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Thread: 3rd Generation Gangs and the Iraqi Insurgency

  1. #1
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    Default 3rd Generation Gangs and the Iraqi Insurgency

    Interesting student thesis from NPS: Third Generation Gangs and the Iraqi Insurgency

    The insurgency in Iraq has continued despite the determination of U.S. and Iraqi forces. U.S. counter-insurgent strategy has operated from the premise that the main thrust behind anti-U.S. activities is a combination of Sunnis desiring a return to their former privileged position and tribal collective actors with long-standing grievances fuelled by radical Islam. Yet an analysis incorporating insights from gang theory illuminates the diverse, practical, and local motivations of those involved in insurgent networks. Gang theory is uniquely suited to illuminate the street-level dynamics that drive insurgent violence. Through this, a more precise picture of the relevant networks and their operative motivations can be drawn, allowing finer tuned policies targeted to the differentiated factors behind non-state violence. I first consider the origins of and interactions between the armed groups operating in Iraq for discernable trends in development, paying particular attention to factors consistent with gang models. I then alter the gang model for the context of Iraq, and present an integrated model that articulates the likely effects of state-insurgent interaction on stability and security there. I conclude with recommendations demonstrating the model’s relevance for strategic use in other regions.

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    Default Thanks much....

    Added this thesis to the SWJ library.

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    Default Great thesis, comments part 1

    This thesis is worth the investment of your time to read. Below are some of my takes on the paper for those of you who don’t have the time or desire to read it.

    1. The problem in Iraq must be re-conceptualized:

    To date the various insurgent models we have used to make sense of the “insurgent like activity” in Iraq has not served us well. The problems in Iraq are not the same as those the West dealt with in the communist insurgent era, but we still fall back on these models because we’re comfortable with them. There is a human need to understand problems, so we normally default to framing problems with known conceptual models (ranging from simple religious interpretations [God wills it] to flawed economic theories). This leads us to implement a preconceived solution (in this case incomplete COIN doctrine) to the table, and then try hard to shape the problem to fit our solution. The flawed logic of this approach is evident. The author of this thesis has finally presented a new model (while it may not be perfect) that actually gives us a way to model and then address the insurgent like activity we’re dealing with Iraq and elsewhere in the global war on terrorism. Perhaps wishful thinking, but I think it will lead to significant and much needed paradigm shifts in our strategy.

    While the broad concepts of unconventional, asymmetrical, irregular warfare etc. have some use in helping us define the nature of warfare, it does little for giving us a framework for understanding cause and effect, and then identifying a strategy to address the conflict unless you want to take the lazy man’s way out and simply pull the COIN manual off the shelf. The author effectively dispels several myths of the war in Iraq. He points out that the insurgency has less to do with the U.S. than originally thought. He points out allegiances between the various actors are constantly shifting based on economic competition more so than ideological reasons, and that these economic incentives are more important than tribal bonds, but in the present Iraq it is the tribe that provides the economic incentives, not the state. Has he points out in his paper, understanding this is key to understanding how to fight this problem set.

    2. Industrial and Information Age Insurgencies:

    He does a good job of articulating the differences between industrial and information age insurgencies, and it is important to read and understand this section to understand the impact of 3d generation gangs. One take away from the industrial age is that a liberation insurgency does not require a coherent ideology or proposed alternative to motivate a steady flow of recruits as along as the resentment of foreign occupation and interference is widespread. While perhaps not the main issue, we need to make sure it doesn’t become the main issue in this insurgency. There are several Iraqis who hate us because of our actions, not because we stand for freedom. The longer we patrol the streets of Baghdad and other cities the more resentment the Iraqis will generate. Furthermore, unlike Vietnam and other conflicts, this is simply not a nationalist liberation insurgency, but a regional rejection based on culture and religion of the West. He doesn’t deny there are aspects of this in Iraq, but this isn’t the main thrust of the insurgency.

    Moving on to insurgency in the information age, the added elements are that the insurgents are diffuse, dispersed, multidimensional, nonlinear, and ambiguous. They act relatively autonomously to achieve a shared intent. On the other hand you have the West, which is a huge network, but a very formal one with a hierarchical structure that is incapable of responding in a timely manner. It’s the old saying that they’re running circles around us in the decision making process.

