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Cover Story: Iraqi Rebels - The New Iraqi Way of War Cover Story: Iraqi Rebels - The New Iraqi Way of War

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Cover Story: Iraqi Rebels - The New Iraqi Way of War

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

On March 19, 2003, the United States unleashed a new form of warfare in Iraq. While the world watched on TV, smart bombs zeroed in on targets pinpointed by long-range sensors, savaging Iraqi troops far from any front line. "Shock and awe" killed many Iraqis outright and paralyzed the rest, leaving them unable to evade American firepower or to strike back at tormentors they could rarely see. It seemed the triumph of what then-candidate George W. Bush had hailed in 1999 as "a revolution in the technology of war [in which] force is projected on the long arc of precision-guided weapons."


Force soon found another arc to follow, however. In the months after President Bush declared the official end of "major combat operations" in Iraq on May 1, 2003, an emerging insurgency invented its own form of shock and awe. Much as the U.S. had "transformed" its conventional military of aircraft, tanks, and infantry by adding expensive Information Age technologies, the insurgents in Iraq transformed the traditional guerrilla tactics of ambush, bombing, and propaganda by adding disposable cellphones for easy communication, bomb detonators jury-rigged from garage door openers, and online promotional videos. Soon they were hitting ostensibly safe rear areas, blowing up Americans troops who were unable to evade or strike back at their unseen foes.

Unlike the Pentagon's often-ponderous and highly centralized "revolution in military affairs," the new Iraqi way of war is evolving in a ferment of local innovation. "It's like trying to nail down smoke," said Army Col. Casey Haskins, who served 18 months in Iraq as a senior planner and now commands the Infantry Training Brigade for recruits at Fort Benning, Ga. "It's different from one side of Baghdad to the other. Every time we counter something [the enemy does], they counter our counter, and we counter their counter to our counter."

When U.S. marines began patrolling the western border town of Karibila in February 2004, for example, they ran into homemade land mines. At first, the mines tended to detonate as soon as a Humvee's front tire ran over them. The engine block would absorb most of the blast, totaling the vehicle but often sparing those inside. Soon, however, said the marines' commander, Maj. Trent Gibson, "we were getting rear-wheel mine strikes on our Humvees. It was a problem I was boggled over. They were planting the mines upside down," in a conical hole with a few inches of space below the mine. When a Humvee drove over, its front wheel merely pushed the mine farther down into the hole, shoving its pressure plate up against the dirt; then the weight of the rear wheel set off the explosion, directly under the marines inside. "We failed to appreciate, in the beginning, that you had a thinking enemy that was at least as crafty and innovative as you," Gibson said. "You learn not to fucking underestimate your enemy."


Arabs Make Good Guerrillas

These are the same Iraqis the U.S. steamrolled twice, in 1991 and 2003. Indeed, many are exactly the same people, veterans from Saddam Hussein's disbanded army. Stripped of all the advantages of an organized state -- tanks, artillery, police stations, tax revenue -- these men have somehow become not less dangerous, but more.

For generations, in fact, Arabs have been far more effective as guerrilla fighters than as troops in military formations. "Most of the conventional armies of the Arabs have been modeled on Western patterns, and, in many cases, they can't adapt their way of fighting to the Western way, because they have a totally different culture," said Norvell (Tex) De Atkine, a retired Army colonel who served extensively as an adviser in the Middle East. "It's a far different matter when they get to exercise their own initiative within their own tribal organizations."

Kinship, consensus, and Islam can bind Arabs together into successful fighting organizations in a way that corrupt, tyrannical, secular institutions cannot. Conventional Arab armies are typically hamstrung by micromanagement, overcentralization, and mutual mistrust among resentful conscripts, ambitious officers, and coup-fearing government leaders. These forces have repeatedly been slow to adapt and quick to run, and have been easy prey for U.S. and Israeli militaries. Arab irregulars, by contrast, have shown their ingenuity and toughness by bloodying those same Western-style forces in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank.


It was Hezbollah, a Shiite militia born in Lebanon, that pioneered many of the guerrilla techniques now used so lethally in Iraq. Its then-revolutionary use of suicide truck bombs in the early 1980s killed 241 American troops in their Beirut barracks in a single strike in 1983 and drove all but a handful of international peacekeepers from the country. As for makeshift land mines, "the first time I ever saw what we call 'IEDs' today was when I was a peacekeeper in Lebanon in 1986 and '87," recalled retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson. "The Lebanese insurgents were starting to use these roadside bombs and detonate them from a remote hilltop with a RadioShack-type device. At the time, it was a novelty: The technology to trigger those things wasn't [widely] available in Vietnam."

