Monday, September 19, 2005

But First, The Good News...

The good news is, the media and blogosphere have, over time, become accustomed to the notion that there is not one monolithic "insurgency" in Iraq, but rather several different "insurgencies," each with varying compositions, objectives, tactics and raisons d'etre. There are Iraqi Sunni revanchists that seek to reinstate Baath Party rule, foreign jihadists and domestic Islamists fighting for the creation of a Taliban-esque theocracy, Shiite fighters lashing out at an occupying power and jockeying for power internally, Sunni tribesman avenging deaths at the hands of coalition forces, foreign fighters joining the jihad to expel US forces perceived as crusaders in Muslim lands, etc. A recent report put out by the CSIS in conjunction with the indispensable Anthony Cordesman, sheds some light on the composition of certain strains of the various insurgencies - the conclusions of which defies some of the conventional wisdom (via Laura Rozen):

The study by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), obtained by Reuters on Sunday, also said Saudis made up just 350 of the 3,000-strong foreign insurgents in Iraq -- fewer than many officials have assumed.

"Analysts and government officials in the U.S. and Iraq have overstated the size of the foreign element in the Iraqi insurgency, especially that of the Saudi contingent," it said.

Non-Iraqi militants made up less than 10 percent of the insurgents' ranks -- perhaps even half that -- the study said. [...]

The study estimated the largest foreign contingent was made up of 600 Algerian fighters. It said about 550 Syrians, 500 Yemenis, 450 Sudanese, 400 Egyptians, 350 Saudis, and 150 fighters from other countries had crossed into Iraq to fight. [emphasis added]
These facts seem to belie the increased saber rattling vis a vis Syria, ostensibly in response to that country's lax crackdown on the infiltration of foreign fighters. Clearly Syria is not doing all it can to stem the flow, and Syrians are indeed making it over the border to fight in Iraq, but Syria and every other nation's contributions of fighters combines makes up less than 10% of the insurgencies' ranks. In other words, even with a fully cooperative Syria, our problems with respect to the insurgencies would remain critical. Nevertheless (hat tip Nadezhda):

Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador to Iraq, made the off the record prediction that the US will go into Syria to combat insurgents that have been using the country as a staging ground for terrorist activity in Iraq.
And this from Pat Lang is a cause for concern as well.

The CSIS report's findings also support this site's position that the war in Iraq has further radicalized the region, aiding the cause of Bin Laden in recruitment and support. These factors undermine the supposed benefits of the dubious "flypaper theory" - if you simultaneously breed flies, ensnaring some is not much of a strategic advantage. Especially when the flies that slip through the cracks emerge indoctrinated, trained, motivated and with a network of contacts with which to utilize to practice terror abroad. In short, Iraq has become what Afghanistan was in the 1990s.

The study by Middle East analyst Anthony Cordesman and Saudi security adviser Nawaf Obaid may offer further fuel to critics who say that instead of weakening al Qaeda, the 2003 invasion of Iraq brought fresh recruits to Osama bin Laden's network.

Hundreds of Saudi fighters who joined the insurgency in Iraq showed few signs of militancy before the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein, according to a detailed study based on Saudi intelligence reports.

Most were motivated by "revulsion at the idea of an Arab land being occupied by a non-Arab country."

It said Saudi Arabia had interrogated dozens of Saudi militants who either returned from Iraq or were caught at the border. "One important point was the number who insisted that they were not militants before the Iraq war," it said.

"The vast majority of Saudi militants who entered Iraq were not terrorist sympathizers before the war, and were radicalized almost exclusively by the coalition invasion," the study said.

Backing up their claim, 85 percent of those interrogated were not on any watch list of known militants, the study said. Most came from the west, south or center of Saudi Arabia, often from middle class families of prominent conservative tribes. [emph. added]
While Cordesman and the CSIS provide evidence to support this contention, it really doesn't require a suspension of reason. How could it have been any other way? With the image of the United States in the region in need of repair, with the battle for moderate hearts and minds calling for action, we instead chose to invade a second Muslim nation giving Bin Laden a propaganda coup. Images of dead and dismembered Iraqi women and children were never going to buttress our cause. These results were, sadly, predictable. The thought that some policymakers think that invading Syria in the near future would be an acceptable adjunct to our already counterproductive foreign policy in the region astounds me.

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