Project on Defense Alternatives

Vicious Circle: The Dynamics of Occupation and Resistance in Iraq

Part One. Patterns of Popular Discontent


Full text version

Project on Defense Alternatives Research Monograph #10
Carl Conetta
18 May 2005


An examination of Iraqi public opinion data and interviews suggests that coalition military activity may be substantially contributing to Iraqi discontent and opposition. A "vicious circle" is indicated, whereby actions to curtail the insurgency feed the insurgency.

Public discontent is the water in which the insurgents swim. Polls show that a large majority of Iraqis have little faith in coalition troops and view them as occupiers, not liberators. There is significant support for attacks on foreign troops and a large majority of Iraqis want them to leave within a year. But attitudes about the occupation vary significantly among communities.

Kurds are uniquely positive about the occupation and postwar order. Sunnis express the strongest opposition. Shiites often represents a midway position. Like the Kurds, Shiites felt very positive about the 2005 election. However, regarding foreign troops: Shiite opinion is closer to Sunni, although it varies in accord with coalition military action.

A mix of nationalism and the desire to avenge some wrong or humiliation is apparent in interviews with Iraqis who oppose the occupation. One relevant factor is the war's death toll. Since March 2003, approximately 30,000 Iraqis have died due to military and terrorist activity. An additional 30,000 may have died due to the war's indirect effects, including increased criminal violence. Twenty-two percent of households report having been "directly affected by violence". The incidence of such reports is three times higher among Sunnis than Kurds and almost twice as high among Shiites as Kurds.

Ten percent of Iraqis report having had "very negative" encounters with coalition forces. Fifty-eight percent claim that US forces behave badly. But US troops face a difficult dilemma. Their mission involves intrusive and coercive measures, which stimulate opposition. Occupation duty, like war, is beset by "fog" and "friction" that contribute to errors. In this circumstance, the goal of "force protection" gains precedence over "winning hearts and minds", which further increases tensions and mishaps.

Overall: there is a correlation between Iraqis' experiences of violence, negative appraisals of US troops, and support for insurgent attacks. The geographic pattern of coalition military activity corresponds with the distribution of these attitudes, which peak in Sunni areas and Baghdad. As much as 80 percent of US military activity during the occupation has focused on Baghdad and Sunni areas.

Initially, postwar military activity aimed to assert US control locally, capture regime personnel, and curtail possible supporters of the former regime, including tribal leaders. But there were significant collateral effects. Support for the coalition subsequently plummeted and insurgent activity surged, increasing three- or four-fold during the first year. Polls in June 2004 showed that the chief reasons for the sharp negative turn in Iraqi opinion were (in order): Abu Ghraib, the Falluja attack, "bad" or violent behavior by troops, and the failure to provide security.

A series of deadly incidents and accidents in spring and summer 2003 may have been pivotal in consolidating anti-coalition sentiment among Sunnis. More important: several incidents involving Sunni tribal leaders and former Iraqi soldiers protesting for back pay may have been key in boosting insurgent activity and organization.

1. Introduction: Iraqi public sentiments regarding the occupation

The occupation of Iraq is today less about rolling back Iraqi military power, dislodging a tyrant, or building a stable democracy than it is about fighting an insurgency -- an insurgency that is now driven substantially by the occupation, its practices, and policies. We can take a first step toward understanding the insurgency by locating it within the broader field of popular Iraqi opposition to the occupation. A review of eight major surveys of Iraqi public opinion leaves no doubt about the main contours of Iraqi sentiment regarding the occupation:1

  • On balance, Iraqis oppose the US presence in Iraq, and those who strongly oppose it greatly outnumber those who strongly support it.

  • US troops in Iraq are viewed broadly as an occupying force, not peacekeepers or liberators.

  • On balance, Iraqis do not trust US troops, think they have behaved badly, and -- one way or another -- hold them responsible for much of the violence in the nation.

  • There is significant popular support for attacks on US forces, and this support grew larger during the course of 2004, at least among Sunni Arabs.

  • A majority of Iraqis want coalition forces to leave within a year or less. Formation of a permanent government early in 2006 is the "tipping point" after which a very large majority of Iraqis may desire immediate withdrawal.

Opposition to the occupation shows significant variation among Iraq's major ethnic and religious communities (and this variation is examined below). As a first approximation, however, we might understand broad public opposition in terms of two dynamics:

  • A typical nationalist or patriotic response to foreign control, amplified by differences of culture, religion, and language; and

  • A reaction to the coercive practices of the occupation, including military, policing, and penal operations.

The mix of nationalistic feelings - often with a religious inflection - and the desire to avenge some wrong or humiliation is frequently expressed in interviews with Iraqis who oppose the occupation in word, deed, or both.2 The role such feelings play in opposition to the occupation is suggested by a June 2004 poll conducted by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies. 3 The poll found 66 percent of Iraqis opposed to the occupation. Asked why, 43 percent of those who opposed the Coalition troop presence did so simply because "It is an occupation force and must leave immediately." An additional 3.6 percent opposed it because they felt the force lacked respect for Iraq's religion and culture, while 29.4 percent opposed it because they associated it with death, destruction, or abuse.

2. Iraqi casualties of war: their extent and effect

One factor shaping the Iraqi response to the foreign military presence that has been routinely depreciated in official analyses is the death toll of the 2003 war and subsequent occupation:4

  • Almost 30,000 Iraqis have died due to military action by all sides in the course of the war and occupation (as of May 2005). Probably three-quarters of the total were killed by coalition troops (although a majority of these were Iraqi military personnel or insurgents). The number of injured is much higher. If historical ratios pertain, the total number of Iraqi casualties due to military action and terrorism is probably in the range of 100,000 to 120,000 people.

  • The post-war surge in violent crime is nearly as onerous as the toll of death and destruction due to military action. Based on morgue records from several provinces, a reasonable national estimate for excess crime-related deaths is 12,000 for the occupation period through the end of 2004.5

  • Finally, the rate of non-violent mortality also has increased during the postwar period due to accidents, sanitation problems, and problems in the utility and health care systems.6

A reasonably conservative estimate for total excess deaths due to fighting, crime, and non-violent causes is "more than 60,000" since the beginning of the war through the end of 2004. And, as noted above, the numbers suffering less than fatal injury or illness would be much greater.

