Iraq's Road to Counterinsurgency

Embattled unity

Many Iraqis today are beyond condemning anyone--they are simply sick of violence, and blame a host of countries for their problems, not without reason. Difference in perception goes on. While we remember Iraq’s “sectarian death squads,” Iraqis I have spoken to remember Haditha, Abu Ghraib, or before then, perceived abandonment during the 1991 uprising against Saddam, the consequence of which was no less than genocide.

News reports frequently quote Sunnis who sided with the US against ISI as feeling betrayed. Trust is weak, if not broken, and Iraqis on social media are baffled at the limited US effort against ISIL. Many believe America wants Iraq to remain weak, or worse, is actively backing “Daesh.”

But Iraq and the West are historically linked in these bloody “wars among the people,” not least because both have fought salafist terrorism in the land between the two rivers.

The struggle to learn the dark arts of counterinsurgency is almost a shared history for the US and Iraq, and continuing dialogue on this subject between the two nations will be beneficial. Those who believe the West has a moral high ground in this subject are basing their analysis on the wrong comparisons.

For example, it wasn’t so long ago that America’s intervention in El Salvador was seen as “the ideal testing ground” for low intensity conflict.But the war in El Salvador is widely remembered for countless civilian casualties, torture, kidnapping and execution. To re-iterate, these are recent conflicts: Petraeus was in El Salvador in 1986 and went to Westpoint not long after Vietnam ended.

What is counterinsurgency?

According to the US government counterinsurgency guide, counterinsurgency (COIN) is a multi faceted effort to beat an armed insurrection which must:

"integrate and synchronize political, security, economic, and informational components that reinforce governmental legitimacy and effectiveness while reducing insurgent influence over the population. COIN strategies should be designed to simultaneously protect the population from insurgent violence; strengthen the legitimacy and capacity of government institutions to govern responsibly and marginalize insurgents politically, socially, and economically."

A seemingly holistic approach that views “war among the people” as a chiefly socio-political and economic struggle as much as a military one, did not come naturally to the NATO powers. It was a long, slow process of evolution and the debate over the worthiness of this approach still rages (See John Nagl and Gian Gentile for leading proponents of opposing arguments.)

46 Responses to Iraq's Road to Counterinsurgency

  1. Nicasso 6th July 2015 at 07:45 #

    Hi Robert,

    A useful article - good stuff. Muqtada al-Sadr will be minor player in any dialogue with the Hashd al-Shabi. His 'Peace Brigades' are not in the same league as Badr, AAH or Kaitab Hezbollah. Lots of rhetoric but the capability is not there as it was 2004-2008. Another problem will be convincing rank and file Hashd al-Shabi that the US is their ally. The amount of suspicion of US intentions is palpable in southern Iraq. It's quite common to hear ordinary Shi'a Iraqis talking of the US arming ISIS, even though elements of the Hashd are reportedly living side by side with US forces in Anbar. I believe closer co-operation is required but it will need high level agreement between US and Iranian officials....yes Iranian not Iraqi.