Method to the Madness of Iraqi Insurgents’ Mindless Violence

Brutality in Iraq still flares up at critical times on a scale commensurate with that seen during the height of the sectarian strife (aka, civil war). On Sunday, in what has already come to be known as the Baghdad Church Massacre, insurgents representing the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq attacked and seized a church in Baghdad leaving 58 dead and 75 wounded. Then on Tuesday, November 2, insurgents set off more than a dozen car and roadside bombs across Baghdad leaving at least 63 dead and nearly 300 wounded.

In the New York Times, Jack Healy reported that the explosions struck “Shiite . . . Sadr City, a Sunni mosque, public squares . . . and middle-class shopping districts. . . . They tore across divisions of sect and class.” What’s italicized highlights how nihilistic and anarchistic the attacks struck us. Yesterday, we wrote about the second set of attacks.

No group has yet claimed responsibility, but the U.S. military suspects Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s group, also known as Al Qaeda in Iraq [AQI]). Why include Sunnis then? Healy writes that the attacks “took dead aim at the sheen of normalcy that had settled over Baghdad” and were an attempt to “undermine popular confidence in the government,” as well as “a bloody declaration of their ability to thwart the government’s efforts to secure” the city.

That’s it? Attacking your own people is supposed to undermine confidence in the government? Sounds more like a mindless admixture of anarchy and nihilism.

Setting aside for the moment the role that the United States played in lighting Iraq’s fuse by invading and occupying the country, we instead asked our readers if the Sunni insurgents are just mindless sociopaths or if they have an overarching strategy (other than the long-term creation of a caliphate) .

In reply, John Goekler, an esteemed member of the Focal Points blog staff, revealed not one, but four, possible methods to their madness.

1. Staying relevant. Other Guys ["gangs, tribes, sects and all those miscellaneous 'post national' groups," as John explains in another Focal Points post] have to maintain visibility/credibility to attract followers and funds.

2. Maintaining the sense of insecurity/dysfunction necessary to sustain and exploit “sink holes” (or what John Robb of Global Guerillas would call “Temporary Autonomous Zones”) which Other Guys control and profit from. (Think control/sales of diesel, electricity, housing, security, etc. in neighborhoods.)

3. Sowing confusion/dysfunction/discontent with the (Shia dominated) government. Sunnis are already extracting concessions for pushing the Allawi coalition to a plurality. The new attacks may also be a means of pressuring al-Maliki for similar accommodations.

4. And, of course, for guys with little else in their lives but cause, compañeros and Kalashnikovs, it’s good, clean fun.

Do Focal Points readers agree on the plausibility of those reasons?