Dealing with the Iraq Insurgency Militarily

"The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive." - Carl von Clausewitz, ON WAR (Howard/Paret trans.), p.88.
The question de jour in the national debate on Iraq is simply: Is there a military "solution" on the Iraqi front of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)?  There is, but in order to make that case, it's necessary first to examine the components of the situation. As a parenthetical thought, I use the ill-named and inaccurate term "GWOT" merely because it is the widely accepted and recognized term. 

The identification of "terrorism" as the enemy is a major part of the reason why we are stumbling in our effort to fight historical and traditional Islam, which long ago declared war on the West, but this identification error is the subject for another essay.

What are the basic factors in war?

With appropriate deference to Clausewitz, war reduced to the most fundamental equation is WAR = MOTIVATION(S) + CAPABILITY.  Historical war motivations have been religious, political, geo-strategic, economic, and revenge. Capability is composed of firepower and re-supplying that firepower (logistics).  Remove one or both of these motivation-capability factors in war, and the war is over in short order.

What are the motivations driving the warring combatants in Iraq?

The motivations driving the battle for Iraq and the larger GWOT on the part of the Muslims are "all of the above," that is, religious, political, geo-strategic, economic, and revenge. Although it is probably fair to say, if we take what they say and do seriously, that economic reasons factor least in the equation.  The bottom line motive of the Muslims (Sunni and Shi'ite) in Iraq and GWOT is religious conquest together with attendant political and geo-strategic domination. 

Additionally, on a worldwide basis, including the battle for Iraq, the warring Muslims seek revenge against Western Civilization for what is perceived by the Muslim world as an assault on their former Caliphate and their way of life. Arguably, the Islamic world has created a Christian and Jewish enemy in order to mask what their own civilization has created: a murderous ideology which demands an intellectual and spiritual submission to the dictates of a ruling class adorned with the authority of Shari'a and fiqh (the Islamic way and jurisprudence, respectively). In other words, except for the one or two rare individual exceptions (i.e., al-Farabi), Islamic "philosophy" as theology reduces the individual and the people to the status of soldier. Thought is reduced to obedience and action.

Since Allah has told Muslims through the Quran that he covets not merely Mecca and Medina, but also Jerusalem and the West for the dar al-Islam, Muslims cannot understand why Islam has been in steady decline after they, the Muslim warriors, were defeated at Vienna on September 11, 1683.  In their attempt to understand why Islamic Civilization is in such pitiful shape everywhere, Muslims have hit on two explanations. 

First, Muslims have not practiced the "pure" form of Islam that Mohammad practiced, so they have been unable to fulfill Allah's mission of subjugating the world to Islam.  This requires a cleansing from within.

Second, the "Great Satan" (Crusader America and its subservient Western nations) and the "Little Satan" (Israel, the Jewish client state of Crusader America) have conspired to keep Muslims from their rightful, world dominion.

Consequently to remedy this unacceptable state of affairs, both Sunni and Shia leaders and people have undertaken to impose "pure" Islamic law on Muslims and non-Muslims alike and to visit the revenge of jihadist "holy war" on all Crusaders and Jews.

While the Sunnis and Shi'ites are killing each other to prove the religious superiority of their particular sect of Islam, both groups' underlying motivation is the same: to ultimately establish the religious superiority of Islam over the West. While Sunnis far out-number Shia adherents, given Iran's dominant oil-rich nation-state position, it is unlikely that either sect will win a knockout victory over the other.

Thus, unless America wins the war in Iraq simply by imposing a military order, a Lebanon-type 1970's civil war will ensue, which included Lebanese factions (Muslim versus Christian and Muslim versus Muslim) and foreign fighters (Palestinians) in the fray.

But returning to the war equation and motivation, this religious motivation to convert (through persuasion, subjugation, or war and death)  dar al-kufr into dar al-Islam is mandated in the Quran and legislated as law by the fiqh and Shari'a as an Allah-given sacred duty.  In the interest of accuracy, it must be noted that there is also a secular motivation in play in Iraq among the deposed Sunni Baathist insurgents, who are seeking a return to political power; however, this force is a minor player in the larger scheme of things. 