    While we have treaties and the coalition of the willing, they are prone to cultivate functional relationships at the sub-national level, which is their method for mobilizing forces so effectively, and why third generation gangs play a key role. One of these non-state actors is referred to violent transnational enterprises (VTEs). These groups provide access to alternative markets and resources such that insurgent groups require only the passivity of a population in circumstances short of orthodox civil war”. The Iraqi people could deny freedom of movement if they turned hostile towards the insurgents, but the insurgents don’t require their support to exist.

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    Default comments part 2

    3. 3d Generation Gang Model

    Understanding the three generations of gangs is key to understanding how local gangs, tribes, and other groups transform into transnational actors. This is a dumbed down interpretation, and I strongly suggest you read this section at least beginning on page 19. There are three phases in this model.

    1st Generation Gang: Characterized by individual, opportunistic criminal activity loosely organized and led based on loyalty and territory. My example, Jim and few friends make extra money through petty thievery, and through their connections manage to get into producing and selling crack cocaine. Jim is the informal leader, and while they’re not really structured as a gang at first, they are an informal organization and if they’re not arrested or killed, they will probably evolve structurally and operationally as they learn to become a more efficient business.

    2nd Generation Gang: Territorial focus is now replaced by market awareness. They realize to make more money they have to expand their market, which leads to increasing levels of competition and violence with other gangs. Jim’s Boys now have pushed out of the block to trying to dominate the entire crack market in the city. If they’re going to compete with the Bloods and the various Mexican Gangs, they’ll have to increase in size and sophistication, and most likely eventually network with other gangs, tribes, etc. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours, or an enemy of my enemy is my friend type deal.

    3d Generation Gang: That networking with other elements is when a gang can transition into a transnational criminal enterprise. In Jim’s Boys case, they would probably be consumed by a larger more sophisticated enterprise such as a drug cartel. They would be become the local branch responsible for security and sales. Even a greater danger lies when 2nd Generational gangs are approached by VTEs such as Al Qaeda, as we saw in Chicago, and we are now seeing in some of our prisons in the U.S. In some cases you see at least the temporary cooperation of two VTEs such as a White Supremist Group and Al Qaeda who share similar political goals (in regards to Jews and Israel). David Duke was allegedly in Syria recently supporting their stand against Israel. This greatly expands Al Qaeda’s reach and operational capability into the West. Information age groups can grow exponentially and quickly overwhelm unsuspecting states.

    The author outlines a few reasons this happens based off studies in the U.S., but they are probably relevant internationally. In short the State and local governments are losing influence (power). This is especially pronounced in some urban areas where we have seen the effects of dramatic socio-economic dislocation, decreasing urban tax bases, and declines in public sector investment, and migration trends into segregated neighborhoods that are economically dislocated. Look at the recent riots in France as an example.

    Using anthropologies big man theory, the isolated communities will turn to whoever is providing security and economic incentives, whether it a gang or the government. If it is the gang, then for all practical purposes they are the government. Not to diverge too far from the subject, but I think it can be argued that our welfare system and integration push have effectively off set this crisis in the U.S. Although seen as liberal policies, we may want to reconsider the danger of eroding tax bases, which defangs the local government when we can clearly see the long term strategic cost of doing so.

    4. How this all relates to Iraq:

    Replace gangs with tribes, and then use the same model above (generation 1 thru 3).

    This is quite involved and well worth the read, but in short Saddam’s leadership of divide and conquer resulted in less state control and more authority at the local/tribal level. This condition was worsened by the UN sanctions (sanctions for the most part have actually made the targeted leaders more powerful, because they control all the scarce resources, so under sanctions, people have to bow even deeper to the emperor to get their basic economic needs met), so even before we invaded a robust “informal economy”, or black market, existed. Some estimates put the informal economy as high as 68% of the national labor force in Saddam’s latter years. This means he controlled very little in reality, so terrorists, among others, could have probably easily operated in Iraq without his consent.

    This problem was made worse by our invasion, because we collapsed, or impeded, the few remaining regulatory and legal institutions remaining, which compelled businesses to rely on kinship or tribes to get into the informal economy. After the invasion over 80% of the population (over 2/3’s of Iraq’s GNP) was in the informal economy. This led to a huge increase in criminal activity that controlled the distribution of scarce resources such as petrol and electric power, and led to new criminal enterprises such as kidnapping, looting, and “targeting coalition forces”. This what the resistance exploited to mobilize forces.

