Iraqi election Aftermath: Sectarian Bombings – Silverman

Adam L. Silverman PhD[1][1]

Friday 23 April four car bombs (vehicular born improvised explosive
devices/VBIEDs) went off around Baghdad. 
four targeted Shi’a sites
: two exploded in the Zafaraniyah area close to
the Sadrist stronghold in Sadr City and one each at the Hadi al Chalabi Mosque
and the Muhsin al Hakim Mosque.  The latter two
targets are mosques named for/founded by the father and grandfather,
respectively, of Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, and
Ammar al Hakim, who succeeded his father as head of the Supreme Islamic Council
of Iraq (ISCI).
 While the Iraqi
leadership had already come forward to blame the violence on al Qaeda in Iraq
(AQI) as retaliation for the recent Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) killings of two
AQI leaders, the targeting pattern seems to provide a different insight.  All four sites targeted have some relationship
to one of the two large Shi’a religious party lists, the Iraqi National
Alliance (INA), led primarily by now returned Iranian supported Iraqi
ex-patriots: the Chalabi and al Hakim Mosques. 
Additionally, Moqtada al Sadr, currently residing at the Iranian Holy
City of Qom in an attempt to become an ayatullah, has his strongest base of
support in the Shi’a areas in and around Sadr City – areas like
Zafaraniyah.  Had this been simply been a
case of AQI retaliation one would expect the targets to have been ISF
facilities and bases, governmental sites and ministries, and/or anything
specifically associated with PM Maliki and his special counter-terrorism

are high context communicators.  Rather
than come in and directly state what the problem they are upset about is and
laying out an expected resolution, they instead try to indirectly demonstrate
their discomfort.  While this oblique way
of communicating has been, and still most likely is, frustrating for US
military and civilian personnel it makes sense to keep it in mind when trying
to determine what the Iraqis are communicating in their targeting.  While it certainly makes no sense for simple
targeting, such as a buried, crush wire IED that is going to go off when any
sufficiently heavy vehicle goes off and therefore has an element of randomness,
it does make sense to step back from the immediate hyperbole and try to discern
the messages from a well coordinated and specifically timed and placed
attack.  It would seem just as likely, if
not more so, that the targeting of sites linked to the leadership and
supporters of the INA was not AQI retribution, rather it was intended to send a
message of displeasure about INA leaders behavior.  The offending behavior, the context, is the
very close results for the largest plurality in the recent election, the
dispute of the results by PM Maliki and his State of Law List, especially the
attempts by members of the Iraqi National Alliance to play kingmaker two weeks
ago at a conference in Iran.  This
meeting excluded Iyad Allawi, the leader of the Iraqqiya List, made up of an
interesting combination of secular Sunnis and Shi’a, as well as the more
tribal/traditionally oriented Sunni and some Shi’a as well, and seemed to focus
on forming a State of Law and INA coalition; a coalition that would only
require a handful of other elected members of parliamentary to reach the magic
number of 163 seats in parliament to form a government and which would lock out
the Iraqqiya Party List – which won the right to have the first attempt to form
the next Iraqi government.  Given the
disputed election it is probable that the bombings last Friday were an attempt
to deliver a message of displeasure about the elections, not about the killings
of the two AQI leaders.

[1][1] Adam L. Silverman, PhD was the
Socio-cultural Advisor assigned to the 2BCT/1AD from OCT 2007 to OCT 2008 and
was deployed in Iraq in 2008.  The views
expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the


And on the 27th this in the NY Times pl

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13 Responses to Iraqi election Aftermath: Sectarian Bombings – Silverman

  1. Curiosity Dr. Siverman as I find you posts unusually accurate analytically. To what extent does the US still factor into Iraqi politics and polity? What is the best document now extant that describes how US might related to Iraq after troop drawdown? Has any other country other than Iran evidenced an active role in Iraqi politics now?

  2. Jimmy says:

    Maybe it is the other way around: Maliki and State of Law is sending a message to INA to tell them to hurry up with the endorsement, instead of flirting with Allawi.
    Would explain why they’re so quick to blame AQI.

  3. Fred says:

    I would think that message was crystal clear.

  4. jonst says:

    WERE THERE “two AQI leaders” left in Iraq?

