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 work, email 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 to 2004 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 rather “Gestalt” view of the situation. When you examine all the sources at once in toto, you can somewhat 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.
Ramadi, Khaldiya and Habbaniyah west to Husaybah on the Syrian border in Al Anbar Province: Much of Iraqi resistance around Ramadi and the part of Anbar Province west of Ramadi (Hadithah, Hit, Husaybah) is coming from Sunni tribes, often nationalist and Islamist; many are either not fighting for Saddam or are openly anti-Saddam. Almost 100% support in the towns of Ramadi, Husaybah, Rawah and Khaldiya. There are some pro-Saddam elements in this region, especially around Ramadi, Khaldiya and Husaybah. Some Ramadi cells cooperate with other cells in Baghdad.
Anti-Saddam nationalists dominate in Ramadi, Khaldiya and Habbaniyah. A number of suspected Islamist guerrilas were arrested in Rawah. Many police in Ramadi support the resistance and most of Husaybah’s police have refused to show up for work since the local police chief was assassinated in 10-03. In 12-03, Ramadi’s police were also refusing to show up for work. Ramadi police sometimes refuse to assist US soldiers who are being attacked by guerrilas. By 1-04, the cities of Husaybah, Ramadi, Khaldiya and Rawah had gone completely over to the resistance. MA is quite prominent in Ramadi – they may have had up to 1,000 fighters in there in 12-03.
Major General Charles Swannack, in charge of Anbar Province, said that 90% of the attacks in Anbar Province are Saddam loyalists or “Wahhabis” (apparently US military propaganda for Iraqi Islamists) and 10% are foreign fighters. His estimates would appear to be incorrect, and Swannack is an unreliable witness anyway. Ramadi is now one of the hubs of the foreign fighter network in Iraq. After foreign fighters are smuggled across Iraq’s border, they are often transported first to Ramadi. Ramadi, Khaldiya, Habbaniyah and Husaybah are extraordinarily hostile towns and some of the hottest war zones in Iraq.
Fallujah Area: Iraqi resistance in Fallujah is tribal and Islamist, often with links to the Muslim Brotherhood. There are both former Baathists and Islamists present in the resistance but all are led by sheikhs. There are a very high percentage of former Iraqi military amongst the guerrilas here. Islamists dominate. 80% support in town. Numerous resistance groups of variable ideology are based in town. The Fallujah resistance cooperates with the resistance in Mosul and Baghdad at the very least. There have definitely been some foreign fighters active here, but the number does not appear to be very large.
Only about 50% the population ever supported Saddam even when he was in power, and Baathists were never popular in town. Consequently, the majority of the resistance in Fallujah is either not fighting for Saddam or openly anti-Saddam. On the other hand, there is indeed a large pro-Saddam contingent here. The local police are almost all sympathetic to the resistance and often refuse to help US troops search for or fight guerrilas. General Swannack, who is in charge of Fallujah, has estimated total guerrila strength, as of 11-03, in Fallujah alone at anywhere from 1,000-20,000, but Swannack is not a very reliable witness.
Swannack’s former figure seemed to include actual combatants while the latter figure seemed to include active collaborators. 20,000 active guerrilas in Fallujah alone is not an unreasonable estimate at all. By 12-03, Fallujah was essentially in the hands of the resistance. The US had withdrawn to fortified bases outside of town and rarely entered the town proper. By that time, Fallujah was considered the most dangerous town in Iraq and most Westerners were steering clear of the area.
After Saddam’s capture, Fallujah was in open rebellion and most local government buildings were destroyed. guerrilas appeared openly on the streets without their masks, carrying their RPG launchers and AK-47’s in plain sight. This sort of brazen openness is rarely seen amongst Iraqi guerrilas and indicates the degree to which the resistance controls the town. It is also a terrible symptom of an entrenched insurgency. The capture of Saddam appeared to split the resistance into pro-Saddam and Islamist factions. Fallujah, along with Ramadi, is one of the hubs of the foreign fighter network in Iraq. After foreign fighters are smuggled across Iraq’s border, they are often transported first to Fallujah.
