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The Iraqi Insurgency's "Hearts and Minds" Approach

| 24 Comments | 2 TrackBacks

During and after Operation Matador in northern Iraq, Bill Roggio and I have been joking lately about "al-Qaeda's 'hearts and minds' strategy." (see also: Fight Amonst Yourselves, Redux and The State of the Insurgency).

Whatever you may think of Allied abilities in this area, it's becoming very clear that our enemies' gift for pissing off the Iraqi population is extraordinary. Megan McArdle of Asymetrical Information adds to this threme with an interesting post chronicling just how extraordinary - their tactics are the exact opposite of conventional guerilla warfare's requirements. It isn't surprising, therefore, their army is experiencing recruiting problems.

Heretical Librarian adds some relevant links, then offers a thought: "the terrorists feel betrayed." Marginal Revolution chimes in with some thoughts on what the insurgency might be trying to do, drawing on game theory et. al... Dave Schuler of The Glittering Eye recommends it highly. His take on which of those goals fit the insurgency? "All of the above."

2 TrackBacks

Tracked: May 19, 2005 9:04 PM
The State of the Insurgency from The Fourth Rail
Excerpt: How is the insurgency faring as a political entity, and what are their chances at defeating the democratically elected government and driving the Americans from Iraqi soil? Last weekend the New York Times published an article by James Bennett titled...
Tracked: May 25, 2005 5:13 AM
The Fragility of Nations from Jim's blog
Excerpt: The terrorist strategy is sound, rational, based on a keen and accurate reading of modern and ancient history, and may well work. They are doing what the Koran tells them worked a bit over a thousand years ago, and what the twentieth century showed wo...


Don't forget these elements are following a strategy used by Saddam also, maintaining a regime by murdering off your enemies and your friends when you got bored with murdering enemies. At least some of the terrorists are former regime members, they have their programming in place and it worked before. Don't we all go back to tactics that worked before when we don't seem to be gaining headway in something new?

Consider the filibuster ....

Sounds a lot like the Palestinians. Arabs seem to have a problem with giving up when it makes no sense to continue. Our enemies seem to value fighting just to fight. Westerners demand a purpose to violence, and demand results. That is why so many people are mad about the lack of WMD's. That was given as a a reason to fight. If we were like our enemies, we would just be happy to be fighting. Many arabs are happy simply that a fight is occurring, and do not care whether it accomplishes its purpose, or that is has any rational purpose at all. Violence for its own sake is glorified. Westerners often project what their reasons for fighting would be if they were in the shoes of Iraqi rebels or Palestinians. It is an attempt to understand what seems to be senseless violence. However, our enemies are not fighting for our reasons, but their own reasons. That is why it is so hard to understand- they aren't us, and don't see violence as a means, but as an end.

Perhaps not games theory, but chaos theory. Game theoretic moves would evolve (or iterate) based on the payoff (or non-payoff) generated by the last move. It is hard to see how the continuing bad press generated by muslims killing muslims represents any sort of positive payoff. Earlier, it was possible to kill Iraqis and blame the US, but improved telecommunications and PR have nullified that tactic. Perhaps it is a "hang-over" tactic, where the players don't realize the payoff has changed.
Or we could be seeing the embryonic oscillations of some sort of self-organizing system. Not neccessarily a pretty sight.

They are trying desperately to foment civil war, as they have been from the beginning. They want civil war between sunnis and shi'ites, between kurds and turkeman, between christians and muslims...that way the terror masters in Riyadh, Teheran and Damascus will get more leverage, and drive us out...

to the extent that there is a coherent "they," it's pretty obvious that their objectives are to force the US to withdraw and prevent the Iraqi government from governing. They can do this by scaring the crapola out of people and/or by fomenting sectarian violence, as Dr. Ledeen says. Also worth noting is that they don't need a political program because depending on who you're talking about the program is Ba'athism or the Sharia, and all Iraqis understand what those are about.

