I have decided to publish my most recent work, An Analysis of the Iraqi Resistance, on my blog. Previously, this piece was used for the research for “An Insiders Look at the Iraqi Resistance” a major piece that appeared on the Islamist website Jihadunspun.com (JUS got the copyright but I did the research). That long-running top-billed piece is now down, but it is still archived on Alexa here . Note that this material is copyrighted and all reproduction for profit is forbidden under copyright laws.
For information about reprinting or purchasing one-time rights to this workemail me. This article is an in-depth analysis of the Iraqi resistance and is continuously being revised. It is presently 58 pages long in total. It lists all known Iraqi resistance groups who have ever fought in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad until about 2005, or for the first two years of the war, and includes a brief description and analysis of each group. There are separate sections covering Size, Tendencies, Motivations, Structure, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Fighters, Regional Characteristics, Regions, Cities or Towns Controlled by the Resistance, Major Attacks and List of Groups by Tendency.
The article was intended to be a political science-type analysis of the Iraqi Resistance, and I tried not to take sides one way or the other. I used a tremendous amount of source material, mostly publicly available news reports from the Internet. Obviously, in an area like this you are dealing with a ton of disinformation along with the real deal, so I spent a lot of time trying to sort out the disinfo from the relative truth.
The problem is that one cannot simply discount sources of information such as Israeli and US intelligence, US military reports, reporting from the resistance itself, Islamist websites, etc. Of course these sources are loaded with disinfo and false analysis, but they also tend to have a lot of truth mixed in as well. In writing a piece like this, you pull together all the sources and get sort of a “Gestalt” view of the situation. When you examine all the sources at once in toto, you can kind of sort out the disinfo from the more factual material. Admittedly it’s a hit or miss game, but that’s about as good as we can do source-wise in the inherently hazy subject area of an underground guerrilla war.
Interviews with resistance cadre by the mainstream Western media were given particular prominence in this piece.
Islamists: One study conducted in Summer 2003 found most fighters (~70%) were Sunni and Shia (probably mostly Sunni) Iraqi Arabs with an Islamist background. Many of these are merely pious, mostly Sunni, often tribal, Arabs, who claim to be “fighting for Islam”, but are not necessarily fundamentalists at all. Much has been made in the US media about the influence of Iraqi “Wahhabis”. The situation is highly confused. Iraqi Shiites, and perhaps other Iraqis, routinely refer to conservative Sunnis as Wahhabis, though most of them are not Wahhabis at all.
The ultra-puritanical, intolerant, Taliban/Al-Qaeda/Wahhabi type of Islam favored by many radical fundamentalist Muslims has never been popular in Iraq, a nation that has long-favored a much more cosmopolitan, secular, tolerant brand of Islam. It is this more moderate Iraqi Islam that many of the Islamists seem to be espousing. The Islamists admit to some links with the Saddam loyalists, especially to buy weapons from the loyalists, but other than that, there is not a lot of cooperation. Many Iraqi Islamists have taken a hard line against attacks on Iraqi civilians, saying that they feel attacks should be on military targets only.
They also sometimes take a softer line on the local Iraqi police, saying they are needed to keep the order. The Islamists have harshly condemned most of the attacks on Iraqi infrastructure that the Saddam loyalists have specialized in. However, the Islamist position on attacking the oil-for-export infrastructure is not known. The Islamists do not feel that attacks that increase the misery of the Iraqi people are helpful or moral.
Although the Summer 2003 study above concluded that ~85% of the resistance were Islamists, as of 2-04, a better guess at the percentage of Islamists in the resistance would be ~70%.
There is also a harder-line group of Salafist Sunni Islamists in Iraq, but their numbers do not seem to be large. This group espouses radical Sunni Islam, often similar to the AQ line.
Criminals: Some Iraqi resistance fighters are criminals, but not many, and the percentage seems to be dropping fast. Throughout much of 2003, the US military claimed that this group made up a large percentage of fighters, but there was never much evidence for their charge. It would seem that a criminal would not make a very good or reliable soldier. The percentage of criminals is less than 5% of fighters. By 2004, criminals were becoming increasingly negligible in the resistance.
