U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq

NCJ Number
Studies in Conflict & Terrorism Volume: 29 Issue: 2 Dated: March 2006 Pages: 103-121
Bruce Hoffman
Date Published
March 2006
9 pages
This paper examines American tactics that have failed to prevent and stop insurgency and counterinsurgency in Iraq; identifies the unique challenges for American and other coalition forces currently in Iraq; and draws lessons for future counterinsurgency planning, operations, and requirements.
The type of insurgency that is occurring in Iraq most closely fits John Arquilla's and David Ronfeldt's concept of a "netwar," which they define as involving "small groups who communicate, coordinate, and conduct their campaigns in an internetted manner, without a precise central command." In Iraq, various religious and secular groups from within and outside the country are using violence against various targets in order to achieve various ends. These groups may plan their attacks separately or in cooperation when it serves their common interests. They exchange intelligence, trade weapons, or engage in joint training. Networks of insurgents are loose, not clearly defined, and constantly shifting. American and coalition military tacticians have persisted in viewing the Iraq insurgency as an example of classic guerilla warfare, which they characterize as having clear leadership, a defined organizational infrastructure, clearly defined targets, and an evolution toward relatively large mobile units that use conventional warfare tactics. This failure to assess accurately the nature of the insurgency has resulted in failure to counter it. It remains to be seen whether the "netwar" in Iraq will persist, dissipate, or change its form. What is clear is that tactics to counter it -- strategies, training, equipment, political policies, and military policies -- must be tailored to the motivations, dynamics, and multiple factors that drive a "netwar." 108 notes