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Friday, January 13, 2006

Life Imitates Life of Brian 
The more I learn about the insurgency and the internecine network of clans, tribes, and competing loyalties in Iraq, the more I am convinced of the utter satiric brilliance of the Monty Python film "Life of Brian."

Here's a terrific piece by the New York Times - already widely circulated in the blogosphere - that takes a look at the split between the home-grown insurgent groups and the knuckle-dragging troglodytes of Al Qaeda. If you haven't read it yet, give it a go:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/12/international/middleeast/12insurgent.html?ei=5090&en=fa1e6ee2419a374e&ex=1294722000&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=print

Some salient points: Note that one of the most effective recruiting mechanisms Al Qaeda has is money. Al Qaeda simply has more money than the other groups, and apparently can outspend the Ba'athists, despite Hussein's looted millions. (I suspect the death of Ibrahim Izzat Al Douri may have hastened the process along, as he may have had a lot of financial contacts which are difficult to replace, even for the Ba'athists.

Money still seems to be flowing in from Saudi Arabia, and talent from Saudi Arabia and Syria. Interestingly, this is the first direct reference I've seen to individuals from Pakistan or Afghanistan joining Al Qaeda in Iraq. I've seen third-hand reports that Al Qaeda planned to cede defeat in Afghanistan and transfer men and resources to the fight in Iraq. I've also seen evidence that Iraqi insurgents were adopting IED techniques and tactics first refined in Afghanistan - nevermind the details - but this is the first eyewitness account I've seen of actual South Asians in Al Qaeda in Iraq. Which would seem to me to lend support to the idea. With a battlefield so close at hand to Pakistan, why else send Pakistanis all the way to Iraq, where they surely stick out like sore thumbs, and don't know the language any more than Americans do?

Next, it was interesting to see accounts of the tribes dispensing rough justice on their own. The sheikhs could have handed the fighters over to the U.S., or to the government. They didn't. They conducted their own arrest, then their own interrogation, then their own trial and execution. This reflects the power and influence that Iraqi sheikhs have over the population - a power that far exceeds anything an American could associate with a city councilman or mayor.

This is why the "Strategic Corporal" concept is vital. The war in Iraq is not won or lost in Baghdad conference rooms. The war in Iraq will be won or lost by grassroots contacts between American platoon leaders, company commanders, and battalion commanders out in the provinces, where Al Qaeda is based. This is also why a broad liberal education is vital for our officer corps-and why the exclusion of ROTC programs at several elite universities harms our National Interest.

It is not enough for today's junior officer corps to be made up of C students from State, with Phys Ed degrees and Varsity letters who can smoke their platoons on a road march. Every junior officer who leaves the gate must now be a mini Laurence of Arabia - a tactical innovator, a flexible thinker with genuine appreciation for culture, facility with language, and a keen understanding not just of his commanders mission and the mission of the unit two echelons above, but all the way up to CENTCOM.

Next, it's also clear that we're not the only team with some hearts and minds to win - and in that respect, it's clear that Al Qaeda has made some terrible errors in judgement - errors largly borne of their fanaticism and adversity to education outside of the Madrases. They will suffer from their intellectual inbreeding, and it's clear they are suffering from their lack of intellectual access to many of the historical lessons and doctrine on warfare absorbed by both the East and the west. Al Qaeda must reinvent the wheel - and they will be no more successful in Iraq than the Pathet Lao or Sendero Luminoso. Even the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia for several terrible years, cut its own legs out from under itself, and is utterly defeated and humiliated.

We can only see the Iraq insurgency through a glass, darkly, and only by means of trailing indicators. The Times piece tells us little about the state of affairs as it is now, but as it existed before the interview suspects were arrested. It will be extraordinarily difficult to meaningfully exploit the rift until we have better information coming in real time. And perhaps we do in some areas. Al Qaeda must recruit - and any organization that must recruit can be infiltrated.

But what we're only finding out now, Zarqawi was able to sense back in the first months of 2004, when he wrote to Bin Ladin expressing frustration at his lack of traction in Iraq, saying "By God, this is suffocation!"

Yes, Zarqawi. It is. And you shall soon be reaping its fruits.

The Ba'athist insurgency - as opposed to Iraqi nationalist fighters - has been, on the whole, defeated. Al Qaeda can be and will be defeated. As the article points out, the fact that a tribe stood up to them, took down their houses, tried and killed their assassins, AND HAS GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT cannot be a long-held secret. Other tribes, jealous of Al Qaeda challenges to their authority, and outraged at their atrocities, will follow suit. Al Qaeda has already been muscled over during the elections. Their fighters bleed red blood through their black track suits. They can be killed. When Iraqis figure that out - and they are - then the manufacture of martyrdom will accelerate.

I wrote in the early days of this blog, in November 2003, that Al Qaeda will not be defeated by miliary force alone, but that victory would only come when its radical, murderous, nihilist ideology is thoroughly discredited on its own turf.

We are watching that happen.

Patience, my brothers.

Splash, out

Jason

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