Saturday, November 10, 2007

Al Qaeda, Islamic Army of Iraq Gird for Showdown in Samarra

Bill Roggio reports that "Abu Ibrahim, an Islamic Army commander in the region, told the Associated Press that he informed the Iraqi Police in the region that his fighters intended to attack al Qaeda. Ibrahim requested US forces stay out of the fight, as the insurgent groups could not be distinguished by uniform."

The request to "stay out of the fight" is interesting in itself and suggests that Abu Ibrahim is at least hopeful it will be granted. Why should the authorities stay out of Samarra? Maybe from the principle of "divide and conquer".



Roggio continues:

The Islamic Army in Iraq has issued numerous statements denouncing al Qaeda's tactics. The Islamic Army in Iraq and al Zawraa, its propaganda wing, have feuded with al Qaeda in Iraq over the terror group’s brutality and attempts to dominate the Sunni insurgency.

Recently, two new insurgent councils were formed, both of which ignored al Qaeda and its Islamic State of Iraq. Wanted Baathist Izzat Ibrahim al Douri formed the Supreme Command for Jihad and Liberation, a grouping of largely unknown and defunct Sunni insurgent groups.

Days after that formation, elements of the Islamic Army of Iraq, the Mujahideen Army, Ansar al Sunna, the Fatiheen Army, the Islamic Front for the Iraqi Resistance (JAMI), and the Islamic Movement of Hamas-Iraq formed a political council. The formation of these councils is a direct affront to al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and has sparked a series of reprisals by al Qaeda.

Much has been written about the supposed invincibility of the networked insurgency and less about its single most glaring weakness. Movements loosely held together only by a "shared narrative" and decentralized command structures are vulnerable, like most historical religions in their expansionary phase to schism and bitter infighting. After all, why should Osama Bin Laden's version of the Jihad be any better than anyone else's? Once prophecy becomes the basis of political discourse before long there will be a prophet on every street corner.

One response to the emergence of a rival franchise is to attempt a negotiated division of market share. Osama Bin Laden has apparently tried this, but it doesn't work.

In Osama bin Laden's latest speech on Iraq, he ordered al Qaeda's leadership to be more accepting to rival insurgent groups and to stop alienating Iraq's influential Sunni tribal leaders. Bin Laden was concerned about alienating their natural Sunni allies.

But al Qaeda in Iraq has continued its assassination campaign against sheikhs and insurgents who have resisted al Qaeda's attempts to impose its Islamic State. In Diyala province, al Qaeda assassinated yet another influential tribal leader involved in the Awakening, the grouping of tribal leaders and former insurgents who have banded together to form security forces and resist al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda detonated a bomb inside the home of Sheikh Fayez Lafta, "an influential leader in ongoing reconciliation efforts" and a leader in the Obeidi tribe in Khalis. Latfa and two others were killed in the blast.

Why do negotiated settlements between Jihadis fail? Groups of armed men whose primary source of legitimacy (and income) is the control of neighborhoods and towns have no incentive to share it. Without an overarching legal system to govern the division of spoils between Jihadi groups there can be no basis for sharing territory, money and authority except force of arms. In this case it means Samarra ain't big enough for the al-Qaeda and the Islamic Army of Iraq. Somebody's got to leave town before sunset or there'll be a showdown, which there apparently is going to be.

This creates an opportunity for a central force, like the Iraqi Army or Coalition Forces, to become the arbiter of what gang gets which territory. In diplomatic terms the US holds the balance of power between gangs. By simply staying out of Samarra, the Iraqi Army and the Coalition can affect the outcome.

But in the end all armed groups must be brought to heel and replaced by a single one. The Iraqi police forces and the army. The monopoly on violence is the essential attribute of a state. The insurgent political council must know that their lifetimes are essentially numbered, but the temporal structure of incentives compels them to strike at the immediate threat -- al-Qaeda in Iraq -- and hope for the best in the future.

15 Comments:

Blogger rufus said...

Let'em fight; then we'll only have to waste half as many bullets on'em.

