Nov 20, 2007

New IO Theme Rolled Out

There is supposed to be a process called "deconflicting the IO Matrix."

In this case, people are so eager to advance a new theme that some corners have been obviously cut.

And "chatter"? Any time a U.S. official publicly refers to chatter, you can be sure that some variety of bullshittery is afoot. The professionals here know exactly what I mean.

Abu Nawall, a captured al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, said he didn't join the Sunni insurgent group here to kill Americans or to form a Muslim caliphate. He signed up for the cash.

"I was out of work and needed the money," said Abu Nawall, the nom de guerre of an unemployed metal worker who was paid as much as $1,300 a month as an insurgent. He spoke in a phone interview from an Iraqi military base where he is being detained. "How else could I support my family?"

U.S. military commanders say that insurgents across the country are increasingly motivated more by money than ideology and that a growing number of insurgent cells, struggling to pay recruits, are turning to gangster-style racketeering operations.

U.S. military officials have responded by launching a major campaign to disrupt al-Qaeda in Iraq's financial networks and spread propaganda that portrays its leaders as greedy thugs, an effort the officials describe as a key factor in their recent success beating down the insurgency.


"We're starting to hear a lot of chatter about the insurgents running out of money," said [Col. Stephen Twitty, commander of U.S. forces in Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province], of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. "They are not able to get money to pay people for operations."

In a 30-minute interview, Abu Nawall described his work managing the $6 million or so annual budget of the Mosul branch of the Islamic State of Iraq, an insurgent umbrella group believed to have been formed by al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Iraqi military, which is still interrogating Abu Nawall, agreed to allow a Washington Post reporter to meet him in person after repeated requests for an interview. The interview was canceled at the last moment, but the military later allowed The Post to speak with Abu Nawall by phone as he sat in an Iraqi general's office.

Abu Nawall said he joined the group over the summer because his metalworking business had dried up. The 28-year-old said he was responsible for running the bureaucracy and arranging payments to the 500 or so fighters for the group in the city, who he said try to carry out as many as 30 attacks a day.

"Most of our money comes from payments we receive from places like Syria and from kidnappings," Abu Nawall said, adding that ransoms can reach $50,000 a person. But he denied U.S. claims that attacks in the city had dropped or that the group's funding had stopped. "We still have money," he said.

Much of Abu Nawall's account could not be independently verified, though he said he was speaking freely and without coercion by his detainers. His description of the insurgency's viability was in some cases significantly more upbeat than the one offered by Iraqi and U.S. officials.

But Abu Nawall and his captors agreed that Iraqis were joining the insurgency out of economic necessity. "Of course we hate the Americans and want them gone immediately," Abu Nawall said. "But the reason I and many others joined the Islamic State of Iraq is to support our families."


The U.S. military has launched a propaganda effort to describe Abu Nawall and other insurgents as greedy in order to undermine support for al-Qaeda in Iraq and create infighting among insurgent groups.

In a memo to the provincial police chief, U.S. military officials provided him with a list of "talking points" that they asked him to repeat on local television. "We want these talking points to raise suspicion that higher level [al-Qaeda in Iraq] leaders are greedy and placing personal financial gain over the mission," the memo said.

The memo also said that Abu Nawall admitted that the group's leader in northern Iraq, known as Mohammed al Nada or Abu Basha'ir, had told fighters to attack civilians "to keep them in fear" of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The memo said he also confessed that the group "gets a lot of money through extortion and kidnapping of Iraqi citizens."

"He stated that most of this money stays with the higher level leaders while the fighters on the street get paid only a small amount," the memo said. Two leaders, identified as Mohammed Bazouna and Fuad, "are growing rich through these activities without paying their fighters salaries and giving them the resources to conduct effective attacks."

In the interview, however, Abu Nawall denied making the statements described in the memo. The document also referred to Abu Nawall as the group's emir, or leader, in Mosul, even though U.S. and Iraqi officials said in interviews that he was the deputy emir in the city.

I really question the wisdom of using this theme.

Disrupting the insurgents' finances is certainly to be encouraged, but if the new IO theme is factually correct -- meaning that Iraqi men are joining AQI for the pay -- then we are completely farked.

The ubiquity of monetary incentivization is the reason that we long ago lost the "War on Drugs." People will do almost anything to feed their families.

As long as the insurgency was considered to be ideologically or sectarian-based, there remained at least some hope that political accommodation with some faction (or factions) could be reached.

We can never de-motivate a pecuniary insurgency -- the money will always manage to come from somewhere.