Communists/Leftists/Marxists: One of the largest groupings, the NFLI, seems to have this sort of orientation. The Communist Party has very deep roots in Iraq, and around 1960, it was the most popular party in Iraq. For instance, most of the followers of radical Shia preacher Sadr in the Sadr City slum district of Baghdad were formerly Communists.
A number of Leftist groupings have reportedly taken up arms (see below) but almost nothing is known about their role in the war. The percentage of Leftists in the resistance is not large, no more than 5%. Many of the Islamist groups say they are willing to fight alongside Communist fighters. In various Iraqi resistance groups, Leftists and Communists fight alongside Baathists, nationalists, and Islamists with no problems at all.
Mercenaries: Throughout 2003, the US military continuously alleged that most of the Iraqi resistance was made up of mere mercenaries who were in it for the money and cared nothing about the cause. There was never much evidence for this allegation, which always smacked of US military propaganda. By 2004, the US military had abruptly abandoned the notion that most fighters were either criminals or mercenaries or both. The rapidity with which this charge was dropped suggests that there was never much to it anyway.
Objective Iraqi political scientists state that mercenaries do make up some of the Iraqi resistance, but not many. The Islamists, in particular, are typically not paid money to fight. The percentage of mercenaries is less than 5% of fighters. By 2004, mercenaries were becoming increasingly negligible in the resistance. The US military charge that resistance fighters are mere mercenaries is really quite silly and hypocritical in light of the situation with the Coalition and pro-Coalition forces. All Coalition soldiers and all armed Coalition “security contractors” are being paid to fight in Iraq, and in the case of the contractors, the pay is very high.
All Iraqi police and Iraqi ICDC Army are getting paid very good salaries by Iraqi standards to wage war on the resistance. The Coalition is offering fat rewards in return for intelligence about the resistance. In light of the fact that so much of the Coalition and pro-Coalition armed forces are being paid, often quite well, and pro-US spies are also being compensated very well, the charge that Iraqi resistance fighters “are only in it for the money” seems quite hypocritical, to say the least.
Saddam Loyalists/Former Regime Loyalists/Baathists/Baath Party/Pro-Saddam elements: About 30%, or 22-30,000 fighters, as of 1-04. In the month or so after Saddam’s capture, this was quite split between anti-Saddam and pro-Saddam Baathists. However, at the moment, most, if not all, members of this group appear to have abandoned both Saddam and the former regime, are no longer fighting to restore the former regime to power, and many are not even fighting to restore the Baath Party to power. In areas like Samarra, anti-Saddam Baathists are quite prominent and vastly outnumber the pro-Saddam Baathists. These elements are likely to be involved in the top-level (hidden) leadership of some of the groups, and seems to have a significant role in funding.
A number of former Saddam loyalists are present in anti-Saddam groups, but some of those groups have required the loyalists to take a vow to renounce loyalty to Saddam’s regime to do that. A number of the former Saddam Fedayeen were reportedly converted quite quickly to an Islamic orientation by Islamist groups and became members of those groups.
The theory, parroted by the US and its allies – that the resistance is made up almost exclusively of Saddam loyalists – would appear to have little support. However, they may indeed make up much of the guerrilla leadership, funding, etc. Saddam loyalists have taken a very hard line on what are appropriate targets to attack, saying that anyone who cooperates with the Occupation in any way should be attacked.
Many of the more shocking attacks on largely civilian targets, such as on the UN, the ICRC offices, and other humanitarian offices, have been done by Saddam loyalists. They are also behind many of the (non-oil) infrastructure attacks such as attacks on water treatment plants, power lines, water mains, electricity workers, etc. The probable aim here is to make life as miserable as possible for the Iraqis, in hopes they will blame the US and join the rebellion. Saddam is said to have ordered attacks on anything or anyone “making the Occupation comfortable”. Some pro-Saddam fighters are also Islamists, and nationalist sentiments are almost universal amongst this faction. The revenge element is also frequently present.
Christians: A few Iraqi Christians are known to have taken up arms, but most have not. Some have been wounded or killed fighting for the resistance. Almost nothing is known of the Christian role in the resistance. Most of the Iraqi Islamist groups say they are willing to incorporate Christian fighters into their formations.
