The Object Beyond War:

Counterinsurgency and the Four Tools of Political Competition

Montgomery McFate, Ph.D., J.D.
Andrea V. Jackson

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The state is a relation of men dominating men, a relation supported by means of legitimate (that is, considered to be legitimate) violence. If the state is to exist, the dominated must obey the authority claimed by the powers that be. When and why do men obey? Upon what inner justifications and upon what external means does this domination rest?

—Max Weber1

In 1918, Max Weber, the father of modern sociology, asked these questions; the answers reveal a key to conducting effective counterinsurgency operations (COIN). In the most basic sense, an insurgency is a competition for power. According to British Brigadier General Frank Kitson, “[T]here can be no such thing as [a] purely military solution because insurgency is not primarily a military activity.”2 U.S. Field Manual (Interim) 3-07.22, Counterinsurgency Operations, defines insurgency as “organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict. It is a protracted politico-military struggle designed to weaken government control and legitimacy while increasing insurgent control. Political power is the central issue in an insurgency” (emphasis added).3

In any struggle for political power there are a limited number of tools that can be used to induce men to obey. These tools are coercive force, economic incentive and disincentive, legitimating ideology, and traditional authority.4 These tools are equally available to insurgent and counterinsurgent forces. From the perspective of the population, neither side has an explicit or immediate advantage in the battle for hearts and minds. The civilian population will support the side that makes it in its interest to obey. The regard for one’s own benefit or advantage is the basis for behavior in all societies, regardless of religion, class, or culture. Iraqis, for example, will decide to support the insurgency or government forces based on a calculation of which side on balance best meets their needs for physical security, economic well-being, and social identity.

The central goal in counterinsurgency operations, then, is to surpass the adversary in the effective use of the four tools. According to British Brigadier General Richard Simpkin, “Established armed forces need to do more than just master high-intensity maneuver warfare between large forces with baroque equipment. They have to go one step further and structure, equip, and train themselves to employ the techniques of revolutionary warfare to beat the opposition at their own game on their own ground.”5 Beating the opposition requires that counterinsurgency forces make it in the interest of the civilian population to support the government. How? To win support counterinsurgents must be able to selectively provide security—or take it away. Counterinsurgency forces must become the arbiter of economic well-being by providing goods, services, and income—or by taking them away. Counterinsurgency forces must develop and disseminate narratives, symbols, and messages that resonate with the population’s preexisting cultural system or counter those of the opposition. And, finally, counterinsurgents must co-opt existing traditional leaders whose authority can augment the legitimacy of the government or prevent the opposition from co-opting them.

To use the tools of political competition effectively, the culture and society of the insurgent group must be fully understood. Julian Paget, one of Britain’s foremost experts on the subject, wrote in 1967 that “every effort must be made to know the Enemy before the insurgency begins.”6 For each key social group, counterinsurgency forces must be able to identify the amount of security the group has and where it gets that security, the level of income and services that group has and where it gets that income, ideologies and narratives that resonate with the group and the means by which they communicate, and the legitimate traditional leaders and their interests.

In most counterinsurgency operations since 1945, insurgents have held a distinct advantage in their level of local knowledge. They speak the language, move easily within the society in question, and are more likely to understand the population’s interests. Thus, effective counterinsurgency requires a leap of imagination and a peculiar skill set not encountered in conventional warfare. Jean Larteguy, writing about French operations in Indochina and Algeria, noted: “To make war, you always must put yourself in the other man’s place . . . , eat what they eat, sleep with their women, and read their books.”7 Essentially, effective counterinsurgency requires that state forces mirror their adversary.8

Past counterinsurgency campaigns offer a number of lessons about how to conduct (and how not to conduct) counterinsurgency using the four tools of political competition. These lessons have potential relevance for current operations in Iraq.

Coercive Force

In his 1918 speech “Politics as a Vocation (Politik als Beruf),” Max Weber argued that the state must be characterized by the means which it, and only it, has at its disposal: “A state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”9 While the most direct source of any state’s political power is coercion, or the right to use or threaten the use of physical force, it is not necessarily the most effective mode of governing. Governments (such as totalitarian regimes) that base their power purely on coercion play a dangerous game, because citizens who are the object of this unmediated power often view it as illegitimate and are frequently willing to engage in acts of resistance against the state.

Legitimate governance, on the other hand, implies a reciprocal relationship between central authority and citizenry. To be considered legitimate by the populace, the government must monopolize coercive force within its territorial boundaries to provide its citizens with the most basic human need—security.10 Where the state fails to provide security to its citizens or becomes a threat to them, it fails to fulfill the implicit contract of governance. In certain circumstances, citizens may then seek alternative security guarantees in the form of an ethnic or political allegiance with a group engaged in an armed struggle against a central authority. 11 In some cases, this struggle might develop into an outright insurgency.

The government’s legitimacy becomes a center-of-gravity target during an insurgency, meaning insurgents will attempt to demonstrate that the state cannot guarantee security within its territory. The “central goal of an insurgency is not to defeat the armed forces, but to subvert or destroy the government’s legitimacy, its ability and moral right to govern.”12 Insurgents have a natural advantage in this game because their actions are not constrained by codified law. States, however, must not only avoid wrongdoing but any appearance of wrongdoing that might undermine their legitimacy in the community. Thomas Mockaitis points out: “In counterinsurgency an atrocity is not necessarily what one actually does but what one is successfully blamed for.”13 During an insurgency, there are three ways to conserve state legitimacy: using proportionate force, using precisely applied force, and providing security for the civilian population.

Proportionate force. In responding to an insurgency, states naturally tend to reach for the most convenient weapon at their disposal—coercive force. Most states focus their military doctrine, training, and planning squarely on major combat operations as a core competency, often leaving them unprepared for counterinsurgency operations. Since 1923, for example, the core tenet of U.S. warfighting strategy has been that overwhelming force deployed against an equally powerful state will result in military victory.14 Yet, in a counterinsurgency, “winning” through overwhelming force is often inapplicable as a concept, if not problematic as a goal. Often, the application of overwhelming force has a negative, unintended effect of strengthening the insurgency by creating martyrs, increasing recruiting, and demonstrating the brutality of state forces. For example, in May 1945 the Muslim population of Sétif, Algeria, rioted and killed 103 Europeans. At the behest of the French colonial government of Algeria, General Raymond-Francis Duval indiscriminately killed thousands of innocent Algerians in and around Sétif in reprisal. The nascent Algerian liberation movement seized on the barbarity of the French response and awakened a mostly politically dormant population. “Sétif!” became a rallying cry of the Algerian insurgency, an insurgency that led to 83,441 French casualties and the eventual French withdrawal from independent Algeria.15 As this example indicates, political considerations must circumscribe military action as a fundamental matter of strategy.16

Because state military institutions train, organize, and equip to fight wars against other states, they have a natural tendency to misread the nature of the adversary during counterinsurgencies. Charles Townsend noted: “If the nature of the challenging ‘force’ is misunderstood, then the counter-application of force is likely to be wrong.”17 This misunderstanding can result in a use of force appropriate against another state’s army but counterproductive when used against an insurgent group. For example, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) historically viewed itself as an “army” and construed its activities as a “war” against British occupation. Thus, any British actions that implied that the conflict was a war provided effective propaganda for the IRA. According to the Record of the Rebellion in Ireland in 1920-21, “recognition [by military authorities] of the IRA as belligerents may ipso facto be said to involve the Imperial Government in the recognition of an Irish Republic.” 18 Identifying the conflict as a war would have legitimized Sinn Fein and threatened the political legitimacy of the British Government and of the Union, itself. As Lloyd George said in April 1920: “You do not declare war against rebels.”19

Security is paramount: Infantrymen from the 172d Stryker Brigade Combat Team patrolling the streets of Mosul, January 2006.

