At the blog of the Small Wars Journal, Dave Kilcullen offers some fascinating perspective on the significance of the tribal revolt that began in Iraq’s Anbar Province and is now spreading elsewhere. Dave is a former Australian army officer (and Ph.D. anthropologist) who recently ended a stint in Iraq as General David Petraeus’s chief counterinsurgency adviser.
The entire piece is long but worth reading for his subtle and sophisticated delineation of what is driving so many Iraqi Sunnis to flip against al Qaeda in Iraq. Here are three key points from Dave’s post:
1) “[T]he tribal revolt is not some remote riot on a reservation: it’s a major social movement that could significantly influence most Iraqis where they live. The uprising began last year, far out in western Anbar province, but is now affecting about 40 percent of the country. It has spread to Ninewa, Diyala, Babil, Salah-ad-Din, Baghdad and— intriguingly—is filtering into Shi’a communities in the South.”
2) “[T]he current social ‘wave’ of Sunni communities turning against AQI could provide one element in the self-sustaining security architecture we have been seeking. And if the recent spread of the uprising into the Shi’a community continues, we might end up with a revolt of the center against both extremes, which would be a truly major development.”
3) “It also does much to redress the lack of coalition forces that has hampered previous counterinsurgency approaches, by throwing tens of thousands of local allies into the balance, on our side.”
In other words, the attempts by some skeptics to write off security progress in Anbar as an isolated phenomenon with no implications for the larger political picture in Iraq won’t wash. If current trends continue (and of course they may not), Kilcullen suggests, what started in Anbar could transform Iraq politically as well as militarily.