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June 21, 2005



I've given it some thought and I've figured out how insurgents killing foreign terror scum could possibly be spun as being a bad thing. Ready?

It's the precursor of the coming civil war and subsequent shattering of Iraqs fragile coaltion of religious and ethnic groups.

Wait and see.



LOL - Did you really have to give it THAT much thought? Of course, the MSM - especially the NYT - will spin it that way.

They're already laying the basis for the argument.


This is mainly sunni against sunni. Civil war? yeah, right.

R C Dean

The difficulty with the proto-civil war analysis, of course, is that its only a civil war if citizens of a given country are killing each other. Since the fighting here is between Iraqis and foreign terrorists, it doesn't seem to qualify.

Still, when has the plain meaning of words stood in the way of a good Bush-bashing?


More specifically it is nationalist sunni against fundamentalist sunni.

This is actually the civil war that we want--moderate/secular islam versus fascist retro islam--with all hands on deck to help the moderates. I know, I know, the ba'athist knobs aren't moderates by any means, but being mildly secularist and partly democratic gives us 2 out of 3, compared to nothing for the fascists in the group.

So, we should lend them a hand.


There's also Bush's recent reassurance that “Our troops are fighting these terrorists in Iraq so you will not have to face them here at home.” Someone's sure to say that as far as shifting rationales go, now is not a good time to remind Iraqis that we've turned their backyards into our killing floor for foreigners. Maybe less concern for sagging poll numbers would be more helpful.

Cecil Turner

Well, it's hardly a new theory:

"Some time before the Iraq war, I found myself musing out loud to someone close to the inner circles of the Bush administration. We were talking about the post-war scenario . . .

"And what he said surprised me. If the terrorists leave us alone in Iraq, fine, he said. But if they come and get us, even better. Far more advantageous to fight terror using trained soldiers in Iraq than trying to defend civilians in New York or London. "Think of it as a flytrap," he ventured."

Though I tend to agree it's a bit impolitic for the President to say it in public.


To add to your theory of spin:

The 'freedom fighters of Iraq' have grown in size and strength to a point at which they are now conducting live wargames. Their commitment to their cause allows them to sacrifice themselves to others of the movement, so that they may become more expedient in killing the enemy. This allows for the winnowing of the weak as well, to depress the numbers of insurgents killed and boost morale.

Rumsfeld when later questioned stated: "We'd have to be crazy to get between these two forces", exposing the evergrowing fear that grips the coalition soldiers in Iraq.

Juan Cole: "See, see -this is the beginning of the end of US occupation. A leader will emerge from these battle hardened fighters, and lead Iraq into anarchy."


"Big deal. Arabs kill each other all the time, this 'civil war'will spread and doom Iraq, just like 500 years ago, or like 90 years ago, or like 600 BC, it doesn't matter, I know the hx of this country, and it will always repeat itself, failure, failure, failure....how could anyone expect anything different, if it has not already occurred in history?"

Spy vs. Spy

When lefties hear the phrase "Red-on-Red" they fantasize about abortion and Terri Schiavo.

In all seriousness, I hope our guys over there can parlay that "insurgent amnesty program" into a few more good guys fighting the bad guys. "Red-on-Red" is just a hair's-breadth across the line from "winning hearts and minds". Those guys should be on our side.

From the local insurgents' perspective it makes sense: "if we're going to fight Al Qaeda anyway, we might as well join the team that beats Al Qaeda every time they throw down."


An earlier instance comes from a Canadian:

This is exactly what President Bush wants. To engage them, away from Israel, in mortal combat. To have an excuse for wiping them out -- a good, solid, American excuse, from which Israel has been extracted. The good news is, Hizbullah's taking the bait.
Don't know if I like the pecking order there, and those bearing the brunt of the sacrifice aren't even mentioned. Personally, I think Sullivan's informant did an SNL John Lovetz "Yeah, that's the ticket." Anyway, as far as shifting rationales go, the point is not to shift back in time two years. At least when a lot of people believed Saddam's Iraq was a nexus of terrorism, it would have been impolitic to formalize. Now it's immoral.


I forgot to say that President Bush is a great man and I'd follow him anywhere. We Iraqis are proud to assist in helping to rid the world of these jihadi scum.


I bet it's a lot easier to win the hearts and minds when they compare you to Talibanesque foreign jihadis.

