By Fr. George Welzbacher
January 14, 2007
Granted that impressive, indeed astonishing progress has been made in setting up within a very short time in "the New Iraq" the institutions of democracy, with massive voter turnout (at least by the Sunni Kurds and Shiite Arabs ) and with the drafting and ratification of a democratic constitution, granted every bit of that, the fact remains that on Baghdad's streets and in Baghdad's homes the citizen's physical security, the essential prerequisite for a democracy's survival, has all but disappeared. If not the crack of doom at least the ominous thunder of an approaching storm could be discerned last February in the explosion that destroyed one of the Shiite world's most venerated mosques, the Askariyah mosque in Samarra. Coming on the heels of incessant assault on civilian targets in Shiite neighborhoods throughout the preceding two years, this bombing of "The Golden Mosque" by Sunni insurgents evoked at last from the Shiite side the response that the insurgents had hoped for: the unleashing of a campaign of counterattacks by Shiite death squads that would bring the nation's capital to the brink of civil war. For the Sunni insurgents this is a desirable goal since in their perception a civil war will draw in aid from other Sunni states outside Iraq, thus providing the insurgents with the opportunity to seize the power that had long been theirs but that, as a mere one-fifth of Iraq's population, they cannot hope to regain in a democratic state.
Though much of Iraq (the Kurdish north plus the Shiite south and east) remains even now comparatively calm, chaos in Baghdad and turmoil in the Sunni west have persuaded many and at least tempted more to shout "A plague on both your houses!" and to call for the swift removal of America's armed forces from Iraq. More sober heads, attending to the pleas of important allies throughout the Middle East, perceive that a precipitous withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would all but ensure the outbreak of an all-out civil war that would quickly draw down into its vortex both Shiite Iran and Iraq's Sunni neighbors. Yet even those who acknowledge the need for enduring patience despite mounting frustration. are aware that time is running out. The moment has come to try something new.
At a critical moment in America's Civil War when stalemate seemed insurmountable and defeatism was swiftly gaining ground President Lincoln replaced his top generals.
President Bush has now done the same. In particular his appointment of Lt. General David Petraeus, soon to be named a full general, as the new on-the-scene commander of our forces in Iraq deserves and has received widespread applause. In previous tours of duty General Petraeus was the highly successful commander of American forces in the Kurdish north and quickly won the allegiance of the Kurdish people. He subsequently was charged with the task of creating, practically from nothing, an indigenous Iraqi army after the American "proconsul" L. Paul Bremer had shortsightedly proscribed and disbanded the existing Iraqi army. Most importantly of all General Petraeus is the principal author of the U. S. Army's brand-new treatise on the tactics of counterinsurgency, a book that has already won acclaim from military analysts and that wisely incorporates the lessons learned by the British in their prolonged and finally successful battle against communist insurgency in Malaysia in the wake of World War II. Let us pray that General David Petraeus may prove to be the military genius who will bring victory for the long-suffering millions of Iraqis who yearn for peace, law and order, and freedom from terror.
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An outline of what a successful counterinsurgency plan might include was offered in the January 8th issue of The Wall Street Journal in an op-ed essay by Bing West, a former assistant Secretary of Defense with close and continuing ties to our troops in Iraq, and by Elliot Cohen, a distinguished military analyst. I offer it here, extensively abridged, as food for thought.
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"Our Only Hope" By Bing West and Eliot CohenPresident Bush has appointed a new Iraq team, including one of our best counterinsurgency generals, David Petraeus, to take command in Iraq; he is also about to unveil a new Iraq strategy. The apparent problem is uncontrolled sectarian violence in Baghdad and the apparent solution is to send more American soldiers to restore order. The actual problem is a dysfunctional sectarian Iraqi political system. Here at home, the imminent debate between the Congress and the administration about the number of American forces is a diversion We may need more resources, but first we need a strategy.
President Bush faces a difficult strategic choice. First, he can continue to play defense and send in more troops to undertake tasks approved by Prime Minister Nouri...
Alternatively, he can adopt an offensive strategy with clear benchmarks, strengthening Iraqi security forces while imprisoning Sunni insurgents and Shiite death squads. The risk is that Mr. Maliki may refuse to cooperate, forcing us to walk away. In sum, what lies before the administration is a final strategic choice, after a series of large and consequential failures.
The campaign began brilliantly with the swift rush to Baghdad in May, 2003. Stripped of their dominance but otherwise untouched by the war, the Sunnis supported an insurgency led by Saddam loyalists and fueled by xenophobic religiosity. The American military stubbornly responded for 18 months with conventional sweeps and raids that fueled resentment and raised recruits for the insurgents. It was not until late 2004 that our military seriously began training a new Iraqi army. That same year, the White House endorsed a counterinsurgency strategy of "clear, hold and build" inside Sunni cities....
For a brief period, it appeared that "clear and hold" was working. Then in February 2006, the Sunni extremists destroyed the Shiite mosque at Samara. This ignited the civil war they had sought to provoke for three years. As with the initial Sunni insurgency, our military was caught a second time without a counterstrategy.
Since the summer of 2006 we have fought a full fledged, two-front war, waging one against the Sunni insurgents north and particularly west of Baghdad, and the other in Baghdad, where both Sunni and Shiite killers murdered the innocent. The Sunni tool was the massive car bomb. The Shiite militias were more systemic, employing death squads in a slow, methodical ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods.
The war seesaws back andforth, Unlike in Vietnam, these enemies do not dare to fight even small American military units. Our casualties come from roadside bombs and sniper attacks. In Anbar province, where the fighting is heaviest, our marines are having unappreciated success in splitting local tribes from alQaeda in Iraq. The under- strength Iraqi Army has performed well, despite grossly inadequate support from Mr. Maliki's government. The Iraqi police in Baghdad, though, remain penetrated by political militias. The spectacle of Saddam Hussein's guards chanting the name of Moqtada al Sadr as the despot swung from the gallows was revealing and disturbing.
