Fighting the Flea. The Iraqi Insurgency

Bachelor Thesis, 2008

98 Pages, Grade: 85/100


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Maps



Chapter 1: Operation Iraqi Freedom

Chapter 2: Eye of the Storm

Chapter 3: The Insurgency Erupts

Chapter 4: A Fractured Society

Chapter 5: New strategy, better results


Appendix A: Map of Iraq

Appendix B: Provincial map of Iraq

Appendix C: Interview with A, U.S. Army.

Appendix D: Interview with B, U.S. Marine Corps.

Appendix E: Iraq ’ s effects on the U.S. military survey.



My deepest gratitude to both Dr. Klejda Mulaj and Dr. Carmen Sammut, for their dedication, constructive criticism, and inspirational advice. I am indebted to both of them.

I would also like to thank Specialist A of the U.S. Army and Private B of the 1st Marine Division, for finding the time to answering my interview questions, despite their hectic schedules.

For my parents Peter Paul, Maryann, and my girlfriend, Krystle Blaire. Without their love and encouragement I would not have made it this far.

Also for all those who are currently serving in Iraq, may they return home with dignity and honour to their families.

List of Illustrations and Maps

Baghdad during the Shock and Awe campaign

Map depicting the movement of Coalition troops in the 2003 invasion

Fall of Saddam ’ s statue in Baghdad

Factors needed for stability in Iraq

Manpower estimate of the insurgency

The complexity of the insurgency ’ s composition

Map of the ‘ Sunni Triangle ’

The four-tier strategy of the insurgents

The bombing of U.N. Headquarters in Baghdad

Map depicting the sectarian composition of Iraq

Al Askari Mosque in Samarra

Fallujah after its fall to Coalition troops

Iraqi civilian casualties

President Bush ’ s approval ratings

Public opinion towards the state of affairs in Iraq

Public opinion towards a continued U.S. presence in Iraq.

Members of the Sunni ‘ Awakening ’

Map depicting the major cities in Iraq

Map depicting the provinces of Iraq

Specialist A, U.S. Army Combat Engineer

Army engineers searching for I.E.D. ’ s

A roadside I.E.D.

Detonating I.E.D. ’ s from a distance

Glossary of terms

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


The purpose of this research is to analyze and assess the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the subsequent insurgency that followed. The latter was a direct result of the Coalition’s inability to come to terms with the various complexities of the country. This paper will look into the Iraq war’s transformation from a conventional invasion, into an anti-occupation insurgency, as well as the Coalition’s progress with dealing with the insurgency from its outbreak in 2003 to the most recent developments in early 2008.

I had chosen this particular topic because being a Maltese-American, anything that either country does in its foreign policy is of direct interest to me - not only as a student of International Relations, but also as a citizen. The issue of Iraq has long been on the front pages of newspapers, and the top stories on the news on television. No matter what medium of the media you access, news about the situation Iraq is everywhere. I do not believe that one should simply sit back and watch the issues unfold with just as a means to pass the time, or worse, criticize without an ample knowledge of the facts. Rather, we should analyze and interpret the events that have occurred in Iraq and try to remedy the situation by evaluating every possible option to achieve stability in the country.

The term ‘fighting the flea’ derives from a book written by Robert Taber, an investigative journalist, after witnessing first-hand Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries wage a successful insurgency against the Batista government in the mid-1950’s and effectively take over the country. In his book, Taber outlines the technique of insurgents and their effects on their military and political opponents in very simple terms:

Analogically, the guerrilla fights the war of the flea, and his military enemy suffers the dog's disadvantages - too much to defend, too small, ubiquitous, and agile an enemy to come to grips with. If the war continues long enough--this is the theory--the dog succumbs to exhaustion and anemia without ever having found anything on which to close its jaws or to rake with its claws 1.

Basically, an insurgency is not meant to capture cities or grasp territory as a conventional army would. Rather, insurgents use guerilla hit-and-run tactics to slowly sap the energy of their opponents, slowly draining them of manpower and materials. Slowly but surely, the next step is to break the will of their opponents and that of their populace to endure the violence and casualties. All through this, the insurgency strives to win the support of the population of the country they are attempting to subvert and seize.

