Friday, June 5, 2020

Review The Terrorists of Iraq, Inside the Strategy and Tactics of the Iraq Insurgency 2003-2014

Nance, Malcolm, The Terrorists of Iraq, Inside the Strategy and Tactics of the Iraq Insurgency 2003-2014, Boca Raton, London, New York: CRC Press, 2015


The Terrorists of Iraq, Inside the Strategy and Tactics of the Iraq Insurgency 2003-2014 is an introduction to the Iraqi militants. It has the major groups involved, their organization, strategy, tactics, weapons and major battles. If it just stuck to that it would be a fine book for beginners. The problem is that it has two major problems with the origins of the insurgency and the history of the Islamic State.


The good part of the book is its overview of the insurgency. It starts off by giving a detailed background of all the organizations from Saddam Hussein’s time in power that became the backbone of the militants. That includes groups such as the Saddam Fedayeen, the Special Republican Guard, the Special Security Organization, and others. Then it has chapters on the indigenous jihadists such as the Islamic Army of Iraq and finishes with the Islamic State. It covers the ideology, the leadership, the organization, the finances, the weapons, the tactics and strategy employed. Nance breaks down their game plan into four major goals. One was to kill Americans and force a withdrawal. The second was to humiliate non-governmental organizations and international groups working in Iraq to undermine rebuilding. The third was to punish collaborators, and the fourth was to inspire new recruits. The Islamic State also wanted to seize territory and establish a caliphate. Today, all of these different groups have been destroyed, given up or integrated into the Islamic State, but it’s important to understand where they came from.


The issues with The Terrorists of Iraq arise in the history. The first problem is that it claims that the insurgency was planned by Saddam Hussein. Nance wrote that Saddam knew he would lose to the Americans in 2003 so he prepared for an extended guerrilla war. This idea was propagated during the occupation but captured Baathist documents show this was false. Saddam planned on his forces fighting behind enemy lines during the invasion, which was what the Saddam Fedayeen did, but he did not envision an insurgency. Second, Nance wrote that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was under the tutelage of Al Qaeda when he went to Afghanistan, that he was a follower of Osama bin Laden when he entered Iraq in 2002, and Al Qaeda shaped the Islamic State’s ideology. Then it said that Zarqawi was affiliated with Al Qaeda, but not under its control. Only that later statement is true. Later, the book gets Al Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI) leadership wrong. It claims Abu Ayub al-Masri took over after Zarqawi was killed in 2006 and worked with Abu Omar al-Baghdadi who was a senior commander. Then it later switches to say that Baghdadi was the head of the organization. This mix up about the leadership was due to disinformation spread by a captured Islamic State of Iraq member who claimed that Masri was the successor to Zarqawi. Additionally, the book was originally published in 2007. This is the second addition from 2015 but revising the older chapters apparently didn’t happen and leads to these problems.


The sections breaking down the various insurgent groups, which is by far the majority of The Terrorists of Iraq are still worth a read today. They give some very detailed explanations of why the groups were formed, and their basic strategy and methods. Today, this is history, but it’s still a good read to know all the various insurgent organizations that were allayed against the new Iraq. The bad part is it contains a lot of old information from the first edition that has since been debunked and wasn’t changed for the latest version about how the insurgency started, relationship between Zarqawi and Al Qaeda, and who took over Al Qaeda in Iraq after he was killed by the Americans in 2006. There aren’t many books that go into such detail about the Iraqi insurgency, but it really needed to be updated when it was re-published instead of just adding new chapters at the end.


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