To sum up, it's the religious domination at work as the motivation, with attendant political, geo-strategic, and economic domination, that is the driving impetous behind the major enemy combatant forces in Iraq.

Can these religious motivations be removed from the Muslim combatants in Iraq (or in the larger GWOT for that matter) by negotiation or persuasion? 

In order for negotiation or persuasion to work, both parties must see and appreciate individual advantage in compromise and mutual cooperation. Given the jihadist approach to achieving their religious goals, compromise and mutual cooperation don't appear realistic. If not, for negotiation or persuasion to work, one ascendant party must be in a position to "make an offer the other party cannot refuse" because of military, geo-strategic, or economic circumstances.  In order to arrive at the "cannot refuse" situation, the military/economic threat must be credible.  Needless to say at this point in history, the American military/economic threats do not ring credible to any Muslim (or secular Baathist) involved in the Iraq insurgency. They can read the New York Times and follow the elections as well as anyone.

So, the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group Report notwithstanding, solution through political negotiation has a Crusader's chance in Mecca of succeeding.  Canceling motivation out of the war equation just will not happen with today's circumstances on the ground in Iraq (or in the Middle East as a whole).

What are the capabilities of the Islamist warring combatants in Iraq?

The capability of Muslim firepower cannot stand up to American firepower in any conceivable conventional force or conventional force scenario.  And, this is what we have heard ad nauseum from former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and any one of the Joint Chiefs. But, the answer to that refrain is, "So What?"

Muslim warriors have predictably resorted to what is known as "asymmetrical warfare" with suicide bombers, hit-and run rocket-propelled grenades (RPG's), and improvised explosive devices (IED's) being their primary forms of firepower, all within the protective ring of civilian men, women, and children, acting as willing and unwilling defense ramparts.  It is precisely asymmetrical because the rules of engagement (ROE) of the two sides are simply not matched for this type of theatre of war.

As long as there is a supply of Muslim suicide bombers who are provided suicide bomber belts and IEDs, the Muslim firepower capability will remain lethal on the Iraqi battlefield, which is everywhere and anywhere in the country.  By far the group taking the largest number of casualties in the face of these forms of firepower is the Iraqi civilian population, Sunni as well as Shi'ite.  However, American GI's are also dying at an unacceptably high rate that is ground up and exploited in the political gristmill, mobilizing public opposition to the war. The American casualties are unacceptable even to the military precisely because there is no end game; no clearly defined mission that has any realistic opportunity for success as long as the asymmetry exists. And, the asymmetry will continue as long as the American ROE remain more akin to a police action than a military campaign.

The second aspect of capability is the logistical re-supply of Muslim firepower. The logistical support to the Muslim warriors comes primarily from the Muslim countries surrounding Iraq, specifically Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon to name the most prominent in order of importance.  At a minimum, suicide bomber belts, RPG's, IED's, terrorist replacement personnel, and money to carry out the Muslim firepower operations unquestionably originate outside of Iraq.

What course of action is available to cancel the capabilities of the Islamist combatants? 

Since the Islamic motivations are not likely to be affected or cancelled out of the war equation, notwithstanding the Bush Administration's dream that democracy would have done the trick, the questions remains, can we successfully cripple the capability factor, thereby effectively removing it from the equation? 

On the negative side, American forces have been killing Muslim warriors in robust numbers since 2003, but the supply of these combatants appears undiminished.  At present there is much "buzz" about a "surge plan" that would increase the numbers of American forces in Iraq in an effort to suppress their firepower - a firepower which has created civil war-like conditions a la Lebanon in Baghdad (an urban checkerboard of Sunni and Shi'ite neighborhoods) and the Sunni Triangle (Sunni tribal land). 

The question for military planners is, Will 30,000 to 60,000 more American troops be enough to redress the situation?  As I have noted above, it depends on whether the Americans can first cancel the capabilities of the enemy and this can only be accomplished if the U.S. military can correct the asymmetry. This correction depends on the soldiers' specific mission, the ROE that govern their deployment, and how long they will remain in the field. 

