How Iraqis Can Beat the Terrorists

In surveying the landscape over which it now has authority, the new Iraqi government can basically divide those inside the nation into four distinct groups: those who support the government through thought or action; those who oppose it and support resistance through thought or action; those who are still uncertain about where the future lies and whom to support; and, most ominously, foreign terrorists. Of these groups, it’s a certainty that virtually nothing the government does will change the foreign terrorists or hard core Iraqi insurgents’ minds about wreaking havoc in any form. Their course is set, and they’re staying on it.
"History shows that tough tactics are generally required to quell an insurrection or rebellion. Unfortunately, those are the same tactics that can push people towards the insurgents."

Interestingly enough, however, within those opposed to the government there is also a large bloc of insurgents who have attacked coalition and Iraqi security forces over the past months, but who are not yet part of any organized resistance movement. This group of freelancers, as armed and dangerous as they might be at this point, may well determine how long fighting continues and how long security will remain the new government’s biggest problem.  They may also determine where many of the uncertain fence hangers fall. If the government can woo these freelancers over to their side, the effects of the insurgency can drop dramatically. If the insurgents win them over to their side, the prospects for real progress may remain quite dim.  Clearly, the stakes are high.

By most accounts, there are many of these freelance insurgents within both the Sunni and Shia communities. Like the organized resistance, these independent cells are clandestine in nature and often deadly in effectiveness. Acting on their own, without guidance, relationships, or support from above, and particularly full of hate for U.S. and Coalition forces, they too are difficult to unravel. Their tactics have included sniping, placing IED’s along main convoy routes, and harrassing, intimidating, and sometimes killing fellow Iraqis who have joined Iraq’s new security forces. They have also taken some hostages, but unlike the organized resistance, theirs have generally been released after some time. 

For a new nation trying to survive a growing insurgency, the options for bringing these freelancers to their side get very slim, very quickly.  History shows that tough tactics are generally required to quell an insurrection or rebellion. Unfortunately, those are the same tactics that can push people towards the insurgents.  Instead, the new government has to woo them away in a reasonable belief that life without Saddam can and will be good.  At some point amnesty must be considered, as it was in Vietnam with the Chieu Hoi program, an effort which saw many North Vietnamese and Vietcong soldiers willingly come over to the side of the South. In fact, a fair number of these former enemy went on to fight alongside Americans in the Kit Carson Scout program. Although that model is probably not an apt one for Iraq, the inducement of a job of some sort might well be. Whatever the program, the Iraqis need to seek proactive ways to cull the freelancers out from among the population.

For the immediate future, and against the backdrop of the freelance resistance, the organized one will continue to strike and flourish. Its dismantling can only come about through better intelligence and a capability on the part of the Iraqis themselves to conduct effective counterterrorist operations – something they’ve not been able to do so far. That capability will indeed come at some point, but in the meantime the government needs to stay on a two-pronged approach to the insurgency: eliminating the hard core, while wooing those not fully committed to fighting to the death. Treating them all exactly the same will prolong an already difficult struggle.

Bill Cowan is a FOX News Channel contributor and internationally acknowledged expert in the areas of terrorism, homeland security, intelligence and military special operations.