The use of excessive force may not only legitimize the insurgent group, but also cause the state to lose legitimacy in the eyes of the civilian population. For example, in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, on 30 January 1972 the British Army Parachute Regiment arrested demonstrators participating in an illegal, anti-internment march. Believing that they were being attacked, soldiers opened fire on a crowd of civil-rights demonstrators. According to a sergeant who witnessed the debacle, “acid bottle bombs were being thrown from the top of the flats, and two of our blokes were badly burnt. . . . It was very busy, very chaotic. . . . People were running in all directions, and screaming everywhere.”20 The soldiers responded to the rioters as if they were an opposing army. According to one British Army observer, “The Paras are trained to react fast and go in hard. That day they were expecting to have to fight their way in. . . . In those street conditions it is very difficult to tell where a round has come from. [T]hat section, quite frankly lost control. For goodness’ sake, you could hear their CO [commanding officer] bellowing at them to cease firing, and only to fire aimed shots at [an] actual target.”21 As a result of the overkill in Londonderry on what is now known as Bloody Sunday, the IRA came to be seen as the legitimate protectors of their own communities. The British Army, on the other hand, became a target of the people it had intended to protect. For the government to retain legitimacy, the population must believe that state forces are improving rather than undermining their security.

Precisely applied force. A direct relationship exists between the appropriate use of force and successful counterinsurgency. A corollary of this rule is that force must be applied precisely. According to British Army Colonel Michael Dewar, counterinsurgency “operates by precise tactics. Two weeks waiting in ambush and one kill to show for it is far better than to bomb a village flat.”22 Force must be applied precisely so that it functions as a disincentive to insurgent activity. If the state threatens individuals through the imprecise application of force, the insurgency may begin to look more appealing as a security provider.

Certain senior U.S. military commanders in Vietnam understood the need for precise application of firepower, although they never implemented its use. When General Harold K. Johnson became U.S. Army Chief of Staff in 1964, he proposed an approach to the war in Vietnam radically at variance with General William Westmoreland’s attrition-based body-count approach. During his early trips to Vietnam, Johnson was disturbed by the enormous amount of firepower being “splashed around,” of which only 6 percent was actually observed.23 In 1965 Johnson commissioned a study titled “A Program for the Pacification and Long-Term Development of Vietnam (PROVN).”24 The study was drafted by 10 officers from diverse backgrounds, including Colonel Don Marshall, a cultural anthropologist by training, who later directed General Creighton Abrams’ Long-Range Program Plan.25 The PROVN study carefully examined the unintended consequences of indiscriminate firepower and concluded that “aerial attacks and artillery fire, applied indiscriminately, also have exacted a toll on village allegiance.”26 Operations intended to protect villagers were having the opposite result of harming and alienating them. Johnson noted a new rule to be applied to this type of warfare: “Destruction is applied only to the extent necessary to achieve control and, thus, by its nature, must be discriminating.”27

The PROVN study has implications for operations in Iraq. The main focus of Multinational Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) has been the destruction of insurgent and terrorist networks. Lacking quality information on the identity of insurgents, MNF-I has engaged in raids on neighborhoods where they suspect weapons caches might be. These untargeted raids have a negative, unintended effect on the civilian population. One young Iraqi imam said: “There are too many raids. There are too many low-flying helicopters at night. Before, people wanted to go to America. Now they do not want to see Americans anymore. They do not want to see any more Soldiers. They hate all of the militaries in their area.”28 To avoid causing resentment that can drive insurgency, coercive force must be applied accurately and precisely. Each use of force should be preceded by the questions: Is the action creating more insurgents than it is eliminating? Does the benefit of this action outweigh the potential cost to security if it creates more insurgents?

Less-than-precise application of force: U.S. jets napalm buildings suspected of harboring Viet Cong south of Saigon, 1965.

Providing security. One core state function is to provide security to citizens within its territory. Security is the most basic precondition for civilian support of the government. In regard to Vietnam, Charles Simpson pointed out that “the motivation that produces the only real long-lasting effect is the elemental consideration of survival. Peasants will support [the guerrillas] if they are convinced that failure to do so will result in death or brutal punishment. They will support the government if and when they are convinced that it offers them a better life, and it can and will protect them against the [guerrillas] forever.”29

To counter an insurgency the government must establish (or reestablish) physical security for its citizens. Establishing physical security for civilians was the basis of the defensive enclave strategy, also known as the “oil spot” strategy, advocated by Major General Lewis W. Walt, Lieutenant General James Gavin, Ambassador Maxwell Taylor, and others during the Vietnam War. In a recent Foreign Affairs article, Andrew Krepinevich reaffirms this approach: “Rather than focusing on killing insurgents, Coalition forces should concentrate on providing security” to the civilian population.30

Such an approach is difficult to carry out because of force-structure requirements, and because using Soldiers as police conflicts with the operational code of the military. Westmoreland, for example, ultimately rejected the oil spot strategy on the grounds that “the marines should have been trying to find the enemy’s main forces and bring them to battle,” an activity which was presumably more martial than drinking tea with villagers.31 Such a strategy is also difficult to conceive and implement because most Americans live in communities with effective policing and cannot imagine a world without security guarantees. One 101st Airborne battalion commander noted: “Establishing a secure environment for civilians, free from the arbitrary threat of having your personal property appropriated by a man with a gun, should be the main task of COIN. But we messed it up because it’s such an understood part of our own social contract—it’s not a premise that we debate because we’re mostly just suburban kids.”32

There are three ways to provide civilian security in a counterinsurgency: local, indigenous forces working with regular military forces; community policing; and direct support. In Vietnam, the U.S. Marine Corps’ (USMC) Combined Action Program (CAP) was highly effective at providing civilian security by using local, indigenous forces as well as regular military forces. In every CAP unit, a Marine rifle squad was paired with a platoon of local Vietnamese forces. Using a local village as a base, CAP units trained, patrolled, defended, and lived with indigenous forces, preventing the guerrillas from extracting rice, intelligence, and sanctuary from local towns and villages. In addition to providing valuable intelligence about enemy activity, CAP units accounted for 7.6 percent of the enemy killed while representing only 1.5 percent of the Marines killed in Vietnam.33 In Malaya, under the Briggs Plan, the British administration replaced soldiers with civilian police who gained the trust of the community by building long-term relationships. The British also developed an information campaign to portray the police as civil servants, whose job it was to protect civilians. By 1953, these efforts reduced violence and increased trust in the government.34

To avoid causing resentment that can drive insurgency, coercive force must be applied accurately and precisely. Each use of force should be preceded by the questions: Is the action creating more insurgents than it is eliminating? Does the benefit of this action outweigh the potential cost to security if it creates more insurgents?

