The insurgency in Iraq can be viewed as a ‘communal’ insurgency as only one community, the Sunnis, really leads it. It could also be qualified as an ‘ethnic’ insurgency, as many Sunni insurgents consider themselves as fighting the empowerment of both non-Arab Kurds and Shiite Arabs. It did not emerge from a politically and socioeconomically marginalized ethnic or communal group. Rather, it is a rare phenomenon, an insurgency by a hitherto dominant group seeking to restore its former position of power: a restorationist or ‘reactionary’ insurgency. There is a clear set of factors behind the onset of the Sunni insurgency. In a structural sense, the origins of the insurgency in Iraq must be found in the nature of Iraqi state formation and nation-building and the issue of identity politics. Ottoman, British and then Iraqi policies worked in a way to ensure that the Shiites, despite their demographic weight in the country, became a ‘minority’ in the sense that they were politically marginalized and removed from the centres of political and economic power (Jabar 2003). For the Shiite Arabs Sunni-dominated Iraqi Arab nationalism was a further vehicle for their reduction to the status of a minority within their country (Beinin and Stork 1995: 18-22). The Kurdish population in the north also remained removed from power; it is true that during the early history of modern Iraq they were better represented than the more demographically significant Shiites in the corridors of power. Kurds were recruited into the armed forces and government bureaucracy. They were Sunnis, but they were not Arabs; with the emergence of nationalism among segments of the Kurdish population, there also appeared a desire for autonomy or even independence. This highly skewed and troublesome edifice that had been set up by the Ottomans, reinforced by the British, and consolidated by the Sunni minority came crashing down around the Sunni Arabs in April 2003. It was a massive psychological and physical dislocation to which they have been unable to effectively adjust. It was this massive threat to identity which provided the impetus for the eruption of Sunni insurrection. At its heart, the Sunni insurgency arose out of a loss of Sunni identity. The Sunnis not only lost their positions in government due to marginal Ba’athist affiliation, but their entire way of life had been upended with the invasion. Additionally, the primacy of the Sunni in governing Iraq was taken away and given to the Shiite majority, further compounding the Sunni loss of prestige. The Bush Administration desired to implement a pluralist democratic society in Iraq, further compounding the loss of Sunni identity Among the earliest adherents of the insurgency were members of the former regime, Ba’athist security personnel and officials who had the most to lose from the downfall of the regime. Initially, they were very disorganized and merely lashed out wildly at their perceived tormentors. As Shiite-dominated and US-sponsored national governments were formed, Sunni resistance took on a defensive character, as Sunnis began to fear Shiite retribution for years of Sunni rule over Iraq. Yet while indigenous factors – a loss of identity and the need to restore a sense of social balance – were critical in the development and growth of the Sunni insurgency, mistakes by Coalition forces made at the tactical, operational and strategic levels contributed to increasing levels of Sunni resistance to the presence of the United States and its allies in Iraq. At the tactical level, the lack of cultural understanding of Iraqi society was largely absent from Coalition forces’ interaction with the population after the fall of the Ba’ath regime. The insensitive manner in which soldiers conducted house-to-house searches and handled detainees inflamed Iraqi sensitivities. The absence of any coherent post-invasion planning done in the run up to the invasion, including the failure to consider the possibility of an insurgency and the Bush Administration’s ill-conceived policy to impose the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) (in Iraqi eyes a governing apparatus much akin to the British Mandate of the previous century) also

