ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, from behind the battle lines in Iraq, the inside story of The Insurgency
U.S. OFFICER: The police force collapsed. The terrorists came up and said, "If you don't leave the police force right now, I'm going to kill you and I'm going to murder your family."
ANNOUNCER: their strategy
MICHAEL WARE, TIME Magazine: Al Qaeda is the main beneficiary of this war.
ANNOUNCER: their tactics
U.S. OFFICER: They would bring in fighters, organize them into cells.
ANNOUNCER: and their internal divisions.
MICHAEL WARE: There had been a fundamental change. It involves the relationship between Zarqawi's ideology and the home-grown insurgency.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, inside the Iraqi insurgency.
NARRATOR: In October 2005, a FRONTLINE team traveled to Baghdad. Since the fall of Saddam, reporting on the war in Iraq and especially the insurgency has become increasingly dangerous. Free movement around the country is virtually impossible, and most journalists are confined to their compounds, heavily protected by blast barriers, sandbags and armed guards. The day before we arrived, al Qaeda demonstrated just how vulnerable journalists are, even in Baghdad. Using three car bombs, they breached the outer defenses of the Palestine Hotel, home to several Western network news operations. When the third vehicle, a cement mixer packed with explosives, in the lower righthand corner of the picture became entangled in rubble and barbed wire, the driver set off his bomb. More journalists have been killed in the three years of the Iraq war than in the 20-year conflict in Vietnam. Two days after we left our Baghdad hotel, al Qaeda attacked it with a car bomb. The Al Hamra is home to many Western journalists, including the offices of Time magazine, which had been hit in an earlier bombing. Michael Ware, Time's Baghdad bureau chief, had recently installed blast-proof windows.
MICHAEL WARE, TIME Magazine: So this is why, three months ago, I got plastic windows. OK, I'm going to jump in the car and go see Alawi.
NARRATOR: Ware is unique among Western journalists for his extensive contacts within the insurgency. He has covered this war from the very beginning, entering Iraq before the invasion. Throughout that time, he has kept a personal video record of his travels.
MICHAEL WARE: We have witnessed this insurgency evolve. The very first insurgents I met weren't insurgents, they were just ticked-off Iraqis who'd lost their rank in the armies, lost all their privileges, their honor, their standing. Americans were now suddenly traipsing into their homes and disrupting their women. Hello! "I'm ticked off. Well, let's just go take a few potshots."
NARRATOR: The immediate post-war situation was chaotic. Iraq's central nervous system was ripped out when Saddam's Ba'ath Party was taken from power. Tens of thousands of civil servants were fired because of their ties to the former regime. An army almost half a million strong was disbanded. Into this anarchy stepped the first insurgents, mostly professional military men. Through an Iraqi contact, Michael Ware arranged a meeting with this fledgling resistance and took a videocamera with him.
MICHAEL WARE: This was my first meeting with what was to become the insurgency we have today. Then we're driving for an hour in the dark, and we had no idea what these guys wanted to do with us. And when we were finally taken to this farmhouse, which when we arrived, was told was one of the early training facilities for the insurgency, and went inside, there was what later turned out to be one of the first significant Iraqi insurgent leaders. And gathered with him were all his cell leaders or company commanders, there for a strategy and planning meeting. And the other thing that they were doing was, the commander was unveiling the first prototype of, essentially, a homemade missile launcher. And in insurgent videos, as they started to come out nine months later, I'd see, "Oh, hang on. That group's using that thing, and that group's using the same device or a modified version of it." This was a military organization run on military lines, the very, very thing that at that time the American military was telling us did not exist. And it was access to this group that told me that this war was going to be a long and ugly one.
NARRATOR: For the past three years, the insurgency has grown deeper and more complex. In late 2005, we traveled aboard a Blackhawk helicopter to the rural outskirts of southern Baghdad. This is Camp Chaos, a forward patrol base manned by U.S. and Iraqi troops.
Lt. Col. R. BROWN, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment: This area of southern Baghdad was part of the military-industrial complex, so you had a great many folks that now were out of work. And in terms of placement of U.S. forces, we had made the decision, for whatever reason, not to place U.S. forces in this area. So what evolved and what grew was an area that we term a support zone. This is where the enemy did their planning, their preparation, their training for operations that would then occur in Baghdad or elsewhere.
NARRATOR: It's still a Ba'athist stronghold, but recently al Qaeda has moved in and the Coalition forces are operating with considerable difficulty. Some roads are so dangerous, they are virtually no-go areas.
