Report on Iraqi insurgents and the internet

Because this is work-related, it’s a locked post; the contents are not especially confidential, it’s just that it would be a bit odd for colleagues to see me writing it; people would wonder why I am pimping this particular report, and also I have some small points of criticism which it would be inappropriate for me to make them publicly. The way our organisation works, of course, I don’t even know for sure who the primary author was (though if it is who I think it is, he modestly cites himself only once, in a footnote).

Our report on the Iraqi insurgency from February is a cracking good read. The main interest for people who see this is that it shows how you can use the internet and the latest in technology to run – and indeed increasingly to win – a guerilla campaign against the largest military power in the world. Absolutely fascinating, and all I can say is go and read the full thing.

A few other points that leapt out at me were:
i) the report comprehensively disproves the idea (advocated, among others, by Stratfor) that the insurgency was planned by Saddam Hussein’s regime before it collapsed. In fact there were only three combat deaths in the first month of the occupation, insurgents generally are very critical of the former regime, and those few insurgent groups with formal links to the Baath party or old Iraqi army are pretty insignificant.
ii) Al-Zarqawi, despite his prominence in the media, is in fact the leader of only one of three or four leading factions among the insurgents, and not necessarily the strongest one of those; and the influence of foreign elements among the insurgents has been exaggerated. Inevitably the media, looking for an easily identifiable Bad Guy, have zeroed in on him, and presumably he is therefore also the focus of much analysis from the international intelligence community. But concentrating on him runs the risk of leading the US into the trap of assuming that if they eliminate him they have won.
iii) I did wonder why the concrete policy recommendations made, for a report so impressive on the analysis, are really pretty scanty, relating only to the US and the wider political process. I suspect this is because it is the main report-writer’s first piece of work for us, and the art of writing the right recommendations is one of the peculiarities of the way my organisation does things. One recommendation that should have been made up front, and is implicit in the report: whoever it is (not looking at the CIA at all) that is crashing insurgents’ websites by denial-of-service attacks should stop it, as it only makes their communications more difficult to monitor.

Anyway, feel free to discuss this in public, just please don’t associate me with the above comments.

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