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Evolution in Iraq's insurgency

Attacks on US troops are down 22 percent since January, but some are more sophisticated.

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"There's no comparison between before and now," he says, noting that they used to find stacks of dynamite, rockets, large machine guns, and mortars. "You couldn't believe it. A room this size full of weapons.... Now it's different."

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Telltale signs

Overall, analysts point to what seems like a classic insurgency, one that is expected to increase in sophistication by learning from past mistakes and less capable fighters are killed off.

American forces have been responding like a typical conventional force, slowly recognizing the insurgency and gradually bringing in leaders and drawing up plans that can deal with it effectively.

All that usually takes about 10 years to end the fighting, according to Hammes.

British occupying forces in Malaysia, for example, only began gaining control over the insurgency in the late 1940s and early 1950s at the two-year mark, he says.

Iraqi authorities are using unconventional tactics as well. One of the most effective efforts so far on that front has turned out to be insurgent TV.

Interviews with captured insurgents are televised every night at 9 p.m. on state television and has become wildly popular since beginning about three months ago. Prisoners, often with visible bruises and cuts, sit behind a table and confess the gruesome details of their crimes. An anonymous offscreen military or police commander harangues them and lectures them about what jihad really means. One has even taken to reciting patriotic poetry he wrote himself.

Aibi says the show has made people more willing to report suspicious activity in their neighborhoods and help turn some against the insurgency.

"There is a huge difference because the people know who those guys really are. Before it was kind of a mystery. It also helps the ones that are close minded to rethink," he says.

The insurgents counter, however, with their own campaign of large, spectacular attacks. An insurgency doesn't expect to militarily defeat its larger, better-equipped foe, but rather make it so politically costly that they are forced to withdraw. A massive attack like the one in Abu Ghraib or the car bomb that killed more than 100 people in Hilla in February are effective in spreading fear in Iraq and a sense abroad that things are out of control.

A decrease in attacks on US forces, while touted as a victory by US officials, doesn't mean the insurgents aren't still reaching their goals. It's a frustrating dynamic for US officials.

"People see a spectacular attack and they think everything is going badly but that's not the case," said Lieut. Colonel Steven Boylan, a spokesman for the military in Iraq.

Another measure of the strength of the insurgency is how safe is it to be a Westerner on the street. Foreign women try to disguise themselves in Muslim head scarves, and foreign men grow beards. Walking the street isn't safe unless one blends in completely and foreigners cannot travel outside of Baghdad.

Even as Aibi revels in telling stories of big arrests he has made and how ferociously his fellow soldiers fight insurgents, he has to carry his uniform in a bag when he leaves his house so no one will know who he works for. His mother begs him to quit his job every day, he says, because she is afraid of the insurgents.