The extent of such harm is suggested by a September-October 2004 poll conducted for the International Republican Institute (IRI). It found 22 percent of households reporting that they had been "directly affected by violence in terms of death handicap, or significant monetary loss" during the previous 18 months, which covers the entire period of war and occupation.7

Opinion polls suggest that most Iraqis have tended to hold the occupation authorities and forces principally responsible, either directly or indirectly, for war-related violence. Assistant US Defense Secretary Peter Rodman explained this dynamic in testimony before the US Congress: "When difficulties persist, it is natural for people to express resentment at those in authority -- especially when the latter are foreign powers exercising authority as an occupier."8 Thus, a June 2004 poll conducted by the Coalition Provisional Authority found that 67 percent of Iraqis thought that violent attacks had increased in the country because "people have lost faith in the Coalition forces."9 Eighty percent said that they themselves had no faith in the forces. While only one percent said that Coalition forces were the most important factor contributing to their safety, a majority said they would feel safer if US troops left immediately.

3. Coercive practices of the occupation and their effect

Iraqis must also face the various routine irritants of occupation:

  • Constant foreign military patrols - about 12,000 per week;

  • Ubiquitous (and too often deadly) vehicle check-points;

  • Raids -- 8,000 total since May 2003; and

  • Citizen round-ups -- 80,000 detained since April 2003.

But none of this activity has been able to check either the insurgency or the postwar crime wave. Indeed, the level of insurgent activity today is four or five times higher than it was in early summer 2003: 10-13 attacks per day versus approximately 50 per day in May 2005.

Regarding house raids: Most turn up nothing -- 70 percent according to one officer -- and most of those detained are soon released.10 The International Committee of the Red Cross reports being told by military intelligence officers that between 70 percent and 90 percent of these were being held by mistake -- an estimate affirmed independently by some who have worked in the system.11 In some cases, the scope of the raids has been made intentionally broad so as to affect the wider family, friendship networks, and neighborhoods of suspected insurgents and other wanted individuals.12

Productive or not, the raids are traumatic events, often mentioned as a motivating factor by those who oppose the US occupation.13 The raids seem to exhibit a general pattern which was summarized in a February 2004 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross:14

Arresting authorities entered houses usually after dark, breaking down doors, waking up residents roughly, yelling orders, forcing family members into one room under military guard while searching the rest of the house and further breaking doors, cabinets, and other property. They arrested suspects, tying their hands in the back with flexicuffs, hooding them, and taking them away. Sometimes they arrested all adult males in the house, including elderly, handicapped, or sick people. Treatment often included pushing people around, insulting, taking aim with rifles, punching and kicking, and striking with rifles. Individuals were often led away in whatever they happened to be wearing at the time of arrest - sometimes pyjamas or underwear... In many cases personal belongings were seized during the arrest with no receipt given.... In almost all incidents documented by the ICRC, arresting authorities provided no information about who they were, where their base was located, nor did they explain the cause of arrest. Similarly, they rarely informed the arrestee or his family where he was being taken or for how long, resulting in the defacto disappearance of the arrestee for weeks or even months until contact was finally made.

The main points of this summary concur with the observations of embedded journalists and reports by Iraqis.15

Following a series of incidents in summer 2003, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez announced on 6 August 2003 a decision to limit the scope of raids. Said General Sanchez,

I started to get multiple indicators that maybe our iron-fisted approach to the conduct of ops was beginning to alienate Iraqis. I started to get those sensings from multiple sources, all the way from the Governing Council down to average people.16

But the respite may have come too late. It was short-lived, at any rate: a new surge of operations began in October 2003.

The problem of checkpoint shootings was highlighted by the 4 March 2005 incident involving Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena. 17 The Iraq Body Count database, which surveys press reports of Iraqi war deaths, records a minimum of 90 civilians killed at Coalition road-blocks by guards between 31 March 2003 and 21 April 2005. Given the incompleteness of press reports, this estimate is probably an undercount.

Routine street patrols can also take on an aggressive character.18 Embedded with a US Army cavalry unit Ken Dilanian of Knight-Ridder reports on one such patrol:

All day long, the soldiers pointed their guns at Iraqi civilians, whom they called "hajis".... Wary of ambushes, they rammed cars that got in the way of their Humvees. Always on the lookout for car bombs, they stopped, screamed at, shoved to the ground and searched people driving down the road after curfew - or during the day if they looked suspicious.

The cumulative effect of such interactions is partially gauged by a June 2004 poll conducted by the Oxford Research International (ORI), which found that 10 percent of Iraqi respondents reported having had "very negative" encounters with coalition forces.19 Also relevant is a March-April 2004 USA Today/Gallup/CNN poll, which found 58 percent of Iraqis claiming that US forces behave fairly or very badly.20

No postwar occurrences have had as broad an effect on Iraqi attitudes toward the occupation as have the Abu Ghraib and other prisoner abuse and torture scandals.21 Several opinion surveys have traced the acute and rapid decline of Iraqi confidence in the Coalition and its troops during the period November 2003 through June 2004.22 The June 2004 ORI poll found that the chief reason for the decline was Abu Ghraib. Other leading reasons were the attacks on Falluja and other holy cities, "bad" or violent behavior by coalition troops, and the failure to provide security.

4. Force protection vs. winning hearts and minds

National differences and the suffering caused by war create an uphill struggle for an occupying force hoping to win local legitimacy. The terms "fog" and "friction" are used often to describe the inherent uncertainties and difficulties of waging war. Occupation duty also involves fog and friction, but of a distinct type.

The friction of occupation derives from the fact that the agents and institutions of authority and power are fundamentally alienated from the community they oversee. And occupier and occupied regularly confront each other with asymmetric agendas: one seeking services and the other compliance, for instance. This can make every encounter stressful, frustrating, and potentially dangerous.

The fog of occupation rises out of differences of language and culture, which not only impede communication, but also make it difficult to "read" situations or predict the effect of one's own actions. The complex nature of urban environments - characterized by multiple levels, obstacles, gaps, and defiles - makes situation awareness more difficult, thus adding to uncertainty. So does the presence of unconventional foes, who seek to erase apparent distinctions between themselves and the general populace.

