A history of Middle East insurgency and Iraq’s Enduring Defeat counterinsurgency fight
IRAQ: People deserve a life without fear. Without war. People deserve the benefits of free trade, education, innovation, having a vote and personal choice. These are all essential to human progress. In Iraq, non-traditional warfaring groups like al Qaeda and ISIS are radical insurgents using terror to repress people. To counter human progress and individual freedoms to experience all life offers. It is insurgency met with counterinsurgency.
In today’s Middle East conflicts, “insurgency” describes the aggressive warfare of terrorism. While “counterinsurgency”, a strategy executed by the Iraqi, American and Coalition troops, gives the people of Iraq security. While keeping their government in place and maintaining control over their own progress.
These troops fight the insurgency or terrorism that rebels against state authority. Insurgents inflict premeditated, politically-motivated violence in order to achieve aims.
“It is important to recognize that terrorism is only one tool used by organizations that wage asymmetrical warfare against a superior foe,” reports Stratfor.com. Iraq’s security forces are up against a non-traditional enemy with a toolbox of plans and takeover tactics.
Insurgency in Iraq takes root.
In April 2004, U.S. Marines were on deployment to capture or kill the insurgent elements who took down a Blackwater Security Team. The U.S. Marines were working with an Iraqi-run local security force helping to stockpile weapons and building complex defenses across the city. This was the first Battle of Fallujah.
In November and December 2004, the Second Battle of Fallujah- code-named Operation Al-Fajr (Arabic,الفجر “the dawn”) and Operation Phantom Fury was a joint American, Iraqi, and British offensive. The U.S. Marine Corps was authorized by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Interim Government to lead the fight against the Iraqi insurgency stronghold on the city center.
American ground troops pay the price of insurgent terror.
Insurgencies count on long and protracted conflicts to pressure an incumbent government to weaken and to demoralize a stronger enemy. Iraq would see the return of this radical mindset.
Armed assassins skillfully plan to bait troops and wait for them to arrive. They hide behind concrete jersey barriers that line the streets. Insurgents dig tunnels, trenches; prepare spider holes, building and hiding IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). Buildings and vehicles are booby-trapped.
By the end of December 2004, Marines are helping Iraq clean up pockets of resistance and help return the population to the now heavily-damaged city. In those last two months of the year, 95 American troops were killed, 560 wounded. This includes 54 killed and 425 wounded from November 7 through 16, 2004.
U.S. counters al Qaeda in Iraq next.
U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General Bill Seely is currently commander of Task Force Iraq. However, this is not his first tour in Iraq. He deployed to Iraq in 2006-07 and later in 2008 as commander of 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion.
Then, it was the battle against Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda insurgency created in the late 1980s.
“Since declaring a holy war on the United States, Jews and their allies, al Qaeda has been found responsible for nearly 3,000 deaths on 9/11 and numerous other deadly attacks around the world. The global terror network has been linked to radical groups across the Middle East and beyond,” reports History.com.
Al Qaeda Iraq used terror with hope to advance influence over populations to achieve an emirate or caliphate, ruled by a caliph descendant of Mohammed, whose power is absolute. Seely witnessed al Qaeda fighting to establish control throughout the area, wreaking bloody havoc.
“Marines unfortunately were lost, not just in my battalion, but others operating in and around Fallujah and the Euphrates River Valley,” laments Seely.
Through “perseverance” and “will of the Marines to secure the locations and the population,” the al Qaeda caliphate was dust. Marines drove the insurgents out of the urban areas…and back out into the deserts. These hard and explosive paths were trod with a growing Iraqi Army and Iraqi Security Force.
“I think this set the stage in the long run for where we are now in terms of having a much stronger Iraqi Security Force,” states Seely.
The Obama campaign promise responsible for opening a door for ISIS in Iraq.
The Sunnis were fractured with the loss of al Qaeda Iraq’s charismatic leader and chief strategist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Al-Zarqawi was a Jordanian jihadist who ran terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. After going to Iraq, al-Zarqawi, “Sheikh of the slaughterers” is responsible for a series of bombings, beheadings, and attacks during the Iraq War “turning an insurgency against US troops” in Iraq “into a Shia-Sunni civil war”. Al-Zarqawi was killed in a targeted killing on June 7, 2006.
Unfortunately, a mishandled U.S. troop withdrawal in 2011 left Iraq’s Sunnis vulnerable and Iraqi Security Forces essentially abandoned. Only a small contingent of advisors would remain. The civil war in Syria broke out and what was left of al Qaeda in Iraq exploited that conflict to rebuild combat power under a new name, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or the Islamic State).
Iraq’s alienated Sunni minority welcomed ISIS back to seize one-third of the country. The caliphate dream took root. The caliphate dream being a nightmare for the people of Iraq. A nightmare replete with the ISIS brand of law that practiced beheadings, burnings, amputations, and oppression of women.
Urban centers like Ramadi, Mosul, Baghdad were once again under threat. Same ground, a new, regrouped, insurgency. The unceasing protracted conflicts, the increasing numbers, the horrid attacks (not only in Iraq, but worldwide) became the study of military minds across the globe.
Insurgency, Counterinsurgency defined.
