By William Van Wagenen

In reporting on the violence in Iraq, most news organizations tend to focus on attacks carried out by the Al-Qaeda in Iraq organization (AQI), which largely consist of suicide bombings targeting Shiite civilians. Similarly, when briefing the press on its military activities, US army spokespersons focus almost exclusively on operations directed at AQI. One thus gets the impression that the war in Iraq today consists of largely two sides: the US-led coalition forces and the Iraqi security forces on the one hand, and AQI militants on the other. Because Americans view AQI as the primary armed group resisting the US presence in Iraq, we easily assume that the US Army must remain in Iraq until the AQI threat is eliminated. A US withdrawal from Iraq would allow AQI to take over a resource-rich country, and use it as a staging ground for further attacks against American personnel and interests in the region, if not further attacks on the American homeland itself. Additionally, the US Army remains in Iraq at the request of and in order to help the “Iraqi people,” who overwhelmingly desire a long term American military presence in their country to protect them from AQI and the outbreak of full-blown civil war. Such a view further suggests that the primary goal of the American military in Iraq is fighting terrorism and establishing a sovereign, democratic Iraqi government.

These ideas were reinforced in the western media in the late summer of 2007, as US officials lauded the success of the “surge” in reducing sectarian violence and the formation of “Awakening Councils” among members of Sunni tribes in Anbar province, which began to cooperate with US forces in fighting AQI. The US military asserted that the entire Sunni population in Iraq was now firmly supportive of the US military presence in the country. President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s recent attempts to sign a long term US-Iraqi security agreement, which will authorize the presence of US troops in Iraq for the next decade, are supposedly based on the above assumptions. 1

Such a view of the conflict in Iraq diverges from reality on several grounds, however. First, most Iraqis do not support the US military presence in their country. According to polls conducted by BBC news in august 2007, the majority of Iraqis (some 57%) continue to support attacks on US troops (including 90% of Iraqi Sunnis), while 79% of Iraqis either somewhat or strongly oppose the presence of coalition forces in Iraq (26% and 53% respectively). This does not mean that Iraqis support AQI, since the same poll indicates that 0% of Iraqis support AQI attacks on civilians, and that only 2% of Iraqis support AQI efforts to take control of local areas. 2

Secondly, the US presence is not preventing civil war and sectarian conflict. The Washington Post reported in December 2007 that “Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of “occupying forces” as the key to national reconciliation, according to focus groups conducted for the U.S. military last month.” 3

Thirdly, there have been, since the first year of the US occupation, a variety of groups who have engaged in armed struggle against American forces who strongly condemn the tactics used by AQI, such as kidnappings, killing hostages, and targeting civilians generally. Some, though not most, even condemn the killing of any Iraqi, even if he/she is a collaborator with the foreign occupier, namely the Iraqi Army and Police.

An example of such a group is the Islamic Front for Iraqi Resistance (JAMI). According to the foreign policy think tank Global, JAMI, “first announced its existence on May 30, 2004. JAMI is believed to have been formed by a number of smaller Sunni resistance groups brought together by common political goals. The groups’ activities and attacks on coalition forces are primarily centered in the Ninawa and Diyala governorates. Statements issued by the group have claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks carried out by the military wing of JAMI. The Salah-al-Din and Sayf-Allah al-Maslul Brigades of JAMI are also believed to be responsible for shelling coalition command operations headquarters and the Mosul and Al-Faris airports. JAMI has also targeted U.S. Intelligence members in Mosul and have killed at least one U.S. soldier in the Diyala governorate.” 4 In early March 2005, JAMI stated that “We prohibit targeting civilians, slaying hostages and spilling the blood of Iraqis whether civilians or members of police and national guard forces, under any pretext,” while urging its fighters to “avoid fighting the occupiers inside the cities,” to avoid jeopardizing the lives of civilians. 5

Another prominent Iraqi insurgent group that targets US forces while also condemning attacks on Iraqi civilians is the 1920 Revolution Brigades (also known as Iraqi-Hamas), their name being a reference to the Iraqi uprising against British colonial rule in 1920. The 1920 Revolution Brigades describes itself as a “nationalist Jihadist movement” which first appeared in June 2003, roughly three months after the US invasion. According to the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base, “the group employs tactics common to other Iraqi insurgency groups such as roadside improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on military vehicles, suicide bombings, and mortar and rocket attacks. Unlike some Jihadist organizations, the group has stated that it prohibits the targeting of public areas and oil facilities and generally forbids the killing of Muslims. . . . The 1920 Revolution Brigades continues to target U.S. troops in Iraq. In a statement issued on 13 February 2006, the group vowed to ‘carry on jihad until the liberation and victory or [until they are] martyred.’” 6