It would appear, judging from our historical experience thus far in Iraq, that it is imperative to conduct clear-and-hold operations first in Baghdad (where the battle for Iraq will be won or lost), until the violence is reduced to a "livable" level for the average Iraqi. Only after the completion of the pacification of Baghdad should U.S. forces move on to conduct similar clear-and-hold operations in the key urban centers of the Sunni Triangle (e.g., al-Fallujah, al-Ramadi, Samarra, Tikrit). 

The reason for the two-phase approach is so that U.S. forces can concentrate all their firepower on the "Battle of Baghdad."  After the failure of the last effort to pacify Baghdad in "Operation Together Forward" in the summer of 2006, the Battle of Baghdad takes on the same strategic turning-point significance as the Battle of Stalingrad.  History also tells us that success of these clear-and-hold operations is determined by the continued holding presence of American forces, as insurgents have routinely re-occupied contested areas after U.S. troops have withdrawn, even when Iraqi forces have been left behind.  ROE must permit the overpowering and overwhelming use of American firepower on a hair-trigger basis. 

The ROE must also recognize that there is no clear distinction between civilian leadership and the warrior networks. Without tribal, clan, and family cover and support, there could be no "insurgency". When soldiers move into an area from which hostile activity or fire has been observed and their commanders on the ground order, "Shoot first, ask questions later," this cannot be subject to a court martial after the fact, even when "civilians," including women and children, have been killed in the fire fight. And finally, the American force must remain in place until the perception is widespread in the Iraqi population that the Islamic/insurgent war has been lost.

Assuming success of the operations described above to correct the assymetry, will the capabilities of the Muslim warriors be cancelled?  No. And the reason is the second aspect of capability I have mentioned -- logistical re-supply remains essentially unhindered.  A substantial augmentation of American forces within the borders of Iraq will change the tactical situation by making it much more difficult for the Muslims to bring their suicide bomber/RPG/IED firepower to bear, but the strategic situation remains unaffected. 

At this point, American forces have two options available to stanch the logistical re-supply to the Muslim fighters, upon which the strategic situation teeters.  The first option involves attempting to close Iraq's long and remote borders with Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia by a combination of airborne radar, aerostatic balloon and drone surveillance, ground-level cameras and acoustic sensors, airmobile reaction forces, and USAF Special Operations Specter gun ships.  This option of defending the borders contains the battle for Iraq within Iraqi borders, avoiding the unfavorable public relations that would arise from the second option of attacking the supply bases in Iran and Syria.  The problem with the effort to "seal" the borders is that this area is vast and this would be in and of itself a Herculean task, requiring huge investments in equipment and far, far more manpower than 30,000 to 60,000 additional US soldiers. No one deludes himself to believe the Iraqi forces, military, police or otherwise could handle this task.

On the other hand, carrying the air war into the neighboring Muslim sanctuaries which fuel the insurrection is the optimum military solution, because it has the tangible benefit of actually reducing the physical capability of the Muslim warriors to prolong the battle for Iraq. It would also have the long-term benefit of establishing the military-political point that if you aid our enemy, you are a target. And, we need not expose ground troops to bring enormous damage to your military and civilian sectors. 

Returning to the War Equation, unless either the motivations or the capabilities are removed, there is the potential for the war to continue unabated.

American political leadership failed to destroy the strategic re-supply capability of North Vietnam for 14 years and, in spite of deploying 550,000 troops to South Vietnam, the American will was worn down to the eventual state of collapse.  Why would the outcome in Iraq be any different than it was in South Vietnam, if the same restraint is followed, since the public opinion momentum is already headed in the same direction as it was in 1972?