Lt. Col. R. BROWN: There's multiple insurgent groups that operate here, all the way from the Tawhid al Jihad, which is the al Qaeda, Ansar al Sunna, et cetera. So there's a little bit of everything here. But when I got here, I had absolutely no clue, really, of what we were getting into.
NARRATOR: To disrupt these insurgent groups, now deeply embedded within the rural community here, the military is pushing patrols out from the base into the neighboring countryside.
Lt. Col. R. BROWN: [to officers] OK, we're arresting people. We're getting in firefights. They're repeatedly attacking us without effect, and we're not going anywhere. Boom. I mean this guy is a what is he, he's the deputy leader of al Qaeda. Tawhid al Jihad in this area is one of the targets, you know? And he's responsible for the VBEDs, you know, that were in the attack on the Palestine Hotel, and maybe the one that killed our guys, right? So I'm, like, I want to kill this [deleted]. So that's why I am saying we're going to go for it right now.
NARRATOR: On this night, we joined a combined platoon of American and Iraqi soldiers from Camp Chaos on a mission to capture an insurgent leader who they believed to be meeting in a nearby house
U.S. SOLDIER: We're going to sneak a few people up and do a recon of the house, and then we'll move forward.
NARRATOR: The tip-off had come from an informant. As they start to surround the house, the suspect senses a trap. He and two colleagues sprint out of a side door.
U.S. SOLDIER: Hey, what's he shooting at?
U.S. SOLDIER: Come on! Let's go! Let's go! Let's go!
IRAQI SOLDIER: [subtitles] Face the wall!
NARRATOR: The Iraqi soldiers open fire, but the suspects appear to have escaped.
SOLDIER: [subtitles] Get back inside! Get back inside and close the door!
U.S. SOLDIER: Al Jabury? You're on my list, dude. Works for the same dude that this dude works for, same dude we were looking for tonight.
U.S. SOLDIER: Yeah.
U.S. SOLDIER: Same dude.
NARRATOR: The leader of the cell has gotten away, but some of his suspected associates are captured and taken in for questioning.
IRAQI SOLDIER: [subtitles] If he's innocent, we'll let him go.
WOMAN: [subtitles] When? When will you let him go?
IRAQI SOLDIER: [subtitles] We will question him and let him go.
WOMAN: [subtitles] When? when?
Lt. Col. R. BROWN: When we arrived in Iraq, there was, what, a 400,000 to 500,00-man army, and they were disbanded. And you don't have many skills, but you have those as a soldier, and nobody's there to offer you a job. And you're being offered $500 dollars to blow up a tank, and you've trained your whole life to do that. You know, what would you do? A number of them would rather not be the enemy, but they're driven to that because they don't have alternatives. And that's my frustration, if more of these people had an alternative. Now, I don't try and kill them any less than I do the jihadists, but I understand more of why they're doing it.
NARRATOR: Back in Baghdad, Michael Ware had been trying to arrange an interview on our behalf with one of his insurgent contacts. Finally, after days of hearing nothing, a senior commander in the nationalist wing of the resistance agreed to meet him.
MICHAEL WARE: OK. Who are you?
ABU MOHAMMED, Resistance Commander: [through interpreter] My name is Abu Mohammed. I represent the Iraqi national resistance. The resistance is a natural reaction to any occupation. All occupations in history faced a resistance. Occupation is not for developing people and making them better, it is for humiliating people, enchaining them, and taking their freedom and fortunes away. These are my convictions that make me feel that this occupation is an insult to me and my people. Since I'm an officer, the responsibility falls on my shoulders, so I have to finish this occupation.
NARRATOR: U.S. military intelligence now believes Saddam had sown the seeds of the resistance within days of the collapse of his regime. They understand Saddam secretly met his closest advisers in a Baghdad park and told them to start rebuilding their networks. The Bush administration had argued that the resistance was the work of a few "dead-enders" and that once Saddam and his senior aides were captured, the insurgency would simply fade away.
L. PAUL BREMER, CPA Head:Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!
NARRATOR: There was a palpable sense of relief when he was caught.
MICHAEL WARE: And I was here in Iraq when that happened, and in fact, I was with the insurgency when it was announced, and it was fascinating to watch the reaction on this group of insurgents, most of whom were all nationalists, all ex-military and whatever.
INTERVIEWER: [subtitles] After the capture of President Saddam Hussein, will you continue your Jihad against the occupation?
INSURGENT: [through interpreter] In the name of God, the most beneficent and merciful, with the help of God's good grace, we will defeat his enemy. Our jihad will not stop. We will continue with the resistance.
