October 16, 2003


The rise and fall of Ansar al-Islam: Former members of Ansar al-Islam talk to the Monitor about the militant group's ties to Al Qaeda, the foreign fighters that joined its ranks, and its eventual destruction. (Scott Peterson, 10/16/03, The Christian Science Monitor)

US officials were triumphant last spring, even as the broader Iraq invasion was still underway, after a three-day assault. Gen. Tommy Franks declared that a "massive terrorist facility in northern Iraq" had been "attacked and destroyed" by a joint US-Kurdish operation.

But today US officials assert that Ansar not only survived - like Gharib, who barely escaped after a four-hour bout with a US sniper - but that it is regrouping. They say Ansar is reinfiltrating Iraq with Kurdish and Arab militants from Iran, and, along with Saddam loyalists, is behind an increasing number of anti-US attacks across Iraq.

Lengthy interviews with several Ansar members now in custody, and with officials and intelligence sources of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in northern Iraq, however, yield a more ambiguous picture.

These sources describe a group now so decimated and demoralized that even true believers admit it is unlikely to be reborn according to its old template. [...]

Ansar was once part of a long-term Al Qaeda dream to spread Islamic rule from Afghanistan to Kurdistan and beyond. But that idea was embryonic at best, and when US forces attacked Afghanistan in October 2001, Al Qaeda support for Ansar dried up.

And despite the later arrival of some Afghan veterans and Arab fighters - and a new influx of donor cash - Ansar for 1 1/2 years was isolated, manipulated by both Iraq and Iran, and locked in stalemate with far superior Kurdish forces. Its "poison factory" proved primitive; nothing but substances commonly used to kill rodents were found there. [...]

The Iranians flooded the Ansar area with extremely cheap food supplies, then stopped them abruptly, to squeeze concessions out of Ansar.

Baghdad played a similar role, by using smugglers and middlemen to provide dirt-cheap weapons to Ansar. "Then it stopped - boom! - and you had to beg for it, and make concessions," Gharib says. "I tell you, Ansar was the biggest buyer [from Baghdad]."

We tend always to be surprised by how easy it is for us to destroy our enemies once we bother to make the effort -- the Kaiser, the fascists, the Viet Cong, the USSR, militia groups, Iraq, etc. -- but it is an entirely logical function of our superiority. The fact that beating them proves easy doesn't make doing so an unworthy task.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 16, 2003 10:16 AM

And, geez, another link between the Ba'athists, Islamic terrorism and Al Qaeda. Who'da thunk it?

Posted by: David Cohen at October 16, 2003 10:32 AM

13 million Americans took out four or five years of their lives to defeat fascism and you call that easy?

And I don't recall now that we defeated the N. Vietnamese. Or the Cubans.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 16, 2003 3:37 PM


We landed in North Africa in November 1942 and they surrendered in May 1944. They'd have caved far sooner we'd landed somewhere that mattered and if not for unconditional surrender. How much easier does it get.

We never fought the North or Cuba--should have.

Posted by: OJ at October 16, 2003 5:15 PM

Seeing as how the Red Army was responsible for 80% of German casualties I'm not surprised.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at October 16, 2003 5:20 PM

To say that the US had an easier time of it than the Soviets is NOT to say that it was "easy". WW II changed all of American society, and we would not have won, had we had not changed.
That sounds "challenging", to me.

I'd make a similar argument about the cost of defeating the USSR, and by extension, the concept of Communism.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 17, 2003 12:37 AM

Especially when one considers that the Korean and Vietnam wars were struggles with Communism, and would not have been undertaken, if not for the existence of the USSR.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 17, 2003 12:40 AM

In what ways did it radically change US society?

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at October 17, 2003 6:10 AM

Size of the military establishment pre-WWII compared to now, for one.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 17, 2003 7:35 AM

Orrin, the reason we didn't land "somewhere that mattered" is that we didn't have the forces to do so. We landed in N. Africa against the French, not the Germans.

Your hero, Patton, got spanked good when he finally ran into real Germans, then sat in a puddle for a whole winter, unable to do anything.

Also, I don't recall that the Germans surrendered in May 1944.

You need to read E.B. Potter's "Seapower." (There are other good histories, but Potter's is accessible to those who do not understand seapower.) Not only did we not easily defeat the Germans, we almost lost to them.

Had the Germans not also invaded Russia, we would never have set foot in Europe.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 17, 2003 3:48 PM


What's your point? We didn't land somewhere that mattered. We puttered around on the periphery for a year. if we'd just waited while we built up our forces and material the fighting would have lasted less than a year.

Posted by: oj at October 17, 2003 3:54 PM

That puttering around on the periphery took Italy out of the war, tied German divisions down in Italy and Africa, allowed us to bomb the oil fields in Rumania, and gave valuable battle experience to our officers and nco's. Even with that, we barely succeeded in taking Normandy.

Posted by: Robert D at October 17, 2003 9:09 PM


One might perhaps argue that the military and material might the US can amass is a product of a superior system, but surely it is a product of geography too, in more than one sense. North America has generally been immune from attack, which makes huge production and morale differences. Also, in all those wars, and the three of the last twelve years as well, the US was able to gather its forces in strength right beside the enemy with little fear of interference. Imagine if the Nazis had been able to mass, provision and prepare a huge invasion force in Mexico.

Surely Britain had a much superior system to Germany in 1939. It didn't seem to offer them any guarantees.

Posted by: Peter B at October 18, 2003 5:58 AM


Of course it did--Britain withstood the Nazis.

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2003 6:14 AM


And you think their victory was assured even before the USSR and the US were in?

BTW, France had a "superior" system to Germany's too, although I admit in this context superior is a decidedly relative term.

Posted by: Peter B at October 18, 2003 6:47 AM


I'm confident that the Germans version of Normandy would have been a disaster for them.

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2003 7:08 AM

M Ali:

First, let us consider the human element.
More than ten million men inducted, taken away from peacetime pursuits and family for up to four years. Aside from the loss of industrial and agricultural productivity which that entailed, the very real cost in loss of intimacy and freedom was staggering.
Some changes, not necessarily negative: Women began to work in significant numbers in traditionally male domains, many of whom had never made their own wages or paid their own way before.
Also, many men shipped overseas had never been out of their home states, some never straying from their counties of birth. Those that lived definitely had a different view of the world upon returning.
Blacks and other ethnics were an important part of the war effort, and in some cases, were allowed to fill "white" roles.

Next, the commercial cost.
The rationing of meat, sugar, gasoline, etc. The cessation of production of civilian automobiles.
The American economy turned to producing military equipment and militarily necessary support items. It's well covered, both in historical tomes and above, that without America's prodigious industrial output, shipped to the UK and Russia well before US troops entered the war in vast numbers, Allied victory seemed improbable.

Finally, nuclear weapons, developed by the US. Their impact on the world is still playing out, sixty years later.

In summary, America, both at work and at home, completely reworked itself. The changes were not welcome by most, and left indelible impressions once "normalcy" returned.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 18, 2003 5:42 PM