Militias, Tribes and Insurgents: The Challenge of Political Reintegration in Iraq

10 September, 2008 by

IRG member David Ucko has a paper published in the October edition of the Conflict, Security & Development journal, entitled Militias, Tribes and Insurgents: The Challenge of Political Reintegration in Iraq. The paper provides a valuable case study of the central role played in post-conflict state-building and counterinsurgency by the reintegration of armed sub-state groups into the political process, and focuses on the evolution of the US approach in Iraq since 2003.

Abstract:

Following its overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the United States was confronted with one of the most complex state-building enterprises of recent history. A central component of state building, emphasised in the literature yet given scant attention at the time of the invasion, is the process of political reintegration: the transformation of armed groups into political actors willing to participate peacefully in the political future of the country. In Iraq, political reintegration was a particularly important challenge, relating both to the armed forces of the disposed regime and to the Kurdish and Shia militias eager to play a role in the new political system.

This article examines the different approaches employed by the United States toward the political reintegration of irregular armed groups, from the policy vacuum of 2003 to the informal reintegration seen during the course of the so-called “surge” in 2007 and 2008. The case study has significant implications for the importance of getting political reintegration right—and the longterm costs of getting it badly wrong.

Access a free copy of the paper here.

UK CT & COIN Features – 11 August 2008

11 August, 2008 by

A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.

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UK CT & COIN Features – 05 August 2008

5 August, 2008 by

A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.

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Re-ordering the UK’s Campaign Primacy

4 August, 2008 by

In a weekend interview with The Daily Telegraph, which was also picked up by The Times, Brigadier Ed Butler – the former head of the SAS, and former commander of British forces in Afghanistan – claimed that not only were some British Muslims fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, but that militant Islamic groups in south-east Asia were also supporting terrorist plots in the UK.

“There are British passport holders who live in the UK who are being found in places like Kandahar… There is a link between Kandahar and urban conurbations in the UK. This is something the military understands, but the British public does not.”

Given this relationship between the foreign and domestic theatres, what are the implications for UK counterinsurgency strategy? In an article entitled Re-ordering the UK’s Campaign Primacy, IRG founder John Mackinlay argues that in the UK we are currently making a mistake in placing our expeditionary commitments over our domestic campaign, and that the current counterinsurgency discourse – as embodied in US Army / USMC FM 3-24 – is insufficiently nuanced to address the nature of the threat posed to Europe, and the UK in particular, by contemporary global insurgency:

Although doctrinally US and UK forces appear to have changed course, the core values of our security institutions remain the same, and at their most instinctive level they have not altered sufficiently to keep up with the changing world. In operational terms we are still facing backwards towards an era when counterinsurgency was a purely expeditionary activity, whereas in reality we need to be thinking more seriously about a 21st century adversary which does not require overseas territories, and which flourishes within our own population.

Representing an overwhelming US presence, US counterinsurgency doctrine is likely to become the concept for every future coalition. So it is this doctrine, and not a yet to be written NATO or national version, which will influence our future modus operandi.

FM3-24 has the appearance of novelty, it mentions the ‘global dimension’ and the possibility of ‘insurgent networks’, but in practical terms its prescriptions are only relevant to an expeditionary, territorial intervention focused on a particular state, with a clearly recognisable centre of gravity. The US doctrine is saying in effect that although the adversary which we seek to address is established globally and exerts itself in the virtual dimension, the military response will be a traditional unilateral expedition, whose capabilities will be tangible, territorial and limited to a space that is physical.

As a result of our failure to fully appreciate the inter-relationship of the domestic and expeditionary elements of our counterinsurgency campaign – or, at least, our failure to operationalise this understanding – it is argued that in the UK we are dangerously neglecting the former in pursuit of the latter.

In common with other European states the British government is engaged on two fronts, the overseas expeditions against the supposed sanctuaries in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a domestic campaign to stem disaffection and radicalisation in its own population. These campaigns are organisationally distinct. The overseas effort principally involves Defence, Foreign Affairs and Overseas Development, whereas the domestic plan of action principally involves the Home Affairs ministry. The problem is that in the UK the images and reverberations of the overseas campaign act against the domestic campaign. It is the continuous traffic of routine news and political debate concerning British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than old fashioned jihadi propaganda, which antagonises the vulnerable Muslim element of the British population, especially those who see their faith as the target of the war against terror.

