U.S. forces have rebranded one of the main insurgent groups in Iraq and now use the term “concerned local nationals” to refer to a group that once claimed responsibility for killing scores of Americans.
The updated vocabulary for referring to the 1920 Revolution Brigade, described by a U.S. commander on Saturday, is a sign of the abrupt change in tactics that has seen U.S. forces cooperate with former Sunni Arab enemies.
The 1920 Revolution Brigade was one of the main anti-American Sunni Arab insurgent groups in Iraq in the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and has claimed responsibility for killing scores of U.S. troops in ambushes and bomb attacks.
But for the past several months its members have cooperated with U.S. forces to help drive the strict al Qaeda Islamists out of Sunni Arab areas, part of a new U.S. tactic of cooperating with former Sunni Arab foes against al Qaeda.
Colonel David Sutherland, the U.S. commander in Diyala Province, said his men prefer not to call the group by its name.
“The 1920s as they’re called, we call them ‘the Baquba Guardians’, we call them the ‘concerned local nationals’,” he said. Baquba is the provincial capital.
“These are patriots who have come forward and have joined the security process. They are working with my soldiers and they are working with the Iraqi security forces,” he said.
Al Qaeda’s adherence to a hardline form of Sunni Islam and indiscriminate attacks has isolated it from Sunni Arabs and nationalist insurgent groups.
Sutherland said the 1920 Revolution Brigade name was now being used widely to refer to local pro-government militia and not anti-American insurgents. Some Shi’ite elders were asking if they too could recruit “1920s”, he said, a sign the Sunni Arab group’s name was no longer seen as sectarian.
“It has become a name, a catch-all phrase for these concerned local nationals throughout the province,” he told a news conference by video link to Baghdad.
His forces “do not deal with terrorists, and if we have information on individuals then we will act accordingly,” Sutherland said. “The individuals we are working with…. I have confidence in them and I have confidence in their leadership.”