Saturday, May 28, 2005

State of the "Insurgency" Part II

Deciphering Media Reports

With limited space and limited information, the media has resorted to limp reporting of body counts and "incidents" without any real analysis of the situation. Whether it is in two minute sound bites on network or cable news or five sentences in a paragraph trying to squeeze in all the daily happenings in one report either in print or on websites, true analysis of the situation is lacking. Without the analysis and context, one would be hard pressed to understand the situation in Iraq.

By standard methods, most of these reports attempt to be "objective" (ie, we report you decide) but by the very lack of information puts a spin (unintended or otherwise) on the information for the basic viewer and provides an almost simplistic, yet effective, propaganda for certain elements inside Iraq.

Objects in the mirror may seem larger than they are in real life.

For months, I've been reviewing media reports of the violence in Iraq. I have been slowly trying to decipher the situation. Using the blogs of Iraqis and soldiers to decipher the news has been helpful. Obviously, not everyone has the time or desire to read through stacks of media reports and blogs to come up with a clear picture of the situation. Even for me, the picture is still a little foggy.

Before we delve into the recent reports, I think it is helpful to understand how these reports are generated. Michael Yon, a free lance reporter in Iraq had an interesting piece on his website called An Now, for the rest of the story.... Here he explains how and why these reports are generated and the basic concepts of modern day journalism.

The media is an industry; but their business is not to report news. The industry needs a captive audience to beat the bottom line. The product is advertisement.

This is not a right or wrong. It's just a business concept for moving merchandise, and every profession or industry has one.

This has been said before, but for common folks who are still looking at the media to get their daily dose of local and world happenings, it should be a reminder that its not everything and somethings you don't know are because of the industry not seeing it as a story that will attract attention, increase ratings and develop advertisement dollars. Advertisement during news programs are placed for best effect during specific segments or time slots based on ratings, estimated viewers and their demographics. The best slots cost an arm and two legs while the lesser slots cost only an arm and one leg. The advertiser with the most money wins the prime slots. In order to obtain the most amount of money from advertisement, it is the media's job to generate as many "prime" slots as possible.

Finding or generating news can be costly. A good businessperson buys cheap, sells high. These points are obvious, but less conspicuous is how the media squeezes news cheaply from Iraq.

Michael goes on to explain how most news from Iraq is generated:

Western media cannot free-range Iraq, asking questions and jotting answers on notepads, particularly where insurgents cut off the heads of anyone they do not agree with, later posting "news" videos of their own. Here in Iraq, where bullets are often the background noise, most news agencies get their daily facts spoon-fed straight from the military. The basic building block for just about any news item reported in mainstream press is something called a SIGACT.

SIGACTs are Significant Actions; anything that significantly affects friendly or enemy forces, from sandstorms to IEDs. SIGACTs originate at the smaller units and feed to higher units quickly; sometimes in seconds.[snip]

Public Affairs Offices (PAO) are like news bureaus for the military, constantly taking SIGACTs and translating them into unclassified press bulletins called "media releases." [snip]

...journalists settled in places like Tikrit or Baghdad rely on the PAO for printed media releases. Once in hand, the "news" can be broadcast or posted on the internet in minutes.

Something we already should be aware of. Most news agencies really don't have reporters "embedded" with units anymore and they cannot "free range" as Michael puts it because they could be kidnapped and become "news" themselves. Security is costly and not always effective for reporters. Most media organizations have opted for keeping their costs down, limiting their "reporters" to "safe areas" inside the green zone or other AOs (area of operatioins) that are largely secure. Any reporting that does come from outside these areas or military reports is largely gleaned from Iraqi government press releases, Iraq newspapers, radio and television broadcasts or Iraqi "stringers" that don't require or buy their own security and get paid much less than their western counterparts (ie, expendable).

When you hear the press complaining about the number of journalists killed in Iraq, particularly foreign or local, the first thing that comes to mind is that these are a direct result of either coalition action or their inability to secure these journalists. The truth is, these journalists are putting it on the line, going outside the wire to report while most of their western counterparts stay safe near their air conditioned hotels, computers and bar. With but a few exceptions. Michael Yon is one of them.