Despite the obfuscations of its government, the British de facto give primacy to the expeditionary campaign. This prioritisation is not explicit, but by deed and declaration the government pursues its expeditionary campaigns in denial and disregard of mounting evidence that the UK’s foreign policy and military profile in the war against terror contributes to the increasing radicalisation of its own Muslim population.

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Read the full article here:
Re-ordering the UK’s Campaign Primacy

UK CT & COIN Features – 04 August 2008

4 August, 2008 by

A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.

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Bombers, Bank Accounts, and Bleedout: al-Qa`ida’s Road In and Out of Iraq

2 August, 2008 by

The Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) has made available the latest in its series of Harmony Reports, entitled Bombers, Bank Accounts, and Bleedout: al-Qa`ida’s Road In and Out of Iraq.

Based on analysis of primary source material in the form of captured Al-Qaeda documents (which are made available, translated, in the Harmony Project’s document database), previous reports in the series have provided an authoritative and invaluable insight into Al-Qaeda’s operations and organisation. This latest report builds upon the analysis of the Sinjar documents begun in the previous report.

The following are the key findings from the Executive Summary:

Saudi Arabia and Libya supplied the most fighters in the Sinjar Records.
Saudi Arabia contributed the highest number of foreign fighters to al‐Qa`ida’s fight in Iraq between August 2006 and August 2007, followed by Libya. Of the 576 fighters in the Sinjar Records that listed their nationality, 41 percent (237) were of Saudi Arabian origin, and 19.2 percent (111) were Libyan. Syria, Yemen, and Algeria were the next most common countries of origin with 8 percent (46), 8.1 percent (44), and 7.1 percent (41), respectively. Moroccans accounted for 6.1 percent (36) of the fighters and Jordanians 1.9 percent (11). Nearly all of the home countries listed were in the Middle East or North Africa, although the sample also includes individuals from France (2), Great Britain (1), and Sweden (1). On a per capita basis, Libyan fighters (18.55/1 million) entered Iraq at a much higher rate than Saudi Arabia (8.84/1 million).

Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt were the source of most of the foreign fighters detained in Camp Bucca, Iraq.
As of April 7, 2008, the United States was holding 251 foreign fighters at Camp Bucca, Iraq. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria each contributed 19 percent of those fighters. Libyans comprise only 3 percent of foreign fighters held at Camp Bucca. Saudi Arabia and Libya contribute a relatively smaller percentage of the detainees held in Camp Bucca than were listed in the Sinjar Records.

Foreign Fighters contributed approximately 75 Percent of suicide bombers between August 2006 and August 2007.
Of the 376 fighters in the Sinjar Records that designated their “work” in Iraq, 212 (56.4 percent) were listed as suicide bombers. Assuming that this rate holds for all Jihadis listed in the Sinjar Records—and that the records are an accurate indicator of future behavior—foreign fighters accounted for approximately 75 percent of suicide bombings in Iraq between August 2006 and August 2007.

Many of AQI’s foreign fighters sign suicide contracts before entering Iraq to guarantee they will commit a suicide attack, which suggests AQI must convince and compel many incoming fighters to commit suicide attacks. The contracts suggest that would‐be bombers who renege will not be allowed to fight in Iraq; some state that break the contract immediately divorce their wife.

The plurality of suicide bombers entering Iraq between August 2006 and August 2007 were Saudi. However, the Sinjar Records challenge the notion that Saudi foreign fighters are more likely than fighters from other locations to become suicide bombers, as Libyan and Moroccan nationals registered as “suicide bombers” at a higher rate than their Saudi counterparts.

AQI is a wounded organization.
Tribal disaffection, the surge in Coalition and Iraqi Forces in 2007‐2008, and AQIs self‐destructive penchant for violence have all contributed to the organization’s decline. The number of foreign fighters entering Iraq every month has declined to between 40 and 50, and many foreign fighters are now trying to leave the country. AQI is largely concentrated in and around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. AQI still desires and is capable of generating large‐scale asymmetric attacks, but is unable to control territory with impunity as it could two years ago.

There Syrian foreign fighter network is effective, but not uniform.
The amount of money fighters in the Sinjar Records paid to their Syrian Coordinators varied dramatically depending on the Syrian Coordinator. Likewise, some Syrian Coordinators worked almost exclusively with fighters from specific countries, and likely with specific Coordinators in fighters’ home countries. In other words, there is not one network in Syria for ushering fighters into Iraq, there are many. Despite the structural incongruities, AQI’s network provided a regular, predictable flow of fighters into Iraq.

