February 11, 2004


On February 9, 2004, Jeffrey White, Jonathan Schanzer,
Patrick Clawson, and Soner Cagaptay addressed The
Washington Institute's Special Policy Forum. All four were
part of the Institute fact-finding delegation tasked with
conducting an independent survey of local security
conditions and emerging political currents in Iraq. The
delegation traveled throughout Iraq, from the Turkish
border to the Kuwaiti frontier, speaking with Coalition
Provisional Authority officials, coalition military leaders,
Iraqi Governing Council members, and Iraqi clerics, tribal
leaders, and intellectuals. Mr. White, a retired U.S.
government intelligence analyst specializing in military
and security affairs, is an associate of the Institute. Mr.
Schanzer is a Soref fellow at the Institute, specializing in
radical Islamic movements. The following is a rapporteur's
summary of their remarks; a summary of Dr. Clawson and
Mr. Cagaptay's remarks will be presented in a future


The Resistance

Resistance activities in Iraq were at a high pitch in fall
2003. Attacks became better organized and more lethal,
and several successful operations were mounted against
the coalition. By the end of December, however, the hope
was that the security situation was improving in the wake
of several developments: the capture of Saddam Husayn;
a series of U.S.-led offensive operations; an increased
understanding of resistance forces; attrition within the
resistance networks and their leadership; and the
capture of significant amounts of money and arms. Yet,
the resistance appears to have rebounded somewhat
from the losses of November and December. Resistance
elements remain active, carrying out many of the same
types of operations that they did prior to November.
Reported incidents of attacks on coalition forces have
increased recently from eighteen to twenty-four daily.
The resistance has also begun to shift its objectives
and targets in response to coalition operations.
Militants are now attacking an increasingly broad
range of Iraqis associated with the coalition. The
list of "collaborators" now includes government
officials, judges, police, intellectuals, informers,
and translators.

The resistance seems to be focused on maneuvering
itself into the best possible position for the imminent
transition to Iraqi sovereignty. Resistance elements
|want to ensure that this transition is difficult and
costly by making the situation on the ground as
unstable as possible. Their goals include preventing
the emergence of a Sunni leadership class
associated with the coalition and penetrating the
country's nascent political and security institutions.
At the same time, the resistance wants to preserve
its leadership and cadres, which probably accounts
for its reluctance to engage coalition forces directly.

The resistance is more than simply the fighters who
carry out the operations. The resistance operates
from a base that includes command and control
means, logistics, financial support, safe houses, and
assistance in moving personnel and materials. It has
apparently also developed an "outreach" component
that recruits new members, conducts propaganda-
related activities, and attempts to penetrate the
institutions of the emerging government. In addition,
some resistance elements appear to be heavily
involved in counter-collaboration activities, killing,
harassing, and threatening those individuals who
support the coalition.

The resistance may also be benefiting from
popular discontent with certain aspects of the
coalition presence. For example, hundreds of
detainees swept up by coalition forces in past
raids have not yet been released back into the
Sunni community. Curfews are still being imposed
in towns and cities, while damage and loss of life
remain uncompensated in some cases. Divisive
issues such as these have led to popular
demonstrations against the coalition in the
Sunni triangle. Although the resistance is not
yet popular among Iraqi society as a whole, it
does appear to be gaining some measure
of support.

Coalition Forces

The coalition's move from a proconsul-style
arrangement to an ambassadorial relationship
will likely have a significant impact on both the
coalition and Iraqi society. At least one issue
remains unclear: how the relationship between
the U.S. embassy and the new Iraqi government
will work out with respect to freedom of action for
U.S. forces. The U.S. military posture in Iraq will
undergo major changes, with a new corps
headquarters being established in the country
along with a four-star general position. This
structure may allow for larger planning and
intelligence staffs, which could in turn lead to
improved overall management of coalition
military operations. Some observers feel that
the various U.S. divisions in Iraq have thus far
waged more or less independent campaigns;
this would likely change with the arrival of a
new corps headquarters.

Coalition forces are in the midst of a massive
troop rotation, during which a number of new
divisions will be entering Iraq. This rotation will
inevitably cause some loss in tactical experience
and overall understanding of the situation, at
least until the new divisions gain familiarity with
current operational conditions. Coalition forces
have proven highly adaptive as the character of
the resistance has changed, and this dynamic
will certainly continue with the introduction of
new forces.

Although the multiple Iraqi security services
currently being developed are making progress,
they still have a long way to go before they can
fulfill the mission requirements that are being
thrust upon them. The new Iraqi army is making
strides, but coalition and Iraqi authorities have
yet to determine what role, if any, the army will
have in providing internal security. The Iraqi
Civilian Defense Corps appears to be evolving
as a regional and perhaps rural force that can
be quickly deployed to trouble spots. The Iraqi
Police Service appears to be an urban and local
force that will represent the first line of defense
against crime and insurgency. Each component of
the new security forces is in need of basic
resources, from uniforms to ethics training.
Establishing these forces and bringing them to a
mission-capable standard will be a time-
consuming process.

