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The Role of Intelligence in Countering Terrorism in Iraq

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Writer: Ilias Papadopoulos
In this article the writer studies the role of intelligence in combatingterrorism, with Iraq as a case study. He argues that the pursuit of thecounter-terrorism agenda, solely based in the use of military force, doesn’t produce positive results. On the other hand, results can be achieved by relying on the counter-terrorism model in the use of intelligence and the application of military force only when other avenues of action have been spent.


Before proceeding any further, there is need to define the term ‘intelligence’. For that, we will use a definition first published by M Werner which says: “Intelligence is secret, state activity, to understand or influence foreign entities”.

Intelligence work is divided into five levels,  all of which institute the “intelligence cycle” which in turn is the mechanic by which an intelligence agency works.

These levels of the “intelligence cycle” are: “Planning and Direction”, “Information Collection” (The means of  intelligence collection can be technical (Techint), via the use of informants (Humint), or via the use of open sources (Osint), “Information Processing”, “Analysis” and finally “Dissemination” of the intelligence product to the proper officials and policy makers. Each  level of the cycle must effectively cooperate with the others for the intelligence product to be of value.

 

Defining Terrorism

Having described how intelligence agencies work, now we will see what terrorism is and how its role has increased in modern warfare. Terrorism by itself should be considered a tactic which is employed either by itself, or in the context of a broader campaign. For an attack to qualify as “terrorism” it must comply with four criteria.  These criteria are i) the action must use or threaten to use violence; ii) the incentives for that action must be political in the broader sense (political, religious, philosophical etc); iii) the action must have far reaching psychologicalrepercussions in the target (that might be the demoralisation of a society and / or of the armed forces); iv) be conducted by a non-state actor.

The phenomenon, albeit not new at all has an increased impact in modern affairs mainly for two reasons. The first is the contemporary Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). This is the development of technology to a level that a small group of people could cause disproportionate damage with relatively cheap materials. The second reason is that RMA allows in even a small group of highly motivated people to press for their agenda by forcible means. While in the past a vast conscription pool was required for war to be conducted, a pool that only states could possess, this is not the case for today. Only one man with an explosive vest, could cause mass casualties and with only low cost materials. This new reality allows non-state actors to conduct war-like operations.

The Iraq Context

While operations from this ‘new kind of war’ cannot defeat conventional forces in the field of battle, they can engage them in an asymmetric way that regular forces could not retaliate against the terrorists. This was the nature of the Iraqi campaign after the Coalition overthrew Saddam Hussein.  Small armed groups set Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) causing casualties in both the civilian population and Coalition forces.  Other practices included attacks with RPGs and small arms, as well as abductions of civilians that subsequently were tortured and killed publicly.

This violence was perpetrated by a multitude of indigenous and foreign groups that were active in Iraq soon after the fall of the Ba’ath regime. These can be categorised in two ways, the first is their ethnic / religious composition and the second is the goals they sought to achieve.

For the first part we can identify: i) Kurds, ii) Sunni Arabs, iii) Shi’a Arabs, iv) Foreigners. For the second part we can identify the following goals: a) political power in the post-Saddamera, b) religious reasons in the context of fighting a jihad, c) separation from Iraq.

Soon after the invasion, many armed groups appeared with different ethnic composition, different goals and different methods. With the exception of Kurdish Pash Merga that kept a distance from the sectarian violence, all other groups turned one against the other and all of them, turned against Coalition forces. With Saddam gone, sectarian violence began to emerge all over the country, dragging Iraq into a de facto civil war.  But besides the civil war, these groups also turned against Coalition forces which they saw as an illegitimate occupation force, or in the case of Islamist extremists as “crusaders”.

In these circumstances Coalition forces and particularly Americans  who bore the main brunt of the attacks were unprepared. Their forces were trained and equipped to achieve a fast conventional victory, but not to engage in operations of the “new kind of war”. The last similar experience for the US Army was Vietnam and since then, little had been done to fight such wars with success.

The Disastrous Bremmer Model

After the occupation, the position of administrator of the provisional authority in Iraq went on to Ambassador Paul Bremmer III. His choice to demobilise Iraqi military exacerbated terrorism in the country, since the decision opened a large conscription pool for the illegitimate armed groups of the country. The Sunni element of the country was particularly affected, since they constituted the main body of officers in the pre-war army. Thus it was only logical for them to try to expel the Americans from the country and regain part of their former power. This notion became even clearer when all government officials of the Ba’ath government were expelled from the administration.