contributed to the rapid growth of the insurgency through the summer and autumn of 2003. Yet, even in the midst of these grave errors, the ignominious actions at Abu Ghraib prison in the autumn and winter of 2003, and its shoddy handling, stand out as a key accelerant to the growth of a nascent Sunni insurgency. An important factor in initiating Sunni resistance was the early American policy of either ignoring the Sunnis or of perceiving them collectively as the ‘enemy’ because they had been the mainstay of the deposed regime. The American indifference and hostility towards the Sunnis was deliberate in the early days of the occupation; and it led to their marginalization in accordance with the Bush Administration’s strategy of relying on the more ‘reliable’ Shiite Arabs and Kurds, who together constituted a majority of the population. The first post-Saddam ruling structure, the CPA, under ‘proconsul’ Paul Bremer, took the highly inflammatory and ideologically-driven step of dissolving the Iraqi army because it was heavily identified with the former regime and thus with the Sunni community. This was not how Iraqi army officers saw it; for the vast majority of them, the defunct Iraqi military was a professional force that had been founded in 1923, long before Saddam, and had been corrupted and misused by the Iraqi dictator. The decision to disband the armed forces was ultimately to ensure that large numbers of officers and enlisted men were to become insurgents beginning in the autumn of 2003. The rise of Islamist feelings within the Sunni community strengthened the power and voice of the Sunni clerics and preachers who began to take an activist political role in order to articulate Sunni grievances and goals and to present a cohesive Islamist narrative legitimizing resistance to foreign occupation. However, the impetus for the rise of Islamism within what was ostensibly a secular state lies within the political and socio-cultural dynamics of Iraqi society in the 1990s. The political activism of the Sunni clerical establishment started in the 1990s under the former regime when clerics began to rail against the sanctions regime and the ‘moral’ and ethical collapse of Iraqi society. Those clerics who deigned to attack the regime, whether implicitly or explicitly, were imprisoned or exiled (Hottiger 2004). With the downfall of the regime, Sunni clerics began to take charge of the sociopolitical space because there was a distinct lack of worthy or decisive political leaders to act on behalf of the community or to negotiate with other political forces in the post-Saddam Iraqi political scene. The clerics adopted a Salafist interpretation of Islam promoted their views among the Sunni population, particularly during Friday sermons (Shihab 2003). With the capture of Saddam in late 2003, the local Salafists believed that this was their opportunity to pick up the torch of resistance ideologically from the dominant Ba’athist and nationalist strands. The invasion and occupation had led to a steady increase in recruits. In 2004 local Salafists were ‘on the rise’ among the ranks of the resistance. Although still modest, their networks grew, aided by the fact that a handful of senior officers joined the Islamists while many former soldiers also returned to religion. The majority of early Sunni insurgent groups had a nationalist aspect to their rhetoric. The core groups of the secular Sunni nationalists formed around former Ba’athists and are known by Coalition forces as Former Regime Elements (FRE) or Former Regime Loyalists (FRL), with the capture of Saddam in December 2003, the secular nationalists were largely discredited. As they tried to cast off the ties to Ba’ath secularism, many moved towards the Islamist nationalist camp. In the spring of 2004 Shia elements under the leadership of the young populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr joined in the violence against the Coalition forces. Coalition forces were hard-pressed to deal with what was seemingly becoming a national liberation struggle. But there was little, if any, coordination between Sunni and Shia insurgents. The growing mutual alienation between Sunni and Shiites provided a backdrop to the infiltration into Iraq of transnational Islamists who

were to declare allegiance to the al-Qaeda movement of Osama bin Laden. These groups subscribed to a rigid and inflexible form of Salafist Islamism. Unlike the more ‘moderate’ local Salafists these groups did not hesitate to pronounce takfir (excommunication, i.e. rendering non-Muslim) against Muslims who do not subscribe to their ideology. This group has been profoundly hostile to the Shias who are referred to as Rafidis or rejectionists (of Islam). The presence of a plethora of insurgent groups in Iraq has had adverse implications for the articulation of a unified ideology and set of goals. It is not clear what the myriad groups had in common with one another at the beginning of the insurgency beyond a desire to rid the country of the foreign presence, fight the rise of the Shia majority and ensure a return to Sunni hegemony. The wide variety of ideological currents within the insurgency was a reflection of deep divisions and fissures within the Sunni community, divisions which had barely been kept in check during the last decade of Saddam’s rule.