Colonel Tom Snodgrass, retired U.S. Air Force, is Advisor on Military Intelligence and Strategy to the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE). Colonel Snodgrass spent 30 years in active military duty, spending much of his time in the military as a senior intelligence officer, and has been an instructor at several war colleges. He is a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran and holds a Master of Arts degree in History and Political Science.
"The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive." - Carl von Clausewitz, ON WAR (Howard/Paret trans.), p.88.
The question de jour in the national debate on Iraq is simply: Is there a military "solution" on the Iraqi front of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)?  There is, but in order to make that case, it's necessary first to examine the components of the situation. As a parenthetical thought, I use the ill-named and inaccurate term "GWOT" merely because it is the widely accepted and recognized term. 

The identification of "terrorism" as the enemy is a major part of the reason why we are stumbling in our effort to fight historical and traditional Islam, which long ago declared war on the West, but this identification error is the subject for another essay.

What are the basic factors in war?

With appropriate deference to Clausewitz, war reduced to the most fundamental equation is WAR = MOTIVATION(S) + CAPABILITY.  Historical war motivations have been religious, political, geo-strategic, economic, and revenge. Capability is composed of firepower and re-supplying that firepower (logistics).  Remove one or both of these motivation-capability factors in war, and the war is over in short order.

What are the motivations driving the warring combatants in Iraq?

The motivations driving the battle for Iraq and the larger GWOT on the part of the Muslims are "all of the above," that is, religious, political, geo-strategic, economic, and revenge. Although it is probably fair to say, if we take what they say and do seriously, that economic reasons factor least in the equation.  The bottom line motive of the Muslims (Sunni and Shi'ite) in Iraq and GWOT is religious conquest together with attendant political and geo-strategic domination. 

Additionally, on a worldwide basis, including the battle for Iraq, the warring Muslims seek revenge against Western Civilization for what is perceived by the Muslim world as an assault on their former Caliphate and their way of life. Arguably, the Islamic world has created a Christian and Jewish enemy in order to mask what their own civilization has created: a murderous ideology which demands an intellectual and spiritual submission to the dictates of a ruling class adorned with the authority of Shari'a and fiqh (the Islamic way and jurisprudence, respectively). In other words, except for the one or two rare individual exceptions (i.e., al-Farabi), Islamic "philosophy" as theology reduces the individual and the people to the status of soldier. Thought is reduced to obedience and action.

Since Allah has told Muslims through the Quran that he covets not merely Mecca and Medina, but also Jerusalem and the West for the dar al-Islam, Muslims cannot understand why Islam has been in steady decline after they, the Muslim warriors, were defeated at Vienna on September 11, 1683.  In their attempt to understand why Islamic Civilization is in such pitiful shape everywhere, Muslims have hit on two explanations. 

First, Muslims have not practiced the "pure" form of Islam that Mohammad practiced, so they have been unable to fulfill Allah's mission of subjugating the world to Islam.  This requires a cleansing from within.

Second, the "Great Satan" (Crusader America and its subservient Western nations) and the "Little Satan" (Israel, the Jewish client state of Crusader America) have conspired to keep Muslims from their rightful, world dominion.

Consequently to remedy this unacceptable state of affairs, both Sunni and Shia leaders and people have undertaken to impose "pure" Islamic law on Muslims and non-Muslims alike and to visit the revenge of jihadist "holy war" on all Crusaders and Jews.

While the Sunnis and Shi'ites are killing each other to prove the religious superiority of their particular sect of Islam, both groups' underlying motivation is the same: to ultimately establish the religious superiority of Islam over the West. While Sunnis far out-number Shia adherents, given Iran's dominant oil-rich nation-state position, it is unlikely that either sect will win a knockout victory over the other.

Thus, unless America wins the war in Iraq simply by imposing a military order, a Lebanon-type 1970's civil war will ensue, which included Lebanese factions (Muslim versus Christian and Muslim versus Muslim) and foreign fighters (Palestinians) in the fray.

But returning to the war equation and motivation, this religious motivation to convert (through persuasion, subjugation, or war and death)  dar al-kufr into dar al-Islam is mandated in the Quran and legislated as law by the fiqh and Shari'a as an Allah-given sacred duty.  In the interest of accuracy, it must be noted that there is also a secular motivation in play in Iraq among the deposed Sunni Baathist insurgents, who are seeking a return to political power; however, this force is a minor player in the larger scheme of things. 