Baghdad and surrounding area: Resistance in Baghdad proper is a mixed bag of anti-Saddam nationalists, Sunni Arab tribal Islamists such as MA, Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters. The latter two seem to be responsible for most of the more spectacular attacks. Some of the mortar attacks on CPA headquarters in 11-03 were done by a group of former Baathists who are now anti-Saddam. Some cells in Baghdad communicate with those in Ramadi, Fallujah, Diyala Province and Tikrit. The Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Adhamiyah and Amiriyah are particularly hostile. Adhamiyah has 100% support for the resistance. After Saddam’s capture, wild demonstrations were staged in the Amiriyah and Adhamiyah Districts.
Unmasked armed guerrilas brazenly took part in these violent demos. Whenever guerrilas are able to move about in populated areas, especially cities, in broad daylight, this is typically a symptom of an entrenched insurgency. Police in many Baghdad neighborhoods refuse to investigate or even receive any citizen tips regarding resistance fighters.
These police say fighting the guerrilas is not their job – it is the job of US troops, not them. Yet a substantial number of Baghdad residents do support the Occupation and the puppet US Governing Council and oppose the resistance. Anti-resistance, pro-US, pro-Governing Council forces are probably stronger in Baghdad than anywhere else in Iraq outside the Kurdish Zone.
Salah-al-Din (Salahuddin) Province south of Balad: The resistance in this area is almost exactly like the resistance in Diyala Province. Pro-Saddam elements are quite prominent around Dujayl although there has been only moderate resistance in town. This area is very mixed Sunni Arab-Shia Arab. The Shia appear to be sitting out the war, although whether they are siding with the US or not is not known.
Many police in Bani Sad support the resistance. The local ICDC in Mashahidah is at least partly infiltrated. Pro-Saddam elements are quite prominent around Tarmiyah, Dujayl and Mashahidah. Around Mashahida, armed guerrilas have even operated guerrila roadblocks on occasion. The entire area from Taji and Rashidiyah up towards Balad is an extremely hot war zone with continuous attacks.
Diyala Province: Same as Ramadi/Khaldiya above, but with less pro-Saddam influence. The resistance here is made up of Sunni Arab tribes associated with Saddam’s faith campaign, former Iraqi military, ordinary Iraqis angry about the Occupation, some foreign fighters (often more Arab nationalists than Islamists), and some Saddam Fedayeen, Baath Party members, etc. The resistance here is mostly anti-Saddam. MA is very big in this region and they reportedly have an all-female battalion in this province.
There is a certain amount of Shia resistance (but not much) in Baqubah for some odd reason; a Shia preacher was arrested for storing weapons in his mosque. Many police in Baqubah support the resistance. Pro-Saddam elements are prominent in Baqubah. As of 12-03, the Sunni villages east of Baqubah and the town of Jalula were pretty much controlled by guerrilas. Iraqi Islamist guerrilas have been arrested in Jalula and Baqubah. The nationalist resistance is quite strong here. The area around Baqubah is extremely hot with continuous, often deadly, attacks.
Abu Saidah, a town to the northeast, is the scene of continuous attacks, although it is a Shia town. Most attackers in Abu Saidah are Sunnis who come to Abu Saidah from south of town to attack US troops. US troops arrested an incredible 20,000 men in Baqubah city alone in 12-03 on suspicion of being guerrilas, to give an example of how hot this city is. In 2-04, there were reports that the entire city of Baqubah was now resistance-controlled, even the Shia areas.
