Michael Knights’ article on the state of Iraq’s insurgency is worth your time. Published on August 22, the article offers some valuable insights. First, Knights argues that the insurgency’s focus is narrowing and that, because the US is disappearing fast, insurgent outfits are more focused than ever on local politics. This has serious implications since an Iraq without American troops will no longer be an appealing summer vacation spot for jihadists. Second, Knights suggests Iraq is experiencing a post-sectarian conflict that is occurring within communities rather than between them. Although he does not use the phrase “post-sectarian,” he writes convincingly that the contest now isn’t between Sunnis and Shia; instead, the real battle for power is being fought by Shia against Shia–by Sunnis against Sunnis. Thirdly, Knights believes a low-temperature insurgency will continue for some time. “For a while,” he writes, “Iraq will be stuck on this plateau: a moderate level of insecurity in which the country suffers somewhere between 300 and 500 insurgent attacks per month, including around two dozen attempted mass-casualty attacks.” The author is also convinced the government’s “red lines” regarding widespread chaos will be respected by insurgents who increasingly prioritize local politics over national.
On the shrinking prestige of insurgent targets and narrowing interests:
Yet the vast majority of mass-casualty attacks in Iraq are not meant to attract international attention; they are local strikes by disparate cells. The choice of targets demonstrates how inward-facing political violence in Iraq has become. With some exceptions, most car bombings strike soft targets that are easy to attack, such as exposed Iraqi Security Force checkpoints, municipal buildings, and civilian markets. Whereas AQI, as recently as early 2010, tended to attack highly visible national targets such as hotels, government ministries, and media headquarters, most car bombings are now directed against Iraqis active in local politics, executed by terrorist cells based nearby. Insurgents are now focused squarely on the struggle fordominance of the neighborhood police force, the sub-district council, the district courtroom, or vital pieces of terrain with local significance. They are fighting to dominate local communities while the dysfunctional government is in flux, unable to appoint all its ministerial posts or pass vital legislation, and while the United States is in the middle of its withdrawal.
On conflict within Iraq’s ethnic communities:
In today’s Iraq, the most common forms of low-profile attacks — far more numerous than the headline-grabbing bombings — are drive-by shootings and bombs attached to the underside of personal vehicles. These attacks are largely contained within sectarian communities (Sunni against Sunni or Shia against Shia) and reflect the ultra-local struggle for dominance that is broiling throughout Iraq. Such attacks are by definition low-lethality: they are intended to intimidate as much as they are to kill. They are also the inevitable epilogue of a violent and protracted civil war in which some members of each community sided with the Iraqi government and the U.S.-led coalition while others backed the insurgency. Now the scores must be settled.