Iraq's Road to Counterinsurgency

Through British advisor Sir Robert Thompson, the Malaya approach was passed on to the US in Vietnam, with astonishingly higher levels of violence (it was, to be fair, a much larger conflict.)

Population control was enforced via the “strategic hamlets” programme, “draining the swamp” of people and exposing anyone left as potential Viet Cong to be bombed in an Agent Orange defoliated wasteland (in the case of “the Iron Triangle.”)

A focus on “body counts,” now discredited as a metric for winning counterinsurgencies, arguably led to the “Speedy Express” Operation of 1968-69, where General Julian Ewell’s soldiers accounted for a Communist crushing 11,000 Viet Cong killed--until a later investigation revealed something deeply sinister. Whistle blowers within the US military reported that only 750 weapons were recovered from these operations, and that civilian casualties could have been as high as 5000. Like the “Tiger Force” atrocities and My Lai, there was an attempted cover up.

But even as Speedy Express was drawing to a close, US strategy in Vietnam was changing. A growing number of Americans, convinced that the war would be won by winning the “hearts and minds” of ordinary civilians, were gaining sway over policies of William Westmoreland’s “search and destroy” war of attrition. As Creighton Abrams took command, American scholars deduced that the crushingly high rents paid by tenant farmers (the vast majority of Vietnamese farmers) to venal landholders was rocket fuel for the Viet Cong insurgency.

As such, a law was pushed through, backed by US funds, to reform land ownership. The “land to the tiller” bill was signed by President Thieu in 1970, and was designed to nullify this grievance and pull the rug from Viet Cong support. It was of course too late for the many dead civilians in the Mekong Delta, or the displaced of Cu Chi, and it was too late for Thieu.

Is there a lesson from these exogenous, albeit well meaning political solutions? As in Iraq since the Sunni Awakening, we must question the staying power of foreign imposed political solutions and seek out indigenous, organic political resolutions to support. Which leaves the pressing question: does this even exist in Iraq?

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.