For those that go outside the wire, everyday is a test of diplomacy and skill. Knowing who to talk to, when a situation might turn from being friendly to angry if the wrong questions are asked. Even here, as brave as some of these folks are, the reporting is necessarily less than satisfactory for those of us trying to get a full picture. In most cases, what we need to look for is what is not being said as well as what is. Worse yet, once all the reports are in, the editors go to work to look for the most "effective" and immediate information to develop quick soundbites and columns with headings that will grab the viewer/reader's attention. Thus, context and analysis are judiously clipped from the reports and we get what is left over while the news agencies create more advertising space.

For your average reader and viewer, searching and analyzing for themselves can be too much of an effort, thus, views on the situation are by defult skewed, foggy and downright unclear.

Michael continues to explain how SIGACT goes from the military to a media report we see:

If it bleeds, it leads...

If US forces are killed or wounded, the SIGACT might start like this:

Blam, Blam, Blam!...explosions…followed by a roar of small arms. So many weapons firing from so many directions, tracers bouncing off roads, zinging off buildings, rooms exploding, dust and smoke, a soldier cries out, "I'm hit!" and his buddies run across a road to help him and another is shot, "I'm hit!"

Then someone makes the radio call:

"Deuce-Main, Apache-Six, Contact, over." [Deuce-Four headquarters, this is the Alpha Company Commander]
"Apache-Six, Deuce-Main, send it."
"This is Apache-Six. Heavy small-arms and RPGs vicinity 4-West. Three friendly casualties, one is litter-urgent. Still in contact. We are in pursuit trying not to lose contact. Estimate 25 AIF [insurgents], all dismounted. Request QRF, over."
"Apache-Six, Deuce-Main, QRF spinning up. Warmonger is en route and fast movers in vicinity. Bulldog Company has a platoon two kilometers west en route to you. They are under your control time now. Don’t let the AIF break contact. Over."
"Roger, at least four enemy KIA. All Apache elements remain in contact and we have them isolated in a four-block area, over."
"Apache-Six, Deuce-Main, keep up the good work, don't let them get away. More combat power is on the way to assist in isolation."
"Deuce-Main, Apache-Six, roger, out."

Within seconds, someone will be typing up a SIGACT that might look like this:

Subject: Smalls Arms Engagement
Time/Date: 2120 L 24 May 05
Narrative: Alpha Company 1-24 INF reports small arms and RPG, vicinity…. Reports 3 friendly WIA (1 litter-urgent, 2 routine). 4 Enemy KIA...

When this SIGACT is translated by a PAO, this might come out: "3 US soldiers were wounded by small arms in Mosul, Iraq. The soldiers were assigned to Task Force Freedom." News agencies that call or request information will get some variation of this report.

Such reports flow from all over Iraq to a place in Baghdad called the CPIC (Combined Press Information Center). The CPIC is like the Uber-PAO for Iraq, serving all branches of the military, and other nations in the Coalition. The CPIC collects those reports and makes a release that might go like this:

"3 US soldiers were wounded in a small arms engagement in Mosul. 3 US soldiers from Task Force Baghdad were wounded by a car bomb in Baquba while conducting convoy operations in Diyala Province. 1 US soldier was slightly wounded by an IED while conducting combat operations in Baghdad. 2 US Marines were killed in a Humvee accident in Anbar Province. A Blackhawk helicopter made an emergency landing near Ramadi. No injuries were reported."

This will hit pages all over the world, but in a newsier voice:

"A US helicopter made an emergency landing near Ramadi under unknown circumstances. An insurgent website claiming affiliation to Al Qaeda in Iraq says they shot down the helicopter with a surface-to-air missile. A US military spokesman would not comment. Elsewhere, one US soldier and two Marines were killed and seven other service members were wounded in Iraq, along with at least 18 deaths from a suicide car-bomber near the Syrian border. This brings total Coalition deaths in Iraq to 1,800. In other news, photos of the former dictator of Iraq in his underwear have infuriated the Arab world and angered the Pentagon, which promised a full investigation…"

Thus you are left with the impression that somebody asked someone in the military whether the helicopter was shot down and they said, "no comment" and there is a possibility that Al Qaida in Iraq did shoot it down. Body counts are reported without context to the fight or the outcome, leaving you with the impression that the attackers were able to hit and run witout taking casualties, thus making them appear "larger in the mirror" than they really are. Before you can take that in, the story is switched to a story that they can get their hands around, photos of Saddam in his underwear.

Please be sure to read the rest of Michael Yon's interesting post on all the news that's not fit to print (or simply gets missed).

