I disagree with many of his conclusions but he makes a damn fine argument.
A leading expert on the insurgency clarifies who is shooting whom in Iraq, the growing power of al-Qaida, the influence of Iran, and the only thing left for the U.S. to do.
By Kevin Berger
March 2, 2007 | For somebody in America, Evan Kohlmann has a remarkably intimate view of the Iraq insurgency. In 2004, he founded GlobalTerrorAlert.com, a clearinghouse of virtually every communiqué -- video, audio, Internet, printed -- issued by insurgent groups in Iraq. For three years, Kohlmann has pored through every one of them, with the help of Arabic translators, and emerged with a clear-eyed view of who is fighting whom in Iraq and why. Given his insights, Kohlmann has been put to work as a consultant by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the FBI and the CIA.
Spending time in Kohlmann's archives is an extraordinary experience. It strips away the cloudy myths of the insurgency steamed up by U.S. politicians and pundits and leaves you with a bracing portrait of roving insurgent groups, more like neighborhood gangs, with their own identities and insignias, progressively growing more violent. I wanted to talk to Kohlmann for the simple reason that as much as I follow the news about the Iraq war, I have always felt slightly frustrated at not knowing who the enemy really is. Kohlmann says I'm far from alone. And he's talking about people way over my head. "I find it tragic that people in Washington, D.C., who are the heads of major congressional committees, and deciding things about Iraq, don't know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites," he says. Kohlmann insists he is nonpartisan. He spoke from his office in New York.
Every day you look at Iraq through the lens of insurgent videos and Internet postings. What do you see?
A picture of fundamentalism. Shiite fundamentalism clashing with Sunni fundamentalism clashing with American fundamentalism. We have tried imposing things upon Iraq that are totally foreign to it. Now each side is unwilling to acknowledge the right of the other to have a voice in what's going on. It's a disaster.
Describe the insurgency.
You have to be careful when you say "insurgency." You have to distinguish between the Shiite militias and the actual insurgency, which is the Sunni groups. Most of the Shiite militia activity is not directed at the U.S., it's directed at the Sunnis. The Sunni insurgency, meanwhile, is directed at everyone -- the U.S., the Iraqi government, the militias.
The best way to divide it up is into three camps. You have Sunni nationalists, initially a large portion of the insurgency; the moderate Sunni Islamists, who use Islamic terminology and talk about establishing a government based on Sharia law; and you have the Salafists, like the group Al-Qaida in Iraq. To them, the fight is not about preserving the borders of Iraq, it's about revolution, about rebuilding something completely new on the basis of some kind of idyllic Muslim empire...