Balad Area: Resistance in Balad area is exclusively Sunni and exists only in the ring of villages surrounding Balad and not Balad city itself. The city of Balad is made up of Shia who are cooperating with the US. The resistance in the Balad area is highly variable, some are pro-Saddam, some are Islamists, some are nationalists, and some are seeking revenge for various acts by US troops; many fighters display some variable mixture of any of these 4 elements. A highly religious Sufi (Sunni) Islamist element is active in the resistance here. The resistance here is not uniform ideologically, and it is very loosely structured. Often fighters will go out on a mission and meet other local fighters who they do not even know.
Fear of arrest has kept the resistance for coalescing much in this area. Almost 100% support in these villages. The Iraqi police are completely infiltrated in these villages, and almost 100% of them are active in the resistance when they are off-duty. By 1-04, US forces considered the Iraqi Police in this area to be unreliable. Soldiers had stopped using the local police for guard duty and soldiers no longer went on joint patrols with local police. In 2-04, a local police chief was in jail in Balad for involvement in the resistance. This area has been thoroughly hostile since Spring 2003 and is one of the hottest war zones in Iraq.
In 9-03, US troops under the control of US Colonel Sassaman, began borrowing heavily from Israeli tactics in the Occupied Territories to use a variety of repressive, mostly illegal, measures against the local population. A number of the villages surrounding Balad, such as Abu Hishma, have been ringed in barbed wire, ID cards have been issued to all residents, onerous curfews have been imposed, and all entry or exit to the villages is through a US or ICDC Army checkpoint.
182 leaders in Abu Hishma have been forced to illegal documents stating that they agree to go to prison on charges of aiding the insurgency if there is even one attack in their zone. By 1-04, the situation had deteriorated further under Sassaman.
Troops had introduced the legally and morally dubious Vietnam-era practice of H & I Fire, or Harassment and Interdiction Fire, whereby US forces simply drop bombs or fire artillery rounds at random towards certain areas, populated or not, thought to be sympathetic to guerrilas. This fire is typically not in response to a particular guerrila attack – it is just random fire and can be launched at any time.
Sassaman’s troops routinely raided offices of the local human rights committees and other locals who were engaging in peaceful protest by criticizing the US Occupation. Critics of the US military in the region were routinely raided and hauled off on (usually false or dubious) terrorism charges, that is, when troops bothered to charge them with anything at all.
During the course of these detentions, arrestees were usually beaten, often badly, and torture of varying degrees was common. Sassaman’s troops routinely smashed up many of the homes they raided, regardless ofwhether the inhabitants were cooperative during the search or not. They had borrowed the Israeli practice of unnecessarily smashing through walls to go from house to house. The upshot of all of this is that the Balad area had been turned into a US military dictatorship under Colonel Sassaman. By 1-04, some parts of this region had been decimated by US arrests, with up to ¼ of the local men in prison as suspected guerrilas.
Samarra Area: Once again, the resistance here is similar to that in Diyala Province and far southern Salah-al-Din Province. The resistance here is mostly secular, and although many say they are fighting for their religion, that phrase often refers to a more secular version of Islam. The secular grouping includes Baathists, nationalists, and those who want revenge for family members harmed by the US. The Baathists in Samarra tend to be more old-line Arab nationalist Baathists, and many are anti-Saddam. The Islamist faction is active here but definitely in the minority.
Samarra was not treated well by Saddam’s regime, so there are only a few regime supporters amongst the resistance in this area – most of the resistance is either not fighting for Saddam or is actively anti-Saddam. Former Iraqi military, including high-ranking officers, are active in the resistance here. There is 90% support amongst the population. Many Iraqi police here support the resistance, and the police force appears to be at least partly infiltrated. The local ICDC troops cover their faces with bandannas to hide their identities because the town is so pro-resistance. By 11-03, the US had withdrawn from most of its bases in town and only entered Samarra in large armored contingents.