The issue of insurgencies is nothing relatively new in the realm of International Relations. Guerilla wars have been occurring for hundreds of years, in cases where one faction is on the wrong side of asymmetric warfare. These wars, in turn, have caused even the mightiest of empires to fall. A few examples of insurgencies which helped turn the tide of history include the Spanish insurrection against the mighty Napoleonic army in the early 19th century (this conflict actually coined the term ‘guerilla’), in which Napoleon had to give up his ambitions in the Iberian peninsula, and marked the beginning of the end of his empire. The Vietnam war in the 1960’s and 1970’s seriously damaged the credibility of the United States and its ability to help its allies against internal communist threats, and actually led the U.S. to disregard the art of counterinsurgency, (which it learnt at the cost of more than 50,000 servicemen and unprecedented domestic unrest) - something it would later regret in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, only to receive heavy losses from the Afghan Mujahadeen 2 , especially in terms of military hardware and helicopters. The Soviets withdrew its forces after the war had taken its toll on the Soviet economy, and was one of the factors in the collapse of the Soviet Union. As one can see, insurgencies do play a key part in sapping the energy of their opponents - all the examples mentioned were superpowers of their time, and each example mentioned marked a failed counterinsurgency strategy.

With so many states of such a high degree of power failing to deal with insurgencies, how can the United States hope to deal with the insurgency in Iraq today? The answer is simple - one must completely disregard the conventional way of waging war. In a conventional war, the main objectives are the destruction of the enemy’s forces, their will to fight, and possibly even the capture of their capital city. In an insurgency, the main objective is simple: get the support of the people in order to undermine your opponent’s strength. This objective is the same for both the insurgent and the counterinsurgent. It is beyond merely “shooting first and asking questions later”, rather, as said by one of the modern architect’s of the U.S. new counterinsurgency strategy said in a 2007 interview:

It is the graduate level of war. It is hard. You have to call in air strikes, fire rifles, machine guns, and assist in economic reconstruction. The opening quote of the (new U.S. Counterinsurgency) field manual is "Counterinsurgency is not just thinking man's warfare; it is the graduate level of war." 3

Insurgencies have humbled various empires, and even helped to bring about their downfall. However, in the case of Iraqi insurgency, there is much more at stake than simply the humbling of the sole superpower, namely, the United States. In the past, insurgencies were issues that were solely a concern for those who took part in it and those fighting to defeat them. In the case of Iraq, the failure of the United States, their Coalition allies, and the Iraqi government to defeat the insurgency will more likely than not completely change the power structure in the Middle East, and the change will not be for the better. The implications of such a failure would lead to a failed state in an already unstable region, and perhaps lead to Islamic extremists and militants setting up shop there to plan and launch attacks on Western interests both in the region, and around the world. Such a scenario would be counterproductive for the U.S. in its War on Terror, as well as for stability in the Middle East.

In order to address the insurgency, one must look at how Coalition plan for war was conducted and carried out, oblivious to the Ba’athist regime’s actual intentions. The first chapter of this dissertation will bring up several issues, such as the planning of the insurgency beforehand by Saddam Hussein and his top generals, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the failure of U.S. political leaders to plan for the post-combat phase of the war. The latter would allow the Iraqi insurgents ample time to use the chaos of the postwar to slowly, but surely begin to organize the resistance.

The second chapter will deal with the period that came between the capture of the country to the period that came after the establishment of the Coalition Provisional Authority. The period discussed in the chapter is not much more than a month long - however, this span of time is noteworthy for the Coalition’s failure to assert their presence in the country, and their inability to do so had led to a power vacuum that others, namely militants, insurgents, and criminals, tried to fill. This chapter also deals with the C.P.A.’s first moves to establish contacts with Iraqi political leaders, and how the Sunnis were severely embittered by their loss over the reigns of power, and how this helped to funnel a substantial number of them to join the insurgency.

The third chapter essentially discusses the eruption of the insurgency, as well as how it became so popular as a direct result of some of the decisions taken by the C.P.A. It also speaks about how the Coalition authorities in Iraq as well as Washington D.C., both military and political, failed to come to terms with the fact that they were not fighting a conventional enemy. They also failed to come to grips with the fact that in the situation they found themselves, Iraqi public opinion was the grand prize - not the defeat of Al Qaeda or other insurgent groups by brute force. The Iraqi insurgency’s strategies, tactics, as well as what constitutes it are also discussed.

For one to fully comprehend the complexity of the situation in Iraq, one must also take into consideration the sectarian aspect of the insurgency that is discussed in the dissertation’s fourth chapter. The sectarian divide helped to cause added difficulties to the Coalition’s efforts to tame the insurgency and curb the increasing violence and chaos in the country. The background of the Sunni-Shi’a divide is analyzed in detail, giving background for the reasons for the animosity between the two sides, which came to surface after the occupation of the country. I also speak about the impact that some militants, such as Moqtada Al Sadr and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had on the sectarian tensions, and how the latter worked tirelessly to stoke the flames of sectarian animosity.

