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Iraq: Slowly but surely
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The recent success the US and ISF forces have had in capturing key figures in the car bombings which have plagued Iraq has been impressive. Over the last few weeks, at least two car bomb factories have been shut down. Now, it appears, we've grabbed the leaders of one of the biggest car-bomb rings in Iraq:
The US military has captured the leaders of a car-bombing ring blamed for killing hundreds of Iraqis.

[...]

The US command said one of the car-bombers, Haitham al-Shimari, was suspected in the "planning and execution of the majority of car bombs which have killed hundreds of Iraqi citizens in Sadr City," a Shi'ite enclave of Baghdad.

Another, identified as Haidar al-Jafar, was second-in-command of a cell that killed some 900 "innocent" Iraqis and wounded almost 2,000, the military said. Three other men believed connected to that cell also were in custody.

The suspected bombers were rounded up last week by American forces during continuing security sweeps in Azamiyah, the Sunni stronghold in northern Baghdad, the military statement said.
While I was listening in on a blogger conference call last week a senior administration official made the point that one of the effects of the new strategy in Iraq has been the huge increase in the number of tips that have been turned over to coalition forces. When troops live within the community in which they're protecting, the people feel better about tipping them to possible terrorist activities.

As this person said, not only have the tips doubled in quantity (from about 5,000 a month to a little over 10,000 a month), they've given the coalitions forces a much greater quantity of actionable intelligence. Intelligence such as that which led to the capture of these ring-leaders.

That's not the only place progress is being made. Outgoing US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad pointed to other progress with Sunni insurgency groups who're helping in the fight against al Qaeda in Iraq:
Khalilzad has said previously that US officials have met with people linked to the Sunni insurgency, and the new top US general in Iraq, General David Petraeus, said this month that dialogue was necessary because force alone cannot halt the violence.

But Khalilzad said the talks have shifted from "unreasonable demands" by the groups for a US withdrawal to forming an alliance against al-Qaeda. He said the effort has gained support among tribal leaders and even some insurgents.

"Iraqis are uniting against al-Qaeda," he said.

"Coalition commanders have been able to engage some insurgents to explore ways to collaborate in fighting the terrorists. These insurgents are also in touch with the government seeking reconciliation and cooperation in the fight against the al-Qaeda terrorists and joining the government in a reconciliation program."
Said Khalizad:
"In my view, though difficult challenges lie ahead and there is a long way to go, Iraq is fundamentally headed in the right direction and success is possible," he said, pointing to a nearly 25 per cent reduction in violence during a six-week-old security crackdown in Baghdad as well as economic progress.
Of course one of those challenges is motivating the Iraqi government to do what is necessary to finally take control of it's own space. In that regard, some progress is being seen as well. Ambassador Daniel Speckhard on the effort:
He credited Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s expanded focus on all elements of the plan with driving results on the Iraqi side. In a similar push to stabilize the Iraqi capital last summer, Speckhard said, the prime minister had limited his attention to the security situation, leaving supporting elements of the strategy to subordinates in his government.

This time through, Maliki created six committees to oversee the non-security pieces of the Baghdad plan, with oversight of economic development, essential services, communications, community outreach and related functions. Speckhard said the prime minister meets weekly with each team to review progress and action items, but noted, “The challenge, of course, comes in the implementation.”

In support of the prime minister’s leadership, Speckhard explained, improved integration of U.S. military, political and reconstruction efforts is creating traction toward lasting change. With State Department personnel embedding with U.S. military forces throughout Baghdad and the rest of the country, an emphasis on community relations and micro-level priorities is gradually earning the trust of the Iraqi population.
Commitment to the total picture - military, political, economic and reconstruction - is key and on both the Iraqi and US side, it seems as if serious improvement is underway to successfully establish the authority and control of the Iraqi government in the country.

On the US side, something I mentioned in an earlier post is in the planning stages:
The State Department is “focusing on enhancing our civilian support to the military as they do this surge,” Speckhard said. “We’re going to add six new embedded provincial reconstruction teams with six brigades here to get closer to the community level as we do not just the reconstruction, but also the political engagement supporting reconciliation at the community level.”
The problem, however, is that Democrats have stripped 200 million, specifically from the PRT program, from the supplemental budget the Bush administration requested. These teams are key to success. The combat brigades consider them force multipliers and absolutely critical to their strategy.

Another key: employment.
On the economic front, Speckhard said, Baghdad provincial reconstruction teams would offer programs for “micro-enterprise lending” and community-based vocational training projects, working alongside the U.S. military to generate employment opportunities for Baghdad residents.

“You have to get businesses back up and running (and) employment generated” to help stabilize the situation, Speckhard said of the plan. “If we can’t get these young people to work, if you can’t get them the opportunities for jobs and so forth, they’ll be attractive recruits for militias and insurgents.”
Absolutely. The obvious intent is to have people more invested in seeing peace and prosperity than they are willing to give up to join the insurgency. Helping the economy grow jobs is a very good way of accomplishing that goal.

Health care, another critical factor:
Efforts are also under way to improve Iraq’s health care system and eliminate militia infiltration of the Ministry of Health, Speckhard said. He explained that Maliki has instructed Iraqi security forces to clear hospitals of the sectarian influence that has kept many of Baghdad’s Sunni residents from seeking care.

“He has actually directed his military to take back the hospitals from what has been a significant spree of militia infiltrations,” Speckhard said.
Speaking of the militias:
On militias overall, Speckhard noted the current Baghdad security plan has benefited from Maliki’s communication of clear ground rules at the inception. In effect, Speckhard explained, Maliki stated that a monopoly on force rests with the Iraqi government, and any violator of that policy would be punished severely and “across the board evenly, be it Sunni or Shiia.”