Shia make up a minority in this town, known for its Shia religious shrines. These Shia appear to support the resistance, at least passively, but the full extent of their actual involvement, if any, is not known. Capt. Matthew Cunningham of the 4th Infantry Division estimated in 12-03 that there were 1,500 guerrilas in and around Samarra. By 12-03, Samarra was essentially guerrilla-controlled. Most of the fighters in Samarra were from Muhammad’s Army, which, considering the secular, anti-Saddam and Arab nationalist nature of Samarra, is further evidence against MA being either an Islamist or Saddam loyalist formation.
Tikrit and surrounding area: Resistance in Tikrit is pro-Saddam, although a few Tikritis are anti-Saddam. There is almost 100% support in town. This strongly pro-Saddam element extends from Tikrit up to Baijii, over to Hawija and down to around Balad. The police force has been at least partly infiltrated with guerrila spies and active guerrilas since 8-03. An on-duty Iraqi police officer who was holed up with guerrilas in a Tikrit home participated in an attack on US troops on 2-8-04 and was killed in the attack.
Iraqi police were suspected of direct involvement after a foiled roadside bomb attack in Tikrit on 2-2-04 in which an on-duty Tikrit fireman was also arrested. The resistance in most of the towns surrounding Tikrit is pretty much the same as in Tikrit. Tikrit has had an absolutely hostile feel about it since 5-03 and is still one of the most hostile cities in Iraq. Despite many media reports after Saddam’s capture about how Tikrit was improving, Tikrit has remained an utterly hostile town.
This fact was illuminated by the stark, brutally frank note a US officer left in 2-04 for troops coming to replace him: “What they have to understand is that most of the people here in Tikrit want us dead, they hate us and everything we stand for and will take any opportunity to cause us harm.”
Strangely, a fair number of the local police force do not appear to sympathize much with the resistance and often actively assist US soldiers. The Tikrit area has been a very active war zone for many months now. Some Tikrit cells communicate with other cells in Baghdad. Awja, Saddam’s hometown outside Tikrit, was surrounded with barbed wire for many months, and all residents were required to have ID cards and go through a checkpoint to enter or leave town.
Baiji Area: This area has been known to be a stronghold of support for Saddam, and the resistance originally was former regime supporters and foreign fighters. However, by November, there were more and more former Iraqi military joining the fight, and many were not fighting for Saddam. There is 100% support in town. The police will sometimes not even come when the US calls them for assistance, and the townspeople ran the police out of town in a riot recently. Baiji would appear to be pretty much guerrilla-controlled since 10-03.
In 1-04, guerrilas were actually setting up roadblocks in Baiji at night. This is a disastrous sign for the US, since guerrila roadblocks in an insurgency are typically a symptom of a highly entrenched insurgency that is often quite difficult to dislodge. Other signs of an entrenched insurgency are guerrilla uniforms, guerrilla shadow municipal governments, and the presence of armed guerrilas moving about openly in broad daylight in towns and cities.
Hawija Area: Although this town has a reputation for being a Saddam loyalist stronghold, the resistance here is split between pro-Saddam and anti-Saddam factions. The resistance here is Sunni Arab, often former Iraqi military, Arab nationalist, anti-Kurd, anti-Kuwaiti, and anti-Zionist, with Islamist tendencies. Sunni Arab tribes play a big role in the resistance here. Revenge for acts done to local residents by US forces plays a big role.
The resistance here seems partly motivated by fears of usurpation by resurgent Kurds under US tutelage. Some Saddam loyalists are indeed active in this region. In 10-03, US troops pulled their base out of town due to continuous attacks. By 11-03, Hawija was controlled by guerrilas. Walls were covered with pro-resistance graffiti and the names of guerrila fighters. The mood on the street was fiercely pro-resistance. This town is almost another Fallujah – this area is a very hot war zone. US troops have detained 1,000 men in Hawija as suspected guerrilas.