Turkmen: A few Turkmen are known to have taken up arms, but most have not. Some have been wounded or killed fighting for the resistance. Almost nothing is known of the Turkmen role in the resistance. AAI has some Turkmen members.
Kurds: Only a very few Kurds have taken up arms against the Coalition, and most of those are very hardline Islamists such as AAI. In 12-03, ~25 Kurdish Islamists were arrested in Kirkuk and charged with being insurgents – they were charged with having links to AAI. In 2-04, a hardline Islamist movement was said to be growing in the mountains of Kurdistan, which refused any cooperation with the US. Their views are similar to AAI – for instance, TV’s have been banned. However, it was not known if they were armed. Iraqi resistance spokesmen say that the hardline Islamic stand of these Kurds will need to be moderated if they are to expand their resistance movement much.
Women: guerrilas are overwhelmingly men, though Muhammed’ s Army claims an all-female brigade in Diyala Province (which is further evidence against MA being a hardline Islamist grouping). There have been a few female combatants, but not many. There were some notable cases, such as the following:
a. In 6-03, a young Iraqi Shia woman from a Shia village outside Baqubah tried to throw a grenade at US troops in Baqubah and was killed by the troops.
b. In 7-03, an 11-year-old Iraqi girl attacked US troops with an AK-47 in Ramadi and then ran home – troops were so stunned that they did not even fire back at her. The gun was later found hidden in one of her dresses. See Minors below.
c. In 9-03, a 48-year-old Iraqi woman with a suicide bomb belt strapped to her body was captured trying to enter the Finance Ministry in Baghdad.
d. In 11-03, an Iraqi mother and her 3 sons were arrested in Fallujah and charged with planning attacks.
e. In 12-03, a Syrian woman was arrested with a sophisticated timing device in Basra and accused of plotting to bomb the harbor.
f. In 2-04, an Iraqi female suicide bomber, the first in Iraq, approached the home of an Iraqi collaborationist tribal leader and detonated herself outside the home when guards denied her entry. 3 guards were wounded.
Minors: guerrilas are mostly adult males, ranging in age from 18 to ~50. A few minors have waged guerrilla-style anti-US attacks, but not many (see the case of the 11-yr-old girl in Ramadi above). There would seem to be ample supply of able-bodied males ready and able to fight.
Minors, including young children, are sometimes used as lookouts, notably in the major battle in Samarra on 11-30-03. Boys, especially teenage boys, have in some cases engaged in rock-throwing attacks on US troops, but this does not appear to have been common. Rock throwing was most frequently reported in Fallujah and Baghdad. In 12-03, a number of junior high and high-school age boys in the Adhamiya District of Baghdad were taken to jail for throwing rocks at troops in a demonstration.
Former Iraqi military: As most Iraqi males had at least some military service and training, the group of (mostly Sunni) former Iraqi military makes up a very large number of the guerrilas. Although some are fighting for Saddam, many others are not. Those who are not pro-Saddam say they are fighting for nationalism, Islam, tribal honor or getting revenge for various indignities. Many of them either say they have given up on Saddam or describe him as a loser who sold out the country to the invaders.
The fact that most Iraqi males have had military training, plus the fact that most military-age Iraqi males were drafted into the military, at least during the US invasion of 2003, has provided US military propaganda with a veritable propaganda gold mine – now the US can claim that most of the Iraqi resistance is made up of (drum roll): “former members of the Iraqi military”! Well, of course it does, but the Iraqi military, as an institution, dates back decades to the early part of the 20th Century and has its own ideology, primarily nationalist or Arab nationalist, often independent of whatever regime was in power.
It is this nationalist/Arab nationalist ideology, not loyalty to Saddam’s regime, which best describes the ideology of former Iraqi military, from officers down to cadre. Shia made up the majority of the Iraqi military, so by the logic of US military propaganda, apparently this means most Iraqi Shia supported Saddam! The hard fact is that the obvious observation that most Iraqi guerrilas are former Iraqi military members is both a circular argument and utterly irrelevant in terms of their ideology; and it certainly does not imply that all or even most of said former military members are pro-Saddam or pro-Baath.