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Insurgents are people, possibly part of a group, who rebel against a recognized authority such as a government. Insurgents can act singly or be part of an insurgency, which is a group of people with similar goals attempting to destabilize a recognized power. The use of the term insurgent is a loaded one, since it has an implied negative connotation that does not always exist.
For example, Americans who fought in the Revolutionary War for the US were insurgents. However, US textbooks tend not to refer to these individuals as insurgents. Instead they may be called patriots or rebels. However, their act of defying the laws of the British monarchy constitutes insurgency.
Currently the US defines people rebelling against the newly established government of Iraq as insurgents. However, these people do not define themselves as such. According to their own definition, they are freedom fighters attempting to free Iraq of occupation by infidels.
By labeling Iraqi freedom fighters as insurgents, one makes a definite political statement which defines how one feels about US and UK presence in Iraq. Since some of these insurgents have killed American soldiers, they are also enemies of the US directly. An insurgent or freedom fighter might argue that it would be impossible to kill an American soldier who was not present in Iraq. Their goal is to eliminate US presence in their country.
This is not to say that the tactics of Iraqi insurgents are laudable. They are killing their own countrymen, political leaders, and religious leaders as well as Americans and other country’s military forces. However, the insurgent Iraqi finds his or her position defensible, because of what he or she feels is an intolerable way of life.
In extreme uses of the label, some governments may classify those who speak out against certain governmental policies as insurgents. However, since being an insurgent usually involves waging violence or warfare of some kind, peaceful protest is difficult to label as insurgency.
There is usually a very fine line between an insurgent and what one would refer to as a 'freedom fighter'.