That may be the whole point of this IO. The bogeyman du jour can be identified as a terrorist financier.

This approach will work in exactly the same way as when the temporary lull in the violence on the ground in parts of Iraq reverses and attacks start to increase. The recently restrained [as claimed by the U.S. military] weapons smuggling and other hostile activities of Iran in Iraq will be declared to have reversed too.


zenpundit said...

"Any time a U.S. official publicly refers to chatter, you can be sure that some variety of bullshittery is afoot"

Heh. Crudely pithy but with the ring of truth. Would the "official" be a guy who is several degrees closer to Kevin Bacon than any actual intelligence work ?

My alternative theory is that fighting wars are expensive and that lacking an infinitely indulgent sugar daddy like the old KGB, today's insurgents will be creative about generating revenue streams

Meatball One said...

...and I'm thinking - irregular oil futures contracts and creative derivatives thereof can bankroll a good deal of strident activity. After all, there exists billions in mortgaged hyper-liquidity up for grabs and thus there are myriads of leveraged angles with which to vie for the grand prize of all the easy oil of Babylon.

The same creative instincts, talents, and instruments applied to milking our domestic sub prime market must surely be at play over there. Any financing/bankrolling efforts less than such by our various competing adversaries must be deemed as deeply irresponsible behavior on their part.

In fact it is this aspect that has me suspecting the situation will be worsening before it shows any discernible tendencies of trending towards anything called getting better.

There's simply too much mortgaged future in circulation as speculative liquidity for anyone to afford to back down without losing everything and tomorrow.

Perhaps we might even say that we are witnessing economic brinkmanship between a nation state and fluxing coalitions of irregular entities duking it out for the same enabling end prize.

This is a bubble Thomas Friedman failed to identify in his recent History of Bubbles aka Suck on This interview.

Now that you've admitted as much yourself: it will be neat to see your ZenPundit graphics brought into this century. ;) (Though the old version has actually, and finally, begun to grow on me)

Anonymous said...

Much of the 'chatter' (from our side) I've heard and read recently seems to point to a broad re-classing of the 'bad guys' into mob-boss types orchestrating an 'everybody gets their cut' playground propelled by both grift and graft. This aligns well with the 'bitch better have my money' and 'guns for money' personas drummed up here. Is this to make the slow grind over there more palatable? "Well, dear, you know there're still gangsters everywhere. Gotti, Soprano, those tattooed 13 kids in LA - whatev...It isn't that simple you know."
While the purely (opportunisitic)criminal element can't be discounted - it does exist and must be dealt with in its own particular fashion (much easier with a more legitimate state) - neither should it somehow come to characterize the region and/or the war. Enough on that...

"We want these talking points to raise suspicion that higher level [al-Qaeda in Iraq] leaders are greedy and placing personal financial gain over the mission"

True, editors for the Army aren't all that well paid, but, could you ask for a better piece of cannon fodder for the anti-privatization of force people? Wow. Insert 'Cheney', 'Prince', 'Aegis', or 'Blackwater' in the brackets and, well, you see...

Isaac, the testy one

zenpundit said...

Excellenz M-1

My hat is off to you - you have brought Mr. Isaac into the open online world again! Zounds!!

"Perhaps we might even say that we are witnessing economic brinkmanship between a nation state and fluxing coalitions of irregular entities duking it out for the same enabling end prize."

That's not a bad read, I pretty much find myself in agreement. One caveat. While I am often favorably disposed to 4GW theory, it's best not to underestimate the power of great power states when they are truly desperate and beyond reckoning short-term costs.

Inventing new ways to move pieces is cool and clever and all but in the last analysis, it doesn't compare with the upending the board. Not at all.

Meatball One said...

Issac the Testy.


Nice. Most nice.

and while on rants...I should have resisted my own martini'd rant and left our side of the commentary here to Effy de Wize.

He be wize.But most importantly, he be patient with my meandering wayz.

Keep up the rants TI. They're sweet. They're good. They're...testy.

Meatball One said...

Pundit von Zen

You are absolutely right, of course. I just couldn't avoid the temptation of flippantly toying about with the sexy constructs of the multi-GW world.

It would be nigh irresponsible for covetous or wrecking state actors not to, and creatively so, give incentive,co-opt,exploit, or punt on the efforts and dreams of the irregulars thereby making them little more than run-o-the-mill, and possibly even ideologically drunk at that, proxies for more old school agendas and actors.

...and yes, we dig the Testy One too.

PS I expect I will be upgrading your new website to 2.0 from it's current 1.9 denotation on the SMC blogroll.