Hearts and Minds Accidentally

Via Instapundit comes this story about the people of Fallujah, and other people in the Sunni triangle, beginning to turn on the foreign fighters who are actually causing most of the bloodshed. This is a recurring pattern in Iraq, and happened most recently in An-Najaf with Al-Sadr’s “militia.”

It may be just an accidental strategy on our part, but allowing this or that group of insurgents to control an area for a period of time seems to have long-term benefits. The locals might imagine that they hate the Coalition and the provisional government, but a few days or weeks of living under the rule of the insurgents seems to provide a stark reality check. The insurgents are thugs and religious extremists, who terrorize and extort the local population and eventually draw down retaliation from the Coalition. The insurgents lose the struggle for hearts and minds through their own brutality.

Iraq isn’t a war about firepower. It is a war about information. The bad guys are a relatively small number of individuals hiding within a large population. Finding them requires that enough of the locals turn on them and reveal their locations. The loss of moral support in the general population, caused by the insurgents’ own behavior when they control an area, drives the collection of the information that we need to neutralize them.

The actions of the insurgents cause the locals to view the Coalition as the lesser of two evils. We win the battle for hearts and minds by default.

(update: related thoughts in this post)

10 thoughts on “Hearts and Minds Accidentally”

  1. I don’t think it’s a complete accident, it think it’s a gamble. There are likely long-term benefits, but short-term cost, to not solving Iraq’s problems for them. Doing things for them will curb the violence, but it works against Iraq being independent.

  2. The goal of 4th Generation Warfare.
    “As important as finding and destroying the actual combatants, for example, is drying up the bases of popular support that allow them to recruit for, plan, and execute their attacks.  Perhaps most odd of all, being seen as too successful militarily may create a backlash, making the opponent’s other elements of 4GW more effective.”

  3. It actually seems more intentional than you would think. There have been several options for Fallujah. The Kurds offered to clean it out for us but we deferred. The Marines seemed to be able to provide a military victory at any time. In fact, several times the Marines have had Falluja in their sights but have stopped short of taking it over totally. The first time they tried to turn it over to the Iraqi brigade. This turned out to be a total failure as the “brigade” didn’t live up to it’s promise.

    It seems that the problem is not taking Fallujah but holding it. Remember Patton, “I don’t like to pay for the same ground twice.”

    Now, it seems we have a well trained Iraqi contingent. The Iraqis have proved themselves with the Samarra operation. Now they are ready to take on a bigger problem. Ref: HERE and HERE

    All the talk about the problems in Iraq overlooks the basic choice we had to make. We could:
    1. Overwhelm the country with troops and occupy it. This would just build up long-term resentments similar to those in Saudi Arabia. We would be seen as occupiers.
    2. Install a dictator of our choice, cut and run. Same resentment problems as the first. More stability problems.
    3. Develop a stable government capable of taking care of its self. Most short term pain as we have neither the force of the first or the low profile of the second. But this can provide the most long term leverage in the area.

    Bush has chosen the third option. It requires patience, it includes false steps (like the Iraqi brigade in Fallujah), and in the short term it is painful. But the Samarra operation, the minimization of the Sadr militia, and now the results in Fallujah would seem to be paying off.

  4. Turning against foreign jihadis does not imply support for us. That Iraqi insurgents and some civilians use us to settle scores and turf battles with foreigners does not prove anything about winning hearts and minds of the general population.

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  6. Fritz, whatever…maybe you can explain how this pithy comment has any connection with the points being made ? Extrapolating from “they want to get rid of foreign elements and are willing to use our help to do so” to “we are winning hearts and minds” is weak. If only because I have heard this tale every month in the past year and a half. So I need a wee more than that. Sorry.

  7. “Turning against foreign jihadis does not imply support for us.”

    Sylvain, do we need Iraqi support for us? Maybe enough strength to hold together, enough interest in democracy to not go totalitarian and not try to re-take Kuwait, and enough pride to hold what is theirs and not let it get used to violently support other peoples’ goals would be enough.

    If we have to make Iraq love the US, i think we have a hard problem indeed.

    But the objective in draining the swamp was to get rid of a particularly nasty breed of alligators. If Al Quaeda and Hammas lose their support in Iraq (even just the official support) and Iraq hangs together, maybe we’ve come pretty close to the real goal.

    Matya no baka

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