During 2003, the 101st Airborne Division provided security to the civilian population of Mosul. With more than 20,000 Soldiers, the U.S. force in Nineveh province had excellent civil affairs, patrolling, and rapid-reaction coverage. As the largest single employer in northern Iraq, the 101st Airborne was a powerful force for social order in the community.35

The Coalition has designated Iraqi Police as the main force to provide security to Iraqi citizens. Despite vigorous recruiting and training efforts, they have been less than effective in providing security for the population. As of August 2005, the town of Hit, with a population of over 130,000, entirely lacked a police force.36 Iraqis interviewed between November 2003 and August 2005 indicated that security and crime, specifically kidnapping and assault, remain their greatest concerns.37 In many Iraqi towns, women and children cannot walk in the street for fear of abduction or attack. Incidents such as minor traffic accidents can potentially escalate into deadly violence. In many towns police patrol only during the daytime with support from the Iraqi Army or Coalition forces, leaving the militias and insurgents in control at night. Residents view the police as a means of legitimizing illegal activities rather than as a source of security: police commonly accept bribes to ignore smuggling (from Iran and Turkey), black market activities, kidnappings, and murders. For a price, most police officers will arrest an innocent man, and for a greater price, they will turn the suspect over to the Coalition as a suspected insurgent. In August 2005 in Mosul, a U.S. officer reported that for $5,000 to $10,000 a detainee could bribe his way out of Iraqi Police custody.38

In most areas of the country, local preexisting militias and ad hoc units form the core of local police forces. These units tend to be overwhelmingly dominated by a single ethno-religious or tribal group, which frequently arouses the animosity of local populations from different groups. Many of these forces freely use official state structures to serve their own interests. OneAmerican military officer, when discussing the Sunni Arab police from East Mosul (90 percent of whom are from the Al Jaburi tribe) said: “I don’t know if the police are about peace and security, or about their own survival and power.”39

In some areas of the country, self-interested militias previously engaged in insurgent activities against Saddam Hussein’s regime now provide questionable security services to the population. Some, like the Badr Brigade or the peshmerga, have been integrated into the new Iraqi Security Forces.40 In other areas, the Interior Ministry has deployed Public Order Battalions to maintain government control. Intended to augment civilian police during large-scale civil disobedience, these units are not trained to provide police services and have been heavy-handed in their application of coercive force. In Falluja, the Public Order Battalion currently functions as a de facto Shiite militia, extorting business owners, dishonoring women, and raiding homes indiscriminately.41 According to a USMC officer, using Shiite police in predominately Sunni areas leads to resentment among the population: “We’ve had problems. There are inevitable cultural clashes.”42

State failure to provide security may cause citizens to accept alternative security guarantees from nonstate actors, which can be a major driver of insurgency.43 For example, the British failure to provide security to Republican communities in Northern Ireland during Loyalist attacks in 1968 resulted in the Irish Republican Army’s reemergence as a paramilitary organization and its assumption of certain police functions within its communities. The same dynamic has taken place in Iraq. According to one Iraqi insurgent, the failure of U.S. forces to provide security motivated him to take up arms: “My colleagues and I waited to make our decision on whether to fight until we saw how they would act. They should have come and just given us food and some security. . . . It was then that I realized that they had come as occupiers and not as liberators, and my colleagues and I then voted to fight.”44

In some areas of Iraq, insurgent groups and militias have established themselves as extra-governmental arbiters of the physical security of the population and now represent a challenge to the state’s monopoly on coercive force. For example, Muqtada al Sadr’s Mehdi Army is the sole security provider for the population of Sadr City, a district of Baghdad with an estimated population of 2 million.45 In Haditha, Ansar al Sunna and Tawhid al-Jihad mujihadeen govern the town, enforce a strict interpretation of Islamic law in their court system, and use militias to provide order. If Haditha residents follow the rules, they receive 24-hour access to electricity and can walk down the street without fear of random crime. If they disobey, the punishments are extremely harsh, such as being whipped with cables 190 times for committing adultery.46 In the border town of Qaim, followers of Abu Musab Zarqawi took control on 5 September 2005 and began patrolling the streets, killing U.S. collaborators and enforcing strict Islamic law. Sheik Nawaf Mahallawi noted that because Coalition forces cannot provide security to local people “it would be insane [for local tribal members] to attack Zarqawi’s people, even to shoot one bullet at them. . . .”47

Until the Coalition can provide security, Iraqis will maintain affiliations with other groups to protect themselves and their families. If they fear reprisal and violence, few Iraqis will be willing to work with the Coalition as translators, join the Iraqi Security Forces, participate in local government, initiate reconstruction projects, or provide information on insurgent and terrorist operations. According to an Iraqi police officer, “The people are scared to give us information about the terrorists because there are many terrorists here. And when we leave, the terrorists will come back and kill them.”48 Currently, cooperation with the Coalition does not enhance individual and family security and can even undermine it. For Iraqi civilians, informing on other Iraqis can eliminate enemies and economic competitors, but informing on actual insurgents is likely to result in the murder of the informant and his family.49 Throughout Iraq, translators working with Americans regularly turn up dead. City council members and senior police officials are assassinated. These strong security disincentives for cooperation with the Coalition and the Iraqi Government have a negative combined effect. Iraqis have little incentive to provide information to the Coalition, and the lack of intelligence makes accurate targeting of insurgents difficult. To develop intelligence, Coalition forces conduct sweeps and raids in suspect neighborhoods. Sweeps greatly undermine public support for the Coalition and its Iraqi partners and thus create further disincentive for cooperation.

“My colleagues and I waited to make our decision on whether to fight until we saw how they would act. They should have come and just given us food and some security. . . . It was then that I realized that they had come as occupiers and not as liberators, and my colleagues and I then voted to fight.”


In Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency, and Peacekeeping, Kitson notes that ideas are a motivating factor in insurgent violence: “The main characteristic which distinguishes campaigns of insurgency from other forms of war is that they are primarily concerned with the struggle for men’s minds.”50 Insurgencies fight for power as well as an idea, whether it is Islam, Marxism, or nationalism. According to USMC General Charles C. Krulak, to fight back “you need a better idea. Bullets help sanitize an operational area. . . . They don’t win a war.”51

While compelling ideas are no guarantee of victory, the ability to leverage ideology is an important tool in a counterinsurgency. Mass movements of all types, including insurgencies, gather recruits and amass popular support through ideological appeal. Individuals subscribe to ideologies that articulate and render comprehensible the underlying reasons why practical, material interests remain unfulfilled. Recruits are often young men whose ambitions have been frustrated and who are unable to improve their (or their community’s) lot in life.52 A mass movement offers a refuge “from the anxieties, bareness and meaninglessness . . . of individual existence . . . , freeing them from their ineffectual selves—and it does this by enfolding them into a closely knit and exultant corporate whole.”53 The insurgent group provides them with identity, purpose, and community in addition to physical, economic, and psychological security. The movement’s ideology clarifies their tribulations and provides a course of action to remedy those ills.

The central mechanism through which ideologies are expressed and absorbed is the narrative. A cultural narrative is an “organizational scheme expressed in story form.”54 Narratives are central to the representation of identity, particularly the collective identity of groups such as religions, nations, and cultures. Stories about a community’s history provide models of how actions and consequences are linked and are often the basis for strategies, actions, and interpretation of the intentions of other actors. D.E. Polkinghorne tells us: “Narrative is the discourse structure in which human action receives its form and through which it is meaningful.”55

Insurgent organizations have used narratives quite efficiently in developing legitimating ideology. For example, in Terror’s Mask: Insurgency Within Islam, Michael Vlahos identifies the structure and function of the jihadist narrative.56 According to Vlahos, Osama bin-Laden’s depiction of himself as a man purified in the mountains of Afghanistan, who begins converting followers and punishing infidels, resonates powerfully with the historic figure of Muhammad. In the collective imagination of bin-Laden and his followers, Islamic history is a story about the decline of the umma and the inevitable triumph against Western imperialism. Only through jihad can Islam be renewed both politically and theologically. The jihadist narrative is expressed and appropriated through the sacred language of mystical heroic poetry and revelations provided through dreams. Because the “act of struggle itself is a triumph, joining them to God and to the River of Islam. . . , there can be no defeat as we know it for them.”57 Narratives thus have the power to transform reality: the logic of the narrative insulates those who have absorbed it from temporal failure, promising followers monumental, inevitable victory.58

For Iraqi civilians, informing on other Iraqis can eliminate enemies and economic competitors, but informing on actual insurgents is likely to result in the murder of the informant and his family.