11/10/2007 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger A Jacksonian said...

al Qaeda made the bet that they could exploit Sunni Arabs in Iraq because they had cultural and religious affinity on their side. The reason that they have failed is that they did *not* understand the particular tribal and societal milieu of Iraq and have been out-adapted by the US armed forces.

If they had been able to exploit that strength and give some cultural leeway in Iraq, things would be much, much harder... but by their organization only having direct experience with African tribal societies and being insulated via the Talibe in Afghanistan, al Qaeda has had little experience with the fierce tribal loyalties and cultural set-up that goes with same. That insulation in Afghanistan (as witness the low numbers of Afghanis who go to al Qaeda) means that their outlook in the Management of Savagery has been turned against them: instead of exploiting the cultural differences inside Iraq, the US armed forces are exploiting the cultural differences between Iraqi Arabs and Arabs from other parts of the ME.

The logistics break-up only happens once population affinity is broken, not before. With the price of equipment (explosives, ammunitions, weapons) being relatively low and the cost of manpower high, al Qaeda has put forth an equipment rich, man poor basis in Iraq that has not been successful. Zarqawi by turning to brutal methods that were adapted well to sub-Saharan Africa on the Sunni Arab tribes in Iraq, caused those breaks that fell apart for al Qaeda in SEP 2006.

It is amazing to think that Western troops from the US, the most highly denigrated Western Nation seen as 'unsophisticated' by the intelligentsia, has out thought, out adapted, out worked and generally gotten so far inside the AQI OODA loop that once the initial breaks appeared they were continuously exploited. The 'surge' is the hammer to bust those cracks wide open, but open they already were and falling apart. The clean-up side of COIN always looks so easy... but getting there is the tricky part and that was done in 2005-2006 when the Iron went up the Euphrates to a town called Tal Afar.

The problem with distributed terror organizations is only in equipment if you are pulling that out... its main resource is manpower and being able to hide. That is why it is so dangerous on a global scale, as it can infest any 'failed Nation' or lawless area and then shift operatives out from there. Those are meager supply operations... not ones in a theater of war, and require that 'police forces' actually be able to track such illegitimate groups down by their individuals to stop them. In such places bribery and corruption is rampant and that is easily countered. The threat of such is diminished when the population *can* reject them and see reason and cause to find help to do so. al Qaeda has failed where it should be the strongest: societal affiliation. And the loss of experienced members makes getting that back much, much harder. Equipment is cheap... it is the individuals that are needed to guard them that are expensive. That is the iron lesson of running any human based operation, even a volunteer one that expends members on suicide attacks - it is damned expensive to get *people*.

11/10/2007 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

Much has been written about the supposed invincibility of the networked insurgency and less about its single most glaring weakness. Movements loosely held together only by a "shared narrative" and decentralized command structures are vulnerable, like most historical religions in their expansionary phase to schism and bitter infighting. After all, why should Osama Bin Laden's version of the Jihad be any better than anyone else's? Once prophecy becomes the basis of political discourse before long there will be a prophet on every street corner.

Decentralized command structures require compromise among its participants; they often require committees. The Mafia set up a "Commission" to regulate rivalries between (and within) various crime families for exactly this reason. The OAS could be seen to have been a coordination committee of various settler and ex-military factions in Algeria.

I think al-Qaeda itself is actually a top-down structure. Although al-Qaeda does franchise violence to various groups, al-Qaeda's leadership expects obedience from all other Muslims. Of course this will be resented.

In 1618, a devout Capuchin monk named Francois de Clerc du Tremblay, known as Father Joseph, preached a grand crusade intended to unite Christendom in a war against Islam (and specifically the Ottoman Empire). The King of Spain then refused permission for the Christian Militia to recruit within his domain. Spain's defection caused Father Joseph's planned crusade to collapse.

The Hapsburg Dynasty saw itself as the leading family of Catholicism, perceiving its interests and Catholicism's interests as one and the same. Such presumption did not sit well with Father Joseph, who saw Spain's sabotage of his crusade as a betrayal of Catholicism. Father Joseph was the religious mentor for Armand Jean du Plessis, known to posterity as Cardinal Richelieu. Cardinal Richelieu translated resentment and suspicion of Hapsburg power into action, for Bourbon France would challenge Hapsburg power, even to the extent of subsidizing Swedish armies for the purpose.

