August 20, 2005

Iraqi Sunni vs. Foreign Jihadists?

From the Wash Post yesterday:

Gunmen in this northern city Friday abducted and publicly executed three Sunni Arab activists who had been working to draw the disgruntled Sunni minority into Iraq's political mainstream, and then draped their bodies in a get-out-the-vote banner, officials and witnesses said.

The killings, before a horrified crowd, were the latest episode in the accelerating violence between suspected insurgents and the Sunni minority that has been their base of support.

One witness, Muhammed Khalid, said armed men traveling in eight cars kidnapped the activists as they were hanging banners encouraging voter participation. An hour later, gunmen appeared in another neighborhood. They blocked off side roads, stopped people from fleeing and forbade frightened shopkeepers to close their establishments, witnesses said.

"Then they took three men out of their cars and killed them in front of us," said a witness, Harith Saleem. He quoted one of the killers as saying, "This is the punishment for those who promote the elections."

In the western city of Ramadi, meanwhile, Sunni tribal members shot and killed a Saudi and three other members of the country's main insurgent group, al Qaeda in Iraq, headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi, witnesses and sources said. Killings there, too, marked rapidly escalating tensions between foreign-led fighters and Sunnis. [emphasis added]

Sunnis slaughtered in front of crowds in Mosul by insurgents. 'Al-Qaeda in Iraq' fighters (odd to hear it described as Iraq's "main insurgent group", perhaps?) killed by Sunni tribe members in Ramadi. Not your typical tale of massive car bombs by Zarq and Co. killing scores of Shi'a. What gives? Joseph Britt, ending a spell as guest-blogger chez Dan Drezner (who says there are no bravura second acts in America?), and when not showcasing my abymsal ignorance when it comes to all things agriculture-related, writes at this link:

Sunni Arab Iraqis may be fighting to avenge perceived humiliation, to restore Sunni political domination of Iraq or because they have nothing else to do, but they aren't fighting to become subjects of Saudi clerics and Jordanian professional terrorists -- and the foreign jihadis in turn are not fighting and dying just to uphold the honor of local tribal leaders or to restore a secular Baathist regime. They have had a common enemy, but no common goals.

Does this situation present some opportunities for us? Well, it ought to. But the difficulties are very considerable. Intelligence assets needed to identify exploitable areas of tension are evidently limited. This has to be partly because the enemy is aware of potential tensions between Iraqi and other fighters and is taking steps to keep them under control, and the uncertain political situation may be another reason. Probably the biggest, actually, is the thing that has plagued American intelligence since March 2003: the language barrier. In any event the desirability of encouraging "red-on-red" hostility is much clearer than are the things we need to do this.

I'm not so sure the Sunni nationalists/Baathist restorationists/domestic fundamentalists have "no common goals" with foreign jihadists and terrorists. For one, don't both segments want to evict the Americans (though, as I've argued, fewer and fewer Sunnis will be so inclined as they contemplate life alone, sans the Americans, with the crude majoritarianism of unrestrained Shi'a behavior increasingly the flavor du jour...)? And doubtless not all Iraqi Sunni shared Saddam's secular stripes, and wouldn't mind greater fundamentalism taking root in the country (which is probably one of the reasons Sadr doesn't mind, every now and again, making some common cause with certain Sunni factions). Regardless, we need to keep exploiting such trends--the growing discord between Iraqi Sunni tribes and foreign jihadists/terrorists. Who has got some bright ideas that, even per chance, aren't being actively implemented as yet? (P.S. Don't waste bandwith by saying something about bringing the Sunnis into the political process better etc etc. We know that part already....)

Posted by Gregory at August 20, 2005 08:51 PM | TrackBack (2)

One of the things that struck me as a weakness in my own analysis is that the differences in values between non-Iraqi jihadis and most Iraqi insurgents may not be that great. If it were, we would have seen friction between them manifesting itself before now. It's also true, I suppose, that the "values gap" matters most among the young men carrying guns. There are probably quite a few more Iraqi women and other civilians who would be glad to see the last of Wahhabists from God knows where blowing things up, but they have no power and scant influence.

To give pre-war neoconservatives their due, I never thought it inconceivable that if Saddam had had chemical or biological weapons that he would have shared them with Islamist terrorists. It is true they didn't like him and he cared nothing for them, but mutual regard and affection don't always drive alliances, especially in that part of the world, and such differences as Islamists and Baathists might have don't seem to extend into the field of warfare against civilians. On the other hand we might have considered before the war that if Saddam had had such weapons he would most likely have wanted to hold onto them for use against Iran. A moot point now, of course.

On the other thing, Greg -- and I appreciate the nice things you said -- never forget: all wealth comes from the land!

Posted by: JEB at August 21, 2005 07:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We lost a golden opportunity in Falluja, years ago. That town derives its relevance, and the main part of its financial viability, from its bridge over the Euphrates. The appropriate response to the Fallujah murders in 2003 would have been to construct two new bridges, on either side of Fallujah, and let the town die.

Given the amount of money we are spending in Iraq, it should be possible for us to partially reshape its transportation infrastructure. In particular, if we can construct good roads linking Iraq to Jordan, this will decrease the importance of the Euphrates ratline. Roads can be used to shift prosperity from unfriendly to friendly towns, thus "reinforcing success" as Kevin Pollack puts it.

Posted by: sammler at August 22, 2005 09:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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