Bill Arnold

flypaper is a very misleading metaphor. A much closer metaphor is a very rigorous, very dangerous, very realistic terrorist training camp. The survivors (there will be thousands or even 10s of thousands) are not people we want anywhere on this planet. One mitigating factor is that they are learning primarily anti-troop/vehicle skills, not mass-murder-of-civilians skills (though big car bombs in civilian crowds come close).

Not good, IMO.

Cecil Turner

"A much closer metaphor is a very rigorous, very dangerous, very realistic terrorist training camp. "

I don't know. Seems to me that at the most basic level, the learning curve of a suicide bomber is unlikely to be very steep.

In any event, there's a limit to what a military force can do to quell an insurgency (at least without using draconian measures we almost certainly will not resort to). In the final analysis, Iraq's future depends on a critical mass of Iraqis deciding not to provide a safe haven for Jihadists. And I'm having a hard time seeing the nationalist insurgents falling out with them as anything but hopeful.

Geek, Esq.

I'm sure the Iraqis would be extraordinarily grateful to learn that Bush intended to use their streets and communities as a terrorist magnet.

But, who cares if a bunch of Iraqis get killed by terrorists?


The learning curve of the cannon fodder bomber is very short. Those that provide logistics, support, and command roles however, are getting a graduate degree in the stuff. It's like Afghanistan all over again.

After they're no longer able to get any results by killing Iraqis, I guess the US will just have to sic them on another group of non-English speaking folk.

Rob Read

Iran then.

Paul Zrimsek

The Evil Premeditated Flypaper Theory must be the summer replacement for the Clueless Blindsided By Insurgency Theory. Won't "C" at MI6 be surprised!

Lurking Observer

Won't the American people be surprised to hear from the mouths of liberals like Geek,Jr. that they'd rather terrorists were committing mayhem here than elsewhere.

Thus, the Party of FDR, who believed in fighting Nazism in Europe, rather than on Long Island, and fighting Japanese fascism in the Pacific, rather than San Franciso, dies.

Thus, the Party of Harry Truman, who believed in fighting Communism in Turkey and Greece, and later in Seoul, rather than in America, dies.

Say it loud, Geek, I'd rather fight the terrorists here than there!


Yup, Geek, you're right. The US should just fold up its tent and go home. After all, Saddam terrorized his fellow Iraqis into submission, or worse. What difference does it make if these al Qaeda types (or whatever name they're going by this week) do the same thing to these non-English speaking folk?

The terrorists are just an invention of the US--if we weren't in Iraq, they wouldn't exist. Root causes, and all, right?

Bill Arnold

Forbes, LO, the question is one of personel and skill levels of the terrorist threat, not root causes.
These dimensions of the terrorist threat are extremely variable. These dimensions of the insurgencies and proxy insurgencies we fought (directly or with proxies) during the cold war might have grown as quickly, but those insurgencies as far as I know never had ambitions of attacking the U.S. directly.

That's the basic argument. (Please attack it rather than putting words in our mouths)


Bill Arnold, I am confused: Are you saying that the insurgency in Iraq is learning to be better and stronger so as to attack the US?

If that is true then you are wrong since the Baathists couldn’t give a damn about the US but want to return to terrorizing Iraqis only, by reinstating Saddam.

You are also wrong since the Al Qaeda on the other hand, do want to take on the US in the US if possible - AS WELL AS ANY GOVERNMENT OR PEOPLES on earth that are not their form of radical theocracy/dictatorship/fascism.

As for those Iraqis who want to become part of the political scene in Iraq, they are the people who don't want war and terrorism any more. They were misguided, and are now willing to negotiate a political outcome rather than be defeated wholesale by the rest of Iraq (the 80% no longer at war that is Sunni, Shiite, Kurd or other).

Will the terrorists be better at fighting? Not if they lose most of their people in this war in Iraq. The smaller the group the easier for police and intel assets to find and root them out, wherever they are. Then you do not need military to take them on, just police and intel assets.

Is the insurgency winning, obviously not! Are the terrorists winning obviously not!


Bill A: I think you're getting caught up with a trees and forest problem, i.e. an inapt comparison with cold war-era insugencies. The MSM has stated all along that the terrorists in Iraq are an insurgency fighting foreign invaders, the infidel US military. (Except that the so-called insurgents are almost entirely targeting Iraqi civilians!) Now it turns out that the so-called insurgents are fighting foreign terrorists that have arrived from neighboring Islamic and Arab countries. Such events seem to support the contention that the insurgency has been fueled (and led--Zarqawi) by foreign terrorists infiltrating from neighboring countries.