To employ (or counter) ideology effectively, the cultural narratives of the insurgent group and society must be understood. William Casebeer points out that “understanding the narratives which influence the genesis, growth, maturation, and transformation of terrorist organizations will enable us to better fashion a strategy for undermining the efficacy of those narratives so as to deter, disrupt and defeat terrorist groups.”59

Misunderstanding the cultural narrative of an adversary, on the other hand, may result in egregious policy decisions. For example, the Vietnamese view their history as continued armed opposition to invasions in the interest of national sovereignty, beginning with the Song Chinese in the 11th century, the Mongols in the 13th century, the Ming Chinese in the 15th century, the Japanese during World War II, and the French who were eventually defeated at Dien Bien Phu on 7 May 1954.

After establishing the League for Vietnamese Independence, better known as the Viet Minh, Ho Chi Minh wrote: “National liberation is the most important problem. . . . We shall overthrow the Japanese and French and their jackals in order to save people from the situation between boiling water and boiling heat.”60 The Vietnamese believed that their weak and small (nhuoc tieu) nation would be annihilated by colonialism, a cannibalistic people-eating system (che do thuc dan), and that their only chance for survival was to fight back against the more powerful adversary.61 When the Viet Minh began an insurrection against the French, however, U.S. policymakers did not see their actions as a quest for national liberation but as evidence of communist expansion.62 U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson frequently told visitors to the White House that if we did not take our stand in Vietnam, we would one day have to make our stand in Hawaii.63 U.S. failure to understand the Vietnamese cultural narrative transformed a potential ally into a motivated adversary. Ho Chi Minh said: “You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.”64

Insurgent organizations in Iraq have been effective in leveraging preexisting cultural narratives to generate antiimperialist sentiment. Current events resonate powerfully with the history of successive invasions of Iraqi territory, including the 13th-century sacking of Baghdad by Genghis Khan’s grandson Hulegu, the invasion of Tamerlane of Samarkand in 1401, and more recently, the British Mandate. Abu Hamza, an Egyptian cleric, has described U.S. President George W. Bush as “the Ghengis Khan of this century” and British Prime Minister Tony Blair as “his chambermaid,” concluding that “we are just wondering when our blood is going to be shed.”65 Capitalizing on this narrative of foreign invasion and domination, insurgent groups have generated pervasive beliefs that undermine the Coalition. Two such notions are that the Coalition intends to appropriate Iraq’s natural resources and that America wants to destroy Islam. Unfortunately, some of our actions tend to confirm these narratives; for example, protecting oil refineries rather than the Baghdad museum after major combat operations ended indicated to Iraqis what U.S. priorities were.66

Despite the general appeal of the anti-imperialist narrative to the general Iraqi population, the insurgency in Iraq currently lacks an ideological center. Because of ethno-religious divisions in the society, the resurgence of tribalism following the occupation, and the subsequent erosion of national identity, insurgent organizations are deploying ideologies that appeal only to their own ethno-religious group. Various Sunni Arab insurgent groups, for example, feel vulnerable within the new Shia-dominated regime and would prefer an authoritarian, secular, Sunni government. Other Sunni Arab insurgents are using extremist Islam to recruit and motivate followers.67 They claim that the secular nature of the Ba’ath regime was the root cause of its brutality and corruption. Among the Shia, the Sadr Movement employs the narrative of martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson, Imam Hussein, at Karbala in 681 A.D., as a way to generate resistance against the Ba’ath Party; against secular, democratic forms of government; and against other Shia Arab leaders (like Al Hakim and Al Jaffari) who are viewed as proxies of Iran. The Shia construe their persecution for opposing outside influences (including modernization, capitalism, communism, socialism, secular government, and democracy) as martyrdom for making the “just choice” exactly as Imam Hussein did.68

To defeat the insurgent narratives, the Coalition must generate a strong counternarrative. Unfortunately, the Coalition’s main themes—freedom and democracy—do not resonate well with the population. In Iraq, freedom is associated with chaos, and chaos has a particularly negative valence expressed in the proverb: Better a thousand years of oppression than a single day of anarchy. The aversion to political chaos has a strong basis in historical reality: Iraq’s only period of semidemocratic governance, from 1921 until 1958, was characterized by social, political, and economic instability. Current Iraqi skepticism regarding the desirability of democratic governance is accentuated by the continued declarations that the current system, which is quite chaotic, is a democracy. After witnessing unlawful, disorderly behavior, Iraqis will occasionally joke: “Ah, so this is democracy.”69

Insurgent groups have generated pervasive beliefs that undermine the Coalition. Two such notions are that the Coalition intends to appropriate Iraq’s natural resources and that America wants to destroy Islam.

Democracy is also problematic as an effective ideology because Islam forms the basis for conceptions of government and authority (despite the secular views of many Iraqis). The Islamic concept of sovereignty is grounded in the notion that human beings are mere executors of God’s will. According to the Islamic political philosopher Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi, “Islam, speaking from the view-point of political philosophy, is the very antithesis of secular Western democracy. [Islam] altogether repudiates the philosophy of popular sovereignty and rears its polity on the foundations of the sovereignty of God and the viceregency (khilafah) of man.”70

Economic Incentive and Disincentive

To win the support of the population, counterinsurgency forces must create incentives for cooperating with the government and disincentives for opposing it. The USMC Small Wars Manual advocates this approach, stressing the importance of focusing on the social, economic, and political development of the people more than on simple material destruction.71 Although counterinsurgency forces typically have a greater financial capacity to utilize economic incentive and disincentive than do insurgent organizations, this tool of political competition is not used as frequently as it could be.

Iraqi subcontractors cut rebar for a health care clinic under construction outside of Erbil, Iraq, 20 June 2005. The clinic will handle primary health care requirements for a suburban neighborhood outside of Erbil. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversees the project and works directly with Iraqi workers and contractor companies.

Vietnam. The “land to the tiller” program in South Vietnam offers an example of effective use of economic incentive in a counterinsurgency. The program was intended to undercut the Viet Cong land program and gain the farmers’ political support.72 Unlike the concurrent communist land reform program that offered only provisional ownership rights, the program transferred actual ownership of the land to peasants. Between 1970 and 1975, titles were distributed for 1,136,705 hectares, an estimated 46 percent of the national rice crop hectarage.73 The old landlord-tenant system, which motivated many of the agrarian political movements in South Vietnam, was eliminated. The land to the tiller program effectively undercut the support for the Viet Cong by attacking one of the communists’ main ideological tenets (that the capitalist system harmed peasants) and by 1975 dramatically reduced support for the insurgency in South Vietnam.74

Angola. Economic benefits were also a component of Portuguese counterinsurgency efforts in Angola. After the onset of the conflict, the Portuguese Government invested in industrial development, boosting Angola’s iron ore production from its 1957 rate of 100,000 tons a year to 15 million tons by 1971.75 The Portuguese also expanded social services: within 8 years, the number of primary school students increased from 100,000 to 400,000. The Portuguese Army built schools and functioned as teachers in areas where there were no qualified civilians.76 By establishing mobile clinics staffed by army doctors, the Portuguese were able to meet World Health Organization standards for proper health care by 1970.77

Compulsory labor was abolished in 1961 along with the requirement that farmers plant cash crops, such as cotton, to be sold at state-controlled prices. Programs such as these negated the guerrilla’s claims that Portugal was only concerned for the welfare of white settlers, and by 1972, lacking any factual basis for their claims, the guerrillas could no longer operate inside Angola.

