Friday, December 02, 2005

Profusion of Rebel Groups Helps Them Survive in Iraq

U.S Marines secure an area in the town of Falluja, December 20, 2004. Ten U.S. Marines conducting a foot patrol outside Falluja were killed by an insurgent bomb on Thursday, the U.S. military announced on Friday. (Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters)

There are two articles in the New York Times. The first is a straight-forward news article Roadside Bomb Kills 10 U.S. Marines in Falluja:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 2 - Ten marines were killed in a roadside bombing, the military said today, and 11 other marines were wounded outside the city of Falluja in one of the deadliest attacks on Americans since August.

The military said the marines, from Regimental Combat Team 8 of the Second Marine Division, were conducting a foot patrol outside of Falluja on Thursday when they were attacked with a bomb "fashioned from several large artillery shells."

The attack was the deadliest on American forces since 14 marines were killed in combat operations near Haditha, about 150 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Now the second article, from the Times, titled Profusion of Rebel Groups Helps Them Survive in Iraq:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 1 - Here is a small sampling of the insurgent groups that have claimed responsibility for attacks on Americans and Iraqis in the last few months:

Supporters of the Sunni People. The Men's Faith Brigade. The Islamic Anger. Al Baraa bin Malik Suicide Brigade. The Tawid Lions of Abdullah ibn al Zobeir. While some of them, like the Suicide Brigade, claim an affiliation with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and Al Qaeda claims them, others say they have acted alone or under the guidance of another group.

While on Wednesday President Bush promised nothing less than "complete victory" over the Iraqi insurgency, the apparent proliferation of militant groups offers perhaps the best explanation as to why the insurgency has been so hard to destroy.

The Bush administration has long maintained, and Mr. Bush reiterated in his speech Wednesday, that the insurgency comprises three elements: disaffected Sunni Arabs, or "rejectionists"; former Hussein government loyalists; and foreign-born terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda.

Iraqi and American officials in Iraq say the single most important fact about the insurgency is that it consists not of a few groups but of dozens, possibly as many as 100. And it is not, as often depicted, a coherent organization whose members dutifully carry out orders from above but a far-flung collection of smaller groups that often act on their own or come together for a single attack, the officials say. Each is believed to have its own leader and is free to act on its own.

Highly visible groups like Al Qaeda, Ansar al Sunna and the Victorious Army Group appear to act as fronts, the Iraqis and the Americans say, providing money, general direction and expertise to the smaller groups, but often taking responsibility for their attacks by broadcasting them across the globe.

"The leaders usually don't have anything to do with details," said Abdul Kareem al-Eniezi, the Iraqi minister for national security. "Sometimes they will give the smaller groups a target, or a type of target. The groups aren't connected to each other. They are not that organized."

Some experts and officials say there are important exceptions: that Al Qaeda's leaders, for instance, are deeply involved in spectacular suicide bombings, the majority of which are still believed to be carried out by foreigners. They also say some of the smaller groups that claim responsibility for attacks may be largely fictional, made up of ragtag groups of fighters hoping to make themselves seem more formidable and numerous than they really are.

But whatever the appearances, American and Iraqi officials agree on the essential structure of the Iraqi insurgency: it is horizontal as opposed to hierarchical, and ad hoc as opposed to unified. They say this central characteristic, similar to that of terrorist organizations in Europe and Asia, is what is making the Iraqi insurgency so difficult to destroy. Attack any single part of it, and the rest carries on largely untouched. It cannot be decapitated, because the insurgency, for the most part, has no head. Only recently, American and Iraqi experts say, have they begun to grasp the new organizational structure that, among other things, is making the insurgency so difficult to stop.

"There is no center of gravity, no leadership, no hierarchy; they are more a constellation than an organization," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at the Rand Corporation. "They have adopted a structure that assures their longevity."

So my question is how is the U.S. military going to take out these small, decentralized groups who are operating on their own? The U.S. military is fighting a war where they are being bled to death by "a thousand cuts." You take out one terrorist cell and three others sprout up to join its place. And what's worst, these cells are starting to learn the power of communications and the web. Consider this from the Times:

A review of the dozens of proclamations made by jihadi groups and posted on Islamist Web sites found more than 100 different groups that either claimed to be operating in Iraq or were being claimed by an umbrella group like Al Qaeda. Most of the Internet postings were located and translated by the SITE Institute, the Washington group that, among other things, tracks insurgent activity on the Web.

Of the groups found by SITE, 59 were claimed by Al Qaeda and 36 by Ansar al Sunna. Eight groups claimed to be operating under the direction of the Victorious Army Group, and five groups said they were operating under the 20th of July Revolution Brigade.

Each Islamic website is its own recruitment center for new terrorists, and it provides positive reinforcement for those who wish to create their own terrorist cells and to have their own propaganda published through the web. The U.S. military is certainly unable to shut down these hundreds of websites, let alone contain the negative responses to the military's own public relations incompetence--remember the American military paying the Lincoln Group to sell stories in the Iraqi press that were favorable to the American government?

As this war continues on, you can bet that these small terrorist groups are working out details for coordinated attacks. The Times continues on:

The complex nature of the insurgency was illustrated on Oct. 24, when three suicide bombers, one driving a cement mixer full of TNT, staged a coordinated attack on the Palestine and Sheraton Hotels in central Baghdad.

Within 24 hours, Al Qaeda, in an Internet posting viewed round the world, boasted of its role in attacking the "crusaders and their midgets."

But in the small print of the group's proclamation, Al Qaeda declared that the attack had actually been carried out by three separate groups: the Attack Brigade, the Rockets Brigade and Al Baraa bin Malik Suicide Brigade. The three groups, the Qaeda notice said, had acted in "collaboration," with some fighters conducting surveillance while others provided cover fire.

Rita Katz, the director of SITE, which is now working under a United States government contract to investigate militant groups, said the attack on the Palestine and Sheraton Hotels had probably been planned and directed at the highest levels of Al Qaeda.

The leaders may have brought the three "brigades" together to stage the attack, she said, and probably provided expertise as well as the suicide bombers themselves. "This was something that was coordinated at the highest level," she said.

This is just the first of such attacks. While these type of top-down attacks may be rare now, it is only a matter of time, before Al Qaeda starts to design, implement, and carry out even more attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.

It is only a matter of time.

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