Mosul: The resistance in Mosul is similar to Fallujah in that Islamists, often with Muslim Brotherhood links, dominate, although it differs in some ways. The Mosul resistance differs from that in Fallujah in that Mosul has a greater proportion of pro-Saddam elements. Also, support for the resistance is much less than 100% of Mosul, though they do have a lot of support there, especially in Sunni Arab West Mosul, where the support level is very high. The Kurds and Assyrian Christians in Mosul appear to mostly be siding with the US. The only exception is the tiny number of Kurds associated with the dregs of Ansar al Islam (AI) who have been arrested here.
There is a significant pro-Saddam element in Mosul and a very significant component of former Iraqi military, especially officers. The Baath Party was also very big here – 60% of people in town were members. Back in 4-03, when Baghdad fell, the local resistance was made up of Baathists and Islamists, both under the control of the local religious leadership. Lately the structure and leadership of the Mosul resistance is more uncertain.
In 9-03, meetings were held between the Islamist resistance of Fallujah and Mosul and Palestinian Hamas leaders in Jordan to learn new tactics – possibly suicide bombings.
The resistance in Mosul may be quite large. Local Iraqis claim there may be up to ~20,000 or more guerrilas in Mosul alone. US officers in Mosul were claiming in 2-04 that AAI provides transportation, targets and explosives expertise to both foreign fighters and Iraqi guerrilas in Mosul. The same officers claimed that Al Qaeda was one of the main groups responsible for running foreign fighters across the borders into Iraq.
Ninewa Province north, south and west of Mosul to the Syrian border: Resistance in this area is more active than one may think, but it is pretty hard to characterize. Right around Mosul, it may look like the Mosul resistance, but we are not sure. Over towards the Syrian border, there are a lot of Bedouin Arab tribes who appear to be active in the resistance, but their role is hard to characterize. There is considerable Kurd-Sunni Arab conflict in certain parts of Ninewa, especially in towns like Sinjar by the Syrian border.
Most of the fighters would appear to be local Sunni Arabs. Some of the guerrilas in this area are just local Sunni Arab farmers upset at the US for various slights. The Kurdish areas in Ninewa have seen little resistance, but a handful of the remainders of AAI have been captured in the area. The resistance in Tal Afar is interesting in that this is a town dominated by Shia Turkmen yet has seen considerable resistance. The makeup of the resistance in Tal Afar is presently unknown.
Kirkuk Area and Tammim Province: Resistance in the Kirkuk area and Tammim Province in general is quite active yet very hard to characterize at the moment, except that it is probably dominated by Sunni Arabs. It may resemble the resistance in the Baiji/Hawija area, but we are not yet sure. Resistance is confined to the Sunni Arab parts of Tammim; the Kurdish area remains very calm.
Hawija is dealt with in a separate entry. The area of Tammim along the highway from Tikrit to Kirkuk, though it has seen few attacks, is utterly hostile. The police force in Kirkuk is partly infiltrated. The Kurds in Kirkuk itself are generally pro-US, with the exception of 25 Kurdish Islamists who were arrested in Kirkuk in 12-03 and charged with being connected with the dregs of AAI.
Upper South: Resistance south of Baghdad down to around Karbala and Hilla (a mixed Kurd/Sunni Arab/Shia Arab region, becoming more Shia towards Karbala) is difficult to characterize, except that it is reportedly made up of the same actors as elsewhere. Locals claim that Sunni Arab Islamists are playing a large role in attacks around Hilla and Hawsa. There have been a considerable number of attacks in this zone for months now. Pro-Saddam elements do not appear to be very active in this area.
Latifiyah is dealt with in a separate entry. Although there is not yet any direct evidence that the Shia in this zone have joined the resistance in any significant numbers, there is suggestive evidence for their involvement. The police force in Karbala is now at least somewhat infiltrated. By 1-04, the area in a radius around Mahumiyah and especially Iskandariyah had once again become very hot, with daily attacks, sometimes deadly. Mahmudiyah is a mixed Kurd/Sunni Arab/Shia Arab town that has been very hostile, off and on, since 8-03.