Malaya. Direct financial rewards for surrender can also be used as an incentive. During the Malayan Emergency that occurred between 1948 and 1960, the British began bribing insurgents to surrender or to provide information leading to the capture, elimination, or surrender of other insurgents. Incentives for surrender ranged from $28,000 for the Chairman of the Central Committee, to $2,300 for a platoon leader, and $875 for a soldier. A guerrilla leader named Hor Leung was paid more than $400,000 for his own surrender as well as the surrender of 28 of his commanders and 132 of his foot soldiers.78 Statements by insurgents who had accepted amnesty urging their former comrades to surrender were broadcast from airplanes over the jungle; these “voice flights” were so effective that 70 percent of those who surrendered said that these recordings contributed to their decision to surrender. During the 12 years of the Emergency, a total of 2,702 insurgents surrendered, 6,710 were killed, and 1,287 were captured as a result of information gained from the rewards-for-surrender program. One observer called the program “the most potent propaganda weapon in the Emergency.”79

To date, economic incentives and disincentives have not been used effectively in Iraq. Although the Coalition and its Iraqi partners have pledged $60 billion toward reconstruction, the average Iraqi has seen little economic benefit. The U.S. Government appropriated $24 billion (for 2003-2005 fiscal years) for improving security and justice systems and oil, electricity, and water infrastructures. As of May 2003, only $9.6 billion had been disbursed to projects.80 U.S. funds for infrastructure repair were channeled mainly through six American engineering companies, but the cost of providing security to employees resulted in unexpected cost inflation, undermined transport capacity, and made it difficult to ensure the completion of projects by Iraqi subcontractors. As of March 2005, of the $10 billion pledged in international community loans and $3.6 million pledged in grants, the Iraqi Government has only accessed $436 million for debt relief and $167 million in grants.81

High unemployment, lack of basic services, and widespread poverty are driving the insurgency in Iraq. Unemployment is currently estimated at 28 to 40 percent.82 In Sunni Arab areas, however, unemployment figures are probably much higher, given that Sunnis typically worked in the now disbanded Ba’ath state apparatus. As a result of the collapse of the Iraqi educational system over 20 years of war and sanctions, a large group of angry, semiliterate young men remain unemployed. For these young men, working with insurgent organizations is an effective way to make a living. According to General John Abizaid most cases of direct-fire engagements involve very young men who have been paid to attack U.S. troops. Indeed, the Ba’ath loyalists running the insurgency pay young male Iraqis from $150 to $1,000 per attack—a considerable amount of money in a country where the average monthly household income is less than $80.83 In Iraq, where a man’s ability to support his family is directly tied to his honor, failure by operating forces to dispense money on payday often results in armed attacks. One Marine noted: “If we say we will pay, and we don’t, he will go get that AK.”84

Economic incentive could be used to reduce support for the insurgency in Iraq either by employing young men in large-scale infrastructure rebuilding projects or through small-scale local sustainable development programs. Small-scale sustainable development could be kick-started by distributing $1.4 billion worth of seized Iraqi assets and appropriated funds through the Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP).85 Typically, local military commanders award CERP as small grants to serve a community’s immediate needs. Military units, however, must cut through miles of red tape to distribute funds and often lack the economic background necessary to select projects most likely to encourage sustainable local economic growth. Because Iraq is an oil economy, it is susceptible to what is commonly known as the “Dutch Disease,” an economic condition that limits the ability of oil economies to produce low-cost products and that results typically in a service-driven economy.86 Thus, CERP funds should not be expended to reconstruct factories (which were an element of Saddam Hussein’s state-controlled command economy and did not produce goods for export), but to develop small-scale local enterprises such as tea shops, hair salons, and auto-repair services.

Traditional Authority

The fourth tool available to insurgents and counterinsurgents is the ability to leverage traditional authority within a given society. Max Weber identifies three primary types of authority:

The Islamic concept of sovereignty is grounded in the notion that human beings are mere executors of God’s will.

1. Rational-legal authority, which is grounded in law and contract, codified in impersonal rules, and commonly found in developed, capitalist societies.

2. Charismatic authority, which is exercised by leaders who develop allegiance among their followers because of their unique, individual charismatic appeal, whether ethical, religious, political, or social.

3. Traditional authority, which is usually invested in a hereditary line or in a particular office by a higher power.

Traditional authority, which relies on the precedent of history, is the most common type of authority in non-Western societies.87 According to George Ritzer, “Traditional authority is based on a claim by the leaders, and a belief on the part of the followers, that there is virtue in the sanctity of age-old rules and powers.”88 Status and honor are accorded to those with traditional authority and this status helps maintain dominance. In particular, tribal and religious forms of organization rely on traditional authority.

Traditional authority figures often wield enough power, especially in rural areas, to single-handedly drive an insurgency. During the 1948 and 1961 Dar’ul Islam rebellions against the Indonesian Government, for example, several Islamic leaders were kidnapped or executed without trial by the Indonesian military. A village leader described how “the anger of the Ummat Islam in the region of Limbangan, because of the loss of their bapak (father or leader) who was very much loved by them, was at that time a flood which could not be held back.”89 After a series of missteps, the Indonesian military recognized the importance of these local traditional authority figures and began to use a combination of coercion and amnesty programs to remove, village by village, support for the Dar’ul Islam in West Java, eventually defeating the insurgency.90

Tribes became the source of physical security, economic well-being, and social identity—“If you have a car accident, you don’t sort it out in the courts anymore; even if you live in the city, you sort it out in the tribe.”

Throughout the Vietnam War, insurgent groups leveraged traditional authority effectively. After Viet Minh forces overthrew the Japanese in a bloodless coup in 1945, official representatives traveled to the Imperial Capital at Hué to demand Emperor Bao Dai’s abdication.91 Facing the prospects of losing his throne or his life, Bao Dai resigned and presented Ho Chi Minh with the imperial sword and sacred seal, thereby investing him with the mandate of heaven (thien minh)—the ultimate form of traditional authority.92 Subsequently, Ho ruled Vietnam as if he, too, were an emperor possessed of a heavenly mandate, even replicating many of the signs and signals of Vietnamese traditional authority.93 Like many political systems that operate on the principle of traditional authority, the character of the leader was of paramount concern.94 Thus, Ho cultivated and projected the virtuous conduct of a superior man (quant u) and stressed the traditional requisites of talent and virtue (tai duc) necessary for leadership.95 Widely seen as possessing the mandate of heaven and having single-handedly liberated Vietnam from the French, Ho had little opposition inside Vietnam. Although some senior U.S. military officers recognized that many Vietnamese considered Ngo Dinh Diem’s government to be illegitimate, the dictates of policy trumped an honest assessment of the power of traditional authority in Vietnam, which would have made the futility of establishing a puppet government in South Vietnam immediately apparent.96

The U.S. failure to leverage the traditional authority of the tribal sheiks in Iraq hindered the establishment of a legitimate government and became a driver of the insurgency. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein in April 2003 created a power vacuum that resurgent tribes, accustomed to political and legal autonomy, quickly filled. One young tribal leader observed: “We follow the central government. But, of course, if communications are cut between us and the center, all authority will revert to our sheik.”97 Tribes became the source of physical security, economic well-being, and social identity. Shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, for example, religious and tribal leaders in Falluja appointed their own civil management council, prevented looting, and protected government buildings.98 Because Coalition forces have been unable to reestablish a legal system throughout the country, tribal law has become the default mode of settling disputes. According to Wamidh Nadmih, a professor of political science at Baghdad University, “If you have a car accident, you don’t sort it out in the courts anymore; even if you live in the city, you sort it out in the tribe.”99