  5. SunKommander Dred says:

    Thank your for your cogent and detailed analysis. I do have a question regarding the two high level AQI operatives who were supposedly killed recently. Perhaps I am just a cynical SOB, but I seem to recall that every so often, the Pentagon or the White House (first under Bush, now under Obama) make some grand statement about how some important ‘made man’ in Al Queda has been whacked, and what a blow for the forces of democracy and freedom it presages, only to be followed some days, weeks or months later that in fact, the dude in question remains alive and well, if indeed he ever existed in the first place. Is that indeed the case in this instance?
    Pete Deer

  6. Adam L Silverman says:

    Mr. Deer and Jonst: We seem to kill a lot of #3 guys in al Qaeda. This has led to speculation that there are thousands of al Qaeda guys at #4 in the depth chart, they live in real terror of being promoted, or we have trouble actually figuring out what is going on with al Qaeda. I’ll provide a link below to some of this debate, but I think its definitely the latter – we have trouble figuring out what is going on with al Qaeda. As we tried Moussawi for being the 20th hikacker, we had at least two other people identified as the 20th hijacker; one of whom was in custody in GITMO. I would have loved to have seen that habeus hearing: Prosecutor – “Your honor we need to hold this man as he’s been identified as the 20th 9-11 hijacker?” Judge – “You’re serious? Because just down the hall we’re trying some mentally unstable guy who wants to die for being the 20th hijacker. So counselor, which is it they both can’t be the 20th hijacker? Prosecutor (with a straight face) “Your honor this man has been identified as the 20th hijacker.”
    Or the whole Osama bin Laden is on dialysis thing. I’m officially throwing the BS flag! I don’t care what intel we have, how high up it is on the clearance scale, did someone have a doctor or anyone who has ever lived with someone with kidney failure look at it? My late father died of end stage kidney disease. He was on dialysis three days a week as an outpatient at a designated dialysis center. Once done with a treatment, one’s system crashes – you’re absolutely useless for at least 12 hours. It was all he could do to get home, eat something light, and rack out. Those who have in home dialysis, or in bin Laden’s case “in cave”, have to set aside an entire room (corner of the cave?) to be turned into a sterile and clean environment and the dialysis, because the home machines aren’t as powerful, has to be more frequent. Dad looked into this and decided he didn’t want to turn his house into a med clinic and my mom into his nurse. And the risk for clogged and/or infected dialysis ports is always there. There is virtually no way that bin Laden is sitting in a cave somewhere getting dialysis on a regular basis.
    Same problem with AQI – there were how many months when we thought Zarqawi had a fake leg, and the reports kept moving it back and forth: right, no left, no right, no left. Oh and he got it in Tehran! Because that’s where all good Sunni extremists go for surgery.
    We can’t match the names to the faces (one of the most wanted guys from AQ had the same name as some extreme Imam in London, but they were different guys), we have no standard translation or transliteration conventions for their names, and honestly no one wants to really get their heads around the fact that AQ is a logistical support network; it finds talent, trains it or funds the training, helps with planning, but by and large you’re looking at Lone Wolf cells. There were only 4 guys on 9-11 on those planes that were involved in planning, the rest were muscle. And Atta went looking for a contact to help him out with money, training, and planning (bin al Shib) after he became reactionized as a grad student in Germany.
    Our press corps by and large asks the wrong questions of elected officials and to quickly takes at face value the self declared experts into this stuff both in terms of them being experts and knowing what they’re talking about. Having actually knowledgeable folks like COL Lang or Dr. Giraldi on TV, radio, or quoted in print is few and far between and has been for a while.
    Here’s that link I promised:
    And here’s one to a debate about whether or not there was really an Iraqi 9-11 style plot against the Shi’a mosques last month. Competing members of the GOI can’t get their stories straight:

  7. Patrick Lang says:

    That’s true. We have been shoved off the MSM. pl

  8. FB Ali says:

    Dr Silverman
    Do you think the intelligence is any better in Afghanistan? Or Pakistan’s FATA?

  9. Fred says:

    I’m reading one of the books on the Crusades you recommended, it sounds like the same fractional politics has been going in the Mid-East for centuries. No wonder no-one in D.C. knows what is going on there.
    Dr. Silverman:
    “There were only 4 guys on 9-11 on those planes that were involved in planning, the rest were muscle.” If memory serves Colin Powel said essentially the same thing in the immediate aftermath of 9-11. Only a few days later the Bush administration changed directions and this fact got lost or suppressed.