I think Ledeen is closest here. Isnt it obvious what theyre trying to do? Today they have killed an aide to Sistani. At the same time AMS (the Sunni clerical org, which seems to relate to the insurgents as Sinn Fein does to the IRA) blamed the killings of Sunni Clerics on the Badr brigades. The strategy seems to be to provoke the Shia population into anti-Sunni Arab pogroms, which would serve to unite the entire Sunni Arab population of Iraq with the insurgents (at this point it seems only a minority of Sunni Arabs actively support the insurgency) which would make the entire Sunni triangle, including Baghdad, virtually ungovernable, and would likely lead to more active intervention on their behalf from other Sunni arab countries, or else the overthrow of Sunni Arab govts that continued to support the US.

Hmm...Games theory still won't hold. The terrorists have been trying to provoke Shiia on Sunni violence all along, and there is no payoff there yet. I believe there won't be as long as Sistani is in control. They should believe that also-- why aren't they concentrating on removing Sistani?

That is why it is so hard to understand- they aren't us

Oh, they are so. We are all nasty hobbesian barbarians under the skin. Our genetics are pretty much the same, it is just our memetics that are different.
So they do have some purpose. It would be good to know what it is.

jinn, how do you know the stories about the Badr Brigade aren't true?

praktike, i suspect that they are not true. Or at least htat they were not ordered by Sistani.
All i can do to predict Sistani's behavior is use apriori evidence. He has been consistantly vigilante against the temptation to take revenge.

I tend to think there is less organizational coherence of strategy here than we tend to credit. Most of the cells doubtlessly work independently. At any given time, some are taking pot shots at Americans, others are attacking government forces, others are doubtlessly making local power grabs, others are engaged in purely criminal undertakings, and still others cant think of anything better to do than blow something up with the biggest bang available. And they change day by day. I think what we are seeing is a lack of command and control. Zarqawi claims credit for the sun rising in the morning, but that doesnt make it true. I dont think he has nearly the hand on control of strategy that he claims to and we assume he does. Some of what is happening is enemy stupidity, but the American and Iraqi forces deserve plenty of credit for torching enemy command and lines of communication and keeping them on the run and unsure of who to trust. You simply cant run an organization effectively that way. Good luck is a result of good planning and execution.

liberhawk: The strategy seems to be to provoke the Shia population into anti-Sunni Arab pogroms ...

The strategy that German Marxist terrorists called "fascification".

jinn, I view Sistani as a restraining force on Badr. They aren't his peeps, and frankly, I think he fears them. As does Jaffari--which is why even though SCIRI got the Interior Ministry, and Badr controls the Wolf Brigade (one of the Special Police Commando units), Jaffari is guarded by ... US Navy seals.

Jaffari is guarded by ... US Navy seals.
hmmm...sound analysis, like usual.
Then Sistani is right to fear them. It seems Shiia revenge and civil war are congruent goals, and perhaps Sistani is the only obstacle in both paths.
praktike, he is old-- is there a successor?

"praktike, he is old-- is there a successor?"

I don't know if that's the right term, but I suppose one of the other big Najaf Ayatollahs would rise to prominence. Al-Hakim?

I view Sistani as a restraining force on Badr. They aren't his peeps, and frankly, I think he fears them.
Maybe so. I thought Sistani's brand of Shia Islam is that Islam should be seperate from the state and shouldn't resort to force. I also thought that his is the primary branch of Shia Islam and the Iranian branch, to which Sadr subscribes, is very much the minority.

By following his beliefs he doesn't have an armed militia. This makes confronting Shia militants directly pretty much impossible. His political maneuvers to do it indirectly have been impressive. He is much more astute than the Americans involved. Luckily, his and our interests appeared to be aligned for now.

Sadr is also restrained. He has access to force, but he dare not use it against such a respected figure as Sistani. Fortunately, in comparison to Sistani at least, he is a bull in he china shop politically.

Fred Kaplan on Slate has some pretty negative things to say about US "hearts and minds" in Operation Matador

"Operation Matador offered a golden opportunity to try out both categories of new thinking: a) smarter counterinsurgency tactics that b) distinguish and separate the nationalists from the jihadists. Here was an unusual, perhaps unique, case of real Sunni tribal leaders asking us to come in and help them fight the common enemy. And we bungled it by confusing victory with mere firepower and by brushing aside—not even consulting with—a serious group of aspiring allies."

