The masked gunman cradles a sniper's rifle as he sits in the
back of a car. Speaking to the camera, he taunts America's
President with a chilling outline of his planned mission: "I'm
going to give George Bush a small present. I have nine bullets
with each I'll shoot someone and, before your eyes, I'll
give the present to Bush."
Getting out of the car in a built-up area, he heads over rough
ground to the corner of a building.
The recording then cuts to a tightly spliced sequence of nine
shootings, in which the targets appear to be members of the
American or Iraqi security forces. It is pure and brutal
propaganda. Some of the images are blurred and there is no proof
that the man with the gun has even fired the shots. Each target
seems to collapse as a single gunshot is heard, but there is no
attempt to verify the gunman's claim that he has killed the
A still from an Iraqi insurgency video obtained by The Age's Paul McGeough.
Nonetheless, this and three other video CDs gathered recently by
The Age in Sunni communities near Baghdad are a graphic
indication of how an emboldened insurgency is arming itself with
high-tech propaganda as well as low-tech weaponry.
Recorded at various times in the past two years, the footage
suggests that the rebel fighters have a remarkable ease of movement
in urban and rural Iraq; an ability to acquire the weapons and
uniforms of the new Iraqi security forces; and they demonstrate
their skill in crafting crude home-made missile launchers and
improvised bombs for use in brazen daylight attacks on a range of
military, political and economic targets.
As the third anniversary of the March 20 invasion of Iraq looms,
they underscore the daunting challenge that confronts American and
Iraqi security forces.
When told of the content of the videos, one of American's
leading terror analysts, Bruce Hoffman of the Rand Corp, said they
indicated that the insurgency was not just entrenched, but that it
had become self-perpetuating.
When The Age asked another high-profile US analyst,
Anthony Cordesman of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and
International Studies, how the insurgency might be defeated, he
replied: "It all depends on the political process.
"There must be broad support from the Sunnis. But opinion polls
show that more than 90 per cent of them think the elections were
unfair and that the new government will be illegitimate."
Despite the seeming order of elections in Iraq, it is the
continuing failure of the political process that has created a
power vacuum in which thousands of Americans and Iraqis have died,
been wounded or captured in what has become a war of attrition with
In the aftermath of the December 15 elections, it has taken two
months for the victorious Shiite religious parties to agree on a
candidate for the prime ministership and they have yet to negotiate
the makeup of the next government.
Officially, the cause of most of the 2260- plus American
fatalities in Iraq is listed simply as "hostile fire". But there
have been dozens of media reports of deaths and injuries by a
single shot that go some way to confirming the sniper-inflicted US
losses the insurgency attempts to glorify in its propaganda.
However, official US acknowledgement of the insurgency snipers'
competence is rare.
Last year The Guardian quoted US troops at Camp Rustamiyah in
Baghdad on their wariness of an elusive Iraqi sniper who they
speculated might have killed a dozen of their colleagues. They
claimed to have nicknamed him "Juba".
In the previous year, US marines stationed in Fallujah marvelled
to The New York Times at the prowess of what some believed
was a single sniper who kept 150 Americans pinned down for the best
part of a day.
US aircraft dropped bombs and ground forces unleashed an
estimated 30,000 rounds of automatic rifle fire before the sniper
escaped apparently on a bicycle, according to the
The insurgency has since produced news clips in which a series
of sniper attacks different from those on the videos seen by
The Age are attributed to Juba. They also released a
video clip in which they say that an unseen marksman only
his hands and weapon are exposed to the camera is Juba.
Elsewhere, in internet chatrooms, there is a debate about whether
he exists at all.
But one of the more intriguing insights into the secretive world
of the insurgency snipers was the capture by American forces of the
sharp-shooter who took a shot at Stephen Tschiderer, a US Army
medic, in Baghdad five months ago.
Tschiderer was knocked off his feet by the force of the hit. But
his body armour prevented any injury and he was able to help his
mates give chase and to treat wounds inflicted on his
would-be killer as he was run to ground.