To sum up, it's the religious domination at work as the motivation, with attendant political, geo-strategic, and economic domination, that is the driving impetous behind the major enemy combatant forces in Iraq.

Can these religious motivations be removed from the Muslim combatants in Iraq (or in the larger GWOT for that matter) by negotiation or persuasion? 

In order for negotiation or persuasion to work, both parties must see and appreciate individual advantage in compromise and mutual cooperation. Given the jihadist approach to achieving their religious goals, compromise and mutual cooperation don't appear realistic. If not, for negotiation or persuasion to work, one ascendant party must be in a position to "make an offer the other party cannot refuse" because of military, geo-strategic, or economic circumstances.  In order to arrive at the "cannot refuse" situation, the military/economic threat must be credible.  Needless to say at this point in history, the American military/economic threats do not ring credible to any Muslim (or secular Baathist) involved in the Iraq insurgency. They can read the New York Times and follow the elections as well as anyone.

So, the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group Report notwithstanding, solution through political negotiation has a Crusader's chance in Mecca of succeeding.  Canceling motivation out of the war equation just will not happen with today's circumstances on the ground in Iraq (or in the Middle East as a whole).

What are the capabilities of the Islamist warring combatants in Iraq?

The capability of Muslim firepower cannot stand up to American firepower in any conceivable conventional force or conventional force scenario.  And, this is what we have heard ad nauseum from former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and any one of the Joint Chiefs. But, the answer to that refrain is, "So What?"

Muslim warriors have predictably resorted to what is known as "asymmetrical warfare" with suicide bombers, hit-and run rocket-propelled grenades (RPG's), and improvised explosive devices (IED's) being their primary forms of firepower, all within the protective ring of civilian men, women, and children, acting as willing and unwilling defense ramparts.  It is precisely asymmetrical because the rules of engagement (ROE) of the two sides are simply not matched for this type of theatre of war.

As long as there is a supply of Muslim suicide bombers who are provided suicide bomber belts and IEDs, the Muslim firepower capability will remain lethal on the Iraqi battlefield, which is everywhere and anywhere in the country.  By far the group taking the largest number of casualties in the face of these forms of firepower is the Iraqi civilian population, Sunni as well as Shi'ite.  However, American GI's are also dying at an unacceptably high rate that is ground up and exploited in the political gristmill, mobilizing public opposition to the war. The American casualties are unacceptable even to the military precisely because there is no end game; no clearly defined mission that has any realistic opportunity for success as long as the asymmetry exists. And, the asymmetry will continue as long as the American ROE remain more akin to a police action than a military campaign.

The second aspect of capability is the logistical re-supply of Muslim firepower. The logistical support to the Muslim warriors comes primarily from the Muslim countries surrounding Iraq, specifically Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon to name the most prominent in order of importance.  At a minimum, suicide bomber belts, RPG's, IED's, terrorist replacement personnel, and money to carry out the Muslim firepower operations unquestionably originate outside of Iraq.

What course of action is available to cancel the capabilities of the Islamist combatants? 

Since the Islamic motivations are not likely to be affected or cancelled out of the war equation, notwithstanding the Bush Administration's dream that democracy would have done the trick, the questions remains, can we successfully cripple the capability factor, thereby effectively removing it from the equation? 

On the negative side, American forces have been killing Muslim warriors in robust numbers since 2003, but the supply of these combatants appears undiminished.  At present there is much "buzz" about a "surge plan" that would increase the numbers of American forces in Iraq in an effort to suppress their firepower - a firepower which has created civil war-like conditions a la Lebanon in Baghdad (an urban checkerboard of Sunni and Shi'ite neighborhoods) and the Sunni Triangle (Sunni tribal land). 

The question for military planners is, Will 30,000 to 60,000 more American troops be enough to redress the situation?  As I have noted above, it depends on whether the Americans can first cancel the capabilities of the enemy and this can only be accomplished if the U.S. military can correct the asymmetry. This correction depends on the soldiers' specific mission, the ROE that govern their deployment, and how long they will remain in the field. 