The fifth and final chapter deals with the troop “surge” in 2007 as well as the new strategy and tactics implemented by the new Coalition commander, General David Petraeus. I discuss how the new strategy undertaken by the Coalition has reaped the benefits, simply by using the tried and true methods of classic counterinsurgency. The most important aspect of counterinsurgency, namely, the acknowledgment that the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people is the most important prize, has finally become the most important objective for the U.S. forces in Iraq. In this chapter, I also outline some issues which are being tackled (and will continue to be tackled for the near future), such as the issue of reconciliation between the Sunni and Shi’a as well as the importance of helping the Iraqi government to stand on its two feet.

In order to tackle the issue of the Iraqi insurgency, I have consulted various works written by counterinsurgency experts and scholars, as well as a number of articles found in periodicals, journals, and newspapers in order to obtain a sufficient amount of up to date and accurate information. In order to get a better idea of what U.S. troops think of their role in Iraq, and how their role has subsequently developed, I have interviewed a U.S. Marine as well as an Army combat engineer (thanks to the latest social networking phenomenon:

Facebook) - the latter having spent 9 months in Iraq, and has dealt with insurgent threats and the Iraqi population on a daily basis. The interviews may be viewed in their entirety in Appendices C and D. All of these factors have helped to contribute towards the forming of my opinion and analysis.

Chapter 1: Operation Iraqi Freedom

Operation Iraqi Freedom was by all means a conventional attack by one group of conventional military units against another - in this case the U.S. and its allies in the Coalition launching offensive operations against Saddam’s military component. As a military operation, it was a combination of advanced military technology, blitzkrieg military maneuvers, and the decimation of Iraqi military hardware and command and control structures (if possible) long before U.S. ground forces ever encountered the enemy, in order to facilitate their rapid capture of Baghdad. Major Isaiah Wilson, an official military historian on the ground with U.S. forces at the time had then remarked in the following way:

It was a war focused operationally on the destruction of the Iraqi army - the state ’ s war fighting capability...In this sense … it was effectively ‘ a continuation ’ of the 1991 war. 4

Nearly a year before the invasion, it became known to the U.S. intelligence community that Saddam Hussein had begun to fortify the major Iraqi cities in preparation for the war that he believed was imminent. Anti-aircraft positions were erected on multi-storied buildings and government offices alike, dirt and sand berms were built as positions to hold back U.S. forces, and iron rods and barbed wire were placed in and around Baghdad in order to thwart any possible U.S. paratrooper drop into the capital. Saddam had already explained to regional governors and military commanders that he planned to besiege U.S. forces in urban areas in order to negate the U.S. technological advantage (namely air power and surveillance) and even the odds.

By early August 2002, it was reported that Saddam Hussein had instructed regional government officials that he aimed to defeat a US invasion by avoiding direct military engagements in the open, instead concentrating the Iraqi resistance in major cities where civilian and American casualties would be highest. Hussein's strategy centered

on drawing US forces into Baghdad [and other urban area], where Iraqi equipment

and troops would not be as exposed to American airpower. 5

However, Saddam Hussein was by no means merely planning to withstand the onslaught of U.S. and Coalition forces conventionally. The U.S. had received reports as early as August 2002 that Saddam was giving orders to his paramilitary units, such as the Saddam Fedayeen, which was one of his elite bodyguard units (of which he had many), and the civilian defense corps called Jaysh Al Quds, or Jerusalem army, to stock up on food, water, and munitions. The U.S. had thought that this was being done in order to turn each significant Iraqi city into a fortress in itself. However, Saddam and his inner circle had other plans. Malcolm Nance notes that:

Gen. Izzat Ibrahim al Duri (one of Saddam’s most trusted generals) ... commanded a classified program to prepare for a guerilla war. This plan may have been known as Project III. In event of defeat he and others who escaped the onslaught would be responsible for logistical and military framework of the post-war insurgency. ” 6

Thus, while the U.S. and its allies prepared to destroy the Iraqi military and in turn topple Saddam’s regime, Saddam and his generals were planning to defend with conventional forces only as the beginning of a long insurgency.7

Unfortunately, the U.S. intelligence community had little idea that Saddam was preparing for a long and taxing campaign on the invading Coalition forces. The intelligence they did have about Iraq’s WMD capability (one of the predisposing factors of the 2003 invasion) was contradicted by information analyzed and gathered by the highest-ranking civilian officials and their subordinates in the Pentagon, and most notably the U.S. Department of Defense. The neo-conservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle seemed to be eager in kick starting the war against Iraq sooner rather than later8. Perle, who was Chairman of Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, had once bashed the C.I.A. in particular about their apparent lack of competence in assessing Saddam’s WMD’s capacity … the complaints from the intelligence establishment who had overlooked this material, [are] really quite pathetic … Let me be blunt about this: The level of competence on past performance of the Central Intelligence Agency, in this area, are quite appalling. 9

However, it is implausible to accuse the CIA of being incompetent with regards to collecting data on Iraq. In the aftermath of 11 September 2001, the CIA redoubled its efforts in intelligence collection in the Middle East, particularly investing its resources in training intelligence agents and recruiting U.S. citizens with a sound knowledge of Arabic language and culture10. Prior to 9/11, the CIA had depended heavily on aerial surveillance such as spy satellites in orbit.