In such circumstances, there is a tendency to elevate the requirements of force protection above those of winning "hearts and minds." One stratagem is to exploit the local populace's fear of the occupying force in order to encourage their rapid compliance. For instance, patrols may threaten bothersome or suspicious-looking Iraqis with a trip to the infamous Abu Ghraib prison.23 One unit has had the practice of stenciling "death head" skulls on Iraqi homes and businesses that have been searched for suspected insurgents and their supporters.24

Under stress, units also take some measures to maintain their morale and martial spirit that may negatively affect Iraqi perceptions. An example is the practice of emblazoning tanks and troop vehicles with monikers such as "Blind Killer," "Bloodlust," and "Carnivore".25 A similar psychological end might be served by the practice of referring to Iraqis as "Hajis" - a pejorative or condescending term.26 The act of "re-naming" the Iraqis in this way creates a reassuring sense of control. It also can mitigate the cognitive dissonance caused by the persistent friction between "liberated" and "liberators".

Whether or not such practices are effective in maintaining morale, they do increase the distance between occupier and occupied.27 And this can enable more deleterious practices, such as prisoner abuse.

A general appraisal of the US military's dilemma in Iraq is offered by the outspoken Army reformer, Col. Douglas A. Macgregor (ret.):

Most of the generals and politicians did not think through the consequences of compelling American soldiers with no knowledge of Arabic or Arab culture to implement intrusive measures inside an Islamic society. We arrested people in front of their families, dragging them away in handcuffs with bags over their heads, and then provided no information to the families of those we incarcerated. In the end, our soldiers killed, maimed and incarcerated thousands of Arabs, 90 percent of whom were not the enemy. But they are now.28

5. Variations of opinion among Iraqi communities

Iraqi opinion regarding the occupation and the insurgency varies significantly among the nation's three major ethno-religious communities. Three polls are especially helpful in discerning these differences: the March 2004 ABC poll, the March-April 2004 USA Today/Gallup/CNN poll, and the September-October 2004 poll conducted for the International Republican Institute.29

By almost any measure, the Kurds stand apart as uniquely positive in their attitudes about the occupation and the postwar situation in Iraq. They strongly support the US troop presence and tend to have good relations with coalition forces, who the vast majority of Kurds see as having behaved "well" or "very well". Indeed, most of the support for the US mission and troop presence that surfaces in Iraqi polls derives from the strong pro-US tilt of the Kurdish community.

By contrast, the Sunni Arab community tends to exhibit the strongest oppositionist views, being least satisfied with postwar conditions, the foreign troop presence, and the behavior of the troops.

Turning to the Shiite community: On some issue regarding the war and postwar conditions, they represent a midway position between Sunni and Kurdish views. On others, they tend toward either the Kurdish or Sunni pole.30 For instance, the Shiites, like the Kurds, stand apart from the Sunnis in their optimism about the country's general direction - an attitude that was linked to their strong support for the January 2005 elections. 31

Regarding the presence of foreign troops and the appraisal of the troops' behavior: Shiite opinion tends to be close to that of the Sunni community.32 Large majorities in both communities have come to see the Coalition troops as occupiers. Significant majorities in both desire immediate withdrawal. And significant majorities in both think that Coalition troops have behaved badly. There are several critical differences between Sunnis and Shiites regarding the US troops presence, however. According to the USA Today poll:

  • The percentage of Sunnis who felt in March 2004 that Coalition troops had behaved "very badly" was much higher than the percentage of Shiites who felt this way: 43 percent to 26 percent. (The proportion of Baghdad residents who concurred was 37 percent.)

  • A higher percentage of Sunnis than Shiites supported attacks on the occupation force: also 43 percent to 26 percent. (In this case, 35 percent of Baghdad residents concurred.)

  • Thus, the difference of opinion regarding the attacks on Coalition troops seems to correspond with a difference in perceptions of troop behavior.

  • Another correlation relevant to feelings about the military presence has to do with regional variations in the incidence of violence. The September-October 2004 IRI poll found 22 percent of Iraqis reporting their households as having been "directly affected by violence in terms of death handicap, or significant monetary loss." The results by region were:

  • 33 percent each for Baghdad and the Sunni regions,

  • 26.6 percent in Mosul and Kirkuk (Mosul is a majority Sunni Arab city. Kirkuk is evenly divided between Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and Turks),

  • 18-19 percent for the mid-Euphrates and the south (which are Shiite majority areas), and

  • 10.5 percent for Kurdish areas.

In sum: direct experiences of violence, poor appraisals of US troop behavior, and support for insurgent attacks seem to correlate. Respondents in Sunni areas (and to a somewhat lesser extent Baghdad) tend to share these experiences and views at a relatively high rate.

A competing hypothesis suggests that Sunni dissatisfaction and rebellion is due principally to that community's loss of relative privilege. However, this hypothesis -- which essentially dismisses Sunni concerns -- finds only weak support in survey data.33 The most serious decline in quality of life reported by Sunnis has to do with security. The most notable change in material conditions has to do with income - and in this case the percentage of families reporting a postwar improvement is greater among Sunnis than among other groups.

Also, the "Sunni privilege hypothesis" cannot explain the higher incidence of intense anti-coalition sentiment among "Baghdad residents" - a mixed group - or among the followers of the populist Shiite cleric, Moqtada Sadr. The rebellion of the Sadrists, which occurred April-September 2004, briefly made Sadr the second most popular figure in Iraq.34

6. Policies contributing to Sunni disaffection

There are several postwar political conditions and policy decisions that probably also contributed to broad Sunni alienation from the new order. The linkages between the Sunni community and the occupation authorities and its appointed governments have been weak throughout the postwar period. And most of the expatriate Sunnis involved in prewar planning had poor grassroots connections, at best. At issue is not simply a "loss of privilege" but a failure to ensure adequate representation in the postwar order.