His parting paragraphs are good points for both the military and the media:

Cynicism aside, the media really is important to this war. Not only is this a war for public opinion, at home and abroad, but also, people's lives are won and lost every day in Iraq as a direct result of how the media uses its cameras and keyboards. Iraq is extremely dangerous. There are relatively few reporters here, and those here cannot operate as if it were "business as usual." The military makes it easy for journalists to nibble at facts and then dash back to their desks. Nobody is well-served by this arrangement; the media could still sell advertisement without stirring and blowing new life onto dimming brimstone.

Yet, finally, the ultimate decision-maker is the person reading or watching the news. We cannot expect mainstream media to give quality reporting if we accept drive-through service every night.

Now, on with the rest of the story: the state of the insurgency by deciphering media reports.

With Michael's helpful hints, it should be easier to review today's Associated Press reports, at least in regards to military casualties. Unfortunately, we don't have a similar idea on how to deal with reports of Iraqi casualties. Much of what is reported is jumbled together and appears to be the work of this giant, all encompassing "insurgency" that has its tentacles everywhere in Iraq, able to reach out and touch people whenever it wants.

By the method of reporting currently being used, this is free and fantastic propaganda; building up their image for the "folks back home" in their native countries and making them appear to be invincible and unstoppable. Excellent recruiting material, particularly when their audience is even less deciphering than a western one that at least has some built in cynicism for reports of "perfection" and other resources not blocked or controlled by our government.

The "jihadist" elements can lay claim to every act of violence on their websites or through Arab media without being challenged on the truth. It is then reported to us as if it were fact and without context or understanding of the Iraq populace or history, we and our middle eastern counterparts suck it up with little ability to no the difference. Even the things they don't claim directly are attributed to them by the sheer lack of information.

What one first needs to know has been put out by many sources on the internet, specifically Iraqi bloggers, who have taken the time in the past to explain how Iraqi society has and is operating. Zeyad at Healing Iraq explained this very well in a four part series:

Iraqi Tribal Society Part I
Iraqi Tribal Society Part II
Iraqi Tribal Society Part III
Iraqi Tribal Society Part IV

Also of interest have been comments by The Messopotamian who explains the situation as largely attributable to the Iraqi "peasants". Which he later translated to mean the rural tribes that still operate on long standing traditions of reprisals and superstition:

Seldom did we see somebody from decent middle class background involved with these atrocities, at least not amongst those who appeared on T.V.; [snip]

Also, 99 % of those men belong to particular clans, tribes and a certain sect, that I am sure you will not have much difficulty at guessing which. [snip]

However, most of these men actually are seen to be of provincial origin.[ed...rural tribes][snip]

The whole thing can be traced back to our history, and particularly the Revolution of 1958 that deposed the Monarchy that essentially consisted of a social system based on the hegemony of the cities allied with feudal Lords or Shiekhs ( as they were called here).

To understand the current situation, based on this information, you would also need to understand how it worked under Saddam. First, his base was largely the minority Sunni. Whether they were directly involved with the Ba'ath government or simply bystanders, made no difference. Saddam gave precedence to Sunni and particularly Ba'athist members in regards to university placement, jobs and assistance. Even the rural tribal elements had their parts to play. They were able to send their sons to the city to obtain education and work. Unfortunately, most of them did not return to the tribal rural areas when they left, thus "civilized" urban ideas not related to tribal culture didn't filter back. There was also a distinct lack of radio, television and other media in the areas, so there was nothing to really challenge how they lived or perceived the situation.

Crime Families and Petty Gangs

Further, while there was definitely "ba'athi" [ed...Saddam] presence in regards to party leaders and basic government, these tribes by either agreement or lack of desire on the part of the central Baghdad government, were left to their own devices and governance, continuing the tribal ways of justice (basically an eye for an eye) and means of making money, which wasn't all related to shepharding cattle. Many of these tribes were and still are basically "organized crime" families. Some were more capable and prosperous than others at smuggling in blackmarket goods and smuggling in or out people. Tribute was (and is) exacted in terms of ransoms or tolls.

Putting them in context to what your average American viewer can relate to, imagine them in a heirarchy such as our own criminal elements. There are those that are highly organized and at the top of the food chain like the Gotti organized crime family in its hay-day. Most of these groups make their money through good connections in and outside of Iraq. They have staked out territory and a heirarchy that vets out jobs to the lesser or lower clans while the top guys direct and rake in the main part of the profit. This, by necessity requires them to protect routes and territories as well as the "outlets" for the goods and people. They have no compunction against killing rivals or their own that cheat them or are disloyal. Rival killings and kidnappings are farmed out to the lower elements, while internal disputes are handled within the clan or tribe itself.