With such scathing and seemingly confident remarks of those with higher security clearances than their own, many in the U.S. intelligence apparatus began to doubt their information - and thus began to rely on those members of government with higher security clearances to lead the way regarding data of Iraq’s weapons capability.

Thus after much controversy11, both within the U.S. and abroad (with the U.N. and its closest allies in Europe amongst others), the U.S. and its allies began the invasion of Iraq at 5:34 AM, (Baghdad local time) March 20th 200312 with the launch of 40 cruise missiles and strikes led by 2 American F-117’s stealth fighter/bombers from the 8th Fighter Squadron13. Meanwhile, U.S. forces based in Kuwait were poised to begin their attack as soon as the initial “shock and awe” air strikes on the capital city of Baghdad and Iraq’s military capabilities had achieved the intended results.

Image removed for publication due to copyright.

A snapshot of the Coalition's "shock and awe" campaign - using precision air power to destroy key targets, such as command and control posts and anti-aircraft positions in Baghdad.14

Iraq was attacked from the North, West, and South as can be seen in map below.

Coalition special forces units, including the British Special Air Service, the U.S. Navy SEALS and Delta Force, were inserted in the Western desert of Iraq in order to acquire targets for friendly aircraft. The U.S. 10th Special Forces Group were inserted in the north of Iraq into de-facto Kurdistan to aid Peshmerga15 against the Iraqi units stationed neared Kirkuk. The U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division sped along the western side of the Euphrates, while its counterparts in the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force moved along the highway between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers. The British 1st Armored Division, on the other hand, advanced rapidly to the easternmost corner of Iraq towards the city of Basra.16 The objective of the advancing Coalition forces was to advance as quickly as possible towards Baghdad, capture Saddam’s seat of power, and avoid the major towns and cities that were non-essential to achieving these aims. In other words, if the town or city was not directly blocking their path to Baghdad, Coalition troops were ordered to avoid it. U.S. and other Coalition military planners still feared that the Ba’ath party heavily fortified the southern towns along the approach to Baghdad, and that by disposing Saddam Hussein, his forces would dissipate entirely, or even surrender en masse much as they did in 1991.

A map showing the advance of Coalition troops towards Baghdad in March 200317

However, this was not to be. For the most part, U.S. and Coalition troops often saw Iraqi troops in uniform firing at them from concealed positions, only to flee once they received fire. As a result, Coalition troops would often give chase in order to eliminate the threat - but more often than not, all they would find is Iraqi military uniforms strewn on the ground with reckless abandon The U.S. Marines were 4 miles from the city gates driving down roads littered with black combat boots as Saddam's Army shed their uniforms and switched back to tribal robes hoping to avoid capture. 18

Ultimately, Iraq’s plan for war not only included using the conventional military, but also using the insurgency as the final means to continue the fight against the coalition forces. In other words, the shift from conventional to guerilla war was planned intricately by the Ba’athist regime. Malcolm W. Nance, a 26-year counter-terrorist veteran of the U.S. intelligence community had outlined this in his book “ The Terrorists of Iraq ”. The Iraqis would defend their country, in order, with the following means - a) the Air Defense forces,

b) the Iraqi army, c) the Republican Guard, and d) the paramilitary irregulars, jihadists,

foreign fighters and the Special Republican Guard.19 Thus, as the U.S. military marched on towards Baghdad, the tactics of the Iraqis became more and more visible, as the Americans peeled off more layers of their closely linked defense - much like the similarity between layers of an onion, where one layer looks quite like its predecessor.

Many major towns, such as Najaf, and Fallujah further to the north, were left alone for the most part during the invasion (with the exception of some skirmishes along the outskirts of these cities). Thus, those that were garrisoning the cities were left alone, and this bought them more time to prepare for an eventual assault by unsuspecting Coalition forces after the fall of Baghdad. U.S. forces were told to expect huge welcomes and big smiles from Iraqis - particularly in the Shiite south. However, this was not to be. The U.S. forces sometimes found happy, smiling faces greeting their rapid advance, although they were far less numerous than they had expected. A number of people had greeted the U.S. troops with indifference, which after the war, many said was because they feared that perhaps Saddam could re-emerge to punish them. Nevertheless, this optimistic view of the Coalition forces was not to last long.