  10. Adam L Silverman says:

    Mr. Ali: I honestly have no way of knowing. I don’t work in the Intel world, never have in the past either. I understand how its supposed to work, have been trained on that and have taught about, but my job was all on the open source and unclassified side of things. What I do know, because its been mentioned in the press and was the subject of a report by MG Flynn issued through CNAS, that we have an information flow and knowledge management problem. While I did a response for Tom Ricks on this as a guest post, the problem is that even if we do have good intel or information, the fact that we can’t get it where it needs to be for analysis or get the results packaged in usable formats and disseminated to the people that need to see that material to make proper decisions is a major problem! My educated guess is that we’ve got a combination of some really good people that no what they’re doing, but not enough of them, an overwhelming amount of information as no one wants to have too little anymore, and systems that are hit and miss for filtering, processing, and disseminating the output to the decision makers.

  11. Adam L Silverman says:

    Fred: I seem to recall that as well. Essentially the desire to build al Qaeda into an existential threat and fit it into the really shoddy (in an empirical data sense) Clash of Civilizations framework meant that al Qaeda couldn’t be what it really was: a group that either trained Muslims to go fight in insurgencies or revolutions in various parts of the world (Chechnya for instance) or that identified, funded, trained, and provided some operational support for individuals and small groups of reactionized Muslims to commit terrorism. If you watch the training videos that were all shown on the news or put up on the web, they’re not for training terrorists – they’re for training guerillas. In short order al Qaeda was being spoon fed to the press, via the media, as al Qaeda Incorporated; with picnics and office parties and vacation plans. Newsweek ran with that as a lead story at one point, which was the week that I cancelled my Newsweek subscription! It was all just silly. The really organized Islamic groups are actually the ones that grew off of existing Islamic social movements: Hamas from the Muslim Brothers, Hezbullah’s armed wing, JAM from the Sadrists – groups like that. These are properly organized social movements, which also means that the solution to their problem is to engage the normative sides of the movements so heavily, give them so much responsibility, that they have little to no time or energy to work with the violent wing. The research we have on deradicalization of jihadis reinforces this conceptualization. None of this fits into the political narratives built around and after 9-11. Suddenly every previous attack was al Qaeda – even when it wasn’t. The first WTC bombing attack led by Abdullah the Red, backed by Sheikh Rahman, with a bomb built by Ramzi Yousef, wasn’t al Qaeda. The only real contact to al Qaeda is that Yousef is Kalidh Sheikh Mohammed’s nephew. They was no evidence or even argument that this was an AQ job until several months after 9-11. As a result we’ve made al Qaeda into something it isn’t. Virtually no one in the US actually knows why they attacked, because they didn’t bother to check out AQ’s own list of grievances, and the media certainly wasn’t going to report on it. Rather they just repeated the Bush Administration’s line that it was because of our freedom and our shopping malls.
    I’ve seen fancy video presentations that are peddled to law enforcement and intelligence by big name folks that completely conflate Sunni and Shi’a movements (not the same thing), make every act of Islamic extremism violence part of a world wide campaign to destroy America, which ignores the very localized nature of the Algerian, Palestinian, Lebanese, Chechen, and Iraqi extremist movements, as well as the differences between Sunni and Shi’a drivers. The people peddling this stuff include a former DCI, a former Assistant SecDef, etc. And these have become the go to guys in the press for a lot of its information. Ignorance isn’t bliss, in this case its deadly.

  12. JohnH says:

    Nice, ironic graphic. Tawhid–union.

  13. Fred says:

    We(the US) made al Qaeda a better know brand than McDonald’s. If you want to see some real fear imagine what you can do with this technology reported by
    Fast Company today:
    Dutch Government Uses Augmented Reality to Shame Citizens
    Protest not well attended? Add a few to the crowd.
    Somebody giving you problems? Put them in a live crime scene.
    Politician to goody-two-shoes? Add embarrassing circumstances.
    Terrorist won’t talk? Stage the live kidnapping of their family.
    Gulf of Tonkin too quiet to pass a war resolution? Augment with enemy gunboats.

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