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 until about 2005 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.
Foreign Fighters: In Summer 2003, there were some reports that Syrians were said to often outnumber locals in those carrying out attacks in various locales, including Fallujah, Ramadi, Baghdad, Baqubah, Balad, Tikrit and Mosul. However, these reports are contradicted by reports in 11-03 indicating most fighters in most parts of Iraq have been Iraqis. Most of the foreign fighters in the post-major combat phase (after 5-1-03) have been Syrians and Lebanese, and many of the rest are Jordanians, Yemenis, Palestinians, Kuwaitis, Saudis and North Africans – often Egyptians and Algerians.
In 12-03, Syrians were still fairly common amongst fighters in Husaybah, near the Syrian border. After the major battle in Fallujah from April-May 04, a group of 50-100 largely Syrian Sunni extreme fundamentalist fighters seemed to have control over part of Fallujah’s Jolan District.
Many of these could better be described as Arab nationalists than Islamists, and a number of them were not even particularly religious. Dozens of Arab fighters have come from France and hundreds from Europe. In addition to the nations above, others came from Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Bangladesh, Qatar, Sudan, Somalia, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Saudi dissident leaders stated that 5,000 Saudi jihadis were present in Baghdad alone in 11-03. US intelligence believed there were up to 15,000 Saudis alone in Iraq in 9-03. Saudis reportedly played a role in the suicide bombings of the ICRC and Baghdad Hotel.
A Palestinian, born in Iraq, a resident of the Al Jihad neighborhood of Baghdad, carried out the suicide car bomb attack on the upscale restaurant in the Karrada District of Baghdad on New Year’s Eve, 2003. In 11-03, the Jordanian and US governments said that they had identified at least 120 Jordanians in the Sunni Triangle fighting US forces. There were reports from Israeli intelligence that 100’s of Kuwaiti (anti-Kuwaiti regime) Islamists were heading into Iraq in 11-03. These reports were verified by Iraqi sources with AQ connections and former Iraqi military officers in Basra, who said AQ was using the Safwan Crossing because it was the easiest one to get across.
Other areas on the Kuwait-Iraq border were also being used. Before the war, the Kuwait-Iraq border was protected by an extensive fence built by the Kuwaitis. During the 2003 US invasion, US forces smashed through the wall in 9 places. In these 9 locations, crossing the border into Iraq is a simple, low-risk stroll.
These sources also said that AQ was also using the wide-open Saudi-Iraqi border. The porous Saudi-Iraq border has no fences at all and there are many Bedouin guides in that area who will ferry anyone across the border, no questions asked, for only $200. After crossing into Iraq from Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, AQ jihadis usually headed to Zubayr or Abu Al-Khasib, towns south of Basra with a substantial Sunni population.
Zubayr in particular was a popular destination due to a high concentration of Sunni Islamists. According to US and Israeli intelligence, Iran filtered in about 11,000-12,000 Iranian fighters to the Shia South, mostly Revolutionary Guards, during the Karbala pilgrimage in Spring 2003. However, this group has so far, for the most part, merely been working to gain influence in the region peacefully, at least for now. They have been involved in only a very few armed actions. They may be stockpiling arms in the South, along with other Iraqi Shia armed groupings, in case they need them later. A number of Iranian fighters have been captured in the guerrilla war phase. Their ideology and political affiliation are unknown.
However, one of the suicide attackers in the 12-11 bombing of the US base in Ramadi caused 15 US casualties was a Lebanese Palestinian member of Hezbollah splinter faction. In 2-04, Iraqi puppet authorities said that about 500 Hezbollah had come into Iraq in 2003, almost all going to the South, but for the most part they were just engaging in political work and not armed activity. However, the source also said that “scores” of Hezbollah had come to Iraq since mid-December. These Hezbollah were heading to northern Iraq to work with AAI. Hezbollah operatives were said to be providing training and guidance to AAI members; few had participated in attacks.
Sources in Pakistan claim that the Taliban, al-Qaeda (International Islamic Front), Hezb-e-Islami, and HUM (Pakistani Kashmiri fighters) all sent fighters to Iraq, with most of them coming after major combat ended. Two Taliban guerrilas were apprehended in 9-03 coming over the Iranian border into Iraq northeast of Khanaquin through the Kurdish mountains. Another Afghan was caught trying to plant a roadside bomb near the Dura Power Plant in Baghdad in 2-04.
