Life and death after Saddam

Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq
December 15, 2006

Ahmed Hashim is professor of strategic studies at the US Naval War College, and he spent time in Iraq between November 2003 and March 2004 working in an official military capacity on the insurgency and counterinsurgency for US Central Command. This book is not an account of his sojourn there, although it draws on it in analysing the violence that gradually engulfed Iraq between April 2003 and summer 2005. Events have since moved on, and the spectre of civil war is now haunting this "hapless country" (as Hashim describes it).

But Hashim's book retains its value, both for the specialist and the general reader, in describing the origins and evolution of the insurgency in the first two years after Operation Iraqi Freedom. The volume's various chapters discuss the origins and motivations of the Sunni community's uprising, which is the principal cause of the insurgency; its social and geographical scope, goals and tactics, and external sources of support; the perspective of the Kurdish, Shia and other communities and their position within the new Iraq more generally; and the limitations of the US counterinsurgency campaign operations.

The book traces the core causes of the insurgency to the discontent of the Sunni community (including an important element of the Sunni Turkmens) after the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, and in particular the sense of marginalisation that drove former regime elements and military personnel to take up arms. It demonstrates how US ideological fixations, its lack of preparedness for the occupation and the project of state-building that it would inevitably entail, and its choice of coercive military tactics rather than a policy of winning hearts and minds, contributed to Sunni discontent and the cycle of fear and distrust that caused violence to erupt and become sustainable.

The book has many strengths. Hashim carefully unpicks the relationship between "insurgency" and "terrorism" and points out that terrorism is but one method that the insurgents have used in their campaign (as do insurgents throughout history).

He provides useful lists of the insurgent groups and of the Shia politically active groups. He describes the tensions between the nationalist and religious, foreign and local, elements within an insurgency, which has split into "myriad groups".

Not all of the insurgents agreed with targeting civilians in terrorist operations and not all of them aimed to ignite sectarian strife (although, of course, the ones who did have been successful in achieving their objectives). The insurgency's one negative goal was the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, but Hashim shows that it lacked positive political goals.

The Sunni community does not enjoy a clear and unifying political leadership either, which makes negotiating with them and ending the insurgency all the more difficult.

The rich and thoughtful account that this book provides is somewhat obscured by its wordy and repetitive style. It would have benefited from rigorous editing and could have been two thirds or even half the length. It appears that there was a rush in bringing out the publication - Jand this has clearly detracted from the long-term value of the book.

The organisation of the book is also problematic. Chapter two, for example, on the origins and motives of the insurgency, contains section titles on the "motives of former regime elements" or of "former military personnel"

and then a section on the very general - and unhelpful - theme of "religion".

Finally, despite the book's important contributions, the analysis at times remains shallow and repeats points and information that any careful reader of the press would have picked up during the course of 2003-05.

Katerina Dalacoura is lecturer in international relations, London School of Economics.

Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq

Author - Ahmed S. Hashim
Publisher - Hurst
Pages - 482
Price - £20.00
ISBN - 1 85065 795 5

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