The "Enemy" of my enemy is my "insurgent"!

As most readers know, war blogging is not my shtick. But I have a quick question: why are admitted al Qaida fighters constantly referred to as "insurgents"? This AP Wire from the Philadelphia Inquirer is typical (the same story is in USA Today):

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Insurgents shot down a U.S. helicopter south of Baghdad and killed two soldiers, bringing the weekend death toll of American service members to seven, the U.S. military said Monday.

The helicopter attack occurred Sunday during fighting in Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of the Iraqi capital, the military said.

It was the second helicopter shot down in the past six weeks over that area, commonly known as the "Triangle of Death" because of the large number of insurgent attacks. An Apache helicopter went down there April 1.

Two U.S. Marines died Sunday during unspecified "enemy action" in Anbar Province, the area of western Iraq that is the heart of the Sunni-Arab led insurgency, the U.S. command said. Two U.S. Army soldiers also died Sunday in a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad, and another U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on Saturday.

The fatalities raised to 2,443 the number of U.S. military personnel who have died since the war began in 2003, according to a count by The Associated Press.

Why is "enemy action" in quotes? Is there no reportorial agreement on the definition of "enemy"? Or is it thought that "action" might be too strong a word for killing Marines?

Puzzlingly, "al-Qaida insurgents" is then used:

The U.S. command also said American soldiers and helicopters conducted four raids over the weekend in the Triangle of Death, killing 16 suspected al-Qaida insurgents, including one militant who allegedly had led the April 1 attack, during which two U.S. soldiers were killed when their AH-64 Apache helicopter was shot down in the Youssifiyah area.

After that attack, a new al-Qaida group claimed responsibility and posted a gruesome video on the Web showing men dragging the burning body of what appeared to be an American soldier across a field as they shouted "Allahu akbar!" or "God is great!"

I wish they'd figure this out, because it's gotten to the point where I can't figure out what the AP is trying to tell me.

Perhaps it's the AP's duty not to take sides, and that's why they can't use words like "enemy" and "terrorist" in their normal manner.

But even assuming they're not on the side of the U.S. military, you'd think they could at least pass along their contention that the al Qaida fighters (regardless of whether they're to be called terrorists, insurgents, militants, or Sunni Islamist transnationalists) are losing the war. Fredrik Dahl from Reuters in Baghdad is fair enough to do that in a piece titled "U.S. Claim of al-Qaeda Iraq Weakness May Reflect Reality" at one site, and "U.S. Claim of al-Qaida Iraq Weakness May Reflect Reality" at another:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A purported al Qaeda document published by the U.S. military may or may not be authentic but its message that the Sunni Islamist guerrillas face problems in Iraq could reflect reality, security experts said on Tuesday.

The U.S. military published late on Monday what it said was a captured al Qaeda document that showed the militant group recognised it was weak and unpopular in Baghdad.

Far be it from me with my limited knowledge to make a definitive pronouncement as to whether the report is correct.

But if it is, that means that al-Qaida is losing the war.

If Bush made an assertion like that in his speech tonight, "enemies" would probably raise hell.

MORE: In other "enemy" news, Noam Chomsky paid a warm visit to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon last week, where he claimed that Hezbollah should not be disarmed. The Chomsky visit wasn't much reported, although it received criticism in Lebanon, and at

And Jeff Goldstein has an exclusive interview with Chomsky, in which Chomsky makes a distinction between "a wide-eyed 18-year old whose pink breasts are still perky with idealism," and "some grizzled old poli-sci hag with an Iron Butterfly tattoo on her sagging, wrinkled ass."

Says Jeff at the end,

Youíre priceless, Noam. Donít ever change.

Whether Jeff Goldstein should be imprisoned for his crimes is part of the Atrios litmus test for liberals which is going around.

I had thought the test was serious until I read that question. (I'm so liberal I don't even think Rush Limbaugh should be imprisoned, so I probably shouldn't seriously take the test. Hmmm.... Should I have said take the test seriously?)

UPDATE: In the "title" to this "post," I "forgot" to place the word "insurgent" in quotes, so I have just "changed" it to reflect ongoing "realities."

posted by Eric on 05.15.06 at 08:44 AM


Eh, they don't exactly fit accepted definitions of "terrorist" if they're firing weapons at military aircraft conducting a war operation, but I don't think they're exactly "soldiers" either. "Warriors" is probably an accurate term to describe groups that might be made up of both jihadists and local Iraqs who just want Americans out, but they could never use the word "warriors." So insurgent it is then.

Adam   ·  May 15, 2006 11:52 AM

The problem with the word insurgent is that it presupposes an internal uprising against an established state. A military operation conducted by al Qaida cannot accurately be called an insurgency. That's because al Qaida is by definition an internationalist (foreign) group and a terrorist one -- the same one responsible for bringing down the Twin Towers, and in no way connected to Iraq.

I think they should at least be called the enemy. If they aren't then who is?

Eric Scheie   ·  May 15, 2006 2:16 PM

That's the most honest and sensible thing Chomsky's ever said!

Raging Bee   ·  May 17, 2006 12:04 PM

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