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Counterinsurgency doctrine shows progress in Anbar
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Lance at A Second Hand Conjecture has a series going on progress is al Anbar province in Iraq. Start here, then here and finally here. I'd also point to the post we had here which included an email from a soldier in Anbar. Take the time to read them all because they are illuminating, and frankly very encouraging.

OTOH, remember a couple of things about Anbar. It is mostly composed of a homogeneous Sunni population, so it doesn't face exactly the same problems faced in Baghdad and elsewhere with mixed populations of Sunni and Shiite.

However, that said, there has been a huge change in attitude among a very hostile Sunni population as operations there have progressed. And, most important, they've seen positive results in security come about because of that change in attitude and spirit of cooperation with US forces.

Anbar was the home of the Saddam dead-enders and the place chosen by al Qaeda as the most likely to come over to their side and provide them a base of operation inside Iraq. It is becoming more and more clear that al Qaeda is their own worst enemy. But it is also clear that COIN operations like those in Anbar can work if we apply the doctrine properly and have the will to see it through.

Anyway, kudos to Lance on a great series.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

But what’s the reason? Naturally I read about improved counter-insurgency tactics. But is this the reason? I’d like to know if I can rule out other explanations.

Have the Anbar Sunni "insurgents" realized their failure to terrorize the Shiites into submission with hopes of reestablishing Sunni supremacy? Has the Shiite ethnic-cleansing of Sunni in Baghdad frightened them into a defensive mode? Is the acceptance of failure to terrorize the Shiites back into submission brought internal fighting between the Anbar Sunni leaders (who have lost hope of controlling Iraq) and the foreign jihadi (who want to continue to fight)? Do the Sunni now want our protection in the face of a possible slaughter at the hands of an emerging Shiite supremacy?

What’s the real reason for the “change of heart”? Are we sure?
Written By: Jason Pappas
Have the Anbar Sunni "insurgents" realized their failure to terrorize the Shiites into submission with hopes of reestablishing Sunni supremacy?
The Sunni insurgency used to be mostly pointed at the US (and at the Iraqi government because of its shia majority). In fact, Sunni insurgents originally worked with AQ against both the government and the US.

Two things have happened. The tribal leaders have finally realized that their best hope rests with the US and Iraqi Army and the protection they can provide from AQ. They’ve bought into the concept of a united Iraq. AQ, as it must, crapped in it’s nest with it’s barbarity and random violence and has enabled this alliance which was first violently resisted by the Sunnis. Once the Sunni tribal leaders bought into the deal, COIN was assured of success because it has accomplished one of its major tasks - gaining the confidence and support of the people. So instead of the US on the outside looking in, it’s AQ.

That’s step one in pacifying this province. Step two will come when it is turned over to the Iraqi government in full. In the meantime, civil projects need to be pushed and normalcy returned as much as possible.
Written By: McQ
In the meantime, civil projects need to be pushed and normalcy returned as much as possible.

Though some people won’t let that happen:
The much-anticipated presidential veto of the Iraq supplemental spending bill was to have taken place already, but a signature - or lack thereof - has been standing in the way. And it’s not President Bush’s signature- it’s House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s.

The conference report on the bill [was] adopted by the House and cleared by the Senate last week, but Pelosi, D-Calif., wanted time to personally read it and sign it before sending it to Pennsylvania Avenue.
Written By: ChrisB
URL: http://

McQ has a good take, and he is right about the issues with a homogenous versus heterogenous population.

I think we underestimate the power of properly applied COIN techniques however. If you read the post on Galula, and our present doctrine (which barely existed two years ago)is a direct descendant of his book and doctrine, that if applied these kinds of things happen. It isn’t mechanical, but by using his "laws" of counterinsurgency populations act in fairly predictable ways. I say fairly, because even Galula would have admitted that the laws are not of the nature of physical laws. Nevertheless, when applied such techniques have a very good track record.

I won’t say it doesn’t matter what the populations ideological makeup or opinion of those carrying out the campaign is, but they are not predicated on the sheiks being good guys, or the population being friendly. They are based on self interest, which includes both rewards and potential threats. It isn’t warm and fuzzy, though those are the elements that both the local population and those "marketing" such a strategy tend to stress. They are the carrot and justification for cooperating with the campaign.