U.S. forces advancing north towards Baghdad were not only surprised by the welcome (or lack thereof) that they were receiving - but were also stunned by the resistance they encountered.

… the 3-7 Cav (alry) that acted as the reconnaissance scouts for the entire 3 rd Infantry Division … . reported that it had been assaulted by waves of enemy troops. Their commander described ‘ almost suicide missions ’ in which Iraqis armed with AK-47 assault rifles ran up against tanks, which mowed them down. 20

With the benefit of hindsight, there are several possible theories to describe the actions of these so-called “suicidal Iraqis”. They were either forced to fight by their commanding officers, which was common in the 2003 war, and a number of those who opposed U.S. forces were foreign fighters who either by religious fervor - or else by heavy drug use fought ferociously (the 2004 battle of Fallujah proved to U.S. forces that a substantial amount of foreign fighters were on various pain-killer drugs21 ). In any case, many of those who fought U.S. forces on foot rarely wore military uniforms to differentiate between them from civilians. This, needless to say, goes against the Geneva Convention that is supposed to lay down the ground rules for war.

While U.S. and British forces continued the rapid advance towards Baghdad, Coalition Special Forces in the western desert were the first allied troops searching for the Ba’athist regime’s weapon of mass destruction capabilities. However, to this day, there has not been any conclusive evidence of Iraq’s alleged push to restart their weapon programs. This factor dealt a severe blow not only to the U.S. coalition on the ground, which slowly but surely became disenchanted with the reasons for going to war - but also particularly the U.S. political leadership in Washington as time waned on. The Bush administration came under heavy criticism for leading the war on false pretences, which is one of the reasons that Colin Powell, a respected military general, was coaxed to resign his post as Secretary of State (he was a lone voice in the administration speaking against the war)22.

All the while, Baghdad was under heavy bombardment by aircraft from the joint coalition air force as well as Tomahawk Cruise Missile strikes launched from naval vessels off the Iraqi coast in the Persian Gulf. The Coalition was attempting to eliminate the Iraqi command and control structures, government ministry offices, as well as military communication systems in order to send the Iraqi military into disarray23. This succeeded to a degree - many officers in the Iraqi army would later admit that there was little coordination between commands, and the Iraqis did most of their fighting on the squad (10 or so soldiers) or platoon (30 or so soldiers) level.

By April 6th, merely 18 days after the start of the invasion, U.S. troops had captured Iraq’s international airport on the outskirts of Baghdad. Within a few days, U.S. Army troops would conduct “thunder runs”, or shows of force with large amounts of armored vehicles and mechanized infantry into the southern suburbs of Baghdad. After the second “thunder run”, U.S. troops simply remained in Baghdad. On April 9th, U.S. troops pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdus Square as can be seen in picture below, and this was thought to be a symbolic moment of the fall of the regime. However, contrary to media reports, the fighting in and around Baghdad was far from over. Nor were Iraqis dancing in the streets in a celebratory fashion. 24

The fall of Saddam's statue in Firdus Square in Baghdad: April 9th, 200325

After the capture of Baghdad and the final major assault on Tikrit (which did not offer much resistance, contrary to U.S. intelligence predictions), the U.S. had effectively taken control of Iraq, at least in a conventional military sense. However, it became apparent that the number of troops, despite what civilian planners had said, was simply not enough. Baghdad fell victim to widespread and uncontrollable looting, which the U.S. troops could not stop. When questioned about the looting in Baghdad, Donald Rumsfeld brushed off the question, explaining that sometimes, freedom is somewhat messy, especially after being oppressed for so many years.26 However, although the insurgency was premeditated by the Iraqi leadership, the power vacuum and ensuing chaos that ensued would actually lead to many Iraqis complaining about the lack of security and stability within the country. This is one of the very early sparks that would help to fuel the fire of the Iraqi insurgency.

The mood amongst the political leaders in Washington was that Coalition troops had been victorious in Iraq, and that combat operations were all but over. President Bush’s famous speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln, in which he stated that major combat operations were over, and navy personnel formed the words “Mission Accomplished” as the President read the speech. This speech was done in part in order to ensure the American people as well as the rest of the world that the decision to invade Iraq was correct, and that their faith in the President was well founded. However, as the insurgency grew to be more of a threat, the “mission accomplished” speech seemed to be ill advised and premature.

Washington, which had planned little for post-combat Iraq27, had to deal with issues as they came along, and as the old saying goes: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Washington established the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in order to help Iraq rebuild its infrastructure and to act as the caretaker administration for Iraq until the Iraqis could form their own government to take over the day-to-day responsibilities of running the country. However, Jay Garner, the director of the O.R.H.A. and a former U.S. Army general, fell out of favor with Washington as to how Iraq should be rebuilt and in which order certain priorities would fall. Garner believed that the Iraqis should get in on the political process as quickly as possible, within 90 days of the end of the war, while Washington did not feel the Iraqis could get on their feet that quickly, and preferred a slower transition to power. The O.R.H.A. was then dismantled soon after, and the Coalition Provisional Authority took its place, and soon after Jay Garner was replaced with Lewis Paul Bremer, a career diplomat.