With regard to specific policies of the occupation authority:

  • Sunnis were disproportionately affected by broad-brush "De-Baathification" measures and by the May 2003 mass dismissal of civil servants, police, and military personnel. Although these initiatives directly affected fewer than eight percent of Sunnis, the cohort included many prominent individuals and hundreds of thousands of soldiers and police. The sweeping and peremptory nature of these initiatives may have convinced larger numbers of Sunnis that the new order was not for them.

  • Another problem for Sunnis was the electoral system set out by the US occupation authorities. It did not root assembly seats to geographical districts. Thus, it opened the possibility that minority ethnic regions might see their role in government reduced to insignificance. A more reassuring approach would have followed the American practice of (1) allocating seats to provinces or among provincial subdivisions based on population and (2) requiring candidates to live in the areas they hoped to represent.

7. Patterns of Coalition military activity

Public opinion polls point to the experience of war-related violence as a key factor in Sunni alienation from the post-war order. A review of US military activity shows that its affects during the main combat phase of the war (20 March - 14 April 2003) probably were felt near equally by Sunni and Shiite communities. During the postwar period, however, US military activity has focused especially on Baghdad and the Sunni areas. And this focus did not arise simply as a reaction to rebellion; It has been evident since the beginning of the occupation.

The map below shows the areas of Iraq under Coalition control on 10 April 2003; they are shaded in light green. With the end of major combat, the focus of US operations shifted to the north and west of Baghdad. These initial operations sought to (1) extend and assert US control in detail throughout Iraq, (2) find and inter Iraqi government, military, and Baath Party leaders (many of whom had fled to the Sunni hinterland), and (3) extinguish any residual armed resistance. Military units also worked with private contractors and US AID officials during this period to establish new local and provincial government bodies, often displacing or reshaping local bodies that had grown up spontaneously after Hussein's fall.35 And these efforts frequently brought the occupation authorities into conflict with indigenous leaders.


During June and July 2003, US troops conducted three major campaigns in Sunni areas, targeting Baath Party members, suspected former members of Hussein's security services, other suspected regime supporters, and "hot beds" of insurgent activity.36 During the course of these campaigns, the intensity, frequency, and scope of raids increased dramatically. As part of these operation, 1200 members of four leading Sunni tribal families were rounded up and detained.

Thus, the US Iraq mission and Sunni areas were locked in contention quite early in Operation Iraqi Freedom. And, with the exception of operations against Moqtada Sadr, this emphasis continued throughout the occupation period.

A review of 106 named postwar operations shows that these focused largely on areas of Sunni concentration and Baghdad.37 The operations are tallied in Table 1. A number of these operations encompassed more than one province. For each province the table shows the number of operations that affected it. Provinces with Sunni majorities or large minorities appear in bold. The subset of operations that might be considered "major" are noted in parentheses.

Table 1. Military Operational Activity in Iraq: Named Operations by Timed Period
Number of Military Operations Affecting Each of Iraq's Provinces
(Number of major operations appear in parenthesis. Sunni population concentrations in bold.)
May-31 Dec 2003 Jan-30 June 2004 July-31 Dec. 2004 Total
Total per period>>
36(5) 34(3) 36(8) 106(16)
Irbil and Dahuk 0 0 0 0
Sulamaniyah 1(1) 0 0 1(1)
Ninevah 4(1) 1 6(1) 11(2)
At Ta'min 5(2) 3 2 10(2)
Salah ad Din 13(4) 6 2(1) 21(5)
Diyala 10(3) 3 5 18(3)
Al Anbar 13(2) 9(1) 9(2) 31(5)
Baghdad 7(1) 8 8(3) 23(4)
Babil 3(1) 0 2(2) 5(3)
Karbala 1(1) 1(1) 1 3(2)
Wasit 1 2(2) 1(1) 4(3)
An Najaf 1 3(2) 1(1) 5(3)
Al Qadisiyah 3(1) 2(1) 0 5(2)
Dhi Qar 0 0 0 0
Maysan 1 0 0 1
Al Muthanna/td> 1 0 0 1
Al Basrah 1 0 0 1
Data source: "Iraq Pacification Operations,", available at:

If we accept as a proxy measure of operational activity the number of named operations multiplied by the number of provinces each one affected, then 80 percent of US operational activity has focused on Baghdad and areas of Sunni concentration. And this focus is evident in each of the three time periods examined.

8. Incidents contributing to Sunni disaffection and rebellion

The pattern of military operations corresponds generally with the cluster of negative Iraqi perceptions and attitudes summarized above -- experience of violence, appraisal of coalition troop behavior, and support for insurgent attacks -- which peak in Sunni areas and Baghdad.

During the first few months of the occupation a series of specific incidents in these areas may have been pivotal in crystallizing anti-coalition sentiment:

  • In the Mosul area, between 17 and 24 civilians were killed in four separate incidents between 15 April and 26 July. 38

  • The troubles in Falluja began on April 28 and 30, 2003, when in two separate incidents US troops shot and killed between 13 and 17 people protesting the US presence. Fifty more were wounded. Falluja was further alienated by the 12 September 2003 accidental killing of 10 Iraqi police and security personnel as well as a hospital worker.39

  • On 25 May 2003 in Samarra, four members of a wedding party were killed and nine injured when US troops fired on their vehicles. Three day later a 12-year old boy and 15-year old girl were killed at a checkpoint. The incidents led to a spiral of local violence due to tribal dynamics.40

  • In Baghdad, tensions due to military patrols and checkpoints came to head in late July and early August 2003. During a nine day period, 12 or 13 civilians (including two police officers) were accidentally killed by US troops in three incidents, prompting public intervention by the head of the Iraqi Governing Council.41

While incidents such as these might help create general support in public opinion for the insurgency, several others might have played a more important role in actually precipitating insurgent activity and organization. The "precipitating incidents" include two series of attacks on tribal groups in the Sunni triangle and the 18 June killing of former Iraqi soldiers protesting for back pay:

  • US prewar cooperation with the Kharbit tribe was brought to an end on 11 April 2003, when US aircraft dropped six guided bombs on the home of the tribe's leader, Malik Al-Kharbit, killing him and 21 other family members.42 The Kharbit are a major force in the Dulaimi tribal federation, whose stronghold encompasses Falluja, Ramadi, and others towns of the Sunni triangle. The air raid was meant to kill one of Hussein's half brothers, who was thought to be at the sheik's compound. Subsequently, postwar tensions with the Kharbit led to the July 2004 exile of its new leader, Abdul Razak Al-Kharbit, prompting violence in Ramadi that claimed 25 lives.

