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Study: Iraqi Insurgents' Web Skills Boost Communications, Confidence

The International Crisis Group (ICG), a non-governmental organization that analyzes international conflict zones, says insurgents in Iraq are finding better ways to communicate and are gaining confidence in their ability to fight against U.S.-led coalition forces. The information comes in a new report that analyzes websites, films and magazines produced by insurgents in Iraq.

The report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), focuses on communications and propaganda efforts by insurgent groups in Iraq, and what it says are their efforts to maximize support among Sunni Arabs that form the backbone for the opposition to the U.S.-led occupation.

The director of ICG's Middle East and North Africa program, Rob Malley, says the Internet has become a valuable tool for armed militant groups in Iraq.

"If you think about how the insurgents today communicate with one another, it is very much through the Internet, through chat rooms, because they don't have other means of communication," he explained. "It is not easy for them to meet. It is not easy for them to have live, in-person gatherings. So what they do is that they communicate in the only way they know how."

Malley says the insurgency is no longer a scattered, chaotic phenomenon.

He says the groups are well organized, produce regular publications and react rapidly to political developments.

"You see a marked improvement in their communication, a real multi-media communications strategy," he explained. "When they go out now for a sniper attack they often bring their camera crew with them. They bring a media team so that immediately posted on the Internet they have a report of their attack, with details so they can substantiate it and gain credibility."

The co-author of the report, senior analyst Peter Harling, lived in Iraq between 1998 and 2003.

He says insurgent groups and the U.S. military focus efforts to sway public opinion on vastly different audiences.

"At the level of discourse and propaganda, winning hearts and minds, the U.S. government has been focusing far more on its own home audience than on the insurgents' target audience, which is the reservoir of volunteers fighting against U.S. forces," he noted.

The ICG report says Iraqi insurgent groups are acutely aware of public opinion and increasingly mindful of their image.

The report says the groups, for the most part, have abandoned some gruesome and locally controversial practices such as beheading hostages and attacking voters going to the polls.

Rob Malley of the ICG says insurgents are increasingly optimistic.

"At this point we are facing an insurgency that is gaining in confidence, that is gaining in unity, that is gaining in uniformity in a way, and that is able to play the political game it appears, given its capacity to renew itself, to replenish its resources, to replenish its ranks, playing the political game far better than most people would assume," added Mr. Malley.

The ICG report says the emergence of a better organized and coordinated insurgency has profound implications for policy-makers.

The report says countering the insurgency requires taking its discourse seriously, reducing its legitimacy, and increasing the Iraqi people's confidence in their new government.