Hezbollah's increasingly skilled use of roadside bombs, Katyusha rockets, and small units of determined fighters bled the Israeli occupation force in southern Lebanon until it unilaterally withdrew in 2000. When a 34-day war broke out in 2006, Hezbollah fought the vaunted Israelis to a draw, losing an estimated 250 troops to Israel's 119 and destroying at least five tanks.

Yet that peak performance for Hezbollah -- more than 100 Western troops killed in a single month -- is a deadly success rate that Iraqi insurgents have equaled or exceeded eight times since the first two months of the Iraq war in 2003. The Iraqis have achieved that bloody marker with only four years of experience since the U.S. invasion, compared with the quarter-century Hezbollah has had to counter the Israelis occupying southern Lebanon. Moreover, the Iraqis have also done it without a secure territory in which to build up relatively unmolested, as Hezbollah had in southern Lebanon from 2000 to 2006.

"The period to compare Iraq with is not Lebanon in 2006 but Lebanon before the Israelis withdrew," said Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "There was nowhere near the intensity we see in Iraq today."

During almost two decades under occupation, Hezbollah killed, on average, only 25 Israeli soldiers a year. The Iraqi insurgents kill more than 50 Americans in the average month.

Fratricidal Insurgents

As dramatically as their killing skills have progressed, however, the Iraqi insurgents' political organization has lagged behind. Personal and tribal loyalties can bind small guerrilla groups together, but, so far, cannot fuse the insurgents into a united national front. Despite significant consolidation since the first scattered outbreaks in 2003, the Sunni Arabs who drive most anti-U.S. violence are still divided into several major groups and countless minor ones. (The various Shiite militias, which are less likely to attack U.S. troops than they are Iraqi civilians, are better organized than the Sunnis but still fight each other on occasion).

The divisions among the Sunnis are deadly serious. The 1920 Revolution Brigades (named after an anti-British revolt that year) split in two earlier this year after its leader was assassinated, probably by Al Qaeda. The Islamic Army of Iraq has fought gun battles with Al Qaeda's umbrella group, the Islamic State of Iraq. Qaeda ally Ansar al-Sunna recently renounced one of its own subgroups for defecting to a rival coalition of insurgents called Reformation and Jihad.

Such fratricidal violence is common to insurgencies. In Lebanon "at the end of the 1980s, there were a lot of battles between Hezbollah and Amal," a rival Shiite group, said Boston University professor Augustus Richard Norton, author of Hezbollah: A Short History. The two Lebanese factions killed more of each other's members than they did Israelis.

Even the celebrated Yugoslav partisans of World War II spent as much time battling each other as they did fighting the German invaders. But in time, White said, "usually one group gains supremacy for one reason or another. In Iraq, I haven't seen a process like that yet. It hasn't melted down into two or three organizations with a hierarchical structure."

This radical decentralization has its advantages for the insurgents -- it contains the damage from losing a leader such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, for example, who was killed by U.S. troops in June 2006 -- but the guerrillas' increasing tendency to kill each other is a definite drawback. Nor is there an authoritative figure in the resistance who can negotiate with the government to end the violence in return for meeting Sunni Arab demands, such as access to oil revenue. The irony, though, is that the insurgency's greatest weakness, its fragmentation, makes it much more difficult to defeat.

In fact, from the very start, the Iraqi insurgency's escalating capacity for destruction far outstripped its capacity for anything constructive. "In contrast to the classic Maoist model of insurgency" -- in which political organization and military capabilities develop in parallel -- "there was never a pre-insurgency phase of building a political cadre and marshalling one's resources" in Iraq, according to professor Bruce Hoffman, a noted terrorism expert at Georgetown University. "This went from zero to 60."

How did the insurgency become so lethal, so quickly? The answers lie partly in the corrupted social networks of Iraq, partly in Information Age innovations in mass mobilization -- pathologies and technologies widespread in developing countries. Whenever and however the U.S. military leaves Iraq, the way of war that the Iraqis have evolved is something America will face again. "The genie's already out of the bottle, whether they win or not," Hoffman said. "A cult of the insurgent has emerged from Iraq that's going to inspire imitation elsewhere, because it has shown that a bunch of guys with garage door openers and cellular phones can inflict pain and suffering on the most technologically advanced military in the history of mankind."