The fall of Saddam Hussein unintentionally re-tribalized Iraq, but, ironically, the implicit policy of Paul Bremer’s administration in Iraq appears to have been de-tribalization. According to a U.S. Army officer: “The attitude at the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] was that it was our job to liberate the individual from the tyranny of the tribal system.”100 Tribes were viewed as a social anachronism that could only hinder the development of democracy in Iraq. According to a senior U.S. official: “If it is a question of harnessing the power of the tribes, then it’s a question of finding tribal leaders who can operate in a post-tribal environment.”101 The anxiety motivating the antitribal policy was, in the words of one official, the “ability of people like the Iranians and others to go in with money and create warlords” sympathetic to their own interests.102 As a result, an opportunity to leverage traditional authority was wasted in Iraq. Thus, although U.S. Army military-intelligence officers negotiated an agreement with the subtribes of the Dulalimi in al-Anbar province to provide security, the CPA rejected the deal. According to one officer, “All it would have required from the CPA was formal recognition that the tribes existed—and $3 million.”103

Instead of leveraging the traditional authority of the tribes, Coalition forces virtually ignored it, thereby losing an opportunity to curb the insurgency. According to Adnan abu Odeh, a former adviser to the late King Hussein of Jordan, “The sheiks don’t have the power to stop the resistance totally. But they certainly could impede its development by convincing tribesmen that it’s a loser’s strategy or they could be bribed to capture or betray the member of the resistance.”104 The key to securing Iraq is to make it in the interest of the tribes to support the Coalition’s goals. Ali Shukri, also an adviser to the late king and now a member of Saint Anthony’s College at Oxford, notes: “There are two ways to control [the tribes]. One way is . . . by continually attacking and killing them. But if you want them on your side, what will you give them? What’s in it for them? To the extent that the tribes are cooperating with the [U.S.] right now is merely a marriage of convenience. They could be doing a lot more—overnight, they could give the Americans security, but they will want money, weapons, and vehicles to do the job.”105

Beyond the War

In the Clausewitzian tradition, “war is merely the continuation of policy by other means” in which limited means are used for political ends.106 U.S. War Department General Order 100 of 1863 reflects this rule: “The destruction of the enemy in modern war, and, indeed, modern war itself, are means to obtain that object of the belligerent which lies beyond the war.”107 The object that lies beyond the war is the restoration of civil order, which is particularly essential in a counterinsurgency where the government’s legitimacy has been weakened or possibly destroyed. General Harold K. Johnson noted: “[M]ilitary force . . . should be committed with the object beyond war in mind. [B]roadly speaking, the object beyond war should be the restoration of stability with the minimum of destruction, so that society and lawful government might proceed in an atmosphere of justice and order.”108

The restoration of civil order in Iraq requires a guarantee of security; a guarantee of political and economic participation; the reconstruction of civil institutions destroyed by decades of repression and dehumanization; and the generation of a national ideology and a set of symbols around which people feel proud to organize. The four tools of political competition–coercive force, ideology, economic incentive and disincentive, and traditional authority–can be employed at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels to attain the object beyond war. But like every counterinsurgency, the conflict in Iraq requires soldiers and statesmen alike to take a leap of imagination. Success depends on the ability to put oneself in the shoes of the civilian population and ask: How would I get physical and economic security if I had to live in this situation? Why would I accept the authority claimed by the powers that be? In the words of Max Weber, “When and why would I obey?”109