A statement by the US Department of Defence on the discovery of
the sniper's vehicle revealed incredible details of the Iraqi
sniper and his accomplice's way of working: "The van was lined with
diapers to muffle the sound (of shots). The vehicle contained a
Russian sniper rifle, a 9-millimetre handgun, three hand grenades
and a fourth grenade rigged to the fuel tank with a pin.
"The soldiers also found a full bag of ammunition, as well as a
video camera containing footage of (the attack on) Tschiderer. Two
holes were cut in the back of the van one for the camera and
one for the weapon."
The speech by the marksman in the video, is thought to be a new
benchmark in an extensive, internet-driven propaganda campaign run
by a range of insurgency groups.
But stripped of crude enhancements and dubious editing
techniques that are intended to make these film clips more
appealing to impressionable young Muslim minds, they are a doorway
into a violent world.
They show rocket and mortar teams at work, often using crude
launchers that appear to have been manufactured from lengths of
water pipe and angle iron.
Operating in broad daylight, the teams appear to launch missiles
from busy, built-up areas sometimes waiting for passers-by
to remove themselves from the line of fire.
Another remarkable sequence begins with an Iraqi take on what
could be a group of labourers going to work anywhere in the world.
Carrying tool boxes, they are seen climbing a ladder to the upper
level of a two-storey building.
The scene cuts to the men at work drilling and hammering
in a corner of a darkened room that gradually fills with light as
they break open a narrow, horizontal slit high on a wall. They
build a scaffold on which they erect what appears to be a home-made
multiple rocket launcher, with the tube opening positioned against
the slit they have cut in the wall.
The scene cuts to the exterior of the building, showing the slit
high on the wall that would hardly be noticed from outside until a
series of missiles blast through it and towards an unseen
The footage also shows rebel fighters attending classes in
hand-to-hand combat and bomb-making.
Hoffman says the insurgency film clips are spreading the jihadi
propaganda at a quickening pace: "A depressing aspect of these
videos is how they reveal the insurgency perfecting the low-risk
means of war it's unique stuff. Seeing them show people how
to stage various attacks ratchets things to a new level.
"The arms race we grew up with during the Cold War is unfolding
at a different level and as quickly as the counter-insurgency
catches up with it, the insurgency finds new ways.
"That part of it is not new it's how the IRA worked. But
the ubiquity of loading a CD to instruct others shows how the
information age of the 21st century cuts both ways as an
engine of enlightenment but also as the curriculum of warfare and
"It doesn't mean that the war is not winnable. But a new
dimension is being set and the solution is not going to be quick
historically it's taken a good decade to defeat
"These videos confirm that it's still early days in Iraq."
Cordesman points to a dangerous double-up of circumstances in
Iraq: "There already were a lot of weapons, ammunition and
explosives in Iraq and you can't stop people improvising weapons
the Palestinians did it, the Afghans do it."
Drawing out the theory of asymmetric war, in which varied
technologies and tactics mean that the opposing armies bypass each
other, he says: "The basic strategy of the insurgents is to avoid a
we don't train troops that way, but the
Cordesman is the author of Iraq's Evolving Insurgency, an
impressive etome that can be accessed on the CSIS website
www.csis.org in which he constantly updates his analysis of
the conflict in Iraq.
He describes Iraq's massive stocks of arms and explosives as "a
unique opportunity" for the insurgents, who have access to
increasingly sophisticated trigger technology and the expertise to
pack their improvised bomb with even greater firepower.
Noting official Iraqi and US responses to fluctuations in data
on the conflict, he observes dryly: "It's easy to claim a trend
towards 'victory', but it's generally far more difficult to make
them enduring or valid. Equally, it is easy to talk about 'tipping
points' or 'turning points', but most such claims are wrong, over
simplified and/or premature.
"Real patterns take time to emerge and insurgencies are filled
with cycles in which the patterns of a given day, week or month are
reversed and later, reversed again."
Copyright © 2006. The Age Company Ltd.