An Evolution in Violence

As war with the United States loomed in early 2003, Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party cronies were already laying the groundwork for guerrilla war. Saddam had devoted two special units of his Mukhbarat secret police, code-named M-14 and M-21, to developing techniques for building improvised explosive devices, IEDs. He stockpiled munitions across the country. He raised a militia, the Saddam Fedayeen, to augment the conventional army that the Americans had so easily overwhelmed in 1991. He may even have envisioned an insurgency in the event that Baghdad fell. Clearly, having lost to the U.S. conventionally in 1991, Saddam deliberately turned to irregular forces.

Equally clearly, the Iraqi dictator did not do a very good job. "Before the war, I told every American official I met, 'Look, you have to realize the Baath are ready for you. The Baath already have an underground system that will start operating the moment you come into Iraq,' " said professor Amatzia Baram, a terrorism expert at the University of Haifa in Israel. "But they were not as ready as I thought. Had they been really well organized, Saddam would never have been caught, and his sons would never have been gunned down."

The Saddam Fedayeen irregulars were a nasty surprise for the U.S. invasion force, ambushing American support troops with bazooka-like rocket-propelled grenades. But in face-to-face firefights, U.S. combat troops regularly annihilated the Fedayeen forces.

Baghdad's fall on April 12, 2003, was followed by a summer of stunned quiet. Soon enough, however, insurgents using new tactics began to succeed where Saddam had failed. On August 26, for example, Eric Everts's squad of seven marines in two unarmored, open-sided Humvees was escorting an Army civil-affairs officer to Baghdad for a mission to win "hearts and minds." "It was about 6 in the morning," Everts told National Journal. "I heard an explosion and I heard my driver say, 'RPG! RPG!' " But it was not a rocket-propelled grenade that had crippled the unit's second Humvee and wounded the four men inside: It was a new Iraqi weapon, a makeshift land mine laid alongside the road -- a device yet to be nicknamed an IED.

Another novel weapon soon made its appearance. Within minutes, Everts said, "a camera crew showed up, with 'TV' written on their white T-shirts." They were so persistent that Everts ended up throwing nonlethal smoke grenades to drive them off. Afterward, an intelligence officer told him the suspiciously prompt "TV crew" was the insurgents' tool to record proof of the attack -- to show their paymasters and to distribute as propaganda. A year later, back in the United States, Everts saw footage of his wounded men replayed on cable news.

IEDs Gain Sophistication

At the end of his combat tour in Iraq, Everts mustered out of the Marines as an enlisted man and was commissioned an officer in the supposedly part-time California National Guard, which sent him back to south Baghdad in fall 2004. In 2003, Everts's marines had survived an IED in their unarmored 2.6-ton Humvee, but a year later, improvised explosive devices were destroying 70-ton M1 Abrams tanks. "We lost three in our sector," Everts said.

The insurgents had also begun using suicide bombers to drive explosives-laden cars into areas where they could not lay mines. "We were watching these huge fireballs, higher than three- or four-story buildings, from vehicle-borne IEDs filled with propane canisters and artillery shells," Everts said. On October 29, a mine using that mix of propane and high explosives killed two men in one of the up-armored Humvees. "The IED cracked open the seams [around] the doors and allowed the propane to seep in," Everts said. "It literally burns people alive."

Eight months later, on June 20, 2005, with insurgent operations escalating in complexity, Everts inadvertently led four Humvees into the middle of an Iraqi insurgent group that was planting IEDs in the road. "The machine-gun fire was so intense it was blowing tires out; radio antennas got shot off," he recalled. "I'll never understand why we didn't get hit by an RPG." Within "30 seconds," Everts ordered his Humvees into reverse. They joined with 30 Iraqi Interior Ministry troops in pickup trucks and returned to the scene, just five minutes later, to find the insurgents already gone, leaving behind two car bombs, nine artillery shells, eight rocket-propelled grenades, a dozen machine guns, and 20 AK-47 rifles. Follow-on units captured five Syrian fighters fleeing the scene. Everts's company commander, Capt. Michael McKinnon, and his battalion commander, Col. William Wood, both recommended him for a Bronze Star for valor.