Then there are those elements that are similar to gangs like the Bloods and the Crips, doing jobs like stealing or hijacking cars, breaking into shops and homes, and are often the first level for "kidnapping" a victim who is then passed on to other, more connected tribes who have contacts with groups like "The Association of Muslim Scholars", which is a Sunni cleric organization, that then makes arrangements to ransom the victims. Make no mistake, the largest part of the "kidnapped" population is affluent Iraqis who are asked to provide exhorbitant ransoms to get their fathers, mothers and children back. These are also the people who most likely perform the first step in kidnapping western journalist, businessmen and aid workers.

If the kidnap victim is valuable enough, they may be "sold" or moved up the chain to the main clan groups who make contact with the Islamist groups like AQ and are sold for money or assurances that the tribe will continue to provide as long as these elements do not target them directly. Lesser victims are probably maintained and ransomed by the local gang elements. Many victims of kidnappings end up dead and floating in the river (usually shot) because their families cannot pay the ransom. The women and children may be smuggled out of Iraq and sold into prostitution or virtual slavery. This includes Saudi Arabia where many of the "foreign" workers are picked up around the middle east and Asia then their "employers" hold their visas or passports to insure they don't leave before "fulfilling their contract".

The lower elements are much more prone to do violence and less concerned about covering their tracks or whom they kill in order to protect themselves and their operations. For a price, they will do a job, whether robbery, assassination, kidnapping, laying IEDs, smuggling people and product, you name it, they will do it.

Inter Tribal/Non-Sectarian Violence: Rural

Other tribal violence is not necessarily "criminal" related in regards to crime families and gang members. In the tribal areas, land is power. Grazing land, water rights and roads in and out of areas dominate the tribal power structure. Infringment by other tribes without prior arrangement or in direct hostility towards the managing tribe can result in retaliation through kidnapping or killings. It may be easier to understand if you view this as tribal warfare as seen in American Native Indian culture or even through medieval feudal systems as Alaa and the Mesopotamian demonstrates.

Land, water and control of roads means the survival of the clan and it's worth fighting for in these turbulent times when there is a definite power vaccuum. Local police are less concerned about maintaining the peace and enforcing uniform, equal law, but are more likely to work based on their tribal/clan affiliation, sometimes doing the dirty work of their clan.

From these tribes, young men are also tempted to join the gang elements in either urban or rural settings or the Islamist movements. Where ever they may be able to improve their situation and send back some remittance to their tribes or if they have been overtly schooled in religious dogma, considering it their duty to protect Islam. Usually, they don't really know or understand what the greater Islamist cause is beyond their simple understanding that a non-muslim country has invaded their land and attacked other Muslims. These have been filled with the rhetoric that it is their duty to defend Muslims and kill infidels (whoever doesn't believe as they do). This was also seen during round up and interviews of "Taliban" fighters in Afghanistan. Many of the conscripts from the rural tribal areas did not know or care who Al Qaida was or what had happened on September 11 before the bombs began to fall. They simply saw it as their duty to fight non-muslims attacking them.

These young men are what we normally call "cannon fodder" for the criminal, sectarian and Islamist elements.

For another view of the tribal effect on Iraqi life, read Iraqi Bloggers Central: Hope In the Middle East for a basic review of how tribal and sectarian violence has been common and predominant over the ages.

Sectarian Violence Urban, Suburban and Rural

Whenever we hear or read the words "sectarian", this is to indicate violence between the different ethnic and religious groups within Iraq. Unfortunately, this term is used with too wide a brush and any deaths that cannot be directly related to Islamist or "Ba'athi" insurgents (the only real "insurgents" are "ba'athi" and home grown Islamists as described in the previous section) are immediately ascribed to "sectarian" violence, particularly if the dead person or persons can be identified by their names as belonging to one tribe or another that is largely one sect (Sunni, Shi'a, Kurd, etc) or another.

It is important to remember that many tribes, particularly in more suburban or urban settings, are inter-ethnic/sectarian. Marriages and other affiliations means that they have elements of Sunni, Shi'a, Christian, etc in their ranks as noted by both Alaa the Mesopotamian and Iraq the Model:

I woke up this morning and headed to my clinic and as usual I need first to walk to the garage where buses stop but today while walking my way at the same time I was curiously inspecting people's faces; I passed by tens, maybe hundreds of them during that 15 minute walk. The same questions jumps in my mind with every new face I pass by "is this one Sunni or She'at?" maybe he or she is Kurdish, Turkmen or Assyrian.