  • Compounding the friction with the Kharbit was a series of incidents involving the Al-Jumaili tribe, also influential in Ramadi and Falluja. Nine relatives of tribal leader Sheikh Mishkhen al Jumaili were killed in three separate incidents during a four-day period in September 2003.43

  • Equally serious was the killing of former Iraqi military personnel on 18 June 2003.44 The former soldiers had undertaken a series of protests for back pay when on 23 May 2003 Paul Bremer announced the demobilization of the Iraqi army. In several cities, protesting soldiers were shot and injured or killed. On 18 June in Baghdad, two former soldiers were killed and several injured when US troops fired into their protest. Some of the protestors had begun throwing rocks at the US troops and pounding on vehicles entering the former presidential palace compound.

In these cases, coalition actions inadvertently engaged entire social networks of armed individuals, including a high percentage with military training. The tribal groups, especially, were deeply-rooted in localities, possessing broad influence and exercising a type of governmental authority. And the tribal groups intersected intimately with Muslim clerical leaders and circles. Without doubt, both the military and tribal groups also involved or interacted with "former regime elements" eager for opportunities to recruit the groups to insurgency. Any action that might tip these groups into solid opposition could precipitate a general political realignment affecting three, four, or more provinces.

For some members of these groups the incidents recounted above were sufficient to put the option of organized insurrection on the table. Following one of the attacks on the Al-Jumaili tribe, the cousin of one of the victims told reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle:

As long as (American troops) act like this, there will be no stability in Iraq. Every person martyred here today is worth 100 Americans... Let me make this clear: The real war has not started yet. It starts from this day on.45

Sounding a similar note, one of the leaders of the soldiers' protest, Tahseen Ali Hussein, spoke to a reporter for Agence France Presse:

If...the Americans do not find a suitable solution to our tragic situation, we will take up arms," he said, sparking a round of loud applause among a large crowd of former army servicemen in civilian clothes. ... Hussein added: "We are all very well trained soldiers and we are armed. We will start ambushes, bombings and even suicide bombings. We will not let the Americans rule us in such a humiliating way.46


1. January 2005 Zogby International poll: "Sunni boycott as Iraq goes to polls," Sunday Mail (Australia), 30 January 2005, p. 44; "Survey predicts deep divisions in Iraq," United Press International, 29 January 2005; Press Release, Survey Finds Deep Divisions in Iraq; Sunni Arabs Overwhelmingly Reject Sunday Elections; Majority of Sunnis, Shiites Favor US Withdrawal, New Abu Dhabi-TV / Zogby Poll Reveals (Zogby International,, 28 January 2005).

June 2004 ORI poll: Oxford Research International, National Survey of Iraq, June 2004 (Oxford, UK: ORI, June 2004); available at:

June 2004 ICRSS poll: Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies, The Results of the Public Opinion Poll in Iraq (Baghdad: ICRSS, June 2004); and,

May-June 2004 IIACSS/CPA poll: Robin Gedye, "Iraqi support for coalition falls," Daily Telegraph (UK), 17 June 2004; Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society/CPA poll, Public Opinion in Iraq: First Poll Following Abu Ghraib Revelations, 14-23 May 2004 (Baghdad: CPA, May 2004), available at: Updated 15 June 2004.

March-April 2004 USA Today poll: Cesar G. Soriano and Steven Komarow, "Poll: Iraqis out of patience," USA Today, 28 April 2004; "Key findings: Nationwide survey of 3,500 Iraqis," USA Today, 28 April 2004, available at: Also see: Richard Burkholder, Gallup Poll of Iraq: Liberated, Occupied, or in Limbo? (Princeton, NJ: Gallup Organization, 28 April 2004).

February 2004 ORI poll: Oxford Research International, National Survey of Iraq, February 2004 (Oxford, UK: ORI, February 2004); available at: September-October 2003 Gallup poll: Richard Burkholder, "Baghdad Views US Troops: Protectors or Justifiable Targets?", press briefing, Gallup Organization, 14 October 2003. August 2003 Zogby International poll: James Zogby, "Bend it like Cheney - Polling evidence shows most Iraqis have a negative view of the US-led occupation," The Guardian, 29 October 2003, available at:; and, Guy Dinmore, "Opinion poll underlines Iraqi distrust of America," Financial Times, 11 September 2003.

2. Robin Shulman, "Clashes Break Out in Baghdad; US Forces Battle Insurgents as Militia Returns From Najaf," Washington Post, 29 August 2004, p. 20; Patrick Cockburn and David Usborne, "Burning With Anger: Iraqis Infuriated by New Flag That Was Designed in London," Independent (UK), 28 April 2004; Jeffrey Gettleman, "Anti-U.S. Outrage Unites a Growing Iraqi Resistance," New York Times, 11 April 2004, p. 14; Fiona O'Brien, Anti-American Voices Get Louder Across Iraq, Reuters, 2 April 2004; P. Mitchell Prothero, "Interview with anti-U.S. Iraqi cell," UPI, 3 December 2003; Dexter Filkins, "GI's wearing out their welcome, northern Iraqi town says," New York Times, 27 November 2003; Damien McElroy, "This is Jabir: Policeman By Day, Terrorist By Night," Sunday Telegraph, 19 October 2003; and, Anthony Shadid, "Frustration and Foreboding in Falluja," Washington Post, 19 June 2003, p. 16.

3. June 2004 ICRSS poll: Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies, The Results of the Public Opinion Poll in Iraq (Baghdad: ICRSS, June 2004).

4. The estimate of the total Iraqi death toll during the main combat phase of the conflict is 13,000 (+/- 2,000). This includes between 3,200 and 4,300 noncombatant deaths. The estimate of Iraqi fatalities due to military or terrorist activity during the postwar period is approximately 15,000. This estimate comprises several sub-estimates: 5,000-6,500 insurgent deaths, 2,500 police and security force deaths, and 6,200-7,500 other Iraqi deaths. For sources see Footnote 13 of main report.