Interestingly, anti-jihadi political alliances can crumble to dust for exactly the same reason. When one man claims the mantle of prophet and excommunicates those who refuse to do his bidding, the resulting infighting may be less violent than jihadist infighting or the Thirty Years War, but it is no less relevant to understanding how insurgency politics can dissolve into mutual recrimination.

As Osama bin Laden's example aptly shows, tactless dictation from a tyrant can become a solvent that breaks down the bonds of common alliance.

11/10/2007 09:48:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

I only see one downside. Recall that Osama first built his legend when America drove the Russians out of Afghanistan under Reagan. Since the US wasn't overly advertising its involvement, Osama was free to take credit. "Look, we drove the world's second greatest superpower out of our country! We are unstoppable". This became a very useful myth and helped secure funding and recruits for the jihadi movement.

If we let the jihadis deal with Al Quada we run the risk of giving them a propaganda victory over us. "Look! The Americans could not stop the Al Quada and the Iraqi Government can not stop Al Quada, only WE can protect the people and bring stability!"

Would they really bring Stability or are we turning Samara over to homegrown terrorists.

Still, a few pictures of Iraqis dragging the corpses of Iranian and Saudi jihadis (maybe even a few junketing British, French, or German jihadis) through the streets of Samara would be a wonderful disincentive for Al Quada recruitment efforts.

11/11/2007 04:57:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Michael Yon confirms Doug Farah's observation that most cultures ultimately don't like giving their sovereignty over to a bunch of killers w/no redeeming qualities.
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This is by far the most optimistic report from Iraq in the last couple of years.
Right click and save target.
Yon Interview begins at 10 minutes 30 seconds.
Michael Yon
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If it doesn't work, go here, and you can stream it.
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Transcript is here

11/11/2007 05:50:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Yon reports many Sunnis often offer their support in "your coming war with Iran!"

11/11/2007 05:53:00 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Peter G,

When the insurgents do claim they defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq because the US couldn't do so, they will be quoting US SEN Schumer:

Charles Schumer (on "the surge"):

"[L]et me be clear, the violence in Anbar has gone down despite the surge, not because of the surge. The inability of American soldiers to protect these tribes from al Qaeda said to these tribes we have to fight al Qaeda ourselves. It wasn’t that the surge brought peace here. It was that the warlords took peace here, created a temporary peace here."

11/11/2007 08:44:00 AM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Tony,
You got that right!

"Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged." -- President Abraham Lincoln (who never received a Nobel Prize)

Nancy Salvato
June 4, 2004 observed:

The question begs to be asked. When did the right to freedom of speech trump the crime of participating in an act called treason? According to Section 3 of the Constitution, treason against the United States, shall consist in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.

Certainly a case can be made against those who work in the media and deliberately undermine the current Administration’s efforts in the war on terror while purposely pushing their own agenda.

11/11/2007 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

If the "insurgents" and the "terrorists" aren't wearing uniforms, how do they know who they're shooting at? Doesn't that mean necessarily that either they have to get close enough for face recognition, or to stay far enough back behind some kind of a line so that you're not shooting your brother by mistake?

Doesn't seem like very good tactics to me, but then I guess if your best tactic is always the ambush, maybe there's not a lot of sophistication brought into play after that.

I'd love to know if the Americans had unmanned drones flying overhead to film the action.

11/11/2007 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger al fin said...

Of course the US didn't have any UAVs circling above the battlefield...that would have been very wrong. wink, wink.

11/11/2007 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Here's a bit of breaking news dated 11/11/07:
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. and Iraqi forces have detained more than 200 suspected insurgents and three "high-value" al Qaeda operatives in a major operation in northern Iraq, the U.S. military said on Sunday.

It said in a statement that significant progress had been made against al Qaeda in Iraq during the first week of the operation in four northern provinces.