There is a strong risk of blowback from Iraq. Relatively small numbers of Jihadis will “bleedout” to fight elsewhere, but they will likely be very dangerous individuals.
The Iraq war has increased Jihadi radicalization in the Muslim world and the number of al‐Qa`ida recruits. Foreign fighters in Iraq have also acquired a number of useful skills that can be used in future terrorist operations, including massive use of suicide tactics, organizational skills, propaganda, covert communication, and innovative improvised explosive device (IED) tactics. Some AQI fighters that have already trickled out of Iraq have bolstered violent movements in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. This trend will likely continue. Although the threat to Europe and North America is real—French officials have tracked 24 fighters from France that have traveled to Iraq—fighters are most likely to join established Jihadi groups in areas of weak government control, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Lebanon.

Not all AQI fighters leaving Iraq will remain militant. AQI requires some exiting fighters to sign contracts demanding they not join other Jihadi groups. It is unclear whether the provision is designed to protect the Jihadi organizations in case the exiting fighters are under surveillance, ensure the fighters do not join AQ’s Jihadi competitors, or if these fighters have angered their AQI hosts.

US withdrawal from Iraq may not end the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq. A withdrawal that leaves swaths of Iraq ungoverned may provoke a resurgence of foreign fighter travel to Iraq. If Jihadis believe Iraq remains a viable arena for Jihad, or they sense an opportunity to humiliate the US, they will travel to Iraq even after a withdrawal, much as an earlier generation of fighters arrived in Afghanistan long after the Soviet Union withdrew.

Smuggling across the Syrian/Iraqi border has tribal roots.
AQI capitalizes on the extensive tribal smuggling networks across the Syrian/Iraqi border, much of which has traditionally received explicit or tacit support from Syrian and Iraqi officials. The smuggling takes a number of forms, each of which requires unique expertise. Livestock smuggling is the most prevalent, and usually takes place on unmarked trails away from established border crossings. Cigarettes and other bulk items are often moved in trucks through border crossings, which requires bribing border guards. High‐value items such as electronics require larger bribes and better intelligence about border officials. Human smuggling often takes place on the same trails as livestock smuggling. There is ample evidence that AQI uses criminal smugglers, who they do not fully trust, to cross the border. AQIs effort to monopolize smuggling networks, which impeded Sunni tribal leaders from much of their traditional livelihood, was an important element convincing Iraqi tribes to cooperate with US forces.

Foreign Fighters contribute large sums of money to AQI, including a majority of its Border Sector 1 funding.
Financial reports show that AQI’s Border Sector 1 relied on three sources of funding: transfers from other leaders in AQI; fundraising from local Iraqis; and money brought by foreign suicide bombers. In AQI’s Border Sector 1, near Sinjar, incoming foreign fighters contributed more than 70 percent of the group’s operating budget. In that sector, 38 percent of AQI’s budget was used to purchase weapons and another 38 percent to import and sustain its personnel. Other AQI sectors likely had very different fundraising dynamics.

Saudi Arabian Jihadis contribute far more money to AQI than fighters from other countries.
Fighters from several nations contributed money to AQI, though Saudi Arabian nationals contributed a disproportionately large amount, totaling 46 percent of the overall funds received from foreign fighters. Furthermore, the mean contribution of Saudi fighters was $1,088, far higher than that of other nationalities. Of the 23 fighters that contributed more than $1,000, 22 were from Saudi Arabia.

AQI is highly bureaucratized, which may be a sign of operational failure and internal mistrust within the organization.
AQI is highly bureaucratized, forcing its agents to provide detailed accounting of inlays and expenditures, urging both incoming suicide bombers and fighters leaving Iraq to sign contracts, and auditing its various sub‐units. AQI, like al‐Qa`ida in general, is plagued by “agents” and intermediaries whose preferences diverge from those of the Jihadi “principals.” Despite the security costs of increasing its paper trail, AQI’s leaders were compelled required regular accounting reports from their underlings, likely because of graft and criminality.

Jihadis headed to Iraq were recruited predominately through local networks, rather than through the Internet.
As noted in the CTCs first Sinjar Report, foreign fighters who ended up in Iraq appear overwhelmingly to have joined the Jihad through local Jihadi sympathizers (33.5%) and personal social networks (29%). Only a few Jihadis appear to have met their local coordinators directly through the Internet. There is also a high likelihood that many foreign fighters traveled to Iraq in groups, and may have made the decision to travel there collectively.

