A lot of people engage in ethnocentric projection by talking about “The Iraqi Insurgency.” A lot the commentary makes it appear that the insurgents are all part of the same group with the same goals. That is not the case. Like most 3rd-world peoples, the people of Iraq identify weakly with the nation-state in which they live. Their primary loyalties lie with family, clan, ethnic group and religion in that order. The vast majority of insurgents do not fight because they believe it is best for all the people of Iraq, but because they believe it will benefit their own subset of the population. Thinking of the problem in terms of western nationalism or patriotism is a big mistake.
There isn’t one insurgency in Iraq but rather four or five. Each insurgency is attached to a specific ethnic and religious group and each insurgency has its own goals which contradict the goals of the other insurgencies. Only the superficial reporting of the media makes it seem like one big fight. In reality, we have multiple enemies which we can turn against one another.
The first insurgency is composed of foreign Sunnis who come to Iraq to fight the jihad. They are mainly Wahabist fanatics who are by far the most vicious and amoral. They are responsible for most of the bombings directed at civilians. They seek to recreate in Iraq another pre-9/11 Afghanistan: a failed state they can use as a base for their attacks on other countries. They seek domination of the nation by Sunnis but not by the native Sunnis.
The second insurgency is composed of a minority of Shias following Al-Sadr. They come from the poorest of Iraq’s poor. Most come from the slums of Baghdad. It’s as if someone assembled an American insurgency from the young men of the nation’s worst housing projects. They seek a Shia-controlled theocracy like Iran. At present they have lost popular support among the Shias and are a mostly defeated force.
The third insurgency is composed of the Sunni clans who have dominated Iraq for centuries. They view themselves much as upper-class post-Civil War whites did. They seek to maintain their positions of power and privilege against the lesser Sunni clans and the Shias and the Kurds. Most were co-opted or bought off by Saddam but were never part of his trusted clan. They are struggling for a “Saddam lite” solution, where the Coalition gives up and goes away leaving them in charge.
The fourth insurgency is comprised of the former inner members of the Baathist regime and members of Saddam’s extended clan. They seek a return to their glory days. They too would like a “Saddam lite” solution but with a member of their clan in charge.
Apart from a small group of radical communist Kurds no other group even shows up on the radar. Each of the four insurgencies wants a different outcome. Both foreign and native Sunnis hate and fear the Shias and will not cooperate with them. The native Sunnis want an orderly nation-state with them in charge, which puts them at odds with the foreign fighters. The Baathist and Saddamites must struggle against the more traditional Sunni clans.
It is likely that all but the foreign fighters would prefer to see a victory by the Coalition and the provisional government than to see one of the other insurgencies secure overall power. Defeat at the hands of the Coalition means assuming a non-dominating role in a future Iraq. Defeat at the hands of the other insurgents means death and slavery. The various Sunnis had been cooperating somewhat until recently, but cracks have begun to appear. The third insurgency seems to be tiring of having all the fighting happening in their backyard, and they are fearful that they will be excluded from the upcoming elections. The foreign fighters and the Baathists are also terrorizing the other Sunnis almost as much as they terrorize other groups.
To secure Iraq, we don’t need people to love us or trust us. We just need to convince them that we represent the best chance for their particular sub-group to have a good future. The fact that each group in Iraq has greater cause to fear each other than to fear us give us an enormous advantage.