NARRATOR: The Coalition authorities believed Saddam's capture would have a negative impact on the nationalists in the insurgency, but in reality, it continued to grow and evolve.
MICHAEL WARE: Around this time was when I really started to witness tangible changes within the insurgency in terms of the Ba'athists for the first time beginning to surrender certain power to the Islamists, particularly the imported foreign Islamists. And a lot of it had to do with money. By the beginning of 2004, Ba'athist cells I knew were out there doing shakedowns and extortions and whatever else to fund their ops. That was one of the things that gave the Islamists room to step into the breach, throwing around a lot of money. Zarqawi and his organizations have never been short of cash, always flush with cash.
NARRATOR: The Jordanian Abu Musab al Zarqawi first came into Iraq after the American attack on Afghanistan in 2001, A former small-time criminal who had embraced radical Islam in a Jordanian prison, it is believed he'd met bin Laden in Afghanistan. Now, with the invasion of Iraq, he had found a new jihad. His first major act was to bomb the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad. He accused his home country of collaborating with the West.
MICHAEL WARE: We were there within literally minutes, three minutes maybe, and it was there at that embassy that Abu Musab al Zarqawi decided to announce his arrival. The way I see it is that he essentially shopped around, looking for the next base, looking for the next theater, the next platform for jihad.
NARRATOR: Zarqawi adopted al Qaeda's sophisticated propaganda techniques, particularly the use of the Internet and video. Here Zarqawi speaks for the first time about the wider purpose behind his jihad.
ABU MUSAB AL ZARQAWI: [subtitles] We are not fighting our jihad in the name of nationalism. Our jihad is purer and higher. We fight so that Allah's word becomes the highest.
NARRATOR: Zarqawi's second big attack had been on the U.N. building in Baghdad.
ABU MUSAB AL ZARQAWI: [subtitles] We destroyed the U.N. building, the protectors of Jews, the friends of the oppressors and aggressors. The U.N. has recognized the Americans as the masters of Iraq. Before that, they gave Palestine as a gift to the Jews so they can rape the land and humiliate our people. Do not forget Bosnia, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Chechnya.
NARRATOR: Zarqawi transformed the war. He started using suicide bombers against the majority Shia population in an effort to foment civil war. Images of his beheadings were designed to add to the chaos and convince new recruits of his savage determination. Perhaps Zarqawi's biggest impact was on the Ba'athist element in the resistance, which until now had dominated the movement.
MICHAEL WARE: This organization, made up of military officers, had previously told me the year before that the ranks they held under Saddam's regime in the military, they still held. Their commissions had not ceased. Suddenly, they started doing something to me that the Taliban always did when I was with them in Afghanistan or in Pakistan. Suddenly, they started badgering me, "Why aren't you a Muslim? Why don't you pray? Do you believe that," you know, "Mohammed is the prophet," and just constantly at me like this. And they'd never done anything like that before! And they actually, you know, referred to Osama Bin Laden for the first time ever in our experiences together.
NARRATOR: For almost a month, our team had been trying without success to contact indirectly members of al Qaeda in Iraq. Their main area of operation stretches from Baghdad and cities like Fallujah, Samarra and Ramadi, to the country's borders with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. Access to the cities in the Sunni triangle is very difficult. Our only hope was to send a camera and our questions through intermediaries who claim to have a relationship with al Qaeda and then wait to see if anything came back. In all of the Sunni triangle, nowhere has the resistance been deeper than in Fallujah. It began immediately after the fall of Baghdad, when a confrontation between protesting residents and U.S. troops left 15 people dead.
MICHAEL WARE: From that moment on, Fallujah became a great source of discontent. Both within the city and more broadly around, Iraq it became a rallying point of the insurgency.
NARRATOR: Armed resistance developed in Fallujah almost immediately
ABU MOHAMMED, Resistance Commander: [through interpreter] In Fallujah, the resistance started with small groups of five to seven men, fighting without a leader, without a strategy, merely groups of men planning simple IEDs, attacking the enemy and escaping, just like gangs. Then they started to develop more and more. Small groups started integrating with other groups, three or four groups joined into one group and under one leader.