That Iraqis--of whatever stripe, and for whatever reason--choose to fight such foreign terrorists would be a good thing, no? At the end of the day, Iraq needs to stand up its own people to provide for its common defense and policing. If this is a step in that direction, good for them--however imperfect.

(Tongue-in-cheek comments are my own, root causes, and all.)

Geek, Esq.

One of the great false assumptions is that there are only a finite number of terrorists in this world, and that external events don't change their numbers or their motivation.

The lesson of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan should have cleared that myth up long ago.

It is also foolish to assume that the terrorists in Iraq would be here blowing people up if we didn't invade. That's poppycock. It's also bogus to assume that they couldn't kill our troops in Iraq as well as fund missions here.

The great, great majority of Iraqis shooting at US troops were absolutely zero threat to the United States before the war. Now they are shooting and killing American citizens on a daily basis.

Harry Arthur

Geek, not sure I understand your point regarding the "lesson of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan" and its attendant myths. What exactly would you suggest we learn from the USSR's experience in Afghanistan?

Secondly, not sure I agree that your assessment that "the great, great majority of Iraqis shooting at US troops were absolutely zero threat to the United States before the war" is the central question. It is clear that Iraq was at the very least a supporter of terrorism, including training camps and funding, as admittedly are other regimes such as Iran and Syria. At a minimum Iraq supported suicide bombers in Palestine/Israel that are now not receiving that support, so while you are at least partially correct in your assertion, I believe your focus may be too narrow.


Spy vs. Spy

"One of the great false assumptions is that ... external events don't change [terrorist] numbers or their motivation."

Whoever made that assumption it luckily wasn't George Bush. The genius of the Neocons was to co-opt Osama's "Strong Horse Doctrine" and turn it against him.

"The lesson of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan should have cleared that myth up long ago."

That outlawing religion is really stupid?

"It is also foolish to assume that the terrorists in Iraq would be here blowing people up if we didn't invade."

Abdul Rahman Yasin did exactly that. I'm curious what magical tranquilizing property Iraq has that transforms the terrorists it harbors into "non-threats" ... besides Coalition troops kicking terrorist butt, I mean.

To adopt your turn of phrase: It is foolish to assume the terrorists harbored in Iraq would NOT be here blowing people up if we didn't invade.

"It's also bogus to assume that they couldn't kill our troops in Iraq as well as fund missions here."

True. Any of us might be called to make Todd Beamer's sacrifice. As a corollary, every terrorist killed or captured in Iraq reduces the threat worldwide.

"The great, great majority of Iraqis shooting at US troops were absolutely zero threat to the United States before the war."

True but not to the point: the great, great majority of the people shooting at us are not Iraqis but foreign fighters making the one-way pilgrimage to their final Jihad -- against trained soldiers instead of masses of unarmed civilians.

Again the true genius of Bush and the Neocons reveals itself: against massed civilians Al Qaeda was able to inflict over 3,000 casualties in 3 hours. Against our soldiers they've only managed half that in 3 years.

Each of us owes our fighting men and women a debt we can never fully repay.

Cecil Turner

"It's like Afghanistan all over again."

This would be more persuasive if Afghanistan had gotten more dangerous after the current conflict started. ISTM it did not (at least as a source of exported terror).

"True but not to the point: the great, great majority of the people shooting at us are not Iraqis but foreign fighters making the one-way pilgrimage to their final Jihad -- against trained soldiers instead of masses of unarmed civilians.

Exactly. The relative training advances versus the loss of those with personnel motivated and mobile enough to carry out attacks are the tradeoff. Unfortunately, the available data is too sparse to make a definitive assessment one way or the other. My personal belief is that the latter outweighs the former, but I don't see how one would prove it (except possibly by comparing reolative effectiveness of terror attacks ten years hence).


On the question of whether the war in Iraq is creating more terrorists than it is killing, here are a couple of views:

David Warren, who first wrote about "flypaper" way back when, thinks it is working (and I think he is an optimist).

And the CIA has a good news / bad news study. Since the bad news is headlined, I'll excerpt the good:

The assessment said the central role played by Iraq meant that, for now, most potential terrorists were likely to focus their energies on attacking American forces there, rather than carrying out attacks elsewhere, the officials said. But the officials said Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries would soon have to contend with militants who leave Iraq equipped with considerable experience and training.

I guess that depends on whether the militants leave Iraq by foot or by box.