I failed to reach a satisfying guess in any case.[snip]

Back at home, at the end of the day I turned the TV on and sat to watch. There was a show where an Iraqi family was interviewed and my nagging question didn't bother me this time but then came the news hour and I started looking at the faces again and this time I was able to find answers, I was so able to recognize who those people were; this one is Sunni and that one is She'at and this and this and….

I couldn't get these answers back in the streets or at the hospital but they were so clear to me on the news.

Do I see the shadows of a civil war? Yes but this war will not extend beyond the HQs of parties and the 21 inches of the screen while the street, the bazaar, the clinic and my city Baghdad (which is a smaller version of Iraq) tell me a different story than that of corrupt politicians and fake clerics.

My proof to that is that I couldn't find anything on the faces I see everyday but features that I can't have doubts about; Iraqi features only that indicate nothing except that who carries them is a son or daughter of this country.

Of course I'm wrong. Who am I to disagree with all the big names and brains of strategy sitting in big offices and surrounded by lights and guards?

The death of a person or persons identified by their "sect", may or may not be related to this "sectarian" in-fighting.

However, sectarian "in-fighting" does exist on many levels. The highest levels are the political/religious groups. There is Dawa and SCIRI (Supreme Council Islamic Revolution in Iraq) which are both Shi'ite political/religious groups. Dawa is loosely associated with Iranian groups, but can be largely traced back to Al-Sistani, the Shi'ite moderate cleric. However, the Badr corps, once a rebelious militia, is now the "security" apparatus for this group. SCIRI is more directly connected with Iran and is the more vocal about creating a Shia dominated Theocracy. The Association of Muslim Scholars, is Sunni. These groups and many smaller ones do have influence in all three areas (rural, suburban and urban). These groups have resorted to retaliatory strikes on their rivals though, not always across "sectarian" lines. Some Shia groups are killing people from other Shia groups that do not work with or seem to oppose the group they belong to. Same can be said for the Sunni.

Whenever you hear words like "a moderate Sunni Cleric was shot", this doesn't mean that it was a Shia that did it. It could be people from within their own groups that think he was selling them out or opposing their position or it could be Islamists who have decided that this "moderate" was an apostate. Most likely, if they were shot in a drive by, it's either internal, sectarian or political strife, not necessarily "insurgents" or "Islamists".

Another known "sectarian" group, most likely involved in "sectarian" violence, is headed by Mugtada al-Sadr, the leader of the failed Najaf rebelion in 2004. His sect is made up of largely poor Shia living in the Sadr City suburb of Baghdad. Some estimates have his following as large as 6,000 people. He is nominally held in check by the power of Al-Sistani, but that does not stop him and other Sunni sects from retaliating against one another.

In the suburban areas and outlying towns, sectarian strife can be seen a little more clearly, though it also bleeds over into "tribal" violence. In smaller towns across Iraq and even the large city of Mosul, where the population is mixed Shia and Sunni, the effects of Sunni "Ba'athist" and "Islamist" violence against the towns have resulted in some Shia populations attacking the Sunni citizens often without knowledge of whether they are really and directly involved. If a Sunni that is known to be from a specific tribe is caught or killed during and Islamist, ba'athist or sectarian operation, it is largely assumed that the entire tribe is involved in the perpetrating groups. Thus, what is first "insurgent" or "criminal" activity will quickly melt down to tribal warfare as each group begins to retaliate.

The 19 dead Iraqis in the soccer stadium (most identified as "shia"), may have been Islamist or insurgent activity, but may have been sectarian, criminal or inter-tribal related retaliation.

In short, one cannot assume that all deaths are "sectarian" or "insurgency" related. Being able to tell the difference from this distance or even close up in Iraq is very difficult, but the few details eeked out from the press can assist us.


The real "insurgents" can be described as a conglomeration of groups that opposed the overthrow of Saddam and want to stop the democratic process. In hopes of the ensuing chaos, their violent and unmerciful killing of anyone and everyone that does not support their cause is a direct off shoot of how they used to rule the land: terrorize the people and then give them "order" at the end of an AK-47. In reality, there isn't much hope of them coming back into power. What gives them hope is that there are still members that are in power in ministries, police and the military. They obtain information form these people and hope that, if the time is right, these groups will be able to subordinate their underlings and use them to take power again.