However, one problem that U.S. and Coalition forces had suffered significantly for quite some time, and one that they simply could not solve was the problem between the civilian C.P.A. administration and the Coalition military command in Iraq. There was a great lack of cohesion and sense of purpose between the two28. Neither side had yet obtained firm, educated grip on Iraqi values, customs, and the importance of their tribal ties. These strong tribal ties became especially important after the defeat of Iraq in 1991, and the failure of the state to provide for its people. Thus, loyalty towards family became doubly more important than that towards state - a very crucial consideration that U.S. military officials would grow to appreciate in combating the insurgency, particularly in the Sunni triangle.

Bremer, (affectionately known as Jerry Bremer to his subordinates) began his tenure as the director of the C.P.A., and had in mind to get Iraq on the right track in order to establish the Middle East’s first proper liberal democracy based on Western values such as freedom and equality. These two values were never widespread in the region, where religious, cultural, and ideological tensions often marred any sense of collective Arab or Islamic identity. The U.S. also underestimated the importance of cultural ties in the country, since Iraqis are usually not tempted to hand over family members fleeing occupation authorities for reward money (with the exception of Uday and Qusay Hussein).29

Thus, the stage was set in Iraq for the emergence of the insurgency - all the ingredients were in place. There was a foreign occupying power who knew little of the ethnic and religious tensions that were bubbling just below the surface. The disenchantment of the Sunni Arabs, who were the biggest losers in the invasion30 and subsequent occupation of Iraq.

The fragmentation characterized the Shi’a Arabs as well, who were divided about what sort of state Iraq should look like as well as their relationship with the Shi’a in neighboring Iran. The Kurds in the north, who looked upon the central and southern regions of Iraq as unstable, were contemplating their own dream of establishing an independent Kurdistan. The former regime elements, i.e. the Ba’athist party, had already planned to continue an insurgency, and had hidden weapon caches and money all over the country, while their loyalist forces were poised to strike as the soon as the opportunity presented itself. Foreign fighters who had been invited to the country by Saddam himself joined not in defense of Iraq, but joined the antiAmerican jihad to kill as many westerners as possible.

Unfortunately for the West, the post war operations, namely - those of reconstructing Iraq were poorly prepared. The Coalition would pay the price dearly. The insurgency, while already preordained to take place, managed to grow even more powerful and had more recruits than they thought possible: all thanks to the Coalition and C.P.A.’s inability to govern with the Iraqis and their culture in mind. With the tactics and political decisions undertaken by Coalition forces in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad, the insurgency would gain steam while support for the Coalition waned.

Chapter 2: The eye of the storm

The one month after the fall of Baghdad was tarnished by mass looting, destruction of public places such as government offices and museums, rampant crime, and general chaos on the ground within Iraq, most particularly in the capital city itself. However, in comparison with the years of violence and sectarian strife that lie ahead, this period was perhaps the sole oasis in the desert between the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, and the insurgency which slowly began to form in the summer of 2003.

In any war, the victorious side usually tries to assert its presence on the ground, in order to show that there is a new sheriff in town. This can be seen in the occupations of Germany and Japan after the Second World War. Unfortunately, due to inadequate troop numbers in the country owing to a “troop ceiling”, imposed by the civilian administration31 the Coalition could not occupy every town and city at any one time. Nor was the Coalition prepared for a long-term commitment to occupy the country for an extended period of time. Prior to the war, seventy U.S. national security experts and Middle East scholars had warned that the actual occupation of Iraq “… will be the most daunting and complex task the U.S. and the international community will have undertaken since the end of World War II. ” 32

However, this advice was not heeded by U.S. officials in the highest levels of civilian administration, and a sense of optimism reigned supreme. This was particularly so during after the fall of Baghdad and the few months that followed. This sense of optimism was particularly disconcerting for Iraqis, who did not see things improving under the administration of Western forces.