So where do we go from here? The much debated "surge" would only modify our current strategy, if Americans continue to focus chiefly on destroying the insurgents in Sunni neighborhoods....
This is a problematic approach. The Sunnis initiated the violence, no doubt about it. But now the Shiite militias are doing the majority of the killing in Baghdad, yet less than 10% of those in prison are Shiites. There are 75 murders a day in Baghdad, and most killers walk free. The militias are gradually succeeding in the ethnic cleansing of much of Baghdad. To persist in this strategy is equivalent to a mayor telling his police chief that the mafia who live on the east side of town cannot be touched. It dooms the chance, however frail, of creating a nonsectarian Iraqi government.
Coupled with defensive patrolling is a proposed program of job creation (removing trash,for example). But handouts in a culture accustomed to handouts gain little....
It's unproven how many 16-year-old foot soldiers will be diverted by low-paying jobs. If you went to a member of the mafia and offered a low-paying job in return for renouncing crime, he would laugh at you. Most of the thugs won't be bought off; extortion and robbery are more lucrative and enjoyable.
President Bush recently agreed with the assessment of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace. that "we're not winning in Iraq .... but we're not losing." But in counterinsurgency, if you do not win, you lose. What then, is another option the president can choose?
Instead of a defensive surge strategy satisfying to Mr. Maliki, the president can opt for an offensive, nonsectarian strategy. Its core operational concepts must be neutralizing criminals-which include the Sunni insurgents, the Shiite death squads and the criminal gangs-by imprisonment, deterrence, or death; and constructing Iraqi security institutions as free as possible of sectarian taint.
Iraq is now a police war and we need to treat it as such.
Our weakest links are leaving the Mahdi Army off-limits, not selecting Iraqi security leaders and refusing to arrest and incarcerate the criminals (insurgaents, death squads and thugs). If the president's new strategy does not aggressively rectify these three defects, then surging more American troops will buy time but not alter a war we are losing because we are not winning.
Sadr City cannot remain off limits....
American forces fought Mr. Sadr's militia in April and August of 2004. In both cases, all-out war by the Mahdi Army petered out due to lack of logistics. In both cases, the Shiite population stood to one side. We created a monster by letting Mr. Sadr go free twice. We cannot make that mistake a third time.
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To change the dynamic in Iraq, the president has to insist on arrests and incarceration rates equivalent to or greater than those for violent crime in New York City. This would set benchmarks and shift our forces from defense to offense. New York City averages over 27,000 arrests a year for violent crimes. If a similar number of arrests were made in Baghdad, which is roughly the same population size as New York City ,the jail population in Iraq would double in a year. One in 75 American males is in jail, compared to one in 450 Iraqi males. Iraq is not six times safer than the U.S. Instead, Iraq has a judicial system, abetted by American military legalisms, that works in favor of the killers. The president has to change that.
Our troops in Iraq complain, with justice, that they often capture insurgents, only to find them on the streets a few months later. As a result of the abuses of Abu Graib, the U. S. Military instituted four layers of review for each Iraqi detained. The result is that most detainees are released. As for the Iraqi system, it is simply absurd, insisting on habeas corpus rules of evidence in a corrupt and overwhelmed judicial system that incarcerates a few dozen each week, compared to over a thousand a week in New York City alone. Eight of 10 detainees are set free. Releasing killers undercuts troop morale, while the residents lose trust. Texas has 170,000 in jail; Iraq, with a larger population and 5O times the violence rate, has 28,000 in jail. This "catch and release" system as the troops call it, is the single weakest link in the U.S. strategy.
Technology can help. We could, forexample, equip Iraqi and American forces with mobile devices to fingerprint the military-age males in Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle. Anyone stopped can be checked in two minutes, just as the Border Police and the Chicago Police do today. This would deprive the killers of mobility and is the key to radically increasing arrests....
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This is an Iraqi war, and success depends on the creation of a larger Iraqi Army (perhaps twice its current size of under 140,000) and a neutral police force. So we just increase our advisers from 3,500 to 15,000 or more. This is a small-unit police war, with the insurgents hiding and dodging. We do not need 40 or 50 conventional American battalions trained and equipped for full-scale conventional war, if the Iraqi securityforces are strengthened by bulked-up American advisory teams.
But Iraqi security forces will fall apart if political parties use appointments and promotions for sectarian purposes. We must therefore insist on a joint U.S.-Iraqi board to appoint all Iraqi battalion commanders and police chiefs and above. American control over senior personnel is the single most important aspect of our effort to develop Iraqi institutions. Without it additional resources, to include more advisors, will be wasted.
Quite possibly, Prime Minister Maliki will refuse, on the grounds of sovereignty and national pride, to allow Americans equal control over Iraqi personnel policy. We should respond that when Iraq is truly sovereign and standing on its own, we withdraw our advisers and the joint board ceases to operate. In the meantime, we're not potted plants. It is our advisers that force the ministries in Baghdad to pay the Iraqi soldiers. It is our advisers on patrol risking their lives and dying to reassure the lraqi forces that they can prevail. As long as we run equal risk, we deserve equal say in the selection of competent leaders....
Prudence, however, suggests that the president design a strategy that is independent of Mr. Maliki's fortunes and strengthens the only institution capable of holding the country together-the Iraqi army.
We prefer an offensive strategy based on three ironclad principles: take the offense immediately against the death squads in Sadr City, who are now unsettled; arrest and imprison on a scale equal to the horrific situation (or at least equal to the situation in New York City!); and insist on a joint say in the appointment of army and police leaders. If the Iraqi government refuses, we should be willing to disengage completely, and soon....