This group is not strictly "Iraqi Sunni Arabs", but include Palestinians, Syrians and other nationals that were given power, positions and wealth under Saddam. These also have ties with political/sectarian/tribal groups either through blood relationships, criminal activities or a simple desire for groups to play both ends of the game in case the ba'athi are able to pull it off and come into direct power or in case the remaining elements still in power come to have control over their area or they can get something from that government office in regards to economic or material assistance.

This element also includes other groups that are not directly allied with either the sectarian outfits or the Islamists, but think they have a beef with the coalition or new government. They are assisted by the Syrian intelligence, military, and Ba'ath party along with remaining elements of Saddam's regime currently stationed in Syria.

They use tribal and criminal organization relations to move men and material in and out of Iraq. These groups will also fight between their organizations for power and position, though these efforts are probably more like "assassinations" then large attacks against each other.

Their tactics can be related to stationary VBIED; IEDs; frontal attacks with mortars, RPGs and AK-47s on coalition and Iraqi military/police patrols and bases; assassinations of government officials, police officers, military commanders or other "collaborators". These are less likely to be suicide bombers since the point of the movement is to come back into power and people want to be around for that opportunity. It is possible that they have recruited their own "cannon fodder" for suicide missions, but less likely as a major tactic.

Mass executions of police officers returning from Jordan over the past two years are probably largely associated with this group. Most of them had the tell-tale signs of blind foling their victims, tying their hands behind their backs and shooting them execution style, in the same manner that the old regime would get rid of its enemies.


There are many groups and elements that make up this section. Some existed in Iraq and had recruits and leaders well before the invasion. Others are new arrivals, basically creating their own corps and operational fronts. All of which is loosely affiliated with or coordinates with each other. They aren't all related to Al Qaida and they don't all take their orders directly from Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden.

Ansar al-Islam (Army of Islam) was in Iraq for years prior to the war and had loose relations with both Saddam and Al Qaida. Ansar al-Sunnah (Army of the Sunnah - sunnah are directives from Mohammed the Prophet on how to live a moralistic life as a Muslim) and Taweed and Jihad (Unity and Jihad) now currently known as Al Qaida in Iraq, were created durin the build up of the war and took off in late 2003. These are the main groups, but certainly not the only groups.

These are made up of hardened fighters and commanders trained by Al Qaida or other Islamist groups in Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Saudi Arabian, Palestinian and other countries around the Middle East and North Africa. These reside at the top planning and leadership positions along with a few Iraqis that have been promoted for their efforts.

Below them are the "cannon fodder" or untrained fighters that are also filtering in from countries around the ME and North Africa through Saudi Arabia, Jordan or largely Damascus, Syria. The "cannon fodder" elements also contain rural and urban Iraqis convinced by the local Imams or recruiters sent out to the mosques, via websites or of their own volition after seeing reports in the Arabic news, to join the operations.

These are further sorted out based on planned operations and skill sets of the recruited. Uneducated without practical skills in explosives, weapons, electronics or computers, will most likely end up as drivers for VBIED (vehicle bound improvised explosive devices usually mobile) or suicidal foot soldiers in direct frontal attacks as we saw at Qaim and Abu Graihb or the last stand of Fallujah.

  • During April and the first part of May, based on the story provided by Al Hayat in the previous post on this subject, new arrivals were all being pressed into action as homicidal car bombers.

  • Those with practical skills in electronics, explosives and computers are pressed into service for building VBIEDs, IEDs and other explosives or the propaganda apparatus that creates DVDs, websites, posters and press releases.

  • Anyone with the aptitude or previous military experience is pressed into service with an AK-47, mortars and rockets.

  • Speak English as a second language:, interpreter or analyst.

  • Religious training as an Imam or other level higher than a basic student or an aptitude for charisma and leadership: recruitment (this may also be based on who you know and how you got there).

  • Other support, courier and logistic positions exist, but these are usually proven people and extremely trustworthy.

    Depending on how the person arrived in Syria or Iraq and with whom they make first contact, determines which of the multiple groups they end up with and what possible positions they can fill within that group. Not all of the educated people with degrees end up in support positions.

