The American military is at a loss about
figuring out the seemingly indefatigable Iraqi
insurgency. There are only two ways to deal with
it. First, eradicate it completely; but that is
not possible. How many insurgents can be killed
before anyone reaches the imprecise expression:
"completely"? Second, quickly prepare Iraqi forces
to replace the Americans. The US's top commander
in Iraq, General George W Casey Jr, did not have
good news on this issue on October 2. He said,
"Just one of the 120 US-trained Iraqi army and
police battalions was able to operate without US
Preparing the Iraqi forces to
take over the security of their country is a
time-consuming process. In the meantime, the
insurgents keep killing them as much as they can.
The bottom line objective
the insurgents: America should not be allowed to
pull out of Iraq in a respectable manner.
The American military's vocabulary and
descriptions of the Iraqi insurgency have come a
long way within the past two years or so. In the
first phase, it was depicted as comprising
"deadenders" - meaning that the insurgents were
largely Saddam Hussein's fidayeen (militia)
and could be easily eradicated.
insurgency was described as being led by those who
wished to bring back the old ways of ruling Iraq.
That description somewhat broadened the category
of insurgents to include all former Ba'athists and
The notion of "foreign
fighters" was introduced more reluctantly. That
phrase drew quite a bit of scorn from the region.
One Lebanese journalist contemptuously asked: "Why
are Americans condemning foreign fighters in Iraq?
Are they including themselves in this category, or
considering themselves native fighters of Iraq?"
US military officials were even more reluctant
about admitting the growing role of global jihadis
in the Iraqi insurgency. Now they are more blunt
about it. On September 28, Army Major General
Richard Zahner said: "I think what you really have
here is an insurgency that's been hijacked by a
terrorist campaign. In part, by [Abu Musab al-]
Zarqawi becoming the face of this thing, he has
certainly gotten the funding, the media and,
frankly, has allowed other folks to work along in
If not being able to defeat
the Iraqi insurgency is the direct result of not
being able to understand its very nature, then
that fact becomes clear in the following
description: even with Zarqawi's growing
significance, Zahner and other officers stressed
that Iraq's insurgency remains a complex mix of
elements. It includes a variety of factions, often
with differing political, religious or tribal aims
and sometimes with simply criminal intentions.
What is important to note is that the US
military no longer envisions the "Saddamists" (an
umbrella phrase used to lump all factions
supporting the former Iraqi dictator) as a major
threat. Now al-Qaeda fighters top the list of
America's concern. The chief reason is that
Saddamists might be cowed into submission, bribed,
or may even be coopted with some effort.
The global jihadis, on the contrary, have
established a worldwide reputation for their
zealotry, intransigence and their commitment -
almost ebullience - for dying for their cause. The
only way to deal with them is to eradicate them,
so thinks the American military.
question that remains is whether the jihadis are
as indefatigable as they currently appear to be.
No one knows the answer. An intuitive answer is
that perhaps they are. If that is the case, then
the American military is left with just one more
alternative, aside from killing as many of them as
possible. That is to rely on Iraqi forces to take
over manning the streets and almost all places in
To underscore how serious the
American military is about relying on the Iraqi
forces, according to one dispatch, one of the most
frequently repeated statements in American
military circles in Iraq these days is Lawrence of
Arabia's famous statement: "It is better to let
them do it themselves imperfectly than to do it
yourself perfectly. It is their country, their
way, and our time is short."
insurgents have known about that preference all
along. In fact, an important part of their
strategy has been to make sure that the American
forces remain fully entangled in Iraq. The
objective is to force the US out of Iraq, and not
allow it the luxury of getting out on its own
That was how the Soviet Union was
ousted from Afghanistan. It was forced and,
indeed, humiliated into pulling its forces out.
The Afghan mujahideen (Muslim guerilla
warriors engaged in a jihad) have never forgotten
that lesson. Osama bin Laden was one of the
busiest of fighters in those days.
realistic is the insurgents' aforementioned
objective regarding the US? Speaking purely from
the vantage of military power, the insurgents
don't stand a chance. However, the Iraqi quagmire
has proven that it has long become a theater of
asymmetric warfare. That is where the strength of
the Iraqi insurgency appears to be.
most potent weapons of that insurgency are the
suicide bombers and their seemingly infinite
desire to die, and their zealotry to defeat the
US. The insurgents seem to be coming out of
nowhere. It appears there is a factory of those
bombers somewhere in Iraq, or in the contiguous
area. No country claims them, yet they are
citizens of neighboring states. It is their desire
to die and take as many of the "enemy" forces with
That is not only unfathomable to the
American military, but it is also finding it hard
to develop countermeasures against this
phenomenon. So it is doing the best it can, in
terms of preparing the Iraqi security forces to
take over securing Iraq. However, the building of
security forces is not something that can be done
quickly or by relying on shortcuts. Then again, it
might be done quickly but not without defeating
the very purpose of training them.
quickly developed Iraqi security force would not
amount to anything that can withstand the fighting
spirit or sophistication of the insurgency. That
is another variable that is haunting the American
General Casey has
been talking about letting the Iraqi forces carry
the brunt of the fight with the insurgency. That
becomes a euphemism for having a higher death toll
for Iraqi forces, as opposed to the Americans. He
is also talking about a "smaller US footprint" for
American forces, which is another euphemism for
letting the Iraqis do most of the fighting.
But that reality will not materialize for
another year or so. But the Iraqi forces are not
ready, and they are not expected to be ready soon,
while the Iraqi insurgency is appearing
increasingly resilient. That is where the rub is.
As long as the Iraqi forces don't shape up and
take on the insurgents, the Americans are stuck in
That is exactly what the insurgents
are counting on. That is why they keep killing the
Iraqi forces, Iraqi recruits, wherever they find
them. As far as the insurgents are concerned, the
US should not be allowed a respectable withdrawal
from Iraq. It can get out of Iraq the same way the
Soviet forces pulled out: after absorbing heavy
losses and after facing no choice but to pull out
in a humiliating manner. That is the focus of the
global jihadis in their current fight in Iraq.
Ehsan Ahrari is an independent
strategic analyst based in Alexandria, VA, US. His
columns appear regularly in Asia Times Online. He
is also a regular contributor to the Global Beat
Syndicate. His website: www.ehsanahrari.com.