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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005





Part I

Setting the Stage


Chapter 3
The Rise of the Iraqi Insurgency and the US Army's Response

For nearly all of the American Soldiers who arrived in Iraq in the spring and summer of 2003, the most unexpected aspect of the campaign was the emergence of an organized and lethal insurgency. The surprise exhibited by both the Coalition military leadership and the Soldiers in Iraq stemmed from widespread assumptions about probable Iraqi reactions to war and liberation. Before the war, few United States (US) Government officials had expected this type of resistance in the absence of the Baath Party’s rule, and that consensus ultimately contributed to the attitudes of military planners tasked to design the overall war plan.

American military doctrine in 2001 defined an insurgency as “an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict.”1 As this chapter will discuss, this definition was broader than the more traditional understanding of the term derived from decades of dealing with the Marxist insurgencies during the Cold War. That earlier conception defined insurgencies as highly structured organizations motivated by a single ideology and guided by a central leadership that coordinated actions and purpose. The newer, less restrictive definition of the term aptly described the type of enemy that, despite the presumptions made by American officials, emerged in Iraq beginning in the summer of 2003. Throughout the remainder of 2003 and into 2004, the Iraqi insurgency grew in size and diversity to become the major obstacle to the Coalition’s objectives in Iraq. This organized opposition was never a monolithic movement—united under one set of leaders and armed with a single ideology. Instead, the Iraqi insurgency consisted of a constantly changing constellation of groups and leaders who espoused a variety of purposes and ideologies and used a myriad of techniques in their opposition to the Coalition, the Iraqi Government, and the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). While this chapter will focus primarily on the network composed of Sunni Arab insurgency groups, other organizations such as Shia militias and violent criminal gangs also became active during this period, mounting serious operations against Coalition forces and, at times, collaborating with the Sunni Arab network.

To face this evolving and complex threat, American Soldiers began conducting full spectrum operations designed to directly and indirectly engage the insurgent enemy. This response is the subject of the second part of this chapter. At times, US Army units launched focused combat operations—often described using the unofficial term “kinetic operations”—to destroy insurgent forces and capabilities. However, from the very beginning of the full spectrum campaign, US forces also mounted broader efforts to build popular support for the new Iraqi Government and the Coalition project in Iraq. These operations, sometimes called “nonkinetic” operations, concentrated on the reconstruction of the Iraqi infrastructure, the establishment of representative government, the training of ISF, and general efforts to improve the quality of life for the population.* Without relying on doctrine or experience, US Army units transitioned to a practice of full spectrum operations that, by the end of 2003, followed many well-established principles of counterinsurgency warfare.


Chapter 3. The Rise of the Iraqi Insurgency and the US Army’s Response





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