Insurgency Economics


In a depressing front page article in Sunday's New York Times, reporter Richard A. Oppel Jr. outlines the massive amount of money stolen from Iraq's Ministry of Oil and diverted into the hands of the insurgency. The Baiji oil refinery, one military commander tells Oppel, is "the money pit of the insurgency." According to Iraqi officials $50,000 to $100,000 is skimmed from the Baiji facility per day. Revenues are pocketed, oil trucks are stolen, crooked officials are intimidated. It's an interesting, if not entirely predictable, problem. What Oppel also notes—in a related point, but one, I think, that amounts to a buried lede—is that, contrary to administration claims and popular perception, the insurgency isn't made up primarily of jihadist dead-enders, but rather of disaffected Iraqis that find lucrative work in the country's terrorism industry. The evidence presented isn't overwhelming, but it is strengthened by the number of military officials who, on the record, support this view. The relevant paragraphs:

"It has a great deal more to do with the economy than with ideology," said one senior American military official, who said that studies of detainees in American custody found that about three-quarters were not committed to the jihadist ideology. "The vast majority have nothing to do with the caliphate and the central ideology of Al Qaeda."
Capt. Stephen Wright, who works at the refinery with Captain Da Silva, is concerned about whether there may be unseen problems looming, like the sort of fatigue that ruptured a propane unit in January. "If something happens to this refinery from neglect, you won't have fuel for eight provinces," he said, "and we'll have 6,000 unemployed Sunnis, who are people we definitely don't want unemployed."
But there are officers in the American military who openly question how much a role jihadism plays in the minds of most people who carry out attacks. As the American occupation has worn on and unemployment has remained high, these officers say the overwhelming motivation of insurgents is the need to earn a paycheck.

Nor do American officers say they believe that insurgent attacks are centrally coordinated. "As far as networked coordination of attacks, we are not seeing that," said a military official familiar with studies on the insurgency. Opposition to the occupation and fear of the Shiite- and Kurdish-dominated government and security forces "clearly are important factors in the insurgency," the official said. "But they are being rivaled by the economic factor, the deprivation that exists."

Maj. Kelly Kendrick, operations officer for the First Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division in Salahuddin, estimates that there are no more than 50 hard-core "Al Qaeda" fighters in Salahuddin, a province of 1.3 million people that includes Baiji and the Sunni cities of Samarra and Tikrit.

He said most fighters were seduced not by dreams of a life following Mr. bin Laden, but by a simpler pitch: "Here's $100; go plant this I.E.D."

"Ninety percent of the guys out here who do attacks are just people who want to feed their families," Major Kendrick said.

Full Times article here. For your entertainment, check out Noah Feldman's mind-bogglingly stupid article on sharia law in the Times Magazine. A sample: "Today, when we invoke the harsh punishments prescribed by Shariah for a handful of offenses, we rarely acknowledge the high standards of proof necessary for their implementation. Before an adultery conviction can typically be obtained, for example, the accused must confess four times or four adult male witnesses of good character must testify that they directly observed the sex act."