Eventually enemies are given a stake in the success compared to likely dying. Like all of us they rationalize the choice for reasons that warm our hearts, and they truly see it that way. In the end though, the application of power in a coordinated and suffocating manner is what gets them involved in the first place and holds them there long enough to prefer the status quo over recalcitrance.

There are always reasons, but they don’t manifest themselves without a strategy in place to take advantage of them. They always exist, you just need a framework to bring them out. COIN does that, so ultimately yes, that is the reason.
Written By: Lance
The tribal leaders have finally realized that their best hope rests with the US and Iraqi Army and the protection they can provide from AQ.
I think that’s true. I’m just trying to understand what “worked” so that we don’t undo it. If they’ve truly “bought into the concept of a united Iraq” and see a pan-Iraqi government as their savior, that’s one thing. However, if it is the fear a Shiite-dominated Iraqi government and possible ethnic-cleansing, then separation, and not unification, is required.

What makes me skeptical is the inherent tribal nature of Iraq. One has to decide if divide-and-conquer is the right path or national-unity makes sense.
I think we underestimate the power of properly applied COIN techniques
I agree, Lance, on the principles. For example, the 2nd law states that support from the population “can be obtained only through the efforts of the minority among the population that favors the counterinsurgent.” I thought our Marines discovered, in the 1st few months, that dealing with tribal leaders (and delgating authority to such tribal leaders) was productive but they were discouraged from doing that because it contradicted Iraqi-unification. On the 4th law, if our side offers the most protection is it against AQ or the Shiites that we are protecting the Anbar Sunni?

Like I said, we need to know why it is working. I like the results but long-term success means applying correct principles while taking into account the details of the situation.

Keep up the good reporting and analysis, guys!
Written By: Jason Pappas
Well, let’s see...

AQI’s current strategy is help us fight the Americans or we kill you...

America’s strategy is, help us fight AQI, or at the very least, don’t oppose us, and we will help rebuild your town, and leave when the government can sustain your security...

If AQI wins, they promise to bring a Taliban like government, which only a small majority of Iraqis want.

If America wins, they get the government they pick, within the framework already developed.
Written By: Keith_Indy
On the 4th law, if our side offers the most protection is it against AQ or the Shiites that we are protecting the Anbar Sunni?
We are offering equal protection from anyone. We are going after AQI, Shiite and Sunni insurgents. A death-squad is a death-squad. An extra-judicial means of retribution, and something that must be stopped, no matter what side they are on.
Written By: Keith_Indy
Mike Yon is embedded with soldiers setting up a community outpost thingy where they will be co-located with Iraqi forces in a very mixed neighborhood. They are converting an unused *christian* college facility. I believe this is in or near Baghdad. He’s got pictures and some commentary on his web site describing the area. It seems to be a Christian neighborhood with both Sunni and Shi’a all living next door to each other.

It’s a very different sort of situation than Anbar and it will be interesting to see what happens.
Written By: Synova

Yeah, the third post McQ links to covers that as well as some interesting stuff on Baghdad by others. Yon is fantastic. We need more like him reporting from over there.
Written By: Lance
I can’t imagine why Al Qaida isn’t more popular. (Posted to just now)
From yesterday in the Al Mada Newspaper in Iraq:

Al Qaeda In Diyala Forbids Women From: Eating Bananas And Sitting On Chairs (Crime)

Eyewitnesses in Diyala Province reported, “Al Qaeda… and the insurgent groups associated with Al Qaeda… have committed crimes against Diyala’s residents without differences (indiscriminately attack all sects).”

[Some bits about killing and then...]

The witnesses, “Al Qaeda has forbidden citizens [mainly women] from: drinking Coca Cola and/or eating some types of fruits and vegetables (mainly “phallic shaped” foods such as cucumbers and bananas). Al Qaeda considers women who drink Coca Cola or eat these (obscene) fruits and vegetables to be ‘adulteresses’. Additionally, Al Qaeda has forbidden women from sitting upon chairs [instead, they must either stand or sit on the ground/floor].”

Al Qaeda has also forbidden the reading of newspapers and magazines. They have closed internet cafes. And, they have demanded that citizens (remove, or do) not install TV antennas on house roofs; because, they (these antennas) resemble (Christian) ‘crosses’.

That pesky hearts and minds thing... tsk, tsk.
Written By: Synova

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