5. Monte Morin, "Crime as Lethal as Warfare in Iraq; As morgues fill, police blame sectarian rivalries suppressed by Hussein; Kidnapping and the trade in arms and drugs are also on the rise," Los Angeles Times, 20 March 2005; Anthony Loyd, "6,635 bodies in Baghdad mortuary: counting cost of crime and chaos," Times (London), 27 November 2004; Alex Berenson, "Killings Surge in Iraq, and Doctors See a Procession of Misery," New York Times, 26 September 2004; and, Daniel Cooney and Omar Sinan (Associated Press), "Some 5,500 civilians killed since war began, survey says," Boston Globe, 24 May 2004.

6. "UN Monitor: War on Iraq Has Doubled Malnutrition Among Iraqi Children," Associated Press, 31 March 2005; Frances Williams, "Malnutrition almost doubles among Iraqi children," Financial Times, 24 November 2004, p.9; Karl Vick, "Children Pay Cost of Iraq's Chaos; Malnutrition Nearly Double What It Was Before Invasion," Washington Post, 21 November 2004, p. 1; "Counting the casualties," The Economist, 4 November 2004; and, Les Roberts et. al., "Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey," The Lancet (October 2004), available at:; and, Enduring Effects of War: Health in Iraq, 2004 (London: Medact, 2004).

7. International Republican Institute, Survey of Iraqi public opinion (Washington DC: IRI, October 2004).

8. "Iraq: Winning the Hearts and Minds," Testimony of Peter W. Rodman, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations of the House Government Reform Committee, 15 June 2004.

9. Public Opinion in Iraq: First Poll Following Abu Ghraib (Baghdad: Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies, 15 June 2004).

10. Davidson, "Are Baghdad's local mercenaries attacking more for the money than the ideology?," Market Place (National Public Radio), 21 November 2003; audio at: Also see, William Booth, "Iraq raids are 'ugly business'; Operation nets innocent people and a few of the most wanted," Washington Post, 26 June 2003.

11. Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the Treatment by Coalition Forces of Prisoners of War and Other Protected Persons by the Geneva Convention in Iraq During Arrest, Interrogation, and Internment (Geneva: ICRC, February 2004), available at:

Also see: Annia Ciezadlo, "Iraqis, desperately seeking detainees, meet frustration," Christian Science Monitor, 17 May 2004, p. 1; Julian Borger, "Private contractor lifts the lid on systematic failures at Abu Ghraib jail," Guardian (UK), 7 May 2004; and, Thanassis Cambanis, "Iraqi Detentions Fuel Anti-US Sentiment," Boston Globe, 28 March 2004, p. 1.

12. Seth Robson, "Raids Send Message to Insurgents' Helpers," Stars and Stripes, 14 September 2004; Dexter Wilkins, "Tough New Tactics by US Tighten Grip on Iraq Towns," New York Times, 7 December 2003. and, Thomas Ricks, "US Adopts aggressive tactics on Iraqi Fighters, Washington Post, 28 July 2003, p. 1.

13. Saul Hudson, "Raiders losing the battle for hearts and minds," Reuters, 17 September 2003; and, Hamza Hendawi, "US Raids Offend Iraqi Sensibilities," Associated Press, 7 July 2003.

14. On the Treatment by the Coalition Forces of Prisoners of War and Other Protected Persons by the Geneva Conventions in Iraq During Arrest, Internment and Interrogation (Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross, February 2004).

15. Anthony Loyd, "Bungling raids by US troops fuel Iraqi anger," Times (London), 11 December 2004; Mike Wagner, Larry Kaplow, Russell Carollo and Ken McCall, "Detainees file claims over abuses, confiscated funds; Nighttime house raids shatter Iraqis' peace," Dayton Daily News, 25 October 2004; Bill Johnson, "A Dirty, Daring, Dangerous Mission," Rocky Mountain News, 20 December 2003, p. 25; Ken Dilanian and Drew Brown, "Angry Iraqis tell of U.S. troops fatal errors," Knight Ridder, 10 September 2003; and, Peter Beaumont, "Farah tried to plead with the US troops but she was killed anyway," Observer (UK), 7 September 2003.

16. Michael Gordon, "To Mollify Iraqis, US Plans to Ease Scope of Its Raids, New York Times, 7 August 2003, p. 1.

17. John F. Burns, "US Checkpoints Raise Ire in Iraq," New York Times, 7 March 2005, p. 1; R. Jeffrey Smith and Ann Scott Tyson, "Shootings by US at Iraq Checkpoints Questioned," Washington Post, 7 March 2005, p. 1; Doug Struck, "Former Marine Testifies to Atrocities in Iraq; Unit Killed Dozens of Unarmed Civilians Last Year," Washington Post, 8 December 2004, p. 20; Ashraf Khalil, "US Troops Fire on Bus, Killing 3," Los Angeles Times, 22 November 2004, p. 9; Norimitsu Onishi, "How Many Iraqis Are Dying? By One Count, 208 in a Week," New York Times, 19 October 2004, p. 1; Natasha Saulnier, "The Bloody Occupation: the Marine's Tale: We Killed 30 Civilians in Six Weeks'," Independent (UK), 23 May 2004, p. 9; Amnesty International, Iraq: Killings of civilians in Basra and al-'Amara (London: AI, 11 May 2004); "The Descent into Chaos: after the Fall: One Year's Civilian Death Toll," Independent (UK), 9 April 2004, pp. 6-7; Robert Fisk, "Three More Families Now Rage Against the American Occupation of Their Land," Independent (UK), 3 April 2004, p. 43; Human Rights Watch, Hearts and Minds: Post-war Civilian Deaths in Baghdad Caused by US Forces (New York: HRW, October 2003); "US marines kill two children in checkpoint error," ABC News, 11 April 2003; Justin Huggler, "Family shot dead by panicking US troops," Independent (UK), 10 August 2003; "Marines fire on truck, kill 7 civilians," Associated Press, 4 April 2003; and William Branigin, "A Gruesome Scene on Highway 9: 10 Dead After Vehicle Shelled at Checkpoint," Washington Post, 1 April 2003.