Tom, I hope your don't mind if we wait for more information about the results of Operation Matador. We've been hearing negative stuff like this from the beginning and most of it turns out not to have been true.

Of course I don't mind if you wait for more information.

But in evaluating the success of Operation Matador in winning hearts and minds, you might ask yourself a couple of questions.

1) Why was there no significant Iraqi participation in Matador? (by all accounts the operation was almost entirely US executed)

2) Why does google turn up multiple stories about the disappointment of Iraqi locals with Matador (including tribespeople who supposedly requested the operation) and not one about locals who consider the operation a success?

Of course, I know that the ready-made answer to #2 is the bias of the evil MSM. But couldn't Fox News send some people out to dig up a positive response from the locals?

For those who don't believe in killing. The first murder in the Bible was Cain killing his brother Abel. Symbollically, Cain is represented in the Bible as being of the earth...earthly or physical. Abel is represented in the Bible as being moral...morally good. Lesson to be learned. The physical will kill the moral in order to preserve their being, UNLESS the moral fight back. The only alternative is the third brother, who was Seth...the line of David and Jesus. He is represented in the Bible as spiritual. The spiritually-minded do have the protection and blessing of God. There is a growth from physical to moral to spiritual. The terrorist are definitely the physical. They must be done away with in order for man to progress, or else the world will stay in harm's way. History is one of spiritual growth. Anything unlike the presence of God, will destroy themselves...because God never created them, therefore they are not eternal. They are self-created. Final thought..."Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" other words, God is everpresent, Supreme. As light displaces darkness, so good will displace evil. God knows only Himself, expresses only Himself, hence His declaration that He is I AM. I = God; AM = His expression of the I. God dwells in harmony...not disharmony. "Our Father"...first two words of The Lord's Prayer saids it all. We are all brothers and sisters, no matter what color or creed we believe in. Jesus saw in man the perfect man as God created him....that spiritual understanding is what heals and will eventually bind all men together as one. Principle and idea or God and man will always be one...hence the Soul of man which cannot be touched by wars, killings, wrong thoughts. You may not see it,but we are making progress....first thing is the free the mind of men....get rid of the Pharoahs that bind the minds of men. America is doing just that...and those minds that have been freed are singing praises of joy. Ask yourself, am I helping to free minds or am I killing one's progress of self expression and growth.

David, look what is happening in Europe, as they lost their grip on spirituality, they lost their sense of humanity, without any moral guidance they are have nothing left but state socialist economic cannibalism, moral hedonism, and terminal narcissism blended with envy.

Taxes that enforce that only the irresposible welfare mother can have children, and all the collapse that comes with that

Responsiblity is punished, irresposibly is rewarded. Their sense of right and wrong is inverted where it exists.

And, most telling, they have lost even the ability to stand up for themselves, socialist pacified slaves, looking to the govt for the source of their well being, a govt elite that see them with a negative intristic value compared with cattle. At least cattle have a market value, whereas the people are becoming to be seen as "useless feeders"

We have seen this happen before. and we know what comes, eventually, after that.

I think that the Iranians are going all-out to kill Sistani, both because that would advance the cause of civil war, and because it will reduce the threat to the mullahs that Sistani (indeed the Najaf imams in general) represents to the Khomeini heresy...

thanks to all for a really good discussion, from which I have learned so much.

No, thank you, Dr. Ledeen.
I can't tell you how much your stellar analysis has informed my thought.
This whole place owes you a debt of gratitude.
Oh, and, "faster please."

The position of the insurgents in Iraq is laid out in drama-theoretic (rather than game) at the drama theory forum


A far better analysis of the situation, I'm sure you'll agree. It's particularly weird when people repeat the claim that

bq More generally, the insurgency does not appear to have put forward any program or unifying vision
(Marginal Rev.)

What? The insurgents all want US forces to leave Iraq. They say so themselves, loud & clear.

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