In April 2018, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joint (JCS) released a publication titled, “Counterinsurgency.” Insurgencies have objectives and an ‘end state’.
“Insurgents can combine the use of terrorism; subversion; sabotage; other political, economic, and psychological activities; and armed conflict to achieve its aims,” states the report, warning,
“Insurgents challenge the government by escalating violence and risking their lives until they succeed.”
The following are components of various insurgencies recognized in the “Counterinsurgency” report:
1. Resistance – Compel a governing authority to change policy or practice.
2. Reform – Compel the government to alter its policies or undertake major political, economic, or social reforms.
3. Nullification – Efforts to roll back governmental authority in a geographically defined area.
4. Secession – Support insurgency’s desire to formally withdraw from an existing state or system of government and establish a state with political autonomy and distinct sovereign territory.
5. Revolution – Seek to overthrow and radically reshape the political system, socioeconomic structure, and sometimes even the culture of the nation.
Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Africa have taken the brunt of insurgent destruction. However, no country is immune and it can even begin within its own borders, taking on its own unique face with dissidence, discontent, defiance, and homegrown hate. More and more groups like Antifa are in the news – America’s budding insurgencies.
Mind you, some terror attacks/insurgency motives are ambiguous (more often than we hear). Many times insurgents are outsiders who train, fight together with no binding ties to each other, or the countries or people they attack and destroy.
Counterinsurgency continues to grind on.
It’s hard to believe there are modern-day human beings who label human progress or freedom of choice as heresy. Mankind is sent spiraling into the dark ages by those who punish by death all who do not ‘submit’ to their way of thinking. Yet, it is sadly true for Iraq and its neighbors and anywhere insurgent cells take hold or gain power.
Because of Iraq’s enduring defeat, the ISIS caliphate is militarily dissolved in both Iraq and also in Syria as reported.
Yet radical Islamist militant movements still present an ‘existential threat’ to the West. One nation does not have to face it alone. We fight together where threats grow to keep them from spreading.
There is no perfect peace, yet see how far Iraq has come.
Seely returned to Iraq in 2015, 2016, during the early stages of the ISIS fight. During that time Seely only flew at night, saying it was “the smart thing to do.” The city of Baghdad had a much larger international zone and still a lot of T-walls for force protection and a lot of Iraqi Security Forces in and around the area. New signs of the times hit Seely when he arrived in Iraq a few months ago,
“I land in an aircraft during the daytime…I thought I’d have to wait for night to fly to where we’re located. We were put into armored convoy and drive out in the day.” says Seely.
Rather than bombed, burned-out homes, schools, and businesses, ISIS fighters with AKs and RPGs in the streets,
Seely describes his view,
“I could see green parks with nice grass and gardens, less T-walls around. Security Force presence was there, but that wasn’t unlike any other major city. A complete difference in terms of the security here and that is not because they’re unsafe… [or not] because they are misjudging the threat…We have stability and security here in Baghdad where we are. That continues to expand all the way through the major cities.”
There’s still some enemy left to keep the ‘tip of the spear’ sharp. But Seely reassures they’re not in the urban areas [and] not striking out like they used to. They are in the middle of the desert and ISF brings the fight to them.
Darker days of full-on war are gone, hopefully for good.
Brig. Gen. Austin Renforth, the previous commander of Task Force Iraq before Seely, went for an extraordinary stroll through Baghdad in January 2019, unarmed with no body armor.
“T. R. Fehrenbach, one of my favorite authors, once said, “You may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, and wipe it clean of life – but if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman Legions did – by putting your soldiers in the mud,” says Renforth, adding, “What that means to me is to truly know conditions on the ground and how successful our current efforts are you need to immerse yourself amongst the people you are trying to protect to judge the progress made.”
He said the stroll was the pinnacle of his multiple deployments to the region. He gave tribute to the great Marines he served with during Operation Iraqi Freedom (2 x) and Operation Enduring Freedom – some who did pay the ultimate sacrifice.
Iraq’s streets of valor and vigilance.
If the cause is righteous and the commitment is sure – victory will come. And peace will follow.
“Walking those streets was because of the sacrifice they made enabling the conditions they have set, in addition to the increased stability the ISF continues to preserve in the enduring defeat of Daesh (ISIS). During that experience, a little girl read a poem to us and we heard live music on the streets. You couldn’t do that in 2003. That’s progress and a lot of great people made that happen,” says Renforth.
For the thousands who have and do serve and sacrifice, you do the heavy lifting so we don’t have to. May solace come to the families of the Fallen, for the work of these warriors is not without meaning. Iraq is not the same place from when you started – you did something amazing.
More on ‘Evolving Iraq’ – training at the Iraqi Police Academy, stories to remember of ‘enduring defeat’, and more.
Featured Image: IRAQ, 2019. An Iraqi Security Force (ISF) soldiers with the flag of Iraq on his back during an evaluation exercise at the Besmaya Range Complex, Iraq. Combined Joint Task Force- Operation (CJTF-OIR) instructors train the ISF at the invitation of Iraqi officials, and evaluate the ISF on a variety of different scenarios in real-time. The evaluations included marksmanship training, counter-improvised explosive device, and urban clearance drills. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Brandon Best