27 April 2006
Modern guerrilla warfare part three
When considering the guerrilla war in Iraq the first thing that needs to be taken into account is that it is a guerrilla war; it is not an urban uprising. The latter is a quasi-conventional event, along the lines of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The Polish Home Army, operating in conventional miliitary formation, managed to seize control of a large part of Warsaw from the Germans. The Poles held out for 63 days and were then forced to surrender.
By way of contrast the Iraqis are fighting what is basically a guerrilla war in an urban setting. Small groups of guerrillas will attack enemy forces whenever they see the chance. Their tactical aim is to cause maximum casualties to the enemy and suffer minimum casualties themselves. The strategic aim is to so sicken and weary the enemy that he will withdraw from the field.
That said, the Iraq war has introduced three factors into the guerrilla war concept that are either new, or have never been seen on this scale before.
The first is the decentralised nature of the Iraqi resistence. The reasons for this were discussed in earlier essays, but to summarise the argument briefly, we can say that the state is collapsing and older loyalties are coming to the surface once again. Families, clans and tribes - entities that the West thought dead and buried - are remerging into the light. Guerrilla resistence like this is even harder to defeat because even if one faction decides to negotiate, the rest are just as likely to carry on fighting.
Leading on from this the urban nature of the conflict makes it much easier to actually recruit guerrillas and supporters. Instead of having to trek from village to village repeating the same message at each stop, the urban guerrilla can speak to his relatives and friends who all live in his neighbourhood. This probably accounts for the way in which the Iraqi guerrilla war became so lethal so fast. Normally one would expect the guerrillas to spend a couple of years at least laying the groundwork for their coming war. In Iraq that did not happen and the most logical reason is that the guerrillas were already known in the areas where they operated because they happened to live there.
Secondly, the urban environment allows for what one writer calls "open source" warfare to flourish. Basically a guerrilla group will try out a new form of attack on the enemy. Other groups will watch what happens and, if the style of attack seems promising, they will copy and improve upon it. The urban setting allows these improvements to happen rapidly, nobody has to wait until perfection is achieved which is what would happen in the countryside. In the city the groups can quickly copy from one another because everything is pretty much going on under everyone else's noses.
Take the famous improvised explosive device as a case in point. They started out as little more than landmines planted in the hope that an enemy patrol would run over them. Then the Iraqis began to run wires to the explosives to ensure that they actually hit an American force, rather than some lorry driver. As the Americans started to search for the wires, the Iraqis switched to electronic detonators. The Americans learned the frequencies that the Iraqis were using and began to jam the signals. The Iraqis then switched to other frequencies and the lethal game continued.
Thirdly, an urban setting allows the internet to be used for cheap and readily available agitprop. If guerrilla war is mainly political war, which it is, then the guerrillas have to be able to comunicate their message to the enemy's civilian population: otherwise how can they be pursuaded to pressure their government to end the war? In a classical guerrilla war this is done slowly. Eventually the message percolates through that the war is being lost. However, this takes time; American public opinion did not shift against the war in Vietnam until about 1968, a full seven years after the war had begun. However, that opinion has already turned against the Iraq war within three years of the conflict starting. It is not that American television is more anti-imperialist than it was a generation ago; a more likely explanation is that the internet allows the Iraqis to publicise their activities freely.
The Baghdad Sniper can serve as a casy study here. Had such a fighter existed in any of the earlier anti-colonial wars it is highly unlikely that we would have even heard of him. As it is this writer can think of no TV programme that has ever been dedicated to him and the number of newspaper articles that refer to him is very small. Yet Juba is famous because vidoes of him shooting Americans are available on the web. Supporters of Iraq publicise those videos and people then download them. The message gets out.
Obviously in years to come the imperialists will think up new ways to counter the new form of guerrilla warfare that we have discussed in these essays. However, for the moment the advantage lies with us, the ordinary people of this Earth. Increasingly we live in megacities, cities that are impossible to police even at the best of times. These cities are awash with guns and the ease of communication that all cities have means that training a resistence force is relatively easy - at least when compared to the countryside.
It is possible - more than possible, it is quite likely - that one of those magacities in Asia, Africa or Latin America will provide the anvil that will finally break imperialism's hammer.