NARRATOR: For a year, American troops tried to keep control, but suddenly, at the end of March 2004, things escalated. An insurgent group ambushed four U.S. security contractors in the city center. They were shot dead, set on fire and mutilated. Their bodies were then dragged through the streets. The Bush administration vowed to punish the perpetrators and sent a large force of U.S. Marines and Iraqi troops to invade the city. But resistance was fiercer than expected, and it soon became clear that many of the Iraqi troops were not up to the job. After a month of fighting, a ceasefire was negotiated with local leaders, and an Iraqi general was put in nominal charge. Under political pressure from Baghdad and Washington, the Marines were ordered to withdraw. The people of Fallujah reacted as though they had liberated the city.
MICHAEL WARE: Eventually, all that the U.S. military was left to do was try and surround the city and contain those forces. And it was in the hothouse of Fallujah that those that had not coalesced began to coalesce. Those that had lost or hadn't found structure began to find it.
ABU MOHAMMED: [through interpreter] Fallujah was a moment of transformation for the resistance. It became a secure area for the resistance to work in. The groups grew more and more, and leaderships started forming. These groups fall into two main categories, the national resistance and the religious resistance.
NARRATOR: By the summer of 2004, the insurgency was in full swing. Their numbers had increased to an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 fighters, five times their number only six months previously. Attacks were up to 500 a week. Civilian casualties were rising steeply, and the number of U.S. casualties caused by insurgent attacks had increased more than threefold from the year before. Finally, our attempts to make contact with al Qaeda succeeded. We were delivered this footage from the town of Ramadi. The streets were empty of residents in anticipation of a firefight. In an alleyway, armed men who claimed to be al Qaeda.
AL QAEDA FIGHTER IN ALLEYWAY: [subtitles] We are the al Qaeda organization in the land of the two rivers. We now control the city of Ramadi despite the attempts of the dogs. We are ready to help our brothers in Tal Afar, Samarra and Baghdad. We await your call and we will help you.
FIGHTERS: [subtitles] God is great! God is great! God is great!
NARRATOR: Also on the tape, two fighters agreed to go on camera and answer our prepared questions.
QUESTION: [subtitles] How are you able to operate so freely in the city?
FIGHTER: Brother, we are citizens of this town. We have our businesses in the city, our shops, our families. We move around and travel, just as everybody else does.
NARRATOR: But according to our translator, the man on the left, who said nothing in the official interview, off-camera spoke Arabic with a Saudi accent. On the street, they were defiant of the Shia-controlled Iraqi government.
FIGHTER IN ALLEYWAY: [subtitles] This is a message to the minister of defense, who believes he can control Ramadi, Samarra and the rest of the Mujahedeen cities. With God's will, tomorrow and the day after, we will return this land to its people.
FIGHTER: [through interpreter] Brother, all of our fighters are those Iraqis who fought in the Iraqi army. You might have noticed our fighters are ferocious by nature. We have humiliated the most mighty army in the world.
FIGHTER IN ALLEYWAY: [subtitles] And this is a message to America: Look at your might and power, yet you are unable to walk the streets of Ramadi the Mujaheed. And with God's will, we will destroy them. I swear by almighty God, we will destroy them.
FIGHTERS: [subtitles] God is great! God is great! God is great!
NARRATOR: The footage ended here. We confirmed that at the same time this was recorded, there was an encounter between Coalition forces and insurgents in Ramadi. We learned that only a few suspected al Qaeda members were captured or killed. Beyond the Sunni triangle, Coalition forces have been trying to stem the flow of jihadists entering Iraq from neighboring countries. This is Tal Afar, 200 miles northwest of Baghdad, near the Syrian border. Recently, U.S. troops took control of the town. For well over a year, the residents had been terrorized by Zarqawi's al Qaeda forces.
1st TAL AFAR RESIDENT: [through interpreter] The first time they killed in Tal Afar, they killed a translator whose name is Younis Caffer. He worked in the Tal Afar airport. They killed him near the old bank. After that, they killed a jeweler near the old cinema.
2nd TAL AFAR RESIDENT: [through interpreter] After about a year, they started to kill whoever was working at the airport. This one's a translator, this one's an agent, this one's dealing with the American forces. Each day, the attacks increased.
NARRATOR: This ancient city was of strategic importance to al Qaeda because men, money and weapons could be smuggled across the border with ease. The insurgents destroyed the local government and police force, and then turned their attention to the city's Shia population in the hope of creating a sectarian war.
1st TAL AFAR RESIDENT: [through interpreter] There, about five or six times, I saw two to three bodies lying on the ground with their severed heads on their bodies. I saw this with my own eyes. Nobody needs to tell me about this. Most of the people have gone and seen them. They wrote on a piece of paper that they left on the Iraqi map in Tal Afar they wrote on paper, "Anyone who moves the bodies, your fate will be the same."
