Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Juan Cole on the terrorist strategy of the Iraqi "insurgency"

An exchange with Juan Cole regarding my piece "Some thoughts on the terrorist strategy of the Iraqi 'insurgency'." --Jeff Weintraub


=> Juan Cole wrote (March 11, 2005):

Dear Jeff:

The point of provoking civil disturbances is to make it impossible for the Americans to stay. Once the Americans have to leave, the guerrillas can take care of the Shiites fairly easily.

cheers Juan

Hi Juan,

Yes, I'm aware that this is your view (which is one reason I passed along my thoughts to you), and on the whole it makes good sense. Some people who know about Iraq don't seem to think that the insurgents would necessarily be able to take over the whole southern part of the country. But IF they can get the Americans to pull out any time soon, they clearly hold a lot of advantages.

So I think my take on the situation is compatible with yours. One point I would add (just thinking through the logic of this kind of political terrorism) is that provoking an all-out civil war would also have the beneficial effect (from the insurgents' point of view) of locking in any elements of the Sunni Arab population who might be tempted to make a deal with the Shiites & Kurds.

On the other hand, if they DON'T manage to panic the US into withdrawing--which I certainly hope they won't--then this strategy leads potentially to catastrophe, not just for Iraq in general but, especially, for the Sunni Arabs in particular. And as you have mentioned yourself, one result of this strategy is to increase support among the Shiite leadership for the Americans to stay around longer--which might (or might not) be a self-defeating aspect to the insurgents' approach.

Well, politics, war, and insurrection all involve taking gambles (and this is as true for Sistani, Chalabi, SCIRI, Dawa, the PUK, and the KDP as it is for the insurgents). I guess we'll see whose gamble pays off in this multi-sided conflict. To a greater extent than before, it's up to the Iraqis now.

Jeff Weintraub

=> Juan Cole wrote:

In the old days, the Sunnis could control the Shiites and Kurds with helicopter gunships and tanks. Presumably the guerrillas believe that their greater expertise in piloting such vehicles will allow them to redeploy them once the Americans are gone. I suppose they think they can do as the Vietcong did and capture a lot of armor from the departing Americans. The Shiites don't know how to drive a tank or pilot a helicopter gunship. In fact, the failure of the Americans to reconstitute an Iraqi armored division is among the major reasons for continued Iraqi army failure.

I agree that all this is a fantasy on the part of the ex-Baathists, but I'm just trying to understand what in the world they think they are doing.

Right, and I'm trying to do the same. What you say is plausible. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. --Jeff Weintraub