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Critique of pure Reasoner

Essays and commentary related to topics in Tom Reasoner's "Truth and Beauty" blog

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Insurgents not getting along

At my job we call unclassified media reports "OSINT" for Open Source Intelligence. Though they call their collectors "correspondents," mass media are intelligence services of sorts and frequently have information us secret-squirrel types don't. Unfortunately, after reading a few thousand reports from various sorts of sources, it can start to blur together in your head what came from where. It's apparent, though, that the story of anti-Coalition forces fighting one-another has hit OSINT in a big way, so I think I can at least talk about my perceptions in general terms.

The media occasionally bothers to devide the insurgency into a number of subgroups, the boundaries of which can be fuzzy without being arbitrarily delineated. Early on we heard a great deal about former regime elements (FREs) as well as the more general "mujahadeen" (literally "those who practice Jihad," but overuse has reduced it to meaning something like "members of the resistance"). At some point "Foreign Fighters" (FFs) became prominent in the discussions of who attacks the Multi-National Forces (MNF). The first two are (broadly) Iraqi, while the last depends on outsiders who travel to Iraq to fight the infidels (though occasionally under considerable duress).

Indigenous rebels frequently have ideological reasons for fighting, or cultural ones (it can be hard to distinguish in Iraq's tribal society), but they are also usually fighting from a sense of communal defense against marginalization of one sort or another. Alienating their own constituency or inciting the enmity of powerful neighbor tribes is a real danger of collateral damage.

Foreign fighters, on the other hand, tend to be part of global terrorist networks with recruiting operations in every country in the world with a notable population of Islamic extremists. Their "community" is essentially composed of a heirarchy of terror bosses and the media organs which carry a large percentage of their Information Operations (IO) campaign. Collateral damage certainly creates hostility in the local community, but it also compels compliance much of the time. Not many people are willing to risk the kidnapping and beheading of family members that can result from vigilante action.

But Iraqi insurgents are well-armed, at least semi-trained and organized, and have already taken measures to protect their families (or have already lost them). They are also community-based; when the MNF conduct operations to root out terrorists who have set off some huge car-bomb, killing scores of civilians in a neighborhood, they are presented with a dilemma: attack the people fighting against the group that just blew up their friends and family, or undertake the revenge prescribed by traditions of tribal honor. Even from a nationalist perspective, foreign fighters cause special aggrevation: while American presence is an unbearable insult, at least we're building up the country, whereas terrorists never do anything but blow stuff up and behead people, most of whom are Irqi Muslims. And I shouldn't forget drug trafficking and kidnapping to raise money.

It also helps that just about anyone is easier and safer to target than US troops.

So the rise of insurgent vs terrorist fighting doesn't much surprise me. Neither has the rise of anti-insurgent vigilante groups (which are not automatically pro-Coalition). People are tired of their country being the playground of armed yahoos of all types, especially now that there's an embryonic political process.

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