Local Iraqi Sunni insurgents are beginning to fight back against al-Qaeda in Iraq, realizing that they bring more problems than they are worth. This is exactly the type of thing that you want to see when fighting an insurgency, but exploiting it will be difficult or impossible - U.S. interference could easily reunite the two groups against their common enemy. Douglas Farah writes that it might be possible for the United States to use Iraqi animosity toward al-Qaeda to broker a cease fire, with the goal of stabilizing Iraq and getting out. If the British weren't so keen on reducing their forces in Iraq, I would say that they had a better chance of acting as peacemaker due to their greater historical experience (and success) with insurgencies. They certainly not damaged their reputations as much in Iraq as our forces have, so it might be easier for them to act as a go-between.
This part of fighting insurgency is something that the United States does not do well. Not ony does it require boosting the American public image around the world, but it means finding a way to counter Islamist terrorist propaganda operations in traditional and new media. As this post at MountainRunner illustrates, this is an area in which the United States is sadly failing. The criticality of the need to develop effective Information Warfare capabilities is further highlighted by Daveed Garstein-Ross' Counterterrorism Blog post about the new and more sophisticated face of Islamist terrorist leadership, which not only has military and theological credentials, but is conscious of the negative impact on its support when atrocities are committed and the need to foster economic and civil development in Islamic states run under Shari'a law.
Information Warfare is also about controlling the communications environment, not allowing the enemy to do so. One good example of how this works is in U.S. politics. The GOP has learned how to control the dialog by defining the terms used in the political landscape, to the Democrats dismay. This gives them a decided advantage at election time - Republicans have defined liberal as "bad", putting Dems at the disadvantage from the start. In the fight against Islamist insurgencies, we face the same problem. As long as Al-Qaeda and company define the terms - making terrorists into jihadis - the United States and its allies are losing the propaganda war.
To counteract this problem, counter-terror expert David Kilcullen is calling for a "New Lexicon" for describing the actions of al-Qaeda and other Islamists. Some examples, courtesy of Small Wars Journal:
irhab (eer-HAB — Arabic for terrorism, thus enabling us to call the al Qaeda-style killers irhabis, irhabists and irhabiyoun rather than the so-called "jihadis" and "jihadists" and "mujahideen" and "shahids" (martyrs) they badly want to be called. (Author's lament: Here we are, almost six years into a life-and-death War on Terrorism, and most of us do not even know this basic Arabic for terrorism.)
Hirabah (hee-RAH-bah) — Unholy War and forbidden "war against society" or what we would today call crimes against humanity. Among the many al Qaeda-style crimes and sins which constitute this most "unholy war" are such willful, and unrepented transgressions as those enumerated in the next section of this proposed glossary of terms.
mufsiduun (moof-see-DOON) — Islam's word for evildoers, sinners and corrupters whose criminality and sinfulness, unless ended and sincerely repented, will incur Allah’s ultimate condemnation on Judgment Day; Islam's optimum antonym for "mujahiddin."
munafiquun (moon-ah-fee-KOON) — hypocrites to Islam who pretend to be faithful to the Qur'an but who willfully violate many of its basic rules, mandates and prohibitions.
Jahannam (jyah-HAH-nahm) – Islam’s antonym for Paradise and meaning the Eternal Hellfire to which Allah on Judgment Day condemns unrepentant, unforgiven evildoers and hypocrites of the unholy war variety.
khawarij (kha-WAH-reej) — outside-the-religion and outside-the-community individuals and activities; derived from the ancient al Qaeda-like militant Khawar or Kharajite sect, eventually suppressed and expelled as apostates and enemies of authentic, Qur'anic Islam.
A recent DoD report seems to say that fighting against the insurgents in a traditional military campaign should not be our preferred strategy - getting out quickly and leaving a more stable environment should be. This falls inline with the guidance in John Nagl's Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife and Sir Robert Thompson's five rules for fighting insurgencies - killing people is sometimes counterproductive, particularly when the wrong people get killed. This was also a major theme of Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie, which devotes a significant portion of the text to the negative impact of free fire zones, indiscriminate shelling, and bombing campaigns. Every dead civilian helps the enemy when fighting an insurgency.
That's why today's Danger Room discussion on the use of Anthropologists and other Social Scientists in battling the insurgency in Iraq is so important. Rather than being more violent or more muscular in the prosecution of the war, a smarter, culturally aware approach might be the key to victory (or even a non-loss). Why? Because we don't uselessly antagonize the people we are trying to protect. We learn what types of assistance we can provide to them. We learn how to convince people that we are on their side, and that our goal is peace and prosperity. It also might help us exploit fissues among insurgent groups like the one mentioned above.