On May 2nd, 2003, President Bush landed aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln to give a speech to the aircraft carrier’s personnel, as well as the world. He delivered a message that conveyed the U.S. administration’s belief that major combat operations were over33, after the fall of Baghdad and the subsequent occupation of the entire country by U.S. and Coalition forces. However, President Bush unknowingly said one phrase that would ultimately prove to be somewhat prophetic. He outlined Iraq’s tie to the war on terror, but little did he know, that the terrorist activity in Iraq had yet to hit its stride Bush also made a direct connection between the war in Iraq and the continuing war on terrorism “ The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11, 2001, and still goes on, ” 34

The U.S. may have been prepared to enter a phase of reconstruction that would ultimately help Iraq re-enter the global stage as a sovereign state, but for the jihadists, disenfranchised Sunnis, former Ba’athists, as well as other regional powers such as Iran and Syria, Iraq became a laboratory in order to test their tactics, push their agendas, and try their hand at fighting Western troops in their own backyard. In an interview I conducted with Specialist A, a combat engineer with the U.S. Army who was deployed in Iraq whether he thought Al-Qaeda was playing an important part in the insurgency, he responded in a way that both confirmed Al-Qaeda’s presence, as well as implicated Iran as an accomplice to the instability:

Huge, and so is Iran. Yes, folks Iran does play a huge role. They provide lots of rockets, ammo, and IED's devices and instruction tapes to Al Qaeda in Iraq 35.

It was against this backdrop that U.S. and British forces were to provide security on the ground, so that the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs (which was conceived prior to the war in order to provide a sense of direction at the reconstruction effort which would come to be the first priority of U.S. forces in post-war Iraq) would be able to direct congressional funds and U.S. efforts towards the task of rebuilding Iraq. The OHRA was to be headed by retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner, and Washington deemed him to have the experience to head this transitional authority, after his successful tenure as head of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in “Operation Provide Comfort” in Northern Iraq in 199136. Garner believed that the sooner the O.R.H.A. would be able to safely transfer power to a sovereign, and capable Iraqi government, the better off the Iraqis would be. This, however, this would prove to be more arduous than the U.S. occupation authorities could have ever possibly imagined.

The O.R.H.A. was working under particularly difficult circumstances. It had an ambiguous mandate, as well as an ill-defined command structure37. Although Garner reported to Tommy Franks, the U.S. commander of the Middle East Theater, it was Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his subordinates who set the tone for policy and personnel decisions Garner had no sway whatsoever over the U.S. military in Iraq - General McKiernan, the commander of Coalition ground forces in Iraq, (subordinate to only Commander Franks) had imposed martial law after the fall of Baghdad.38 It may seem necessary from a military standpoint in order to establish security as quickly as possible; however, it was also counter- productive in that it undermined the authority of the OHRA, which was supposed to be the sole political decision maker at the time.

The announcement of the end of major military operations by President Bush in early May was met with a dose of skepticism by many ordinary Iraqis. Only a month later, in June of 2003, demonstrations were already taking place in the capital, where former government workers and other citizens protested the collapse of law and order that occurred after the fall of Baghdad. Many government offices were looted clean, and even museums with precious and rare artifacts were robbed. Essential services such as running water, electricity and sewage were ill affected by the conflict, and their services were not restored in many areas for quite some time. As Ahmed Hashim notes, many citizens were worried about their futures:

Compounding the problem of the collapse of law and order and of essential services was the concern that Iraqis expressed over the future direction of their country. This was reflected by the plaintive plea of a former policeman at a demonstration in June 2003: “ What is our fate? Where is our government ” ? 39

Many have criticized the U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq in the post war for not intervening the looting and robbing which infested Baghdad after the city’s fall to U.S. forces. The crime rate in Baghdad increased at an alarming rate. However, without a clear direction from either their political leaders or military commanders, U.S. troops were left without any orders to halt the lawlessness. An after-action review for the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, which had captured and occupied Baghdad, had declared that the lack of solid political direction and a clear agenda did not help the troops to do their job properly:

Because of the refusal to acknowledge occupier status, commanders did not initially take measures available to occupying powers, such as imposing curfews, directing civilians to return to work, and controlling the local governments and populace. The failure to act after we displaced the regime created a power vacuum which others immediately tried to fill.40

The post-combat phase of the war in Iraq was hastily planned, and as mentioned before: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. With the insurgency in Iraq being planned well before the invasion (will be discussed in more detail in the next chapter), Coalition forces were ill prepared to deal with a high intensity insurgency. Although the insurgency was preplanned by Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime41, it was the political decisions taken (or lack thereof) by the Coalition authorities, namely the O.R.H.A. and later on the Coalition Provisional Authority, as well as the early heavy-handed tactics by some U.S. military units, which helped to garner popular support for the early Sunni insurgency.


1 Taber, Robert “The War of the Flea: Guerrilla Warfare in Theory and Practice ” New York, Lyle Stuart, Inc. (1965), pp. 27-28.