Within six months, McKinnon and Wood were dead. IED strikes killed them both, demonstrating the insurgents' capacity for precision. "I was with Captain McKinnon when he got hit," Everts said. Not a "dumb" mine set off by a Humvee's tire, this IED was triggered by a hidden insurgent to blast sideways into the right front door of the second Humvee in the formation, exactly where McKinnon, as senior officer, was riding. "I can tell you they videotaped that too," Everts said, "because it was shown on Al Arabiya," a cable network. Reinforcements poured in to secure the area -- capturing an Iraqi suspect and an Egyptian. But Col. Wood, part of the follow-on forces, was checking the site on foot and stumbled onto a secondary device laid to kill any force responding to the first IED. He was killed instantly.

A New Kind of Combined Arms

Just as the U.S. military relies on close collaboration between airpower, armored vehicles, and infantry, the Iraqi insurgents combine IEDs, snipers, suicide bombers, and cameramen into a coordinated attack. "Some of them have been through, no-kidding, pretty good military training," as former Baathist Republican Guards or Iraqi army commandos, said Col. Haskins, the U.S. training brigade commander. Although insurgents usually operate in small groups -- three men planting an IED, a dozen firing at a convoy -- they have occasionally mustered formations of 100 or 200 fighters, attacking U.S. or Iraqi government forces after an initial "softening-up" barrage executed not by the artillery a conventional army would use but by suicide car bombs.

The first suicide car bomb in history exploded on December 15, 1981, in Beirut -- ironically, in an attack by anti-Saddam Iraqi exiles against the Iraqi Embassy. Since then, the technique has spread worldwide, including to such non-Islamic groups as Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, who are secular Marxists who do not believe in any kind of afterlife, let alone the stereotypical Islamic one with doe-eyed virgins. The appeal of suicide is mainly tactical. "It's a huge advantage," Haskins said. "It's a precision weapon. And the hardest part of planning any offensive operation is planning your way out. When you've eliminated that, you've really simplified your planning process."

Even so, for all the terrifying power of suicide bombs and IEDs, Haskins asserted, "the main weapon in those attacks is the video camera. They don't kill us because they think killing one or two of us will get us out. But by putting it online, it demoralizes us. It wins them recruits."

No less a guerrilla than Mao Zedong articulated the principle that insurgents fight against overwhelmingly superior conventional armies not to defeat them militarily but to dishearten their supporters politically and to arouse the local population. "The people, mobilized," Mao wrote, "are a vast sea in which the enemy will drown."

David Spencer, an insurgency scholar at the military's National Defense University in Washington, said, "The message of the attack is far more important than the military outcome. The reason you see these videos ad nauseam [is so the insurgents can show] that the Americans aren't as strong as everyone thinks, that we can kill them, and here's how we do it over and over again."

How did the insurgency learn to kill us over and over again? The answer lies less in Saddam Hussein's preparations for a U.S. invasion than in the toxic legacy that his misrule left behind.

Networks of Corruption, Kinship, and Electrons

"Power," Mao wrote, "comes out of the barrel of a gun." Throughout the 20th century, insurgent groups struggled to arm themselves. The Vietcong had to haul munitions hundreds of miles down the Ho Chi Minh Trail and scavenge the dud bombs the U.S. had dropped on them. In Iraq in 2003, however, it was a lot easier to get weapons. Saddam's inner circle tapped their fat overseas bank accounts and helped themselves to some 600,000 tons of weapons, ammunition, and explosives that Saddam had stockpiled around the country.

The regime's sloppiness and corruption made it relatively easy for insurgents to eventually get their hands on these munitions. "Saddam's army had giant depots of explosives just lying around by the side of the road, without even a chain-link fence," said Andrew Teekell, an Iraq analyst for the private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting.

Saddam and the decade of U.N.-authorized sanctions conspired to turn what had been one of the Middle East's most secular, middle-class, and surprisingly uncorrupt countries into a kleptocracy of the kind tragically common in the developing world. Saddam's son Uday, for example, "was the czar of smuggling cigarettes and liquor," according to the University of Haifa's Baram. "If he realized anyone else was smuggling it, he hanged them."

