Arabic speakers, there was no comparable option. Although there are Arabic-language news services available by satellite in the region, none offer 24-hour continuous coverage.

The U.S. government is concerned that Al-Jazeera’s reporting may be inaccurately reflecting American foreign policy. Washington is not pleased with what appears to be Al-Jazeera’s willingness to provide Al-Qa'idah's Usamah Bin Ladin, his agent in Iraq Abu Musa'ib Az-Zarqawi or Iraqi insurgent groups with a propaganda organ. Despite misgiving over AL-Jazeera's motives, the Pentagon allowed the network to particpate in the embedded reported program during the war in Iraq.

Senior U.S. government officials have appeared on the station to attempt to better represent the American position. When then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was interviewed on Al-Jazeera, the station repeatedly aired statements taken out of context as “teasers” advertising the interview. For example, Dr. Rice discussed a wide range of topics, including American demands that Palestinians halt violence against Israel, concerns about Saddam Husayn, the background for American military actions in Afghanistan and the war on terrorism. Only the demands that Palestinians stop attacks on Israel and remarks about Saddam Husayn were aired in these teasers. No mention was made of her reiteration of the American administration’ support for the creation of a Palestinian state.

In Iraq, military commanders remark that when something bad happens, Al-Jazeera seems to be first on the scene. While not accusing the network of anything illegal, some believe the network may have been tipped off. More than one of its reporters has been detained or arrested. The network constantly reminds the world of Spain's arrest of its journalist Taysir Al-Luni for assisting Al-Qa'idah.

Al-Jazeera is a useful source for American news organizations - MSNBC monitors its broadcasts daily. It can also be a source for the Iraqi insurgents. Shortly after appearing on Al-Jazeera, the commander of the anti-insurgency operation in Mada'in was killed near his home.

If you can read Arabic, visit Al-Jazeera's web site. Do not confuse the English language version - they do not read the same. The Arabic is much more strident and anti-American in tone.

April 15, 2005

Iraq - Abu Ghurayb Attack

Last week, I was on NBC Nightly News in a Lisa Myers segment about the insurgent attack on the Abu Ghurayb prison. Here's the transcript:

Zarqawi posts Abu Ghraib attack video on web
NBC terror analyst says video shows new level of sophistication
By Lisa Myers & the NBC Investigative Unit - April 7, 2005

The video, titled "Storming the Prison of Abu Ghraib," shows scenes of the battle from afar, as well as insurgents preparing a surprise attack.

One insurgent calculates how to hit the target, while others load up an improvised rocket launcher. The group claims to have fired 39 rockets.

Former military intelligence officer Rick Francona, now an NBC News analyst, says the video reveals a level of military competence.

"The zeroing in of the weapons and the launching of the rockets, and hitting what they aimed at, shows a certain skill level that we may not have accredited to the Zarqawi group," says Francona.

The flames in the distance appear to be rockets hitting their targets. A few seconds later, U.S. soldiers respond with gunfire. One large blast may be a suicide or roadside bomb.

"This is a particularly audacious attack because it appears that they were in no rush when they were setting up these weapons," says Francona. "They were taking their time. They were being very deliberate in their actions, and it was obviously broad daylight."

Zarqawi claims to have had spies inside and outside the prison. An Internet posting in December warned that Abu Ghraib was a target, because of abuses there.

On the Web site, Zarqawi dedicates the attack to Omar Yousef Jumah, a cleric from Jordan who left his family to fight in Iraq and was killed in a previous unsuccessful attack on Abu Ghraib.

The Pentagon would not comment on the video. Military analysts predict there will be more large scale attacks, as Zarqawi tries to prove his group is relevant and still to be feared.

© 2005

To watch the segment, go to

April 5, 2005

My Baghdad

I spent a good part of late 1987 and 1988 in Baghdad. Although I was there for a few hours in 1991 to pick up the POWs, but haven't been back since. My other "visits" to Iraq were limited to operations in the Kurdish north and other undisclosed locations. So, my memories of Baghdad were of a different city than what is there now.

Although Iran and Iraq had been at war for over seven years by the time I arrived in Baghdad, the city really had not been touched. There were the occasional air raids and then in 1987/1988 the SCUD attacks, there was little devastation. There were also few signs of a country at war. Saddam made sure that life appeared to be normal in the city - it wasn't, but it looked that way. No seriously injured soldiers were allowed to be out and about. The major military casualty centers were far outside the city. The only indications of losses were the coffins being delivered by taxicabs with racks on top for that purpose, and the black death banners proclaiming the martyrdom of young men.

Baghdad was considered one the most beautiful cities in the region. The mosques were much prettier and ornate than those in drab Saudi Arabia or poorer Syria, for example. Say what you will about the Ba'th party and Saddam Husayn, they made the city a showplace. There were escalators up to pedestrian bridges over busy streets, the streets were modern and well-paved, the highways rivaled the autobahns, the trains ran on time (sounds like 1935 Germany...), the public monuments and parks were beautiful and well-kept.

There was real nightlife - clubs, restaurants, people out walking along the Tigris, the masquf (a special way of cooking Tigris river carp - I wouldn't recommend it) cafes in full swing, etc. It was safe to walk the streets. After the Iraqis unveiled the Husayn missile and began hitting Tehran at a rate of four outgoing for each incoming Iranian SCUD, the mood changed. After our program starting having some effect and the Iraqis recaptured the Al-Faw peninsula, the mood really improved and there was an anticipation of victory. Perhaps that is too positive. They had lost so many men that it might be more accurate to say there was an anticipation of the end of the war.

Also, consider that I was an official guest of the Iraqi government, specifically the guest of the Director of Military Intelligence. He had a bit more power (life and death) than his counterparts in the United States. I was treated extremely well, taken anywhere I wanted, and of course they wanted to show me the best side of the city.

Mostly I was impressed with the Iraqis and the Baghdadis, themselves. They aren't the same as the Saudis, Syrians, even the Jordanians. There is something about them that is different - they seem to have drive, pride, confidence. The name Baghdad derives from the Arabic "to swagger, throw your weight around, to act like a Baghdadi." (Remember the song, "Walk like an Egyptian?")

The sanctions caused a lot of decline in the infrastructure. Those who have returned recently describe the damage from the shock and awe campaign, the collapsed infrastructure, power shortages, blast walls everywhere, not to mention the danger.

I prefer to remember my Baghdad as it was. Whoever said, "You can't go back" was right.