Iskandariyah is a majority-Shia mixed Sunni-Shia town where Sunni and Shia live side by side with few apparent problems. Support for the resistance in Iskandariyah is very high, maybe 80%, equally split amongst both groups. Both Sunni and Shia take great pride in the resistance attacks; the implication of this pride is that the Iskandariyah resistance is largely local and that the local Shia are also involved. By early 2004, Iskandariyah was controlled by the resistance.
Yusufiyah is an extremely hot zone, with continuous attacks against US targets in this heavily Shia town. The implication here, not yet proven, is that in Yusufiyah, the Shia are heavily involved in the resistance. The US military estimates an incredible 4-5,000 guerrilas are active around Yusufiyah alone.
Latifiyah: The mixed Sunni/Shia Arab farming town of Latifiyah in the Upper South is particularly hostile – seven Spanish intelligence officers were shot dead in an attack by Ansar Al Sunna here in 11-03, and the local police drove by the scene of the attack and would not even stop to help. Afterwards, crowds came out, and some cheered while others danced on the bodies. The resistance here is generally not fighting for Saddam and is driven by the privations locals have suffered under the US occupation. There is also a pocket of Sunni Islamists, which is possibly how Ansar Al Sunna was able to pull off this attack. Still, there do appear to be some pro-Saddam elements in the town. In 1-04, two Iraqis working for CNN were shot dead in an attack on their SUV convoy near Latifiyah.
The South, from the Karbala-Hilla Area south to the border: The resistance in the main Shia South south of the Karbala-Hilla Area, is very poorly known. The only resistance fighter arrested here with a known agenda was a Saddam loyalist former intelligence officer who had been involved in anti-Shia purges in 91.
Clearly, if men like him are leading the resistance in the South, they cannot expect much sympathy from the local Shia. This man’s cell had been involved in attacks in Nasariyah. There are reports that Iranian-backed groups or even Iranian fighters themselves, infiltrated the area in Spring 2003 and have been stockpiling weapons ever since. However, Shia Islamists, Iranian or not, have been involved in only a few attacks in this region.
Mostly, these Shia seem to be stockpiling weapons and biding their time. The major car bombing of the Italian forces at Nasariyah was done by an unknown cell from Fallujah, possibly Saddam loyalists and/or foreign fighters. The situation in Basra is dealt with in a separate entry. A few of the attacks in the Shia Marsh Arab region are matters of simple revenge for affronts to tribal and cultural dignity, especially for intrusive searches involving dogs. Certainly there are near-daily attacks in this area, and the resistance is more active than usually reported. However, the number of attacks here is far, far lower than in most the Sunni Arab-dominated regions above.
Thus far, there is no evidence that the Shia in this region have taken up arms in any significant numbers. In 9-03, about 15% of the Shia in Karbala supported the idea of taking up arms, but most of them seemed to be waiting for the go-ahead from their religious leaders, which may never be forthcoming.
Karbala has seen many attacks, including one massive simultaneous car bombing, but in general the attackers are unknown. Local leaders claim they are the work of Sunni Islamists. The massive simultaneous car bombing on 12-27-03 in Karbala was conducted by three cells, probably all Sunni Iraqis, two cells from Baghdad and one from Ramadi. At least one cell was made up of Sunni Saddam loyalists from Adhamiyah in Baghdad.
Basra: Resistance down around Basra is significant but poorly known. Local Shia leaders allege that it is made up Sunni Baathists, and at least one high-ranking Saddam loyalist former intelligence officer has been arrested. He was involved in purges of Shia after the 1991 Shia Uprising. A few foreign fighters are present – a Syrian woman was suspected in a plot to bomb the harbor in 11/03. Basra was quite hostile as of 12-03 and had the feel of a war zone. There was shooting every day. Almost none of the Shia locals appear to be happy about the Occupation, though many say it is better than Saddam. There is no evidence that Shia have joined the resistance here in any significant numbers.