NARRATOR: They carried out targeted assassinations against the local police.
MAN: [subtitles] Mother, you speak.
MOTHER: [subtitles] What shall I say?
MAN: [subtitles] Tell them all that happened, the death of your son, your problems.
MOTHER: [through interpreter] What shall I say? He went out from here, they hit him on this side, they took him and they went with him.
MAN: [through interpreter] The terrorists shot my brother with two bullets in his stomach. He was taken to the hospital. In the hospital, the terrorists came. They have an ambulance. They have everything. They took him out of the hospital. They stole him. They took him to Sarai. In Sarai, they killed him. They cut open his stomach and put bombs inside. I'm not sure how much, but a lot. And after that, they put him by the roundabout near to the petrol station. My father wanted to go and pick him up. They blew up my father, and then they beheaded him and put his head on his corpse.
NARRATOR: In late 2004, Zarqawi was in control of Tal Afar and, armed with its extensive financial resources, began flexing his muscles in Baghdad. This is Haifa Street, one of the city's main thoroughfares. Michael Ware frequently visited the area and knew the local Ba'athists well. In September 2004, he learned that Zarqawi's people were trying to take control of the insurgency there.
MICHAEL WARE: One of the Ba'athists came to me and said that the takeover is complete, basically. Zarqawi's people had become so bold as to actually line the main boulevard with their flags. This was Zarqawi's moment in many, many ways. So I needed to verify this and I wanted to record it.
NARRATOR: Michael Ware's determination to verify Zarqawi's takeover nearly cost him his life. Zarqawi's men spotted Ware. One stepped off the curb, pulling the pin from a grenade.
MICHAEL WARE: They had live grenades and they'd pulled the pins and they were holding them to me, and I thought that was it, that was over. I know what happens to foreigners once they're in the hands of Zarqawi's people. Some of the men there, by their accents, were clearly identifiable as Syrian, not Iraqi. I mean, I felt personally that I was I was at the opening of a tunnel. But it was very senior Ba'athist commander, who comes from one of the main strains of the Ba'athist insurgency, who eventually said, "Do you really want to start this war between us over this?" It wasn't until the very end that through gritted teeth, after saying, "You bring a Westerner here, and you expect us to let him leave alive," that the Zarqawi people, gritting their teeth, said, "Fine. You can have him. Take him. Get out."
NARRATOR: Zarqawi's money and manpower came from Islamic militants outside of Iraq.
Our team traveled to Jordan to meet Ghaith Abdul Ahad, an Iraqi photojournalist from Baghdad who has sought out these extremists across the Middle East. In a town on the border between Syria and Iraq, Ghaith had encountered a man responsible for recruiting hundreds of Mujahedeen.
GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD, Iraqi Photojournalist: He's a guy who was connected to the Saudis. He had some people on the Iraqi side of the border who will come into the Syrian side of the border, take a bunch of people like, 10, 15, 20 take them into the villages on the Iraqi side. And from there, they make their way all the way into places like Ramadi, Fallujah or any other town. They only wanted to send Saudis because Saudis would provide very good, according to him, suicide bombers, and each Saudi will go with $5,000, $6,000 dollars. I've talked to a teacher from Saudi Arabia. I've talked to a Yemeni theology student, young Arabs, the new generation of Mujahedeen. This is what Iraq is creating.
NARRATOR: Many of the foreign jihadis had made their way to Fallujah. Ghaith slipped into the city just ahead of the attack by the Coalition in November 2004.
GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD: That's kind of the last two days in Fallujah, and most of these pictures are taken when they were kind of pointing to their trench or kind of to their fighting position and all these kind of things. Most of them were kind of young, in their 20s, early 20s. And most of them were people who had never fought before. This guy is a Saudi. He's a he was a teacher. And they called and they said, "Oh," like, "the Americans were coming." So he ran to the trenches, and kind of after a few minutes, he folded his Quran, he looked at his machine gun, and he looked at me and he said, "Do you know how this thing works?"
NARRATOR: Some 12,000 American and Iraqi troops gathered on the outskirts to attack the 3,000 insurgents thought to be in the city. This is Michael Ware's footage from the front line.
GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD: They were chatting about death and what happens when you die and how many virgins you get and all these kind of things. And they not only want to die because they see what they want to achieve. No, they just want to die. A Yemeni fighter who I spent most of my time with, this guy would sit and would tell me about his wife, pregnant wife, and the young daughter that he loves very much. And then you see tears running down his eyes. And then he would dismiss this. "Oh, no, no. This is the devil trying to tempt me away from my jihad by reminding me of my family." I was really fascinated by the world that those guys live in. They don't see things we see, and they don't live they don't live here.