"True but not to the point: the great, great majority of the people shooting at us are not Iraqis but foreign fighters making the one-way pilgrimage to their final Jihad..."

Just curious, what's your source for this? I've seen some anecdotal cites from folks on the ground to this effect, but little in the way of hard numbers. In fact, most of the hard numbers that I've seen suggest that in terms of strict numerical involvement, the foreign-born are a distinct minority (though they are greatly disproportionately involved in mass casualty attacks).

I was just reading a piece on the Counterterrorism Blog the other day detailing the specific country of origin of foreign fighters (the majority from Saudi, big surprise there) and the total n cited was 300, though I don't have a good handle on what the ultimate source of those figures was. I haven't read his updates lately, but I recall Cordesman's stuff from CSIS echoing this notion (i.e., small numbers of foreign fighters) from the detention side. When I read the descriptions of how these guys operate, they also seem to me to be somewhat small in numbers and dependant on what seems to me to be a native Iraqi support infrastructure - i.e., they're passed down a ratline from Syria and (generally, with some exceptions) kept in safehouses in small numbers until it's time to serve as a mobile initiator.

Spy vs. Spy

"Shooting at us" is the key phrase. The large-scale attacks and suicide bombings are being carried out by foreign fighters, who started at around 10% of the AIF's and have increased in proportion steadily, but not yet to the 50% mark. The foreign Jihadis, while fewer in number, have done more damage.

Here are some various sources, but none with an exact percentage:

"The numbers ... speak for themselves."

"Abizaid Says Percentage of Foreigners Increasing in Iraq"

"They do a disproportionate amount of killing"

If you do your own research across a timeline of media reports you can see the trend for yourself: in 2002 it was almost all insurgents, and now in 2005 it's Al Qaeda making the headlines and big attacks while true insurgents find themselves more often caught in the middle than leading the charge.

They've become victims, which is kind of sad, and I'm not unsympathetic to their point-of-view. They're wrong, and we have to fight them same as Al Qaeda, but I'm not unsympathetic.

It doesn't surprise me that local insurgents assist in the smuggling of foreign terrorists. "Red-on-Red" is news precisely because it's a new development. It follows that collaboration must have been the order of the day before now. It also follows that, at present, that order isn't completely reversed, just challenged to the point that people are noticing.

Although Zarqawi is a more rational explanation for Al Qaeda's big footprint in Iraq, it would be the saddest of ironies if it had been the Iraqi insurgency who originally brought Al Qaeda into the fold and now find themselves wishing they had been careful what they had wished for.


I tend to agree with the central thrust of your interpretation of the numbers, (i.e., there are significantly more foreign fighters now than there were, and the number of casualties that they inflict has also increased), though I'd quibble with the exact numbers.

If AIF is interpreted as an actual number of personnel, I rather suspect that we're not yet very close to 50%, based on the numbers that I've seen cited (though the figures might be much closer to this estimate, if one were to count all the groups with significant numbers of foreigners in them [e.g., counting all members Iraqi and not of all groups with more than, say, 15%-20% foreigners]). Cordesman gives an estimate of 1,000 to 2,000 foreign fighters at the beginning of the year, and cites the US government as the source for this estimate; this is juxtaposed against total insurgency strength estimates ranging between 8,000 and 18,000 also USG-sourced.

If these figures are interpreted through the lens of who's inflicting the casualties, the high end's probably a lot closer (if not maybe a bit of an under-estimate, given very recent trends), but I'm not sure that the low end's ever been that low. There were an awful lot of mass casualty attacks attributed to Zarqawi et.al. right from the get-go.

All that said, yeah, clearly the trend's as you describe. I did say I was quibbling... :)

"...it would be the saddest of ironies if it had been the Iraqi insurgency who originally brought Al Qaeda into the fold and now find themselves wishing they had been careful what they had wished for."

Oh, I think that's what happened, with a bit of a twist. In my view, Zarqawi likely got started as a proxy being run by the Ba'athist IIS, as part of their insurgency campaign. I think the guy's gradually become successful enough that he is now able to run his own ops without depending on help from the former Ba'ath (I don't have a good sense to what extent they might be pulling his strings, even now - at a minimum, I don't think the Ba'ath are generally hunting his or similar folks down; Zarqawi and his ilk serve their purpose rather well). I rather suspect that it isn't so much that a Sunni nationalist insurgency had Zarqawi get away from their control, but that a Sunni nationalist insurgency also originally supported by the former Ba'ath remnants has gotten away from the Ba'ath.

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