2 A term that is used to refer to Muslims fighting in a war.

3 Laura Rozen, (2007) “ U.S. Out of Iraq How? Interview with Lt. Colonel John Nagl ” Mother Jones (online) Available at [Accessed on 16 April 2008]

4 Ricks, Thomas E “ Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. ” Penguin Books, London. (2006) p. 117.

5Attacking Iraq - Military OptionsGlobal Security (online) [Accessed 16 February 2008]

6 Nance, Malcolm W “The Terrorists of Iraq: Inside the Strategy and Tactics of the Iraq Insurgency”, (2007) publishers, p 21.

7 Ibid, pg 21-28

8 Ricks, Thomas E., “ Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. ” Penguin Books, 2006. p. 53

9 Ibid, pg. 54.

10 Jehl, Douglas. 2005. “ C.I.A. Is Reviewing Its Security Policy for Recruitment ” New York Times Online (internet) 8 June 2005. Available at 3qjLVyyEIOU0frO2LDuQYg&oref=slogin [Accessed 19 February 2008)

11 A cooling of relations between the U.S. and its European allies, such as France and Germany as a result of the U.S.-Anglo push towards war, opposition from the U.N., domestic opposition to the war within the U.S. proper.

12 9:34 PM U.S. Eastern Standard Time on March 19, 2003

13 “ Attacking Iraq ” Global Security (online) Available from [Accessed 20 February 2008]

14 Infowars (online) [Accessed 2 March 2008]

15 The term used for armed Kurd fighters, which translates to “those who face death ”. They have been active mainly since the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920’s.

16 “ Operation Iraqi Freedom ” Global Security (online) Available from [Accessed 23 February 2008]

17 8px-Iraq_invasion_map_US_Army_CMH.jpg Wikipedia (online) Accessed 25 February 2008

18 Friedman, SGM Herbert A. 2003. “Psychological Operations in Iraq: Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003 ” (internet) May 2nd. Available at [accessed February 19, 2008]

19 Nance, Malcolm W. “ The Terrorists of Iraq: Inside the Strategy and Tactics of the Iraq Insurgency. ”, 2007, pgs 38-49

20 Poole, Oliver “ Black Knights: On the Bloody Road to Baghdad ”. London, Harper Collins Publishers, p.100.

21 O’Donnell, Patrick K. “ We Were One: Shoulder to shoulder with the Marines who took Fallujah ” Washington D.C., Da Capo Press, p. 89

22 Mike Allen, (2004) “Powell Announces His Resignation ” Washington Post (online) Available at [Accessed on 10 February 2008]

23Operation Iraqi Freedom - March 19/20 Day OneGlobal Security (online) Available at [Accessed 10 February 2008] para. 14 of 39

24 “ Black Knights: On the Bloody Road to Baghdad ” Poole, Oliver. Harper Collins Publishers, pg 236.

25 Kesher Talk (online blog) [Accessed 27 February 2008]

26 Sean Loughlin “Rumsfeld on looting in Iraq: 'Stuff happens' ” CNN (online) Available at [Accessed on 20 February 2008]

27 Allawi, Ali A., “ The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the war, losing the peace. ” New Haven, Yale University Press, pp. 82-95

28 Hashim, Ahmed S. “ Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq. ” Ithaca, Cornell University Press, p. 296

29 Ibid, pp 82-92

30 Allawi, Ali A., “ The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the war, losing the peace. ” Yale University Press, page 135

31 Ricks, Thomas E., 2006. “ Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. ” London, Penguin Press. Pp. 41-43

32 Ibid

33 “ Mission Accomplished ” Whodunit. 2003. CBS online (internet). Available at [accessed 22 February 2008]

34 Penhaul, Malveux, Schiavone, Starr, 2003. “ Bush calls end to 'major combat' ” CNN online (internet), May 2nd. Available at: [Accessed 13 February 2008]

35 Full interview can be found in Appendix C

36Operation Provide Comfort ” Global Security online (internet) available at: [Accessed 22 February 2008] (Para 9 of 16)

37 Hashim, Ahmed S., 2006, “ Insurgency and Counter-insurgency in Iraq ” . Ithaca, Cornell University Press. Pp. 17-23

38 Allawi, Ali A., 2007, “ The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the war, losing the peace. ” New Haven, Yale University Press p 98

39 Hashim, Ahmed S., 2006, “ Insurgency and Counter-insurgency in Iraq ” . Ithaca, Cornell University Press. P 17.

40 Ricks, Thomas E., 2006. “ Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. ” London, Penguin Press. P 151

41 Was also known as ‘Project III’ Edward T. Pound, ‘ Seeds of Chaos ’ , US News and World Report, (2004) Available at: [Accessed 22 February 2008]

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Fighting the Flea. The Iraqi Insurgency
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Matthew Bugeja (Author), 2008, Fighting the Flea. The Iraqi Insurgency, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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