The operation had also netted multiple weapons caches that included more than a tonne of various explosives, hundreds of artillery rounds and rockets, the statement added.

"The combined operations of Iraqi Security Forces and U.S. Army brigades in our four provinces in Northern Iraq have been nothing short of phenomenal," said U.S. Major-General Mark Hertling, a senior military commander in Iraq.

The operation aims to keep up pressure on Sunni Islamist al Qaeda. Many operatives from the militant group fled to northern Iraq from western Anbar province and Baghdad when the U.S. military stepped up offensives in those areas earlier this year.

http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSL1125355320071111

Samarra is North-Central Iraq. This could be an attempt to steal the local jihadi's thunder, or a not-so-polite way of saying "No Thank You"... You can't differentiate your insurgents without a program.

Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo? You be the judge...

11/11/2007 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

Any time al Qaeda is thinned out it is a good thing.

As for not wearing uniforms, I assume that it was necessary for the surprise attack. The Islamic Army probably knew the exact people to hit (although I am sure those who sheltered al Qaeda took a few bullets).

If the commander of the Islamic Army were clever he would find out who is financing and sheltering al Qaeda and liquidate them. If he does not al Qaeda will be back.

Doug, good catch on the HH/Michael Yon interview. I have been busy and not kept up with HH. Yon sounds convinced of the progress being made.

11/11/2007 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Thanks, Ledger:
Long time, no see!
(a little Native American lingo!)

11/11/2007 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Here's a report on how the Samarra battle turned out...
Sunni Allies Ambush Al-Qaeda
Rick Moran
Pleading with the American military to let them attack the enemy without US assistance, Sunni tribesmen - former enemies now allies - enthusiastically engaged al-Qaeda in an hours long, stand up fight and came out on top:


Former Sunni insurgents asked the United States to stay away, and then ambushed members of Al Qaeda in Iraq, killing 18 in a battle that raged for hours north of Baghdad, an ex-insurgent leader and Iraqi police said yesterday.

The Islamic Army in Iraq sent advance word to Iraqi police requesting that US helicopters keep out of the area because its fighters had no uniforms and were indistinguishable from Al Qaeda, according to the police and a top Islamic Army leader known as Abu Ibrahim.

Abu Ibrahim said his fighters killed 18 Al Qaeda militants and captured 16 in the fight southeast of Samarra, a mostly Sunni city about 60 miles north of Baghdad. "We found out that Al Qaeda intended to attack us, so we ambushed them at 3 p.m. on Friday," Abu Ibrahim said. He would not say whether any Islamic Army members were killed.

11/12/2007 07:20:00 AM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

Wretchard says:
But in the end all armed groups must be brought to heel and replaced by a single one. The Iraqi police forces and the army. The monopoly on violence is the essential attribute of a state. The insurgent political council must know that their lifetimes are essentially numbered, but the temporal structure of incentives compels them to strike at the immediate threat -- al-Qaeda in Iraq -- and hope for the best in the future.

One of the strange things about this statement is that it recognizes only two legitimate native armed groups in the entire nation of Iraq. This is an extremely centralized approach. For comparison, the United States has the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard, BATF, Secret Service, Customs Agents, U.S. Marshalls, Air Marshalls, FBI, CIA, DEA, Park Rangers, some other federal agencies, State Police, Highway Patrols, County Sheriff's Departments, Corrections Officers, and City and Town Police forces and SWAT teams, just to name the publicly funded armed groups. It seems to me that the Iraqis could profitably split up the monopoly of violence so there is less opportunity for collectivization. Tribal Police, Village Police, Neighborhood Watches, City Police, Corrections Officers, Provincial Police, and various types of National Police could all have overlapping fields of responsibility. All Police forces would need to adhere to certain national standards for recognition, but centrally mandated standards should be minimal.

The closer a police force is to the residents of a place, the better it is trusted and the more it can secure against malcontents and criminals. And the more resistance the police will offer to any plans to consolidate national control in the hands of a dictator.

11/13/2007 07:53:00 PM  

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