    Centralized leadership is really a cooperative activity with leaders of each group. Last year, a message went out from Osama bin Laden pro-claiming Zarqawi as the leader of al Qaida in Iraq. This was done for several reasons. One of which was to provide propaganda that Al Qaida is in Iraq in a big way. Association with these deeds gives more prestige to Al Qaida and bin Laden since they were run out of Aghanistan. Secondly, Zarqawi must have been complaining about his abilities to coordinate people, materials and attacks. Bin Ladens announcement gave Zarqawi prestige and the leverage he needed to bring some of the multitude of elements together.

    Men and materials are moved through corresponding arrangements with the smuggling and criminal organizations as well as their own built in logistical support teams. Money and messages probably come solely through their own logistics.

    Several types of operations appear to be largely carried out by this group:

  • Homicide car bombs (VBIED) against coalition forces, Iraq police, military and government installations particularly where a high volume of casualties can be obtained with one or more coordinated attacks. Multiple bombings at coordinated times can be directly linked to the larger, organized groups with closer relations to AQ and Zarqawi. They know that "if it bleeds, it leads" and they use this for free propaganda.

  • Single VBIED events may be from the larger groups as well to keep the press attention that they seek, but could be smaller off shoot organizations with only loose coordination.

  • Large scale frontal attacks with VBIED, RPG, mortars and foot soldiers against coalition bases and patrols.

  • Large scale attacks with VBIED, RPG, mortars and foot soldiers against Iraqi military and police bases and patrols.

  • Assassinations of high ranking civilian, military and police officials.

  • Assassinations of educators, physicians and news people.

  • Mass murders inside Sunni towns that they attempt to take over (and often succeed).

  • Beheadings of kidnap victims, Iraqi military or police, town officials or citizens that do not cooperate with their take over and any Shia or Kurds they catch within their area of operations.

  • Video taped incidents are most likely from this group since they routinely use this tool as a recruiting method and home grown media releases.

  • What Do We Know?

    From this we can determine that media reports with body counts and words like "insurgents" and/or "sectarian" strife hardly cover the gamut of the activities in Iraq and should not be used in anyway to determine the status of the war or the effectiveness of our efforts.

    Sectarian and tribal infighting was occuring under Saddam, though at lower levels. Certainly, the Ba'athi were killing people before the war in either masses or in individual efforts. The only difference was that these actions were given a patina of "legal" since they were the ones in control.

    Criminal endeavors, including kidnappings, blackmail and blackmarket smuggling, were occuring before the war as well, but usually with the complicity of the governing apparatus. Even Islamists were in Iraq before the war, though their efforts were not directed against the Iraqi people.

    What's different now is that there is open media to report it. Activities once the domain of the governing body and thus kept away from outside eyes are now out in the open and reported around the globe. Sectarian and tribal infighting is less restrained and more volatile since there is a power vaccuum in the provinces. Islamists from all over the country are filtering in to Iraq or sending money or operating propaganda websites. Every activity, small or large, is simply and quickly diced up by the media as "insurgent" or "sectarian" and fed to the public who consumes it and what comes out after digestion is "terrorists", thus giving the Islamists more power and prestige than they rightfully deserve.

    Certainly, the Islamists commit some of the most heinous acts, but they don't commit all of them. Neither are the other killings, carelessly labeled "sectarian" necessarily indications of a coming civil war.

    Deciphering Today's Reports

    Using this information, I will now look at today's news and attempt to decipher Islamist, Insurgent, sectarian, tribal and criminal activities.

    Associated Press

    The new effort to make peace came as attacks killed a U.S. soldier and at least

    No information on how and when he or she was killed. This could be Islamists or Insurgents. No report of the action or enemy killed. Judiciously left out so we get the idea: dead soldier, nothing more to see here, move along.

    However, Centcom casualty report for May 28th indicates the soldier was actually wounded in actions on May 26th and died of his wounds today.

    45 Iraqis over the past two days — including 10 people returning from a religious pilgrimage in Syria whose bodies were left in the border city of Qaim,

    While Qaim has been the seen of fighting between between coalition forces and "insurgents", it is also the town that straddles the main road into Syria and is used by the "arhabi" or "ali baba" (thieves) to smuggle in goods and people as well as kidnapping, robbing and holding hostage businessmen and others returning from Syria.

    However, BBC adds additional information:

    The murdered pilgrims had apparently been blindfolded, tied up and shot in the head, police said. The corpses bore marks of torture.