Another major Sunni insurgent group is the Front for Jihad and Reform, which according to Reuters news agency, is itself a coalition of three Sunni Islamist groups that work “to expel U.S.-led forces from Iraq and appeared to distance itself from al Qaeda-linked organizations in the country. The Islamic Army in Iraq, the Mujahideen Army and Ansar al-Sunna (Sharia Council), an offshoot of the established Ansar al-Sunna group, said they would avoid spilling civilian blood, according to an Internet statement. ‘The Jihad and Reform Front … pledges to continue with the duty of jihad in Iraq until all objectives, including the complete withdrawal of the occupiers in all their guises and the establishment of God’s religion …. are met,’ it said. ‘The military actions of the mujahideen will target the occupiers and their collaborators and will not target the innocents whom jihad aims to lead to victory.’” 7

In October 2007, these three main insurgent groups, the Front for Jihad and Reform, Iraqi Hamas, and JAMI, announced the formation of a new “political council” for the “liberation of Iraq.” According to the International Herald Tribune, “the council appeared to be a new attempt to organize and assert the leadership of the multiple insurgent groups, which have moved to distance themselves from another coalition of insurgent factions led by al-Qaida in Iraq.” The council’s spokesperson stated that, “the occupation is an oppression and aggression, rejected by Islamic Sharia law and tradition. Resistance of occupation is a right guaranteed by all religions and laws.” 8

In addition to fighting US forces, these nationalist, Iraqi insurgent groups have often fought against AQI as well. In an interview with a Qatari newspaper, Ibrahim Al-Shammari, a spokesperson for the Islamic Army in Iraq referred to Al-Qaeda actions as “sins and crimes,” and mentioned that Al-Qaeda operatives had assassinated many well-known members of the Islamic Army. Al-Shammari stated that the Islamic Army’s previous policy of patience toward AQI had ended, and that that the Islamic Army was now replying “in-kind” to AQI attacks. 9

That the US government narrative focuses almost solely on AQI, while ignoring the more prominent resistance groups that do not use terrorism (targeting civilians) as a tactic, suggests that this blurring of distinctions between terrorist groups and legitimate resistance groups is a deliberate misrepresentation of the conflict, promoted by the US government as part of its psychological operations activities. So while Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi are household names in the US, virtually no one knows even the names of the other Sunni armed groups in Iraq, which carry out the majority of the attacks against US soldiers.

In my view, the US government is attempting to misrepresent the nature of the conflict in Iraq in order to discredit the legitimate Iraqi resistance groups, in an effort to justify a prolonged US presence in the country. And why is the US trying to maintain a long-term presence in Iraq? Rather than keeping Americans and Iraqis safe from terror, promoting democracy, or preventing civil war, US planners are trying to de-nationalize Iraq’s oil industry and bring it under US corporate control, establish permanent bases in Iraq to project US military power in a region deemed important to US economic and strategic interests, eliminate regimes which provide assistance to Palestinian armed groups resisting Israeli colonization of the West Bank. 10 All of these goals must be accomplished against the wishes of the majority of Iraqis, particularly the privatization of the country’s oil industry, which is opposed by 66% of Iraqis and could lead to hundreds of billions of dollars of lost oil revenue for this already impoverished country. 11 To overcome this opposition the excuse of fighting terrorism must be used. However, if the US were to withdraw from Iraq, any justification Al-Qaeda might have for remaining in Iraq will be gone. The Sunni armed groups in Iraq will no longer tolerate an Al-Qaeda presence, and there will be little motivation for Arab recruits to leave their homelands and come fight in Iraq. For an end to the war in Iraq to take place, all foreign forces need to leave the country, whether American, Iranian, or Al-Qaeda. As Americans it is important for us to see through US government misinformation, and press our elected representatives for a complete US military withdrawal from Iraq.

  1. Bush, Maliki Sign Pact on Iraq’s Future. Washington Post, November 27, 2007.,
  2. All Iraqi Groups Blame US Invasion for Discord, Study Shows. Washington Post, December 19, 2007.
  8., January 1, 2008.
  10. The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, Walt and Mearsheimer, 2007. see the chapters on “The Lobby and the Iraq War.”
  11. Mission not yet Accomplished: How Iraq Figures in Big Oil’s Dreams. By Linda McQuaig, The Walrus, January 4, 2008.