18. Ken Dilanian, "Soldiers sometimes rough despite risk of antagonizing friendly Iraqis," Knight Ridder, 21 February 2005; Larry Kaplow, "Shootings of Civilians Anger Iraqis," Cox News Service, 12 August 2003; and, "2 Iraqi cops shot dead by US forces," AFP, 11 August 2003.

19. Oxford Research International, National Survey of Iraq, June 2004 (Oxford, UK: ORI, June 2004).

20. Cesar G. Soriano and Steven Komarow, "Poll: Iraqis out of patience," USA Today, 28 April 2004; "Key findings: Nationwide survey of 3,500 Iraqis," USA Today, 28 April 2004, available at: Also see: Richard Burkholder, Gallup Poll of Iraq: Liberated, Occupied, or in Limbo? (Princeton, NJ: Gallup Organization, 28 April 2004).

21. See Footnote 24 in main report for a full list of sources on the prisoner abuse and torture scandals. Key reports are: Human Rights Watch, The New Iraq? Torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Iraqi custody (New York: HRW, 25 January 2005); James Schlesinger, chairman, Final Report of the Independent Panel to Review DOD Detention Operations (Arlington VA: August 2004), available at:; Human Rights Watch, Military Investigations into Treatment of Detainees in US Custody (New York: HRW, 16 July 2004); Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade (4 May 2004), available at:; and, Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the Treatment by Coalition Forces of Prisoners of War and Other Protected Persons by the Geneva Convention in Iraq During Arrest, Interrogation, and Internment (Geneva: ICRC, February 2004), available at:

22. Oxford Research International (ORI), National Survey of Iraq, June 2004 (Oxford, UK: ORI, June 2004); available at: . Also see the May-June 2004 CPA poll: Robin Gedye, "Iraqi support for coalition falls," Daily Telegraph (UK), 17 June 2004; Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society/CPA poll, Public Opinion in Iraq: First Poll Following Abu Ghraib Revelations, 14-23 May 2004 (Baghdad: CPA, May 2004), available at: Updated 15 June 2004.

23. "Iraqi Army rids Baghdad hotspot of Americans; Local battalion to take over patrols of notorious Haifa Street," Agence France Presse, 10 February 2005.

24. "The Real Video-game War," Art for Change web site, 28 January 2005; available at:

25. Dahr Jamail, "Iraq's 'Ali Baba' Police," New Standard, 6 May 2004; Alistair Lyon, "Iraq in turmoil on Saddam anniversary," Reuters, 9 April 2004; Rod Nordland, Scott Johnson and Colin Soloway, "The soldiers of Alpha Company are fed up with the war in Iraq," Newsweek online, 12 July 2003; and, Michel Guerrin, "Interview with Laurent Van der Stockt, photographer embedded with 3/4 Marines," Le Monde, 12 April 2003.

26. Ken Dilanian, "Soldiers sometimes rough despite risk of antagonizing friendly Iraqis," Knight Ridder, 18 February 2005; Conor O'clery, "US to investigate 8 more prison deaths," Irish Times, 22 May 2004, p.13; Bob Herbert, "'Gooks' To 'Hajis'," New York Times, 21 May 2004, p. 23; and Andrew England, "Iraqis say it will take more than words and international troops to solve their problems," Associated Press, 9 September 2003.

27. "When deadly force bumps into hearts and minds," Economist, 1 January 2005; and, Ken Dilanian and Drew Brown, "Angry Iraqis tell of U.S. troops fatal errors," Knight Ridder, 10 September 2003.

28. Douglas A. Macgregor, "Dramatic failures require drastic changes," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 19 December 2004, p 1.

29. March 2004 ABC poll: "While Ambivalent About the War, Most Iraqis Report a Better Life," ABC News, 15 March 2004; Gary Langer, "A Marked Difference: Most Shiite Arabs Oppose Attacks; Islamic State Is Not Preferred, Analysis," ABC News, 5 April 2004; "Anti-Coalition Sentiment in Anbar Is Vastly Higher Than in All Iraq," ABC News, 1 April 2004; and, "Concern in Iraq Peaks Among its Sunni Arabs," ABC News, 17 March 2004

March-April 2004 USA Today/Gallup/CNN poll: Cesar G. Soriano and Steven Komarow, "Poll: Iraqis out of patience," USA Today, 28 April 2004; "Key findings: Nationwide survey of 3,500 Iraqis," USA Today, 28 April 2004, available at:; Richard Burkholder, Gallup Poll of Iraq: Liberated, Occupied, or in Limbo? (Princeton, NJ: Gallup Organization, 28 April 2004).

The September-October 2004 IRI poll: International Republican Institute, Survey of Iraqi public opinion (Washington DC: IRI, October 2004).

30. The relevant poll data is summarized in section 5.1 of the main report.

31. The September-October 2004 poll by the International Republican Institute reports that 72 percent of those in the Kurdish areas thought the country was moving in the right direction. In Mosul and Kirkuk only 18 percent thought so. (Mosul is a majority Sunni Arab city. Kirkuk is evenly divided between Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and Turks.) In other areas where Sunni Arabs concentrate, even fewer - 14.5 percent - thought the country was moving in the right direction. In Baghdad, which is more evenly mixed between Shiites and Sunnis, 32 percent had this opinion. In the south of Iraq and the mid-Euphrates area - areas with high concentrations of Shiites - 51 percent and 45 percent respectively thought the country was moving in the right direction.

32. The March-April 2004 USA Today poll found 71 percent of Iraqis thinking of coalition forces as occupiers. In Baghdad, 82 percent of respondents held this opinion and only 4 percent thought of the foreign troops as "liberators." In Sunni and Shiite areas outside Baghdad, 80 percent of respondents saw the coalition as occupiers. Ten percent of the Sunnis and 7 percent of the Shiites saw the coalition as liberators. In the Kurdish areas, opinion was reversed: 97 percent saw the coalition as liberators and only 1 percent saw them as occupiers.

Similar percentages of Sunnis and Shiites also desired an immediate withdrawal of US troops: 61 percent in Shiite areas and 65 percent in Sunni. Baghdad registered the highest percentage desiring immediate withdrawal: 75 percent. Only 3 percent in Kurdish areas supported immediate withdrawal.