    "Marks of torture" could be anything at this point. Beatings, cuttings, whippings, etc, all make a difference in what group killed them. Still, not necessarily related to "insurgents" or "islamists".

    as well as three suicide bombers


    and three men killed when a roadside bomb they planted exploded prematurely.

    Islamist, ba'athist or criminals in the pay of either. Either way, they were inept and probably less well trained. We will probably hear of more of these accidents as VBIED/IED building stations and their makers continue to be swept up.

    The group purportedly claimed responsibility for twin suicide car bombings in Sinjar. The attacks, 75 miles northwest of Mosul city, killed seven Iraqis and injured another 38 at the entrance to an Iraqi military base, according to hospital officials.

    Al Qaida-Zarqawi

    Another al-Qaida affiliate in Iraq, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, announced the death of a Japanese contractor it abducted earlier this month.

    Al Sunnah Islamist loosely affliated with Al Qaida. As previously noted, beheaded hostages are Islamists.

    The Australian is still alive and not reported dead. If his release is negotiated, count his kidnappers as organized criminals or ba'athists looking for ransom. IF he's shot, it's criminals or ba'athists. If he's beheaded, it's Islamists.

    New York Times

    They do a slightly more credible job at providing information. Still, it needs a little more deciphering:

    [snip]with at least 30 new deaths reported across the country, some of them in what appeared to be sectarian killings.

    The latest attacks raised the total number of Iraqis killed this month to about 650,

    In other words, the latest deaths have not been as big a number in the last day or two so, to garner your continuing attention, you need to be reminded how many total have died in a specific period. However, the "month" that they are speaking of is actually from mid April to today.

    [snip] in addition to at least 63 American troops who have been killed, the highest American toll since January.

    This means that the number of American Casualties have been going down in in the last four months, with January as the high point for 2005 by which to judge. In review of the past two years casualty count, January had 107 KIA while November had 135 KIA. In every period where American and coalition forces take the offensive, there are higher casualties among them. May is no exception with 63 to date. US forces swept through western Iraq in the al Anbar province, Haditha and other hotspots. Still, every month continues to be less casualties than before, even with offensive operations.

    In two of the worst incidents reported Saturday, three suicide bombers tried to blast into a base shared by American and Iraqi troops at Sinjar, 40 miles from the northwestern border with Syria, killing at least one Iraqi border policeman and wounding at least 18 others, including 15 civilians.


    Farther south along the Syrian border, in the Sunni Arab city of Qaim, a police commander confirmed the killing in recent days of 10 Shiite pilgrims returning from a shrine in Syria, The Associated Press reported

    This leaves the impression that they weren't all killed at once, as opposed to the previous report. Still most like criminal activity.

    In other attacks, two Sunni Arab tribal leaders, one in Baghdad and the other in the northern city of Kirkuk, were killed Friday, according to police reports. In the Kirkuk killing, local officials suggested that the victim, Sheik Sabhan Khalaf al-Jibouri, might have been a target because of his attempt to have friendly relations with Kurdish leaders.

    These are designated as "sectarian" killings, but the other information provided indicates that Sheik al-Jibouri was assassinated from within his own group. The second "Sunni Arab tribal leader" in Baghdad could have been tribal or criminal rivalry. Just because he's a Sunni, doesn't make his death related to "sectarian" violence or the "insurgency" or the "Islamists".

    Now, we see Reuters making this mistake:

    Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had fled the country after being seriously injured in a U.S. missile attack, a British newspaper reported on Sunday, quoting a senior commander of the Iraqi insurgency.

    Zarqawi and the Islamists are not insurgents, they are Islamist terrorists.

    That concludes our review for today. Stand by for tomorrow's "Status of the "Insurgency" - Deciphering Media Reports,

    Update: Read Athena at Terrorism Unveiled for additional views

    Who's In Charge?

    1 comment:

    Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files said...

    "Insurgent" is a generic term for any group fighting against its national government, to overthrow it. Mao was an insurgent. Lenin was an insurgent. The Contra rebels were insurgents. No particular ideology is required to qualify or disqualify from the term.

    Terrorism may or may not be a weapon of choice by a given insurgent group, and terrorism may or may not be in support of an insurgency.

    In Zarqawi's case, the terms "insurgent" and "terrorist" both apply. He has insurgent goals and applies terrorist tactics.

    But rather than mush-mouth my way through more precise definitions, I tend to opt for the simpler term, "islamofascist".