How al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia Thinks About the Surge

Marc Lynch has a fascinating post examining a recent (unofficial) document posted on a jihadist forum, entitled A Strategic Plan to Improve the Political Position of the Islamic State of Iraq. The whole post is worth reading for insight into the current state of thinking about the Iraq war on the part of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM) and its supporters, but I was particularly struck by this passage, discussing the document’s take on the reasons for AQM’s declining fortunes since 2006-7:

It explains its setbacks, which it argues came at the height of its power and influence, on what it calls two smart and effective U.S. moves in 2006-07: an effective U.S. media and psychological campaign, which convinced many that the “mujahideen” had committed atrocities against Iraqis and killed thousands of Muslims; and the Awakenings, achieved through its manipulation of the tribes and the “nationalist resistance.” The document doesn’t mention the “Surge” much at all, at least not in terms of the troop escalation which most Americans have in mind.

Back in the U.S., of course, hawks have been keen to emphasize the third element–the troop escalation–at the expense of the other two. After all, to suggest that the Awakenings bore primary responsibility for the drop in violence comes uncomfortably close to implying that jihadists are not a monolithic group of bloodthirsty fanatics who “hate us for our freedom”; instead, it might suggest that we should actually talk to them and perhaps (gasp!) offer the relative moderates among them incentives to defect. Classic appeasement, in other words. Similarly, although talk of winning “hearts and minds” is all the rage in counterinsurgency (COIN) discussions these days, hawks have been careful not to focus too much on the role that atrocities (by the U.S. or its enemies) play in swaying public opinion; that might imply that the U.S. should, for instance, close Guantanamo and Bagram, thoroughly reform its detainee system, or halt the drone war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Far better, from the hawks’ perspective, to credit the drop in violence and the wane in AQM’s fortunes entirely to the surge. Doing so sends a nice unambiguous message: when in doubt, the solution is always more troops, more money, more war.

Iraq experts continue to vigorously debate which factors were most important in causing the drop in violence, and in any case I am no Iraq expert myself. Nonetheless, it is striking that strategists associated with AQM itself appear to attribute their downfall primarily to public perceptions of their own atrocities, and to the U.S. decision to reach out to former members of the insurgency, rather than to the surge itself.

15 thoughts on “How al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia Thinks About the Surge”

  1. War in the past used to be waged in a horriffic manner, total annihilation of the enemy: Hitler, Napoleon, Pol Polt, Chairman Mao, Gen.Sherman ….. but in todays age we have these things called Geneva Conventions and International Laws that most civilized nations tend to at least "act as if" they up-hold them. America is fighting a war in a way that wars have never been fought. By definition there is no such thing as a "humane war" since war by its nature is a destructive force.

  2. So in war you can only minimize your impact but you cannot eliminate it, and in fact to try and wage war "humanely" can sometimes be extremely counterproductive to all concerned. Case in point: The fist Chechen war was ended because the Russian population was tired of the daily terrorist threats and massacres. Al Qeada in Chechya along with the Chechen resistance infrastructure was allowed to continue to exist. This ultimately resulted in a second war in the late 90's with a second even more devastating bombardment and occupation of Chechenya. The second time around however the Russians utterly annihilated the Chechen leadership, talent and safe havens with a few exceptions, by infiltrating its ranks, waging a high profile propaganda campaign and killing, arresting or exiling any persons associated with Chechen resistance fighters.

  3. My point is that until they became as ruthless as Bagayev and his "black widows", the war would never have ended. History shows that war is the ultimate political tool, it must be used sparingly but when used it must be wielded ruthlessly. What your seeing in Afghanistan is an anomaly, in the sense that only Americans try to "warn the villagers"…or give first aid to the dying enemy, or announce where the next offensive is going to be on the news … this is as "humane" as it gets. Guantanamo may by in-appropriate, however the way prisoners are treated in America in general is horriffic. I do speak from experience. Try going to San Quintin, Huntsville, or Angola. No one complains about what the civil rights abuses of Americans, why cry about a few guys locked up on an island for terrrorism?