AQI has produced fewer, but far more skilled, fighters than the “Arab‐Afghans” did in the 1980s.
The foreign fighters in Iraq share important similarities—such as country of origin and ideology—with the so‐called “Afghan Arabs” that traveled to Afghanistan to fight Soviet and Afghan‐communist forces in the 1980s. But there are important differences as well. Foreign fighters in Iraq have seen more combat than their predecessors in Afghanistan. In addition, they have shown greater ability to innovate critical tactical skills, such as IED development and suicide bombings.

Although the overall military impact of the foreign fighters for the Jihad in Afghanistan was minimal, the presence of Afghan Arabs had important consequences. Most importantly, the Afghanistan experience helped radicalize thousands of Jihadist activists from all over the world. The recruitment networks attracted volunteers, while training camps radicalized foreign fighters. Similar problems may bedevil the United States and its allies who face a growing body of alumni of the Iraqi Jihad.

The Afghan experience also had some negative implications for al‐Qa`ida that may apply to the current “Jihad” in Iraq. Foreign fighters in Afghanistan alienated local Afghans due to their extremist tactics and by preaching a puritanical ideology. At times, such disputes erupted into violence, especially when splinter groups of highly radicalized Afghan Arabs operated independently of their organizational leadership.

AQI’s permanent Border Sector personnel are vulnerable to coercion.
Family men with property dominate the Border Sector’s permanent establishment. Many are motivated by financial gain more than ideology. To the extent that they can be identified, such individuals are highly vulnerable to pressure, and may be susceptible to being turned and used as agents.

AQI is increasingly linked to al‐Qa`ida’s senior leaders.
AQI did not exist before the US invasion, but the organization has grown progressively more integrated with al‐Qa`ida Central, especially following Abu Mus’ab al‐Zarqawi’s death.

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Get the report here [PDF].

UK CT & COIN Features – 31 July 2008

31 July, 2008 by

A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.

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CNA Panel on British COIN

31 July, 2008 by

A couple of days ago I blogged in Failure of British COIN about a COIN Panel held at the CNA for the launch of Daniel Marston and Carter Malkasian’s new book Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare. At the panel some rather critical things were said about the state of British COIN with central reference to Brig Aylwin-Foster’s 2005 critique of US COIN attitudes and capabilities Changing the Army for Counterinsurgency Operations. However, on reading the transcript of the panel it seems to me that neither Marston or Kilcullen intended wound. Personally, I agree that that there are good reasons for sober consideration of Britain’s own COIN capabilities and attitudes right now. We have not paid enough attention to keeping our own house in order and reading our own history (a point recognized by Gen Dannatt in his recent speech at the RUSI Land Warfare conference) as though COIN proficiency was something which happened by osmosis or was in the British ‘DNA’. To say that there are structural factors which have been eroding British COIN capacity for years and that the United States has overtaken us in many areas is simply to speak the truth. But I do not agree that the British Army needs to be ‘embarrassed’. Aylwin-Foster’s essay was timely, accurate, and constructive–and generally received as such in the USA as a result. If the microscope is to be turned the other direction then it should be equally constructive and offer something which commanders, planners, and doctrine writers here can actually do something with. The bridge between the US and the UK should not be burnt by pique in Washington or by hubris which, it must be said, has been evinced by not a few Brits since 9/11.

UK CT & COIN Features – 30 July 2008

30 July, 2008 by

A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.

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Afghanistan Bibliography

29 July, 2008 by

Christian Bleuer, over at Ghosts of Alexander, has made available the third edition of his extensive Afghanistan bibliography, which provides an invaluable resource for anyone with a research interest in Afghanistan.

The 123-page bibliography is broken down into the following sections:

1. Ethnic Groups.
2. Conflict and Mobilization: War, Ethnicity, Jihad, Factions, “Warlords,” Etc
3. Islam, Political Islam, Sharia, Jihad, Sects.
4. The International Community, Reconstruction, Security, Economy, Government, and Development.
5. Opium Cultivation, Drug Use and Trafficking.
6. Environment, Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources.
7. Human Rights Violations.
8. Women, Gender and Family.
9. Civil-Military Relations, Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), Counterinsurgency and Military Issues.
10. Refugees, Internal Displacement, Migration and Diaspora Issues.
11. Macro and Micro Economics.
12. Opinion Polls, Interviews, Study Groups and Surveys.
13. Periodicals and Academic Journals.

Check it out here.


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