[www.pbs.org: Read Ghaith's extended interview]
NARRATOR: The U.S. military described the battle of Fallujah as the heaviest urban combat it has fought since the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968. The fighting was costly. Thirty-eight American soldiers lost their lives in just one week. The U.S. Army claimed that some 1,000 insurgents were killed, although nowhere near that number of bodies were ever found. And the city was devastated. As many as 200,000 of its citizens fled the fighting, together with many of the insurgents.
ABU MOHAMMED: [through interpreter] In the second battle of Fallujah, the resistance took a strong hit. People thought that the backbone of the resistance had been broken. But on the contrary, the resistance became stronger, especially in its organization, because it started working in secret, and the coordination became more clandestine and precise.
NARRATOR: After Fallujah, the insurgency regrouped. Soon they were ready to step up operations. Over the next year, in 2005, the number of attacks on U.S. forces increased to 65 a day. Michael Ware was taken to Baghdad's Haifa Street, where this mortar team was openly shelling a nearby military outpost.
MICHAEL WARE: As they were doing this, I noticed all these people just walking past a woman herding kids. These guys were operating in plain view, and no one in the year that I'd known them had given one of them up. None of them had been arrested.
NARRATOR: In Baghdad, another of Michael Ware's contacts was able to film with an insurgent cell specializing in making remote electronic detonators for roadside bombs.
BOMB MAKER: [through interpreter] I'll tell you now, just after they had occupied Iraq, I had made the first remote device. It was a simple device. But thanks be to God, it worked. And then I updated them with new material. Right now, we have something that works well, but we are ready for it to fail and we have a back-up.
NARRATOR: The roadside bomb has become the weapon of choice for most insurgent groups against the military. Rarely used in the early days of the insurgency, it accounted for almost two thirds of U.S. deaths last year. The cell belongs to the Al-Nasir Salah El-Din group. They represent the middle ground between the nationalists and the Islamic extremists of al Qaeda. Deeply religious, they take inspiration from the Quran, but stop short of advocating worldwide jihad and oppose Zarqawi's indiscriminate attacks which kill ordinary Iraqis.
AL-NASIR SALAH EL-DIN FIGHTER: [through interpreter] The killing of innocents is not Jihad. This is called murder. I am very clear in my words, and words are very important, especially for Muslims. The Muslim enters Islam with a word, the words, "I declare that there is no God but Allah, and I declare that Mohammed is his messenger." So more importantly, those who kill innocents or cause explosions in the markets, I don't know them, but I swear they are murderers. We are Mujahedeen. We target the infidels and those who support them from our people.
NARRATOR: These Iraqi jihadists are young, urban and technically savvy. Rooting them out in the dense neighborhoods of Baghdad is an intensive process, relying on good intelligence and fast responses. Michael Ware followed this team into a Baghdad apartment building. Most of these operations leave bad feelings in the community. But on this visit, there's some success. In late 2005, Coalition forces took on Zarqawi's fighters in Tal Afar.
VOICE ON LOUDSPEAKER: [subtitles] A message from the Iraqi army in Tal Afar and the commander of the division. Stay in your houses. Do not leave them. We will shoot to kill.
NARRATOR: Unlike Fallujah, this time the U.S. and Iraqi forces concentrated their attacks in sectors.
Col. H. R. McMASTER, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment: In this area, you can see it's very dense urban terrain. These alleyways are very narrow. Every time we came in here, we'd be in a firefight in about five minutes.
NARRATOR: Col. H.R. McMaster, a hero of the first Gulf war and an Army counterinsurgency expert, led the assault on Tal Afar.
Col. H.R. McMASTER: We're very much concerned, obviously, if you look at all these beautiful children, we didn't want any of them caught in this crossfire. So we stopped for a period of about three days and evacuated all of civilians from the city.
[to civilian] Salaam aleikum. Salaam aleikum. Good. How are you? Salaam aleikum.
NARRATOR: Colonel McMaster says Tal Afar was an important victory against the insurgency, yielding high-value intelligence about al Qaeda but also building a good relationship with the local people.