The Emergence of Politics

Politics has reemerged with a vengeance in Iraq.
One official claimed that there are currently 130
political parties and factions operating in the
southern part of the country. Although this figure
may be exaggerated, many Iraqi factions have
armed militias or military wings that are in fact
being employed for political advantage. The
objective of such factions is to establish
themselves as the dominant political force at
the local or even regional level. Managing this
political activity will be a major challenge for the
coalition, especially when it turns violent.

Despite the negative elements inherent in the
security situation, the new Iraq is showing
several positive signs. Iraqis have high
expectations that major improvements will
commence once money begins to flow into the
country and reconstruction projects begin.
Coalition forces have a much better
understanding of the resistance and how to
fight it, while the Iraqi security forces are
making progress and appear to be on the
right track. The coalition is also beginning to
see the stirrings of civil society in Iraq;
individuals are gaining basic training in
democracy, and grassroots democracy is
emerging in some areas.

At the same time, it must be acknowledged
that the security situation in Iraq has dangerous
components that should not be downplayed.
There is no assurance that all will turn out in
accordance with the coalition's long-term


Ansar al-Islam

Prior to 2003, Ansar al-Islam was a small
organization confined largely to the northern part
of Iraq, in the Halabja area. The group was highly
centralized with a clear command structure. Yet,
after February 5, 2003, when Secretary of State
Colin Powell announced that the group was a major
U.S. concern, its leadership developed a dispersal
plan. As a result of that plan, approximately 400
Ansar al-Islam fighters reportedly escaped to Iran.
In the wake of Operation Iraqi Freedom, many
fighters returned to Iraq, resuming their operations
in the area of Fallujah, Tikrit, and Ramadi. Similar to
the current global structure of the al-Qaeda network,
Ansar al-Islam has become quite decentralized, with
members operating via small cells and informal
groupings. According to one intelligence source,
the average cell consists of about six operatives
with one commander. These cells employ
freelancers, outsiders, Ba'athists, and militants
who do not fit the al-Qaeda mold to carry out

Recent interviews with Ansar al-Islam prisoners
in Sulaymaniyah, as well as with other Iraqi and
U.S. sources, indicate that the prewar
cooperation between Ba'athists and Ansar may
have been the result of one man's work: Col. Saadan
Abd al-Latif Mahmoud al-Ani, also known as Abu Wael.
Although he was not on the U.S. list of fifty-five most-
wanted Iraqis, all of those interviewed stated that he
was responsible for organizing some of al-Qaeda's
activities inside Iraq. Apparently, he brought al-Qaeda
to Iraq under a strategy not of winning war, but of
foiling U.S. plans for the country. In the late 1990s,
he invited several al-Qaeda groups to train at Salman
Pak, a camp located twenty miles southeast of Baghdad,
and helped to finance them as well.

In general, the majority of jihadis entering Iraq come
across the Iranian border. Although Kurdish intelligence
reports that three to ten such individuals are captured
per week, they are unsure how many others are getting
through. It is unclear whether the Iranian government is
deliberately helping these individuals cross the border or
simply turning a blind eye. Many foreign jihadis are using
old smuggling routes that were employed during
Saddam's time. After crossing the border they go to a
safe house, receive weapons and orders, and then
attack their targets.


Although the coalition is doing a good job under
difficult circumstances, some officials are overly
optimistic about the prospects that Islamist extremism
will not be popular in Iraq. Islamism is often a utopian
crutch for people during uncertain times. It is usually
popular among the young and unemployed, and Iraq has
a young population with a high rate of under- or
unemployment. Moreover, the Iraqi Ministry of Awqaf
(religious endowment) is currently being restructured,
leaving Iraqi mosques unmonitored in the meantime. For
their part, Islamists are well positioned to provide social
services that the coalitionand the Iraqi government are
still struggling to establish. Indeed, providing such
services has been an effective recruiting aid in other
countries, where Islamists take advantage of the
vacuum left by other authorities in order to gain the
support of the masses.

The potential for Islamist growth in Iraq is also
evident in attitudes expressed by Iraqis in the Kurdistan
region. For example, even though that region is less
susceptible to Islamism than the rest of the country, an
official in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) stated
that Islamist factions would garner 10 to 15 percent of
the vote in the PUK area if elections were held today.

Some have speculated that Iraq will come to
resemble 1980s-era Afghanistan. To be sure,
foreign jihadis have flocked to Iraq from Tunisia,
Jordan, Turkey, Morocco, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, the
Palestinian territories, and elsewhere. Nevertheless,
Iraq is not the next Afghanistan, despite an upsurge
in terrorism, porous borders, general confusion, and
weak central authority. In the north, the Kurds have
been fairly successful at counterterrorism (despite the
recent bombings in Irbil). In the south, the Shi'is keep
the coalition informed about people who are new to
the area and other suspicious individuals. In the
central part of Iraq, however, the situation is likely to
remain confusing. Fortunately, the foreign jihadi
problem seems to be confined to that part of the

This Special Policy Forum Report was prepared
by Jeff Cary, a Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf young scholar
and research assistant at The Washington Institute,
and by Ryan Phillips, also a research assistant at the

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