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Part of the insurgents' resilience comes from their fluidity. "The U.S. is not fighting an army," says Abu Mohammed, a strategist for a prominent Islamic nationalist group. "We hit and move. We're more like groups of gangs that can't be pinned down and can't be stamped out." The vast majority of those groups fall into a category the military dubiously refers to as Sunni "rejectionists." Mostly Baathists, nationalists and Iraqi Islamists, they oppose the occupation and any Baghdad government dominated by Iraqis sheltered from Saddam by foreign-intelligence agencies, such as Iran's or the U.S.'s. But they don't oppose democracy in Iraq. Many voted in the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum and have plans to participate in the Dec. 15 election. Few see a contradiction between voting and continuing to battle U.S. forces. "I voted in the referendum, and I'm still fighting, and everybody in my organization did the same," says Abu Marwan, the Army of Mohammed commander. "This is two-track war--bullets and the ballot. They are not mutually exclusive."
U.S. military intelligence believes that were it not for al-Zarqawi, the nationalists would have developed a political identity by now. Differences in means and ends have long caused friction among the odd bedfellows of the resistance. From the beginning there have been two wars fought in Iraq, one of liberation and one of global holy war. "Insurgency and terror are two different things," says Khalilzad. The divide was evident in Fallujah last year, when al-Zarqawi's foreign fighters dominated the city and the insurgency at large. They took over local militias' checkpoints and neighborhoods, even "arresting" leading Sunni insurgent figures. When the local clerical body, the Association of Muslim Scholars, refused to endorse his suicide bombings and beheadings of Western hostages, al-Zarqawi branded the association's leader, Harith al-Dhari, a coward. "In Fallujah [al-Zarqawi's] leaders were foreigners who'd come to be martyred," says Abu Marwan. "What did they care about the political process? Nothing."
Though al-Zarqawi's shadow still looms over the broader insurgency, the battle of Fallujah last November forced him to give his organization an Iraqi face. "Among the foreign fighters some dispersed, some were killed, some were captured," says Abu Marwan. And over the past year, U.S. operations against al-Zarqawi's organization have chipped away at its leadership structure and squeezed its sanctuaries. As a result, Iraqis who joined as low-level cell members have risen up the leadership chain. Abu Marwan says al-Zarqawi's aides told him their boss's three top lieutenants are all Iraqis. Another Iraqi operative is Abu Abdullah, who had worked on the security detail for one of Saddam's inner circle and joined an insurgent group formed from the Republican Guard following the U.S. invasion in 2003. After he was captured by the U.S. and sent to Abu Ghraib prison, Abu Abdullah enrolled in a prison-yard madrasah, or religious school; by the time he was released, he identified himself as a holy warrior for Islam. Today he is what the military calls a tier-two al-Qaeda leader, commanding cells in and around Baghdad.