Regarding the behavior of Coalition troops: The USA Today poll found 58 percent of all Iraqis saying the troops had behaved very or fairly badly, 34 percent said fairly or very well. In Kurdish areas, however, only 1 percent said badly, while 98 percent said well. In Baghdad, 81 percent said badly, 9 percent said well. In Sunni areas outside Baghdad, 67 percent said badly, 24 percent well. In Shiite areas, 61 percent said badly, 26 percent said well. This shows a close correspondence in Sunni and Shiite views.

33. The relevant data from the March-April 2004 USA Today poll is summarized in section 8.4 of the main report.

34. Robin Gedye, "Iraqi support for coalition falls," Daily Telegraph (UK), 17 June 2004; Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society/CPA poll, Public Opinion in Iraq: First Poll Following Abu Ghraib Revelations, 14-23 May 2004 (Baghdad: CPA, May 2004), available at: Updated 15 June 2004.

35. Herbert Docena. The other reconstruction: How private contractors are transforming Iraq's state and civil society," Focus on the Global South, 1 July 2004; Susan Sachs, "Bremer Expects Rise in Violence as Iraq Builds Democracy," New York Times, 12 December 2003, p. 26; Ariana Eunjung Cha, "Hope and Confusion Mark Iraq's Democracy Lessons," Washington Post, 24 November 2003, p. 1; and, Daniel Williams, "Forces Kill At Least 10 In Mosul Incidents; Occupation, Governor Have Angered Residents," Washington Post, 17 April 2003, p. 27.

36. Paul McGeough, "Fight to the Death: The Iraqis Who Hated Saddam Hate the Americans More," Sydney Morning Herald, 20 December 2003; and, Thomas Ricks, "US Adopts aggressive tactics on Iraqi Fighters, Washington Post, 28 July 2003, p. 1.

37. Only those operations with a mission emphasizing enforcement, interdiction, or combat tasks are included in this tally.

38. Kevin Sullivan, "Troops Accused of Mosul Killing; Witnesses Say Crowd Was Fired On After Hussein Firefight; U.S. Denies Allegation," New York Times, 26 July 2003, p. 13; Patrick E. Tyler, "As US Fans out in Iraq, Violence and Death on Rise," New York Times, 14 June 2003, p. 1; Daniel Williams, "Forces Kill At Least 10 In Mosul Incidents; Occupation, Governor Have Angered Residents," Washington Post, 17 April 2003, p. 27; "US troops accused of carnage," Sydney Morning Herald, 16 April 2003; and, Mike Williams, "Marines struggle to bring order to turbulent city," Cox News Service, 16 April 2003.

39. Alex Berenson, "Funeral for 10 Iraqi Police Officers Draws Angry Crowd," New York Times, 14 September 2003; Berenson, "US Soldiers Are Said to Kill Iraqi Policemen by Mistake," New York Times, 12 September 2003; Charles J. Hanley, "More protesters fall to U.S. guns in Falluja; commander says Americans will remain," Associated Press, 1 May 2003; Jonathan Steele, "Two more die during protest at US killings: Mayor wants troops to leave town where 14 were shot dead day before," Guardian, 1 May 2003, p. 18; Phil Reeves, "At Least 10 Dead as Us Soldiers Fire on School Protest," Independent (UK), 30 April 2003, p. 2; and, " U.S. Soldiers Kill 13 at Iraq Protest Rally, Hospital Reports," Associated Press, 29 April 2003.

40. Charles Clover, "Clash of cultures fuels low-level war of increasing animosity," Financial Times, 2 June 2003, p. 10.

41. Larry Kaplow, "Shootings of Civilians Anger Iraqis," Cox News Service, 12 August 2003; and, "2 Iraqi cops shot dead by US forces," Agence France Presse, 11 August 2003; Pamela Hess, "Leader wants better treatment for Iraqis," United Press International, 11 August 2003; and, "Writethru: US troops kill 5 Iraqis in Baghdad: report," Xinhua General News Service, 8 August 2003; "US commander expresses regret over civilian deaths in Baghdad raid," Agence France Presse, July 31, 2003; and, Robert Fisk, "US troops turn botched Saddam raid into a massacre," Independent (UK), 29 July 2003.

42. Rod Nordland, Tom Masland and Christopher Dickey, "Unmasking the Insurgents," Newsweek, 7 February 2005; Paul McGeough, "Fatal collision with tradition," Sydney Morning Herald, 30 July 2004; Amatzia Baram, The Iraqi Tribes and the post-Saddam System, Iraq Memo #18 (Washington DC: 8 July 2003, Brookings Institution); and, "Saddam's spy chief tried to meet US," United Press International News Update, 22 April 2003.

43. Anna Badkhen, "Iraqi raids fostering fresh enemies; Once-supportive, critical villagers now openly anti-American," San Francisco Chronicle, 6 October 2003, p. 1; and, Anna Badkhen and Thorne Anderson, "Air attack kills 3 in their sleep; Missiles gone awry further splits Iraqis from US occupiers," San Francisco Chronicle, 24 September 2003, p. 3.

44. Jack Fairweather, "US soldiers shoot dead two unarmed Iraqis in stone-throwing protest," Daily Telegraph, 19 June 2003, p. 13; Rory McCarthy, "The demonstrating Iraqis have no work, no money and are desperate; Two are shot dead," The Guardian, 19 June 2003, p. 1; Nayla Razzouk, "Former Iraqi soldiers threaten to take up arms," Agence France Presse, 19 June 2003; and, Lamia Radi, "US troops open fire on demonstrators, one Iraqi killed," Agence France Presse, 18 June 2003.

45. Badkhen and Anderson, "Air attack kills 3," San Francisco Chronicle, 24 September 2003, p. 3.

46. Razzouk, "Former Iraqi soldiers threaten to take up arms," Agence France Presse, 19 June 2003.

Citation: Carl Conetta, Vicious Circle: The Dynamics of Occupation and Resistance in Iraq, Project on Defense Alternatives Research Monograph #10. Cambridge, MA: Commonwealth Institute, 18 May 2005.

ISBN: 1-881677-13-3

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