  4. I think that the military is doing an excellent job under the circumstances, and until Al Qeada and its affiliates stop: propagating and carrying out world wide terrorist attacks our job isn't done its said that "Freedom aint free", and Al Qeada, the Taliban and all the rest have a choice, they can choose to put down their weapons and use the political process or, they can waste their doctorates and talents on "martyrdom". Todays "martyrs" are tomorrows dictactors, if America left the region today you would civil war and ethnic cleansing on a mass scale even bloodier tha the wars of the 90's.
    As for America its use of targeted attacks as opposed to carpet bombing, nightime raids as opposed to bombardment, rebuilding the cities as opposed to leaving smoldering ruins, isn't the best answer, but at least its an attempt to minimize the loss of life and wanton destron and bring some semblance of humanity to the scourge of modern warfare. Cant say the same for the enemy

    1. HA what a load of bullshit

      "I think that the military is doing an excellent job under the circumstances, and until Al Qeada and its affiliates stop: propagating and carrying out world wide terrorist attacks our job isn't done its said that "Freedom aint free","

      so all we have to do is wage endless war against a small group of "nonstate" actors who's primary grievance with us is our support for the dictators of their own country. all to maintain "freedom"…somewhere?

      "and Al Qeada, the Taliban and all the rest have a choice, they can choose to put down their weapons and use the political process or, they can waste their doctorates and talents on "martyrdom"

      join in the political process like in egyp palistine saudi arabia pakistan yemen somlia the united arab emirites ect ect ect.?

      ." Todays "martyrs" are tomorrows dictactors,"
      no today's martyrs are tomorrows copses.

      "if America left the region today you would civil war and ethnic cleansing on a mass scale even bloodier tha the wars of the 90's."

      and will it be done by the which of the american trained and equipped forces?

  5. The semi-literate and incoherent response of Semper fi absolutely typifies American thinking and why they are getting outmaneuvered by far more clever and nimble adversaries. The Al Qaedists would far rather be facing this sort of neanderthal than somebody who can conduct analysis on how to win and why. Way to go USMC lunkheads.

  6. "So what’s going on here? You’ll notice whenever the US homes in on a possible target that the country in question is usually described as a "haven" for al-Qaeda, and, what’s more, an al-Qaeda affiliate claiming allegiance to bin Laden springs up from the murk: al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, al-Qaeda-in-Yemen, al-Qaeda-in-Somalia – and now, ominously, al-Qaeda-in-America.
    No doubt this uptick in the alleged threat from US-born "terrorists" will be used to justify the extension and expansion of the government’s power to spy on us, harass us at airports, and invade every aspect of our lives. It doesn’t matter that the whole scare-mongering campaign seems bogus from beginning to end..

  7. There no such a thing as a free election under any type of occupation.Iraq is not free .Iraq was illegally and unethically and savagelly attacked,invaded ,and occupied.Iraq was never a threat to the American people freedom.They are giving up their freedom every day in the name of fighting bogus and made up threats whether it was Vietnam,Granada,Panama,or Iraq.When will the American people wake up and stop falling for the ruse that the US government is fighting for their freedom by invading and occuping other countries.How is it that they always buy into the notion that their freedom is threatthened by what happens in other countries but not by what is happenning in the US?

  8. But if the outcomes of the political process do not please the US,the US will do anything but accepet the political process.

  9. Remarkably, in a country with almost no history of communal violence, US actions, from the invasion of 2003 to the present, helped transform a doctrinal difference between the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam into a dangerous political divide. That system produced the so–called "Shiite list" that swept the first national elections held under US occupation in January 2005. It also produced a civil war.
    In the name of defeating the anti-US insurgency, the Pentagon armed and deployed openly sectarian Shiite and Kurdish militias to fight Sunnis and police Sunni neighborhoods. The State Department acknowledged in 2005 that this policy had "greatly exacerbated tensions along purely ethnic lines." After setting the stage for civil war, the US continued to fuel violence by giving one side—the Sunni–based insurgency—its raison d'être, while giving the other side—the Shiite-controlled state security forces—money, weapons, and training. By 2007, the US was arming both sides.

  10. I distinctly remember that prior to the sectarian violence in Iraq between Sunni and Shiite, an incident when British special forces were caught by Iraqi police skulking around in Arabic dress with explosives. The British Army demanded their return and destroyed the jail they were held in to effect that return. If anyone thinks that Iraqis (and certainly Al Qaeda) don’t know that that sectarian conflict was started by the “old divide and conquer” gambit, then they are as stupid as an average American.

  11. "We did not choose this war," Obama reminded the troops, recalling the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and warning that al-Qaida was still using the region to plan terrorist strikes against the U.S. and its allies. "We are going to disrupt and dismantle, defeat and destroy al-Qaida and its extremist allies."

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