Under U.N. sanctions, Saddam's long-standing favoritism toward his Sunni Arab relatives grew into an alliance between the regime and tribes with a long history in the smuggling trade. "Saddam tried to reinvent tribalism," said Rend Al-Rahim Francke, a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace who served as the first ambassador from post-Saddam Iraq to the United States. "The [tribal] fiefdom system that existed in Iraq in the 1950s was all but dismantled in the 1960s and 1970s" by laws and land reform; but in the 1990s, Saddam revived it in his own corrupt image, undercutting sheiks from traditionally respected families by plying his favorites with money and weapons.

In 2003, neither smuggler sheiks nor corrupt officials were willing to risk their lives to save Saddam. (Only one relatively minor insurgent group even denounced his execution in December 2006.) But the U.S. occupation attacked the elites' privileges and profits directly. The Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer ousted Baathists wholesale from graft-rich government jobs, discharged army officers without pay or pensions, and cracked down on smugglers. The Baathists and their allies got angry.

Brand-Name Terrorism

Freed of the Saddamist state with its ill-led army, incompetent bureaucracy, and paranoid secret police, the displaced Baathists and tribalists came together in informal and effective networks based on personal trust. "Like all insurgencies, it's built on previously existing relationships," Haskins said. "These guys went to school together, those guys were in the army, and those guys were cousins. It's not centrally directed. It's, 'Hey, Joe Bob, Billy Ray, come on, grab your truck, grab your shotgun, let's go!' "

On a local level, personal trust allows the insurgents to form much larger units than the typical three- or four-person Communist revolutionary cell. A typical insurgent "brigade" may have a half-dozen to 50 members. Brigades swear loyalty to larger organizations in return for funding and expert help -- bomb makers for example -- but that "loyalty" is easily withdrawn or transferred. "There's a lot of flux," said Mohammed Hafez, author of the forthcoming book Suicide Bombers in Iraq. "But it's good to have a brand name. The more operations you do under [the name of] a specific group, the more likely you are to get money and weapons."

Local groups will conduct attacks and send the video to their favorite umbrella organization, which distributes the propaganda through a worldwide network of sympathetic chat rooms, online forums, and "mirror sites." "Every time someone, say, shoots down a helicopter, they post a video on the Internet," said Strategic Forecasting's Teekell. "And in the lower right-hand corner will be the little logo of the Council of Bearded Clerics, or whatever. You can consider that advertising." Studies of earlier insurgencies have shown that effectiveness attracts more supporters than ideology does: The group seen as striking the most dramatic blows gains recruits and donors -- and thus the wherewithal to launch more attacks, which attract more support.

In the 21st century, that self-reinforcing cycle runs at Internet speed. When most suicide bombers in Iraq videotape their final testaments, for example, they cite earlier suicide bombers' videotaped declarations as their inspiration. "If you went into a village 40 years ago in South Vietnam, it was a big deal if they had a radio," said retired Army Lt. Col. Andrew Krepinevich, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington defense think tank. "If they could pick up Saigon, that was a bigger deal; and if they could pick up Radio Hanoi, that was an even bigger deal. Now you go to a small town in Iraq and people have cellphones, satellite dishes, Internet cafes."

No organization is more adept at exploiting these new media, or more dependent on them, than Al Qaeda. But with its leaders' eyes on the global spotlight, Al Qaeda has stumbled badly in Iraq.

The New World Anarchy

In the ferment of overwhelmingly Iraqi insurgent groups, a small but well-organized cadre of foreign fanatics played a catalytic role. Originally a secular national socialist, Saddam adopted Islamic rhetoric after his 1991 defeat in the Persian Gulf War and loosened secret police restrictions on Sunni Muslim preachers. Saudi money and missionaries made their first inroads into Iraq during this time, plugging the country into the international network of fundamentalists known as Salafis. "Al Qaeda itself was summoning jihadis to Iraq in the months before the [2003] invasion," Hoffman said. "And Al Qaeda deserves more credit than we're willing to give them for putting the match to the fuse."

Although fewer than 10 percent of all insurgent fighters in Iraq are foreign, they are more than 90 percent of suicide bombers. Of the 103 suicide bombers whom Hafez definitively identified for Suicide Bombers in Iraq, "45 come out of Saudi Arabia," he said. "There were only about seven Iraqis." Al Qaeda's first suicide bombing campaign in 2003-04 was aimed at driving out of Iraq anyone who could help the Americans. The bombers hit local representatives and installations of the United Nations, moderate Arab nations, and international aid groups, forcing them to depart. Their absence crippled reconstruction and left the much-resented U.S. largely alone in the face of rising discontent. Al Qaeda's next bombing campaign in 2005-06 savaged Shiite civilians and holy places, culminating in the bombing of Samarra's Golden Mosque. That act set off the first wave of reprisal killings -- Shiite death squads going after Sunnis.

