The population-centric strategy in Iraq continues to deny critical resources to the AQI-led insurgency. AQI conscripted young men from the local population and tried to lead tribal and other insurgent forces. By dividing AQI from the population, we deny them recruits, gathered intelligence, and caused divisions within the entire insurgency.

There are simultaneous operations ongoing in Anbar, Diyala, Babil, and Baghdad that deny AQI access to the population.

Michael Yon describes how al-Qaeda led the insurgency conscripted the local population.

The focus on al Qaeda makes sense here, where local officials have gone on record acknowledging that most of the perhaps one thousand al Qaeda fighters in Baqubah were young men and boys who called the city home. This may clash with the perception in US and other media that only a small percentage of the enemy in Iraq is al Qaeda, which in turn leads to false conclusions that the massive offensive campaign underway across Iraq is a lot of shock and awe aimed at a straw enemy. But as more Sunni tribal leaders renounce former ties with al Qaeda, it’s becoming clearer just how heavily AQ relied on local talent, and how disruptive they have been here in fomenting the civil war.

AQI is the figurative “head” of the insurgency, even if the foreign element is not especially large. Al-Qaeda is an ideological front, not an organization. It sends leadership to different warzone but it relies entirely on indigenous Salafists. There were plenty of AQ-supporters in Iraq, even prior to the war, who would readily serve AQI leaders.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to label a large segment of the insurgency Al-Qaeda. This helps create a clear division between the Iraqi Nationalists and Islamists that we can exploit, even if it is partly artificial.

Michael Yon describes the aftermath of the battle of Baqubah

I was standing there with Abu Ali, with American soldiers and 1920s people milling all around. We had certainly killed a lot of his people, and the 1920s certainly had killed many American soldiers. During severe fighting with al Qaeda in April 2007, the 1920s reached out to American soldiers, and together they have been dismantling al Qaeda here in Baqubah and other places. If we had to fight an allied force of 1920s and al Qaeda, there is no telling how many soldiers we would have lost.

Former Ba’athists and Military men are the most dangerous element in this insurgency. They’ve carried out most of the small-arms combat and IED strikes against US forces. AQI carries out most of the suicide bombigns, but lacks the training and size to fight directly with the US. The former regime loyalists are also the ones most inimicable to Al-Qaeda. This helped form the US alliance with the 1920s, the Islamic Army, the tribes, and other elements of the insurgency.

Al Qaeda’s ultimate failure in much of Anbar and now in parts of Diyala relates back to one of the pillars of success—or failure—in this war: Values. People who understand how to tamp down this war realize the critical pillar that values can play into success or failure in counterinsurgency, or COIN.

Values. Cutting off people’s heads is not good values.

Abu Ali said that on 1 April 2007, he and his people attacked al Qaeda in Buhriz for their crimes against Islam. He also said something that many Muslims have said to me: al Qaeda are not Muslims. (Both Sunni and Shia have said nearly the exact same words, at times on video.) Abu Ali said they fought hard against al Qaeda, and on 10 April, they asked the Americans to join the attack. It worked.

Speaking through LT David Wallach, a native Arabic speaker, Abu Ali said that “al Qaeda is an abomination of Islam: cutting off heads, stealing people’s money, kidnapping . . . every type of torture they have done.”

This is going to sound machiavellian, but I need to say it.

It is actually a good idea to let Islamists take over a few isolated areas. The Taliban, AQI, the Islamic Courts and others wear out their welcome very quickly. They impose a radical and alien version of Islam on the Muslim population and act like tyrants. If we cordon them off to one location, al-Qaeda will torment their host population. We can then attack and “liberate” these locations with the help of the population.

It is about values, and the radical Islamists don’t have many values in common with the rest of the Muslim world. Their rhethoric sounds impressive from afar, but living under the rule of radical Salafist and political ideologues is hell on earth.