    In Iraq we now have several shadow governments and economies that are competing with one another, which the author claims is main source of violence in Iraq, not the VTEs (or AQ in Iraq). In JUN 05 the Baghdad morgue estimated at least 60% of the deaths from gunshot wounds were unrelated to the insurgency, and due instead to a combination of tribal vendettas, vengeance killings, kidnapping attempts (business enterprise, not insurgency related), and other related activities. In fact, tribal feuding accounts for a large portion of the violence that draws coalition forces into a particular area, and he adds we’re (coalition) ill positioned to determine the relevant trends in local competition to exploit tribal cleavages that may diffuse the levels of anti-coalition violence. The bottom line is we don’t understand what is driving the violence. If the author is right, then we need to get inside the minds of these tribal leaders and learn what is really happening. Building a school there doesn’t sound like a good idea for winning the power brokers, giving them a long term source of income, ideally tied to cooperation with the government does.

    The author states that Zarqawi’s organization is a source of friction with most Iraqi Arabs because it is mostly composed of Kurds and foreigners, and the fact that they are killing hundreds of innocent people. Several tribes have turned against him, and he is now on the run. The Iraqi people never supported Al Qaeda, and we have to be careful not to drive them in that direction. He believes that our focus on AQ in Iraqi is misplaced, and the real strategic center of gravity is the tribes. Either the tribes or coalition forces will soon kill Zarqawi and his puppets, so we need to shift our main effort to building an effective Iraqi government to prevent Iraq from becoming a safe haven for his ilk in the future.

    The author has recommends three lines of operation to dealing with the insurgent /insurgent like activity in Iraq:

    1. State led structural modification (the end state is a state led economy, not informal economies)

    Criminal based economies have become the cornerstone of insurgent mobilization. Due to this insurgent related violence will likely increase until the Iraqi State is re-structured to meet the economic needs of the people. Furthermore, the declining ability of the state will actually pull criminal and insurgent groups into the political sphere, which is not good for long term stability because it will prevent the development of effective state structures. He adds that although it is counter intuitive, our current free market arrangement is contributing to the strength and resiliency of insurgent actors by consolidating their local position (i.e. control petrol distribution).

    2. Elite consensus (probably more realistic than a true democracy at this point)

    3. Indirect engagement of insurgent groups. The author argues that the presence of conventional forces in Iraq, especially in urban areas is actually contributing to the violence instead of lessening it. He advocates indirectly engaging the insurgents through local police forces who are advised, as required, by our special operations soldiers. The conventional forces are still required in the vicinity to reach out and hammer any insurgent/criminal groups that are strong enough to be a threat to regional security forces. This will probably be the case for some time to come, but what we don’t need is U.S. patrols in Baghdad and elsewhere unless we want to push the people into a liberation insurgency.

    This paper has highlighted the much neglected E (economic) of the DIME. It also highlights the need to expand D to include good governance. We are not good at economic and government development outside of our borders, but we definitely need to be if we’re going to be successful at expanding democracy and freedom around the world.

    The military can only set conditions for the D and E to be successful, once those conditions are identified. If we want the military to do more, then with those increased authorities we need increased manning, new units, and additional funding. Over the years I have become more than a little cynical of other government agencies to effectively implement their plans.

    Look forward to discussing this and other related lessons from this thesis with those interested.

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    The author of this thesis has finally presented a new model (while it may not be perfect) that actually gives us a way to model and then address the insurgent like activity we’re dealing with Iraq and elsewhere in the global war on terrorism. Perhaps wishful thinking, but I think it will lead to significant and much needed paradigm shifts in our strategy.
    ...after I read it, I was scratching my head, thinking, "A damned Air Force butterbar wrote this?" short Saddam’s leadership of divide and conquer resulted in less state control and more authority at the local/tribal level...
    Charles Tripp wrote this back in 2000: Another important element that has been reinforced during the years of Saddam Hussein's rule has been the social networks of kinship. These have been used by the regime as channels of reward and punishment, sustaining a certain kind of patrimonial system and strengthening the positions of the designated patriarchal leaders vis-a-vis their followers and tenants. So effective has this been in the conditions of the past few decades that, recipricocally, increasing numbers of individuals, far removed from any traditional tribal identity, have sought to affiliate themselves with the recognized shaikhs of certain tribal groups to benefit from the protection and security this is thought to bring. The integration of these networks into the Iraqi state may no longer need Saddam Hussein to maintain it, but may make it harder for more open processes of impersonal coalition building to assert themselves in the future.

    Bill, you and I are on the same sheet of music on this, and on other bits you've posted in this context. I'd like to invite you over for a beer to sit down and discuss the model - not only for its potential strategic application, but as regards operational intel collection and analysis supporting the tactical commanders.


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