  1. Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation,” From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, eds., H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1946), 78.
  2. Frank Kitson, Bunch of Five (London: Faber and Faber, 1977), 283.
  3. U.S. Army Field Manual (Interim) 3-07.22, Counterinsurgency Operations (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office [GPO], 1 October 2004), sec. 1-1.
  4. This framework is partially derived from Max Weber. See “The Types of Authority and Imperative Coordination,” in The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (New York: The Free Press, 1947), 324-69, and “Politics as a Vocation,” 77-80.
  5. Richard Simpkin, Race to the Swift: Thoughts on Twenty-First Century Warfare (London: Brassey’s Defence Publishers, 1985), 320.
  6. Julian Paget, Counter-Insurgency Campaigning (London: Faber and Faber, 1967), 163–64.
  7. Jean Larteguy, The Centurions (New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, 1961), 280.
  8. The idea that an effective counterinsurgency requires state forces to mirror their adversary has a long history. At the beginning of World War II, Great Britain established the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to arm and train the French resistance. Colonel Colin Gubbins, who had served in Ireland from 1921 to 1922 and on the North-West Frontier in the 1930s, was SOE’s first Director of Operations and Training. According to M.R.D Foot, Gubbins “saw the advantages, in the economy of life and effectiveness of effort, of the Irish guerrilla [and] both determined that next time, guerrilla [tactics] should be used by the British instead of against them” (M.R.D Foot, “The IRA and the Origins of SOE,” in War and Society: Historical Essays in Honour and Memory of J.R. Western, 1928-71, ed., M.R.D. Foot [London: Pal Ellele, 1973]).
    SOE training and operations, which were directly based on studies of the Irish Republic Army (IRA), became the basis of counterinsurgency doctrine in the post-1945 period and laid the foundation of British Special Forces. See Ian F.W. Beckett and John Pimlott, eds., Armed Forces and Modern Counter-Insurgency (London and Sydney: Croom Helm, 1985), 17; Timothy Llewellyn Jones, “The Development of British Counter-insurgency Polices and Doctrine, 1945-52” (Ph.D. dissertation, King’s College, University of London, 1991), 47; E.H. Cookridge, Inside SOE: The Story of Special Operations in Western Europe, 1940-45 (London: Arthur Baker, Ltd., 1966); Foot, 68.
  9. Weber, “Politics as a Vocation,” 77-78.
  10. John W. Burton, “The History of International Conflict Resolution,” in International Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice, eds., Edward Azar and John W. Burton (Boulder, CO: Wheatsheaf Books, 1986), 51.
  11. Christopher Louise, “The Social Impacts of Light Weapons Availability and Proliferation,” Journal of Humanitarian Assistance (15 September 1995), on-line at <">, accessed 4 October 2005. For a full discussion of the concept of human security, see United Nations Development Programme, “New Dimensions of Human Security,” Human Development Report 1994 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 22-46.
  12. Courtney E. Prisk, “The Umbrella of Legitimacy,” in Uncomfortable Wars: Toward a New Paradigm of Low Intensity Conflict, ed., Max G. Manwaring (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991), 69.
  13. Thomas R. Mockaitis, British Counterinsurgency, 1919-1960 (London: MacMillan, 1990), 37.
  14. The 1923 Field Service Regulations postulate that the ultimate objective of all military operations is the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces and that decisive results are obtained only by the offensive. The preference for use of offensive force is found continuously in U.S. military thought, most recently in Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC: GPO, June 2001), vii, which says: “The doctrine holds warfighting as the Army’s primary focus and recognizes that the ability of Army forces to dominate land warfare also provides the ability to dominate any situation in military operations other than war.” See also Richard Darilek and David Johnson, “Occupation of Hostile Territory: History, Theory, Doctrine; Past and Future Practice” (paper presented at the Future Warfare Seminar V, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 18 January 2005).
  15. Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), 28.
  16. Loren B. Thompson, “Low-Intensity Conflict: An Overview,” in Low-Intensity Conflict: The Pattern of Warfare in the Modern World, ed., L.B. Thompson (Lexington, KY: Lexington Books, 1989), 4.
  17. Charles Townshend, Britain’s Civil Wars: Counterinsurgency in the Twentieth Century (London: Faber and Faber, 1986), 59.
  18. Correspondence from H.Q. [headquarters], 23 November 1920, Jeudwine Papers 72/82/2, Imperial War Museum, London.
  19. Keith Jeffery, The British Army and the Crisis of Empire, 1918-1922 (England: Manchester University Press, 1984), 86. Margaret Thatcher echoed this sentiment when she stated during the 1981 IRA hunger strikes that “we will not negotiate with terrorists.”
  20. Max Arthur, Northern Ireland: Soldiers Talking (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1987), 73.
  21. Desmond Hamill, Pig in the Middle: The Army in Northern Ireland, 1969-1984 (London: Methuen, 1985), 93.
  22. COL Michael Dewar, interview by Montgomery McFate, London, November 1994.
  23. Lewis Sorley, “To Change a War: General Harold K. Johnson and the PROVN Study,” Parameters (Spring 1998): 93-109.
  24. U.S. Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Military Operations, A Program for the Pacification and Long-Term Development of Vietnam (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Army, 1966), G-8.
  25. Gerald C. Hickey, Window on a War: An Anthropologist in the Vietnam Conflict (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2002), 260. The Long Range Program Plan (LRPP) was tasked with an appraisal of U.S. strategy in Vietnam and projected future strategies based on historical, economic, and sociopsychological perspectives.
  26. Sorley, 93-109.
  27. Ibid.,
  28. Interviews by Andrea Jackson, Fallujah, Iraq, July 2005.
  29. Charles Simpson, Inside the Green Berets: The First Thirty Years (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1982), 62.
  30. Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., “How to Win in Iraq,” Foreign Affairs (September/October 2005), on-line at:, accessed 4 October 2005. Krepinevich argues that U.S. and Iraqi forces should focus on key areas and gradually broaden the effort, in what he refers to as an “oil-spot strategy.”
  31. GEN William C. Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976), 164-65.
  32. Interviews by Montgomery McFate, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, December 2005.
  33. Robert M. Cassidy, “Back to the Street without Joy: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Vietnam and Other Small Wars,” Parameters (Summer 2004): 73-83, on-line at <>, accessed 4 October 2005.
  34. Richard Stubbs, Hearts and Minds in Guerrilla Warfare: The Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989), 155-64.
  35. Michael Knights, “Lessons from Mosul,” PolicyWatch #950, 27 January 2005. on-line at <> accessed 4 October 2005. Beginning in January 2004, the U.S. force in Nineveh Province was drawn down to the 8,700-strong Task Force Olympia (built around a Stryker Brigade Combat Team), with a commensurate loss of security, mentoring, and Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP) capacity.
  36. Tom Lasseter, “Iraqi Forces May Need Years of Preparation,” Mercury News, 26 August 2005.
  37. Interviews by Andrea Jackson, Baghdad, Baquba, Fallujah, Ramadi, Samara, Basra, and Hilla, November 2003 through August 2005.
  38. Richard A. Oppel, Jr., “A New Police Force Emerges From Mosul’s Chaos,” New York Times, 17 August 2005.
  39. Interviews by Andrea Jackson, Diyala Province, Iraq, November 2003 through April 2005.
  40. The Badr Brigade is the militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one of the most powerful organizations inside the governing United Iraqi Alliance. The Iranian Government founded SCIRI in 1980 as an umbrella organization for Shia Arab organizations aiming to overthrow the Ba’ath regime. The Badr Brigade was trained by the Iranian military and fought on the side of Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. Many Iraqis, including many Shia Arabs, view SCIRI’s ties to the Iranian Government with suspicion. Peshmerga are paramilitary forces associated with the two large, tribally based political parties (the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) in the Kurdish territories.
  41. Interviews by Andrea Jackson, Fallujah, Iraq, July 2005.
  42. Lasseter, “Iraqi Forces May Need Years of Preparation.”
  43. For example, see Lawrence Boudon, “Guerrillas and the State: The Role of the State in the Colombian Peace Process,” in Journal of Latin American Studies, vol. 28, no. 2 (May 1996): 279-97.
  44. P. Mitchell Prothero, “Iraqi Guerillas: ‘Why We Fight,’” United Press International, 4 December 2003.
  45. The Mehdi Army is a paramilitary organization composed largely of poor, uneducated urban Shia who are followers of Muqtada al Sadr, an Iraqi nationalist who feels Iraq’s Shia Arabs should rule Iraq and dominate the relationship with Iran. During Saddam Hussein’s regime, the Sadr family led an insurgency inside Iraq with the goal of replacing it with rule by Shia clerics. After Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sadr, who was not included in the interim governments, has continually fought Coalition forces and is not participating in the new government; he is engaged in a major conflict with the members of the United Iraqi Alliance for leadership of Iraq’s Shia population.
  46. Omer Mahdi, “Under US Noses, Brutal Insurgents Rule Sunni Citadel,” The Guardian, London, 22 August 2005.
  47. Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer, “Insurgents Assert Control Over Town Near Syrian Border,” Washington Post, 6 September 2005, A20.
  48. Lasseter, “Iraqi Forces May Need Years of Preparation.”
  49. Interviews by Andrea Jackson, Diyala Province.
  50. Kitson, 290.
  51. Evan Thomas, Rod Nordland, and Christian Caryl, “Operation Hearts and Minds” Newsweek, 29 December/5 January 2003, on-line at <>, accessed 4 October 2005.
  52. Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (New York: Harper and Row, 1951).
  53. Ibid., 41.
  54. D.E. Polkinghorne, Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences (New York: State University of New York Press, 1988), 13. Narrative theory (narratology) is often used to understand the construction of ethnohistory. See W. Labov, “Some Further Steps in Narrative Analysis,” in Journal of Narrative and Life History, 7 (1997); Hayden V. White, Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987).
  55. Polkinghorne, 135.