The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) is the development of technology to a level that a small group of people could cause disproportionate damage with relatively cheap materials. The second reason is that RMA allows even a small group of highly motivated people to press for their agenda by forcible means. This new reality allows non-state actors to conduct war-like operations

Besides political mistakes, the Americans also lacked the appropriate number of troops on the ground to ensure order in the country.  This allowed the terrorists greater freedom of movement and eventually the ability to control large areas in the country. But the greatest shortcoming in the counter-terrorism strategy was the counter-terrorism model itself. Ambassador Bremmer soon after he assumed command of the country decided that he would pursue his goal via the “war model”.

This meant that areas that were ‘suspect’ of harbouring terrorists would be searched by the military in a forceful manner. This practically led to people being dragged from their beds in the middle of the night and their homes searched for weapons and explosives.  This strategy particularly targeted Sunni elements of the society, causing further enmity from their part.

In that model, intelligence played a secondary role. The administration believed that these agencies were better suited to vet ex-Ba’ath personnel than to run intelligence networks and identify the terrorists in the country. That meant that flaws were in the very beginning of the cycle, in the ‘planning and direction’ level. Furthermore this model deterred Iraqis from cooperating with the intelligence communities  practically severing the ‘collection’ level. President Bush for example informs us that intelligence tips in the country were only 12,500 per month, while when the counter-terrorism model changed this number doubled.

The cycle of violence kept mounting until in 2007 when the Bush administration lost the mid-term elections and politically was forced to do something in Iraq. What was decided was a troop increase of 28,500 troops.  The commander that would implement this “Surge”, as this came to be called, was General David H Petraeus who took command of the Multi-National Force I (MNF-I) on February 10, 2007.

The Petraeus Tactic

The new strategy that the General quickly implemented was twofold. Firstly he invested in the safety of the local population and secondly he decreased the use of force against them, preferring to make use of the diplomatic route. Violence came to be Coalition forces’ last resort and only when all other methods of approach had failed.

This strategy brought intelligence agencies back to the frontline against terrorism. The legitimisation of the new administration in the eyes of most Iraqis, meant that they believed coalition forces could better protect them than the terrorist cells did in the past. This in turn allowed the intelligence tips to increase and the intelligence agencies to sufficiently pursue the various terrorist organisations on the country. This resulted in a steep fall of terror attacks, both against civilian and military targets.

The new strategy that General Petraeus quickly implemented was twofold. Firstly he invested in the safety of the local population and secondly he decreased the use of force against them, preferring to make use of the diplomatic route. Violence came to be Coalition forces’ last resort and only when all other methods of approach had failed. This strategy brought intelligence agencies back to the frontline against terrorism

What changed in intelligence thinking was primarily the ‘planning and direction’ level. While in the past intelligence worked on background checks for the ex-Ba’ath officials, from 2007 they started trying to identify terrorist cells in the country.

Their work was eased by the legitimisation of the new doctrine in the eyes of Iraqi society. As was mentioned earlier the established counter-terrorism model of the previous era, deterred Iraqi civilians from cooperating with the administration. The new doctrine allowed that to change. With the society convinced that it was in their interest to work with the new government of their country, they started supplying intelligences services with information. This in turn greatly improved the ‘collection’ level of intelligence agencies  and resultantly the final intelligence product.

Petraeus Tactic Beyond Iraq

By late 2008  Gen Petraeus was transferred in US CENTCOM, bringing with him the wisdom acquired during his tours in Iraq. In his new position, he was now responsible besides Iraq, also for Afghanistan as well as the politically sensitive case of Pakistan, trying to make political compromises and to limit the use of force.

Besides use by the US forces in their various engagements around the globe, this doctrine is a road map on how to limit insurgent action, by maximising societal legitimisation and minimising collateral damage that in turn serves as a rallying banner for further violence. To that end countries that have suffered by asymmetrical strikes, such as India, can take valuable lessons and gradually escalate force application, instead basing their response in the use of intelligence and subsequently law enforcement, small scale military units and only as a last resort large scale military operations and such indiscriminate actions.

Conclusively the role intelligence plays in counter-terrorism work is directly connected with the counter-terrorism model in effect. It shows that when the model employed is particularly heavy-handed, the role of intelligence is low and the results poor. Subsequently when the model shifted, the role of intelligence became a major factor in counter-terrorism work.

Thus it is imperative that the intelligence agencies responsible for counter-terorism, must win the hearts and minds of the local population. What we see in Iraq is that when this principle was not adhered terrorism flourished. When intelligence was allowed to play its role in identifying terrorist cells and persecute them in a socially, not necessarily legal but legitimised context, the results were far better.

Of course we cannot claim that intelligence by itself can win the fight against terror. But intelligence is the first and most delicate line of defence against the phenomenon and not to make the most out of its capabilities would be a waste that states can ill afford to make in their struggle for security.


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