By 1-04, indigenous Iraqi groups were employing smugglers to ferry foreign fighters across the Jordanian, Syrian and Saudi Arabian borders into Iraq. Once inside Iraq, foreign fighters are often transported to Ramadi or Fallujah, 2 of the hubs of the foreign fighter network in Iraq. A 3-29-04 interview with a Blackwater USA (the mercenary firm that lost 4 employees in the famous mutilation-burning attack in Fallujah 2 days later) mercenary based near Fallujah said that many of the attacks around Fallujah had turned out to be Jordanians, Syrians, Iranians, and Chechens.
Foreign Fighters During And Before Major Combat (March 19-May 1): Many foreign fighters came before and during major combat. An attempt was made to put them under central command towards the end of major combat. By the fall of Baghdad, the central command of the Arab mujahedin stated there were 8,000 foreign fighters in Baghdad alone. They took heavy casualties in the fighting, and many just went home after Baghdad fell. But in the postwar phase, they seem to be coming in again.
A large number of Palestinians came during major combat, about 1,500-2,000 (according to sources in the camp below) or 4,000+ (according to Newsweek), mostly from a splinter Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades faction aligned with Syria and located in the Ein Al Hilweh Refugee Camp in southern Lebanon. The leader of this faction is reportedly named Colonel Munir Maqdah. About 30-40 more Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades fighters came from just one town in the West Bank. Hamas and Islamic Jihad each sent factions of ~300 fighters. Islamic Jihad’s fighters came through Lebanon.
Fighters from Romania (Communists) and Vietnam (Communists), Indonesia (Islamists), Russia (mixed ideology – Communists, nationalists, Islamists), Dagestan (8,000 Islamists) and Malaysia (Islamists) reportedly announced plans to go fight in Iraq during the major combat phase, but none of them seem to have made it. Hezbollah sent about ~800 fighters, and they continued to trickle in long after major combat ended.
One source claimed that Lashkar-E-Toiba (LET), a Pakistani/Kashmiri group active in Kashmir, participated in the major combat phase. LET cadre in Saudi Arabia (LET purportedly maintains a Saudi presence) claim the group sent a number of fighters, possibly 100-200, during the major combat phase, and suffered casualties.
Al Qaeda (AQ) Foreign Fighters: AQ has had an open presence in Iraq only recently. In the couple months before the war, when conflict seemed inevitable, small groupings of AQ were allowed by the Iraqi state to form cells in Baghdad, but told to stay clear of Saddam’s regime. They were allowed in on the basis that war seemed inevitable and anyone who wanted to fight the Americans was basically welcome. This group numbered only 30-40. They fought during the war and remained afterwards, when they were apparently reinforced by others. Many of the AQ who came to Iraq during and after major combat may have come in via Iran, either across the border east of Baghdad, or to the north through the Kurdish areas.
A few others supposedly came across the Turkish border into the Kurdish zone. Some may have crossed the Saudi and more recently the Kuwaiti borders. Few, if any, appear to have crossed the Syrian or Jordanian borders. The number of AQ currently in Iraq is very controversial, with estimates ranging from 300-15,000+. AQ sources in Iraq said there were 4,500 foreign jihadis in Iraq in 11-03, most of them from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen and the other Gulf countries. It seems certain that there were at least 100’s of AQ fighters in Iraq as of 12-03. In a 12-03 interview, MA cadre said there were at least 150 AQ in Iraq, with almost of them coming after the fall of Baghdad.
They moved around the country regularly. “One or two” of them might participate in an operation with a local resistance group before moving on to another part of Iraq. MA cadre acknowledged that “1 or 2” AQ cadre had participated in “a few” MA attacks before moving on. In 12-03, sources in Pakistan said that AQ was pulling out 1/3 of its 1,000-man force out of Afghanistan and directing them to Iraq. That would mean ~350 more AQ heading to Iraq. The whole question of AQ’s role in the Iraq War or the guerrila war that followed is poorly understood, probably due to the shadowy nature of the group.