Col. H.R. McMASTER: The enemy preyed on this community to such a degree that they were a source of all the grievances, you know? And whereas they tried to blame, you know, the Coalition, it became increasingly clear to the people that the source of all of their problems and all of their grievances were the terrorists themselves, whether it was the lack of basic services, the unemployment situation. But we couldn't do reconstruction here because the contractors would be shot at. You know, the new water pipe would be blown up. The new power line would be destroyed. And so a precondition for progress along any line in any area was the removal of this terrorist organization within the city. Hey, Sgt. Hickock, see if we can please dismount somebody with some things for the kids.
NARRATOR: The question now is, what will it take to keep the peace?
Col. H.R. McMASTER: We've had tremendous success in this operation. I mean, you can see it in the city. I mean, people come up to us spontaneously and thank us for the operation and for our continued security efforts. But we also recognize that this success is very fragile, you know, and that the situation here generally is very fragile. So every day, we're trying to strengthen, really strengthen, this success and to ensure that the Iraqi security forces, the police and the army build a stronger and stronger capability.
NARRATOR: Abu Musab al Zarqawi might have lost a significant base in Tal Afar, but he recaptured the headlines a few days later in a brutal assault on Baghdad using 11 suicide bombs. It was the bloodiest day in the city since the fall of Saddam, killing over 150 people.
MICHAEL WARE: So to this day, Zarqawi very much remains a force to be reckoned with. However, through the attrition of war, he's lost, you know, men, materiel and leaders. Some of that personnel and that leadership has been replaced with Iraqis, where once there'd been foreigners. That has brought about at first subtle, now much more tangible changes within Zarqawis al Qaeda in Iraq.
NARRATOR: One of those changes was the direct result of the Coalition's pursuit of the democratic process. Al Qaeda is ideologically opposed to the very idea of free elections.
AL QAEDA FIGHTER: [through interpreter] This constitution is written by Jews and Americans. Why should we follow it when we have a divine constitution? Our constitution is the Quran. If you are supported by God, then no one can defeat you. We will strike them at every opportunity we get, swiftly and ferociously, with power and with faith. We will kill those that have to come to us from the corners of the globe. We will kill them. We will kill them. We will kill them.
NARRATOR: The insurgency as a whole had opposed the January 2005 constitutional elections, but the Sunni nationalists within the insurgency began to realize that their boycott had been a mistake. It effectively handed power to the Shias.
ABU MOHAMMED, Resistance Commander: [through interpreter] As a resistance, we hope to participate in this political process, even though it is shaky and unstable and took a strange path, as it landed in the Iranians' lap, or should I say the lap of the Shia anyway, those that belong to Iran. If this path is corrected, these operations will become a successful political operation.
NARRATOR: The two wings of the insurgency were now on a collision course. One place to look for evidence of this growing split was in the Sunni villages west of Baghdad. Ghaith Abdul Ahad obtained access to one dominated by the Islamists in the insurgency.
GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD: The moment I went there, I was taken inside a mosque and I was asked to pray. I explained to the guy who I was with that I was not a Muslim, and I'm sorry for offending a mosque or whatever. And he said, "You either pray or you die." That was the main point of that time when I was there, is the whole politics issue. Extreme Islamists, they don't believe in politics. They don't believe in elections. They don't believe in democracy and don't believe in constitution. But from another point of view, there was an argument that, "We have to go into elections."
NARRATOR: That's what Ghaith heard from this man, a local leader named Abu Deeb.
GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD: This guy himself, Abu Deeb, who was a cleric, at one point, he went to the mosque and from the pulpit he said, "We cannot build a state by car bombs." And the al Qaeda people in the village were upset about this. And it was like, "What, we don't know how a car bombing is not the right thing to do?" And they threatened him, this guy who is a senior insurgent. And now there's a huge split of what to do with al Qaeda.
NARRATOR: Abu Deeb was so determined to vote, he placed his men at the polling station to defend it from al Qaeda attack. The Sunni village turned out to vote. Throughout Iraq, the elections were seen as a success, although the people voted along ethnic and sectarian lines. The number of attacks on election day was barely 10 percent of the attacks during the previous January elections. Was this a success for the Coalition's security forces or a tactical response by the insurgency?
MICHAEL WARE: A number of the commanders of these insurgent groups have said to me, " I'm actually going to tell my men to vote." So they'll go in, they'll vote, and when they come out 15 minutes later, they may be going off on an attack, but the attack will not be against a polling station. It will not be against Iraqis trying to vote. "It will be an attack against the one thing we've attacked from the beginning and will continue attacking till the end, which is the occupier."
NARRATOR: And attacking the occupier means attacking Iraqi government forces, as well. They have become essential to fighting the insurgency.