Al Qaeda's brutality led to bloody splits, however, not only between Sunnis and Shiites but among the Sunnis and within the Sunni Arab insurgency itself. Al Qaeda's indiscriminate attacks on Iraqi civilians appalled self-styled "resistance" groups that limited their targets to U.S. and Iraqi government forces. Less publicized, but probably more important, was Al Qaeda's attempt to unify Sunni Arabs into an "Islamic State of Iraq" by force: cracking down on traditional smuggling, imposing strict dress codes for women, and, above all, assassinating recalcitrant sheiks. When rival insurgent groups denounce Al Qaeda's excesses, Al-Rahim Francke said, "I don't think they're saying that because some Shiites were killed in Karbala, or even some Sunnis in Baghdad. They're saying it because their own kith and kin have been killed."

Al Qaeda's Overreach

Ironically, no secularist force has more contempt for traditional tribal ways than does Al Qaeda, whose Salafist ideology sees tribes as a vestige of the jahiliya, the pagan "time of ignorance" before Islam. "Al Qaeda has just as hard a time understanding those tribal relationships as we did," said Brian Fishman, a senior associate at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center. And, he added, Al Qaeda is caught right now because it is having to appeal to three diverse constituencies: angry Muslims worldwide, who cheer on any David who is defying the U.S. Goliath; Sunni Arabs in Iraq, who have no desire to replace U.S. occupiers with Qaeda overlords; and the global community of Salafis, who put ideological purity before battlefield success. The videotaped beheadings that pleased Al Qaeda's hard-core supporters appalled most ordinary Muslims. And to impress the international Salafis, including the exiled Saudi millionaires who provide much of Al Qaeda's funding, the group had to try to impose its will, both military and spiritual, on its fractious Iraqi allies.

"The declaration of the 'Islamic State of Iraq' is where things start coming to a head," said Marc Lynch, an associate professor at George Washington University who writes an irreverent but authoritative blog, Abu Aardvark, on the insurgency. "It initially looked like a propaganda ploy, but what became apparent very quickly was, they were trying to put some meat on the bones by forcing other insurgent groups to pledge loyalty."

Although brigades from Iraqi nationalist organizations such as the Islamic Army of Iraq and the Mujahedeen Army swore allegiance to Al Qaeda's Islamic State, the groups' main leaders formed a counter-coalition, Reformation and Jihad. "It's a direct challenge to the Islamic State of Iraq," said Evan Kohl-mann, a terrorism consultant whose blog,, tracks the factions' dueling statements. The war of words among insurgent groups in Iraq has exploded to create bitter divisions in the global network of online extremists essential to distributing insurgent videos.

The decentralized electronic networks that make it easy for Al Qaeda, or any other group, to spread its propaganda also make it harder for Al Qaeda, or any other group, to control the Iraqi insurgency. During the Cold War, even such a well-organized state as North Vietnam struggled to get its message out through a handful of government broadcasters and international news conglomerates. Now a single individual with a laptop computer can reach audiences worldwide. In the 19th century, 15,000 British troops could control the subcontinent of India because most of the people lived in isolated villages. In the 21st century, 150,000 U.S. troops cannot control an electronically networked Iraq. In the 19th century, imperial powers could conceivably kill rebels faster than discontent could spread. In the 21st century, Col. Haskins said, "there's essentially an infinite supply of angry young men. You can't kill them all. It was possible to beat the Soviet Union by killing its army. It's not even theoretically possible to win these wars by killing."

For better or for worse, said Juan Cole, a historian at the University of Michigan, "the peoples of the world are becoming more [connected] and more capable of being politically mobilized. You can't go back to the way things were in the 19th century. And the 21st century is not on the side of lumbering conventional organizations like the Pentagon."

* Roadside bombs and suicide attacks have grown in power and

precision to become the insurgency's answer to U.S. smart


* Online video of attacks against U.S. troops allows

guerrilla factions to reach worldwide audiences and

overshadow U.S. "public diplomacy."

* Al Qaeda's attempt to control the Sunni insurgency has

backfired violently.

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