February 08, 2008

Population-Centric Insurgency?

We often write about the way in which brutalities beget brutalities in war and how massacres can lead to tit-for-tat cycles of violence. But is the inverse true as well? When one side takes a softer approach, does that put pressure on the other side to do the same? If the prize is the population, that might make sense.

Check out this article in today's Washington Post:

BAGHDAD -- The Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq is telling its followers to soften their tactics in order to regain popular support in the western province of Anbar, where Sunni tribes have turned against the organization and begun working with U.S. forces, according to group leaders and American intelligence officials.

The new approach was outlined last month in an internal communique that orders members to avoid killing Sunni civilians who have not sympathized with the U.S.-backed tribesmen or the government.

From internal documents and interviews with members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, a picture emerges of an organization in disarray but increasingly aware that its harsh policies -- such as punishing women who don't cover their heads -- have eroded its popular support. Over the past year, the group has been driven out of many of its strongholds. The group's leadership is now jettisoning some of its past tactics to refocus attacks on American troops, Sunnis cooperating closely with U.S. forces, and Iraq's infrastructure.