One of the things Patterico asked me to blog about was an assessment of the situation here in Iraq. Specifically he asked me to respond to this correspondent at Powerline.
Blogging and reporting about the situation in Iraq is complex and difficult. What is true in one block may not be true in the next block and while the General Officers have an overall view, it becomes difficult for them to roll all of their assessments into one neat little sound bite. Conversely the Private or Lieutenant will know his or her one area of Iraq very well, much better than his or her Senior Leaders because that is all they are responsible for. If things are going well in that small area, the situation can seem very good; obviously then the opposite is true, if your area is going poorly then the whole thing may appear quite dismal.
The biggest mistake I think the the Powerline correspondent makes, is using his or her localized experience as a template for all of Iraq.
The Iraqi government and security forces are so thoroughly infiltrated by the Shia militias that you could say that the militias are the government and you would not be far off. Iraqi police in Southern Iraq are not in the fight against the militias at all. Top CF targets walk the streets freely in every city. In most cases police stations are manned by JAM members in police uniforms who actively aid the terrorists. On the rare occasion that a Shia terrorist is actually arrested by an ISF unit, he must be turned over to CF immediately or he will be released by the police or courts.
This may very well be true in the correspondents area. Here in Al Anbar Province there is virtually no Shia presence, it is almost entirely Sunni. Many of the Iraqi Army Soldiers (Jundi) are Shia serving like our Soldiers do a long way from home. Conversely the Iraqi Police (IP) are almost all local recruits. The IP in Al Anbar have been strengthened a great deal in the last year because the Shieks decided to tell their militia members to lay down their arms as militia and join the Iraqi Police. This has been a challenging and difficult process, but one that has worked. The primary concern of the tribes has been the security of their people and that is why the needed to have militia.
Now there is no doubt these new IPs will likely retain some tribal loyalty, but as their paychecks regularly flow in from the central government there will likely be a reevaluation of who exactly is able to provide them and their family the most security. The importance of the tribe and clan will never go away, but the strong control may well diminish overtime.
The other part of this that simply makes no sense to me is this – if Maliki and the Shia are the real problems and determined to exercise control over Iraq a la Saddam Hussein, why do they not do the following: Simply order the Shia militias to stand down and do nothing, but particularly not attack Coalition Forces. If the Shia militia violence is the real problem and their control so pervasive then Maliki and the Shia could set the conditions for the US forces to be gone by the end of 2007. If there were four or five months of no real activity the clamor at home to bring US forces would be deafening and there would be no refutation of it.
The Powerline correspondents experience is different from mine and I am not in a position to say he or she has not seen what they write, but it strikes me that their assessment overlays specific experiences over a diverse country and has some counterintuitive reasoning.
Then we have this assessment
The situation on the American side is not much better. The careerists in the Army and DoD have leaned that not taking chances and reporting only good news up the chain are the ways to advance their careers. Just look at General Casey. The army is first and foremost a bureaucracy intent on taking its processes, forms, procedures and top down decision making with it wherever it goes. The Army is not flexible enough or well trained enough to win a counterinsurgency.
There is some truth in this. The Army is one big bureaucracy and at its heart is a large government agency. (As a side note, want to see what National Health Care will look like, just see the Walter Reed Army Medical Center “scandal.”) As an institution it certainly should be a great deal more flexible to win a counter insurgency, however to say we are not well trained enough is simply untrue.
As to organizationally the Armed Forces should be a great deal more nodal or networked, the hierarchy does not create ideal conditions for working in this environment, but we are more than adequately trained. It is really about implementation.
Here in Al Anbar for the longest time the US Armed Forces refused to work with local militias because they had either been insurgents or merely because they were un-official. Last year the decision was made to deal with them and the situation immediately started to improve. Because someone high ranking enough to have some “juice” but low ranking enough to understand the situation on the ground needed this decision. The farther down the chain we push these decisions , the easier it will be.
Do not misunderstand what I am about to write because the Powerline correspondent has some valid points, nonetheless these comments color the writing in my view.
But as someone who has been separated from my wife, friends, and family for 20 months already (with four months to go thanks to the surge) and as service members continue to lose life and limb I feel that I can no longer hold my tongue.
I am familiar with this unit and no doubt there is a morale problem at this point because of their extension, I do not blame them for being irritated at the Army and the war, but that should not substitute for analysis. I left home in January 2006 and will be home by Christmas 2007, I understand what that separation is like, but to use the time of separation from family as the excuse strikes me as bitterness and not principle. I come by that assessment because of the next comment.
We have mismanaged Iraq in ways too numerous to list here for four years. In order to succeed on the ground we would have to scrap everything we have done and start over….
We started over with the surge and the appointment of GEN Petraeus. This falls into the Angry Left’s meme of “not changing course.” Substantive and real changes have been made in strategy and tactics. We have seen that here in Al Anbar with engagement of the local Sheiks and militias. Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is becoming more desperate with every savage attack. Things are not going to change overnight, but they are changing and they are getting better.