Lt. Col. R. BROWN, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment: My view is we can't win this alone, the U.S. I can't lose militarily. They can't beat me, but I can't win. But we, as partners with the Iraqi forces, can win together because what the Iraqi forces bring that I can't bring is a feeling for the environment, an understanding of the culture. They're able to persuade the people to come forward with human intelligence, et cetera.[www.pbs.org: Is the U.S. strategy working?]
IRAQI SOLDIER: [subtitles] I want to tell you the story of this courageous 2nd Battalion! [singing] Zarqawi, where are you today?
SOLDIERS: [singing, subtitles] Zarqawi, where are you today? The 2nd Battalion is coming to get you! Muhammad's battalion is coming to get you! Now the falcon is hunting you!
NARRATOR: This is the 2nd Battalion of the Iraqi Army's 1st Brigade, commanded by Colonel Mohammed Faiq. Col. Mohammed is a Sunni, a war hero whose unit shot down an American bomber in the first Gulf war. Now he is known for his aggressive pursuit of insurgents in his area, but he doesn't think the Iraqis can go it alone.
Col. MOHAMMED FAIQ, Iraqi army 1st Brigade: [through interpreter] Thirty percent of the country is controlled by the Iraqi police and army, but seventy percent of the country they do not control. This is a very important point. If the coalition forces left Iraq, that would be the end of Iraq. You could forget about the country called Iraq. There would be massacres in the street. No one would be able to open the door of their houses and go outside because people will kill each other. Sunnis will kill Shi'ites and Shi'ites will kill Sunnis. The Muslim will kill the Christian, and the Christian will kill the Muslim. It is very, very important that the coalition forces stay in Iraq.
NARRATOR: No one knows the actual size of the insurgency, but almost three years after it began, and after tens of thousands have been arrested or killed, it's apparently maintained its strength. Estimates put the active number at a constant 15,000 to 20,000. In Tal Afar, the joint Iraqi/American forces have returned from a raid. In a society deeply divided by sectarianism, tribal and religious hatreds, their job is to sort through, prisoner by prisoner, who is really dangerous or who may be simply the victim of old scores being settled, and beyond that, try to unravel the complexities of the insurgency itself.
Col. H. R. McMASTER, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment: The enemy we're fighting here is a it's a hybrid enemy. And what we've found is that over time, this decentralized hybrid insurgency has sort of coalesced and there have been some alliances of convenience made.
NARRATOR: For Colonel McMaster, success in a counterinsurgency war is a long, slow process.
Col. H. R. McMASTER: Well, the key thing to remember here is that the you know, the standard for success for the terrorists and insurgents is pretty low. You know, really, what they need to do is they need to create a chaotic environment, a perception of insecurity. The standard for our success is very high. We have to provide real security to protect people from an enemy who has no scruples. So I think it's really hard to put a time on how long it's going to take to develop the security forces. And that's what we need to help the Iraqis through and to help them defeat these people who want to see this country fail.
RESEARCH IN IRAQ
Laith K. Ali
Tammi M. Faraday
Petra News Agency
The soldiers of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment
and U.S Army Public Affairs
DIRECTOR OF BROADCAST
POST PRODUCTION DIRECTOR
ON AIR PROMOTION PRODUCER
Michael H. Amundson
POST PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
FOUNDATION GRANT MANAGER
WEBSITE ASSOCIATE DEVELOPER
WEBSITE EDITORIAL RESEARCH ASSISTANTS
WEBSITE COORDINATING PRODUCER
DIRECTOR OF NEW MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY
DIRECTOR OF BRAND STRATEGY
SENIOR PRODUCER SPECIAL PROJECTS
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER SPECIAL PROJECTS
Louis Wiley Jr.
This report continues on FRONTLINE's Web site, where you'll find more on who the insurgents are and where they come from, analysis of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, interviews with U.S. military commanders and reporter Michael Ware, a talk with the producer on the making of this film and a chance to watch the program again on line. Then join in the discussion at pbs.org.
Next time on FRONTLINE: They are schizophrenic
1st INMATE: Tried to kill myself about 17 times.
2nd INMATE: This is a plot by the government!
ANNOUNCER: and psychotic.
3rd INMATE: Thorazine me out, leave me for lost.
ANNOUNCER: But they are not in mental hospitals, they are in prison.
REGINALD WILKINSON, Director, Ohio Dept. of Corrections: The attitude has been, "Lock people away. Then they're no longer a problem."
ANNOUNCER: Have America's prisons become The New Asylums? Next time on FRONTLINE.
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