It would appear, judging from our historical experience thus far in Iraq, that it is imperative to conduct clear-and-hold operations first in Baghdad (where the battle for Iraq will be won or lost), until the violence is reduced to a "livable" level for the average Iraqi. Only after the completion of the pacification of Baghdad should U.S. forces move on to conduct similar clear-and-hold operations in the key urban centers of the Sunni Triangle (e.g., al-Fallujah, al-Ramadi, Samarra, Tikrit). 

The reason for the two-phase approach is so that U.S. forces can concentrate all their firepower on the "Battle of Baghdad."  After the failure of the last effort to pacify Baghdad in "Operation Together Forward" in the summer of 2006, the Battle of Baghdad takes on the same strategic turning-point significance as the Battle of Stalingrad.  History also tells us that success of these clear-and-hold operations is determined by the continued holding presence of American forces, as insurgents have routinely re-occupied contested areas after U.S. troops have withdrawn, even when Iraqi forces have been left behind.  ROE must permit the overpowering and overwhelming use of American firepower on a hair-trigger basis. 

The ROE must also recognize that there is no clear distinction between civilian leadership and the warrior networks. Without tribal, clan, and family cover and support, there could be no "insurgency". When soldiers move into an area from which hostile activity or fire has been observed and their commanders on the ground order, "Shoot first, ask questions later," this cannot be subject to a court martial after the fact, even when "civilians," including women and children, have been killed in the fire fight. And finally, the American force must remain in place until the perception is widespread in the Iraqi population that the Islamic/insurgent war has been lost.

Assuming success of the operations described above to correct the assymetry, will the capabilities of the Muslim warriors be cancelled?  No. And the reason is the second aspect of capability I have mentioned -- logistical re-supply remains essentially unhindered.  A substantial augmentation of American forces within the borders of Iraq will change the tactical situation by making it much more difficult for the Muslims to bring their suicide bomber/RPG/IED firepower to bear, but the strategic situation remains unaffected. 

At this point, American forces have two options available to stanch the logistical re-supply to the Muslim fighters, upon which the strategic situation teeters.  The first option involves attempting to close Iraq's long and remote borders with Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia by a combination of airborne radar, aerostatic balloon and drone surveillance, ground-level cameras and acoustic sensors, airmobile reaction forces, and USAF Special Operations Specter gun ships.  This option of defending the borders contains the battle for Iraq within Iraqi borders, avoiding the unfavorable public relations that would arise from the second option of attacking the supply bases in Iran and Syria.  The problem with the effort to "seal" the borders is that this area is vast and this would be in and of itself a Herculean task, requiring huge investments in equipment and far, far more manpower than 30,000 to 60,000 additional US soldiers. No one deludes himself to believe the Iraqi forces, military, police or otherwise could handle this task.

On the other hand, carrying the air war into the neighboring Muslim sanctuaries which fuel the insurrection is the optimum military solution, because it has the tangible benefit of actually reducing the physical capability of the Muslim warriors to prolong the battle for Iraq. It would also have the long-term benefit of establishing the military-political point that if you aid our enemy, you are a target. And, we need not expose ground troops to bring enormous damage to your military and civilian sectors. 

Returning to the War Equation, unless either the motivations or the capabilities are removed, there is the potential for the war to continue unabated.

American political leadership failed to destroy the strategic re-supply capability of North Vietnam for 14 years and, in spite of deploying 550,000 troops to South Vietnam, the American will was worn down to the eventual state of collapse.  Why would the outcome in Iraq be any different than it was in South Vietnam, if the same restraint is followed, since the public opinion momentum is already headed in the same direction as it was in 1972?

Colonel Tom Snodgrass, retired U.S. Air Force, is Advisor on Military Intelligence and Strategy to the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE). Colonel Snodgrass spent 30 years in active military duty, spending much of his time in the military as a senior intelligence officer, and has been an instructor at several war colleges. He is a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran and holds a Master of Arts degree in History and Political Science.