  56. Michael Vlahos < s Mask - Insurgency within Islam - Michael Vlahos (JHU-APL May 2002).pdf> (Baltimore, MD: Joint Warfare Analysis Department, Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University, May 2002).
  57. Ibid., 54.
  58. See also Mark Juergensmeyer’s theory of “cosmic war” in Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, 3d ed. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003).
  59. William D. Casebeer and <> “Storytelling and Terrorism: Towards a Comprehensive ‘Counter-Narrative’ Strategy,” Strategic Insights (March 2005).
  60. Ho Chi Minh, “Letter from Abroad,” in Ho Chi Minh on Revolution: Selected Writings, 1920-1966, ed., Bernard Fall (New York: Signet, 1968), 132-34.
  61. Ho Tai Hue-tam, Radicalism and the Origins of the Vietnamese Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), 4-5. Ironically, the Vietnamese based their struggle on the American Revolution. On 2 September 1945, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed independence with the words: “All men are created equal. [T]hey are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” See Ho Chi Minh, “Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam,” in Ho Chi Minh on Revolution, 141-43, on-line at, accessed 4 October 2005. Ho genuinely believed the United States would support Vietnamese liberation and approached U.S. President Woodrow Wilson at Versailles, France; wrote letters to U.S. President Harry S. Truman seeking assistance; accepted military assistance from the Office of Strategic Services to fight the Japanese; ordered the Viet Minh to help rescue U.S. pilots downed behind Japanese lines; and offered naval bases in Vietnam to the United States.
  62. The basis for the strategy of communist containment was George F. Kennan’s (writing as X) essay “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” Foreign Affairs (July 1947), on-line at, accessed 4 October 2005.
  63. David Fromkin and James Chace Vietnam: The Retrospect: What are the Lessons of Vietnam? Foreign Affairs (Spring 1985), on-line at <>, accessed 4 October 2005.
  64. Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (New York: Viking Press, 1983), 169.
  65. “Britain Revokes Citizenship of Cleric,” Associated Press, 5 April 2003, on-line at <>, accessed 4 October 2005.
  66. Afnan Hussein Fatani, “The Money or Your Lives: Wild West in Iraq,” Arab View, on-line at <>, accessed 4 October 2005; Alexander Chancellor, “Barbarians at the gates” The Guardian London, 26 April 2003.
  67. Amatzia Baram, “Who are the Iraqi Insurgents?” United States Institute of Peace Report 134, Washington, D.C., April 2005.
  68. Following Muhammed’s death in 632 A.D., a split emerged in the Muslim community between the Shia, who supported Ali (Muhammed’s cousin and son-in-law) as caliph, and the Sunni, who supported Muawiyah (the governor of Syria and the cousin of the murdered 3d Caliph Uthman) after he claimed the caliphate. According to the terms of the succession arbitration, the prophet’s grandson Hussein agreed to postpone his claim to the caliphate until Muawiyah’s death. When Muawiyah died, however, he named his son Yazid as successor. Hussein and his supporters were defeated by Yazid’s army at Karbala in 680 A.D. Before Hussein went to Karbala he said: “If the world be counted a thing most precious, still the abode of God’s reward (that is, paradise) is higher and more noble. And if bodies be made for death, then the death of a man by the sword in the way of God is a better choice.” Since the battle of Karbala, the Shia have considered martyrdom in the struggle against injustice as the highest form of spiritual nobility. (See Manochehr Dorraj, “Symbolic and Utilitarian Political Value of a Tradition: Martyrdom in the Iranian Political Culture,” The Review of Politics, vol. 59, no. 3, Non-Western Political Thought (Summer 1997): 494.)
  69. Interviews by Andrea Jackson, Baghdad, Baquba, Fallujah, Ramadi, Samara, Basra and Hilla, November 2003 through August 2005.
  70. Abu’l A’la Mawdudi, “Political Theory of Islam,” in Islam: Its Meaning and Message, ed., Khurshid Ahmad (London: Islamic Council of Europe, 1976), 159-61. Many attempts have been made to make democracy and the Islamic heritage compatible. A number of Islamic guidelines for social and political behavior, such as the concept of consultation (shurah) and consensus (ijma), could be used as a foundation for Islamic democracy. See John L. Esposito and John O. Voll, Islam and Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 23-28.
  71. U.S. Marine Corps, Small Wars Manual (Washington: General Printing Office, 1940), 1-1 to 1-31; Max Boot, “A Century of Small Wars Shows They Can be Won,” New York Times Week in Review, 6 July 2003.
  72. Charles Stewart Callison, Land-to-the-Tiller in the Mekong Delta: Economic, Social and Political Effects of Land Reform in Four Villages of South Vietnam (Lanham, MD: University Press of America and the Regents of the University of California, 1983), 86.
  73. Callison, 327.
  74. Ibid., 366.
  75. Malyn Newitt, Portugal in Africa: The Last Hundred Years (London: C. Hurst & Co., 1981), 237-38.
  76. John P. Cann, Counterinsurgency in Africa: The Portuguese Way of War, 1961-1974 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997), 145-48.
  77. Newitt, 238-39.
  78. R.W. Komer, The Malayan Emergency in Retrospect (Novato, CA: RAND, 1972), 73.
  79. Ibid., 72-75.
  80. United States Government Accountability Office (USGAO), Rebuilding Iraq: Status of Funding and Reconstruction Efforts (Washington, DC: GPO, July 2005), 6-16
  81. Ibid., 14.
  82. The Iraq Index: Tracking Variables of Reconstruction and Security in Post-Saddam Iraq (Washington, D.C., The Brookings Institution, May 2005), 26. The wide range in the March 2005 estimate is the result of the presence of a large gray and black market, a large number of housewives, payment of salaries to employees of state-owned enterprises that no longer function, and the number of people with multiple jobs.
  83. Dana Dillon and Melissa Parham, “The Iraqi Mafia: An Evolving Insurgency,” National Review Online, 15 January 2004, at <> accessed 4 October 2005.
  84. Montgomery McFate and Andrea Jackson, USMC Focus Groups, Camp Pendleton, California, 2004.
  85. USGAO, 14.
  86. As oil exports increase, the currency of the oil-exporting country inflates. As the cost of the country’s currency becomes higher, so do wages in the country relative to the rest of the world. The relative cost of goods produced in an oil economy exceeds those produced in non-oil-producing states. Oil economies therefore tend to export only oil and import consumer goods. The bulk of their economic activities outside of the oil sector are focused on services (which can only be produced locally).
  87. Lewis A. Coser, Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Historical and Social Context (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977).
  88. George Ritzer, Sociological Theory (New York: McGraw-Hill, 132).
  89. Karl D. Jackson, “Post-Colonial Rebellion and Counter-Insurgency in Southeast Asia” in Governments and Rebellions in Southeast Asia, ed., Chandran Jesrun (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1985), 25.
  90. Ibid, 27-28.
  91. Douglas Pike, History of Vietnamese Communism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1966), 52.
  92. John T. McAlister and Paul Mus, The Vietnamese and Their Revolution (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1970), 67.
  93. Peter A. DeCaro, “Ho Chi Minh’s Rhetoric for Revolution,” American Communication Journal (June 2000), on-line at </>, accessed 4 October 2005
  94. Jacques Dalloz, The War In Indo-China 1945-54 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1987), 50; Hoang Van Chi, From Colonialism to Communism: A Case History of North Vietnam (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964), 33.
  95. Alexander B. Woodside, Community and Revolution in Modern Vietnam (Boston: Houghton Miffin, 1976), 97; Vietnam: A Country Study (Washington, DC: Library of Congress). See Country Studies, Vietnam, Political Culture, on-line at;, accessed 4 October 2005.
  96. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent GEN J. Lawton Collins to Saigon as his personal representative. Collins consistently advised the White House to consider abandoning the repressive Diem regime. See Robert Buzzanco, Vietnam and the Transformation of American Life (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1999).
  97. Melina Liu, “The Will of the Tribes,” Newsweek, 17 March 2003, 31.
  98. Niv Rosen, “Home Rule: A Dangerous Excursion into the Heart of the Sunni Opposition,” The New Yorker, 5 July 2004.
  99. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Iraqi Wild Card: Tribal Loyalties Hard to Predict,” Washington Post Foreign Service, 19 January 2003, A01.
  100. Interviews by Montgomery McFate, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, September 2005.
  101. Paul McGeough, “In the Sheiks’ Hands,” Sydney Morning Herald, 10 November 2003.
  102. Karen DeYoung and Peter Slevin, “Full U.S. Control Planned for Iraq,” Washington Post, 21 February 2003, A01.
  103. Joe Klein, “Saddam’s Revenge,” Time Magazine, 26 September 2005.
  104. McGeough.
  105. Ibid.
  106. Carl von Clausewitz, On War (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1976), 87.
  107. U.S. War Department, General Orders 100, The Lieber Code, 24 April 1863. See “The Lieber Code of 1863,” on-line at <> accessed 4 October 2005.
  108. Lewis Sorley, “To Change a War: General Harold K. Johnson and the PROVN Study,” Parameters (Spring 1998).


Montgomery McFate is a research staff member in the Joint Warfighting Analysis Program at the Institute for Defense Analyses in Alexandria, Virginia. Formerly, she was an American Association for the Advancement of Science Defense Policy Fellow at the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research. She received a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Yale University, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. She has published in the Journal of Conflict Studies, California Western International Law Journal, and Joint Forces Quarterly. Her articles “Anthropology and Counterinsurgency: The Strange Story of their Curious Relationship” and “Iraq: The Social Context of IEDs” appeared in the March-April and May-June 2005 issues of Military Review.

Andrea Jackson, a graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the Director of Research and Training at the Lincoln Group, conducts on-the-ground research in conflict zones and provides computer-based and in-person training to Defense Intelligence Agency analysts and U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq. She previously managed training programs in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. With Montgomery McFate she co-authored “An Organizational Solution for DOD’s Cultural Knowledge Needs,” which appeared in the July-August 2005 issue of Military Review.


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January-February 2006