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Thinking about the Iraqi resistance

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Chaos in Iraq

August 11, 2003

Warbaby says:

That dark cloud on the horizon is chickens coming home to roost.  The Iraqi resistance is pursuing a very strong strategy of systematic opposition and are now looking stronger than ever.  The odd news is that this should not be news at all.  All the signs have been there to read, plain as daylight for quite a while.

We now have sufficient information start drawing some conclusions about the Iraqi resistance to U.S. occupation.  It's a mess.  It's been a mess ever since the Iraqi National Congress became a front for U.S. policy interests.  Now the chickens are coming home to roost.  The sad thing is the facts were all out in plain sight -- but U.S. intelligence and military establishments were too busy playing up to domestic political interests to do their job in an honest and workmanlike manner.  Shrewd.

The chronology of the resistance

  Irregular resistance to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has passed through a number of phases.  Each phase has been treated by the U.S. as separate, distinct and unrelated.  This interpretation is seriously flawed, as the evidence suggests the resistance has been unchanging in strategy and tactics, while only varying in tempo and intensity.

  The illusion of distinct phases has been enhanced by the media's uncritical acceptance of shifting explanations for essentially the same phenomena.  The battle for control of Iraq is still continuing.  The possible outcomes remain unresolved -- there is no clear picture of what Iraq will look like in the near, much less mid-term, and certainly not long-term future.

Phase 1:  Iraqi pre-invasion propaganda emphasized irregular warfare and perhaps urban combat in Baghdad.  Saddam knew he was not going to fight a conventional war -- as evidenced by his orders to dismantle and bury the Iraqi air force, among other things.  Plans for systematic sabotage and irregular warfare are distributed.  The plans include sabotage of water, power, oil and communications infrastructure, assassination, infiltration of exile groups like the Iraqi National Congress Free Iraqi Forces.  Discovered in April, the guerilla warfare plans are initially discounted, but later are confirmed (See NYT 6/28/03).

Phase 2: U.S. AirLand battle systematically destroys Iraqi regular forces, but  irregular fedayeen forces are the surprising center of resistance.  Ambushes along the line of advance to Baghdad cause significant casualties.  A car bomb attack on a checkpoint causes a change in the rules of engagement (ROE) at checkpoints, leading to many incidents of U.S. troops firing on civilian vehicles.  No further car bomb attacks occur, but the revised ROE remain in place.

Phase 3:  The sudden collapse of regular forces and centralized resistance suddenly turns into uncontrollable chaos.  With the exceptions of the Baghdad airport and the Oil Ministry, a massive wave of sabotage, arson and looting sweeps through Iraq.  At the time, it is dismissed by officials like Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who summed the situation up as "Things are untidy."  The implication being that the widespread destruction was some sort of catharsis or celebration of liberation.

Phase 4:  U.S. forces fail to impose order.  The U.S. forces in Baghdad are for the most part confined to the Baghdad airport.  British troops slowly move into Basra.  In the north, Kurdish irregulars move into Kirkuk and Mosul.  Attacks on coalition forces diminish, but this is mostly due to their establishing secure bases and a transition from invasion to occupation.  The situation is complicated by several factors: 1) some of the 700 Iraqi National Congress Free Iraqi Forces were engaged in looting; 2) U.S. forces had nowhere near the force levels necessary to secure large areas, much less restore civil order;  3) the total collapse of police and civil forces created a vaccuum.  The lack of active patrolling leaves the U.S. forces without adequate intelligence of the overall situation.

Phase 5:  Sabotage and irregular warfare begin to be discernable in the chaos.  By late May and early June, systematic sabotage of energy and communications infrastructure has clearly been underway for some time.  U.S. authorities continue to describe the attacks as "looting" and discount either sabotage or armed resistance as threats.  Administration authorities ignore the sabotage and ascribe the attacks to "criminal elements" or "regime remnants."  Armed attacks on U.S. soldiers increase.  Oil production facilities are having difficulty staying in operation because of the destruction of the power grid.  Iraq becomes a net importer of gasoline and cooking butane.

