MARK WILLACY: That's right, Tony. The Iraqi police have investigated a case in the village of al-Mudhariya, which is just south of Baghdad. The villagers there say that before the election insurgents came and warned them that if they voted in last weekend's election, they would pay.Now the people of this mixed village of Sunni and Shia Muslims, they ignored the threat and they did turn out to vote. We understand that last night the insurgents came back to punish the people of al-Mudhariya, but instead of metering out that punishment the villagers fought back and they killed five of the insurgents and wounded eight. They then burnt the insurgents' car. So the people of that village have certainly had enough of the insurgents.
This is wonderful news. If the murdering insurgents can not keep the populace on their side, they are dead. A true guerilla movement lives and dies based on how the populace feels about them. Chairman Mao in his battles against Chiang Kai Shek had simple dictates for his troops: don't loot, don't rape, don't steal, and if you need something from the locals then pay for it. American Special Forces know this to be true, to be an effective insurgent you need the population at least neutral to you in order to survive and operate. If the insurgent force is seen in the light of protecting the population then that force can rely upon the population to hide and assist them. However if an insurgent force is seen by the populace as not much better or maybe worse than those currently in power, then the populace will side with those in power to get rid of the dangerous insurgents. Pure self interest dictates this, the populace wants to live and will not side with those who abuse them and in the bargain get them killed.
One guerilla movement in which foreign fighters operated easily with the local populace with effect was that of Americans in the Philippines during World War II against the harsh Japanese occupation. For reference: Fertig's They Fought Alone about American military personnel who did not surrender when Gen. Wainwright did and a book of more recent vintage The Rescue about a U.S. submarine rescuing American civilians from the Philippines and the guerilla forces operating in those islands against the Japanese. Historical note, Fertig later helped formed the United States Army's Special Forces.
Before I forget, it was Chairman Mao who also said "Revolution comes from the barrel of a gun." And this it seems is how insurgencies have actually operated in the recent past, marrying calls of reform and justice with the smoking barrel of an AK-47 aimed against any who opposed them.
An insurgency can flourish to a certain extent, even if the insurgents are abusive, if the population is indifferent or apathetic to those in power while experiencing some egrarious abuse at the hands of those in power. South VietNam was such a case. An artificial country with a leadership imported from North VietNam after Ho Chi Minh's followers were given North VietNam. This leadership tended to be Catholic and pro-French, bearing no relation to the animist or Buddhists who actually lived in the newly formed South VietNam. So there were fundamental problems with the South. The U.S. [read the CIA] got in the middle of internal bickering in the South VietNamese government and on November 1, 1963, President Diem and his brother were deposed and killed; thus sparking until Nguyen Cao Ki even more instability in the South and indifference to the government by the populace.
To quote Lt. Col. Le Xuan Chuyan, who defected to South VietNam in 1966 from the North VietNamese People's Army, after two years working with the Viet Cong "Most of the fighting men of the Liberation Armed Forces - the LAF, or Vietcong - do not believe in communism. But they do not believe in the South Vietnamese government's cause either. I think there is only one key to victory in this war: that is to have a flexible, practical, and just policy that meets the aspirations of the people. And of course you must have the military force to back it up." Emphasis mine -- Reader's Digest November, 1967, pg 91.
Later in the article Lt. Col Le Xuan Chuyan says this of their control of territory in South VietNam in 1965; "I realized that the Vietcong were not the majority of the people as we had been told, but only a small minority. They can influence many, through terror, but they do not have popular support, as the Vietminh did in the war of resistance against the French." --Ibid
After reading the whole article and looking back at the VietNam experience, he was right. VietNam could have been won if South VietNam and the US had stayed the course and were committed to defeating the insurgency in detail. But until Nixon came into power, all LBJ and his advisors seemed to want was to play for a tie and not play for a victory since they feared Red China or the U.S.S.R. jumping into the fray to save their ally. Nixon came to the Presidency of the United States on a promise of finishing up the war. Alas Tet in 1968 had taught the American people the war was lost and nevermind the 1972 Easter Offensive in which predominately ARVN forces beat back a NVPA push to conquer South VietNam, then Watergate truly sank Nixon. With Ford as President and a very skittish Congress, the United States retreated as North VietNam in a conventional war finally defeated South VietNam in 1975.
Lt. Col Le Xuan Chuyan echoed my words up at the top in this article, "Moreover, guerrillas can only succeed if they have the support of the local population..." He then goes on to say when comparing Americans to the French, "The North Vietnamese keep saying that the American presence will cause economic chaos and result in burning hatred of the people - but this has not happened. One thing that is clear to most Vietnamese who have had contact with the Americans is that they are not the French. They do not want to stay in Vietnam forever and become plantation owners." -Ibid Now that I think on it, the first part of this quote sounds eerily familiar, think I have heard the anti-Iraq war people use something similar. In VietNam this was the North waging propaganda war by trying to paint the Americans as occupiers and via this strategy to try and rally more people of South VietNam to their cause, ala the Vietminh against the French.
Now leading back to the article quoted at the top. This town might not have decided to defend itself if the people had no belief in the elections and the government those elections promised. But the promise of actually electing someone to speak for them in a government of their choosing lead them to do this bold thing, akin to some people signing a Declaration of Independence perhaps, to risk their lives for a chance at freedom and self-determination. And when these bandits came back to carry out their promised retribution on those who voted, these freedom loving people were willing and able to defend that precious freedom.
Digression, in VietNam MACV and Special Forces did try to assist local villages to defend themselves from the Viet Cong. This lead at first to the creation of CIDG teams, local villagers trained and armed to protect their village. Then MACV as the war progressed started to use CIDG as a more regional reaction force and then finally tried to use them as regular troops away from the areas that were home to them. Naturally this is when CIDG forces failed because the Americans were asking them to defend someone else, no self-interest was apparent to these troops. --Inside the Green Beret What was that line from Tip O'Neil, "All politics are local." US misuse of the CIDG violated what Special Forces had been able to create with them and lessened their effectiveness. In the United States, this focus on the local area is called Neighborhood Watch or Crime Stoppers. In Iraq it was letting each household keep an AK-47 for defense and here that lenient policy paid off as the villagers defended themselves from bandits, handling a problem locally and giving them a true taste of freedom.
It is by the actions of the local Iraqis this war will be won. As long as the US is perceived as a steady supporting ally of a government of their choosing, these people I believe will stand up and fight. No one who lives in Iraq who loves life really wants to see a return of Saddam style brutality. And so far that is all the insurgents are promising[More fun with Saddam's torture palaces] or in the case of al-Sadr's militia common thievery of the populace. This is where these bandits are losing it, the populace sees them as bad or worse than what the Americans got rid of. And once the insurgents are stripped of any legitimacy in the eyes of most of the populace, then they become nothing more than well-armed bandits who are fit only to be arrested, tried, and convicted as the criminals they truly are unless they resist and are killed.
The United States needs to stay the course, its only exit strategy should be a mission statement: to assist the legally popularly elected Iraqi government in its efforts to quell bandits and help the country rebuild from all of Saddam's abuse and neglect.