Phase 6:  Guerilla warfare is viewed a potential, rather than actual.  U.S. forces begin to improvise counter-insurgency warfare.  The sabotage of major power lines is now creating a "looting" situation where copper is being stripped from electrical installations and exported for scrap.  Iraq becomes a major source in the world scrap copper market.  U.S. authorities continue to insist that the "looting" is driving the sabotage, rather than the other way around.

Phase 7:  Polycentric warfare begins to assert itself.  U.S. forces appear to be led by some insurgents or criminal networks into attacking their rivals.  Sabotage is now admitted to be a major problem with the oil infrastructure.  U.S. casualties from mines, bombs, ambushes and attacks by irregular forces are now admitted to be a problem.  The occupation forces begin launching "sweeps" seeking to capture resistance forces and arms.  Most of the initial sweeps turn up very little captured arms.  In a widely publicised incident, the elite Task Force 20 attacks some vehicles crossing the Syrian border.  The incident carries U.S. forces into Syria and Syrian border guards are killed and captured.  Initially touted as a possible killing or capture of Saddam Hussein, the target of the attack turns out to have been sheep smugglers.  A pattern begins to emerge of false intelligence being fed to U.S. forces by factions eager to have their rivals attacked.

Phase 8:  The U.S. now admits it is confronted by a guerilla resistance, but denies it is a "nationwide resistance movement."  A coalition spokesman in Basra said: "We can confirm the existence of the resistance order. It was handed to us by local contacts a few days ago. It appears to be genuine, but whether it can be considered the basis for the succession of hostile incidents in Baghdad and towns to the west and north of the capital is anyone's guess. "We believe the violence is being orchestrated, but only at local levels. It is probably the work of former Baath party officials and militia commanders. There is no evidence so far of an organised, nationwide resistance movement."   Most attacks on U.S. soldiers occur in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" in central Iraq.  However, sabotage attacks on oil pipelines, major power lines, telecommunications fiber optics trunks and oil production facilities are happening in every region of Iraq.  This suggests the attacks on soldiers and the sabotage of critical infrastructure are being pursued by different organizations pursuing different strategies.  The sons of Saddam Hussein, Uday and Qusay, are surrounded and killed in Mosul.  Occupation spokemen continue to insist that killing the top level of fugitive Baathist leaders will be a major turning point in combatting the resistance.  This is despite the absence of evidence that the so-called "high-value targets" are playing any role whatsoever in organizing or leading the resistance.

Phase 9:  The U.S. begins to scale back its counter-insurgency raids because of diminishing returns and the provocation of new / increased resistance.  Some areas are turned over to local control / abandoned as impossible to secure.  It appears the major problem with the "sweep" strategy is the failure to obtain accurate intelligence.  A preponderance of the raids are not yeilding significant captures of either fighters or arms.  The possibility that U.S. troops are being used as cat's-paws in local power struggles appears to be as much of a problem in Iraq as it has been in Afghanistan.

Phase 10:  The failure to re-establish stability becomes the cause of more disorder.  Riots break out in Basra.  Lack of electricity, gasoline and cooking butane are cited as the underlying causes of the unrest.  The NYT reports: "In Basra, all four primary electricity transmission lines supplying the refinery have been cut by saboteurs, said occupation officials, who noted that all of those factors have been worsened by increased demand caused by the hot weather." Sabotage and smuggling are now admitted to be the major problems preventing the export of Iraqi oil.  Disturbances spread to other areas.  The strategic targeting of the energy infrastructure is no longer a speculation, it's a fact.  And the NYT wonders if the resistance is adopting "new tactics."

So hang on for the ride...

[NB: all links checked as good on 8/16/03.  Some may drop out as more and more of the news goes down the memory hole]