These measures, combined with the surge in U.S. and Iraqi forces, “had a chilling effect on militias,” Speckhard explained.

At the same time, the ambassador said, U.S. officials have focused on reaching out to those Iraqi community leaders who might have relationships with militias, winning their support through a commitment to “certain principles as to how we intend to carry this process out,” including a “soft-knock approach” to neighborhood sweeps.
Note that last paragraph. Even while neighborhood sweeps continue to be something which must be done, the understanding that a more citizen friendly way of doing so is necessary if they don't want to see continued support for the militias. In the end, what the Iraqi government wants to provide is peace and security to the point that the population rejects the militias in favor of the government.

It is also important that Iraqi citizens feel able to trust the government and it's security forces. Again, progress is being made in that area as well:
The Coalition and Iraqi government are also in the process of retraining and redeploying the Iraqi National Police. In 2006, the majority of National Police units were infiltrated with militias. Their deployment inside Baghdad without Coalition oversight partially led to the failure of the previous Baghdad security plan—Operation Together Forward.

The Coalition created Operation Quicklook, a program designed to purge the police battalions of militia and insurgents, issue new uniforms and identification badges, and retrain and reequip the forces for urban combat and security operations. Phase I was inspections, Phase II is re-bluing, re-equipping, replacements (purge) and Brigade training, Phase III will be field training/ops, and Phase IV is when the Ministry of the Interior takes over Phase I thru III. The most heavily infiltrated brigades were put through Quicklook II first. The 8th Brigade of the 2nd Iraqi Police Division lost over 40 percent of its ranks; the 4th Brigade of the 1st Iraqi Police Division was reduced by 30 percent. One year ago only one brigade commander and two battalion commanders were Sunni. Today, 4 of 9 brigade commanders and 13 of 27 battalion commanders are Sunni. Half of the brigades have gone through Quicklook II., and at least three are now serving inside Baghdad along with other police units that haven't yet gone through the program.
So to again echo the ambassador's words, lots of challenges remain and there's a long way to go, but it is indeed looking better than it has in quite some time. Also remember that only two of the five brigades of the surge are in place.

There does seem to be, at least according to this report, some real and focused effort by the Iraqi government to do what is necessary to finally move us toward a real withdrawal date in which we can hand the entire country, without exception, over to them to run. Let's hope this trend continues.
 
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Another, identified as Haidar al-Jafar, was second-in-command of a cell that killed some 900 "innocent" Iraqis and wounded almost 2,000, the military said.
(Emphasis added)

""innocent""? Good grief.
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
I also thought it odd that innocent was scare quoted.
 
Written By: ChrisB
URL: http://
Doom...Quagmire...Deadline...UN....
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Ahh, but the only sure way to know if they are innocent is if . . . they are killed by the US, W, or capitalist oil interests.

Saddam’s sons may have had rape rooms, but how do you know the victims were innocent?
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
*sigh*

I still want to know why we couldn’t have done this a year ago . . .
 
Written By: Sean
URL: http://www.myelectionanalysis.com
I still want to know why we couldn’t have done this a year ago . . .
So do we all, Sean. So do we all.

But they are doing it now.

And at exactly the time something seems to be working, we have a faction which wants to pull the plug ... just because a completely different strategy wasn’t working before.

And they’re adamant about pulling the plug and unwilling to compromise. All the while ignoring or refusing to acknowledge what’s going on there now (too busy to see Petraus last time he was in town).

It is so politically motivated and such a short-sighted strategy that I have a real problem trusting them with anything to do with national security.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
. . . I have a real problem trusting them with anything to do with national security.
Exactly . . . they are mostly white, and mostly male. We should turn the reins of power over to Maxine Waters and Marian Barry, so we could have someone in power we can trust.
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
Sean -
*sigh*

I still want to know why we couldn’t have done this a year ago . . .
Lord knows I was calling for it. But alas, it was an election year, and the predictable rise in American body count with an operation of this intensity wouldn’t be expected to go over well. I mean, gosh, the Republicans might have lost both houses of Congress!

...
 
Written By: Bryan Pick
URL: http://www.qando.net
The Republicans never believed,until too late that they could possibly lose.
But they did and finally were driven to open their eyes. Can we assume if they had won in November we would be doing what we are doing now. Is there not value in having feet held to fire?
 
Written By: darohu
URL: http://
But they did and finally were driven to open their eyes. Can we assume if they had won in November we would be doing what we are doing now. Is there not value in having feet held to fire?
Sure if you consider cut n’ run after cut n’run piece of legislation adding TO the determination of our enemies and you don’t mind seeing tax cut sfall by the wayside, possibly, I agree it was all worth it....
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
"predictable rise in American body count with an operation of this intensity wouldn’t be expected to go over well."

That’s the amazing thing to my mind — fatalities are actually down from December, every month. The body count isn’t exploding like many predicted, even as we engage in some of the most inhospitable terrain in Iraq.
 
Written By: Sean
URL: http://www.myelectionanalysis.com
There does seem to be, at least according to this report, some real and focused effort by the Iraqi government to do what is necessary to finally move us toward a real withdrawal date in which we can hand the entire country, without exception, over to them to run. Let’s hope this trend continues
Doesn’t matter now, the Senate has also officially voted for cut and run.

Time for Lieberman to switch parties....
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
The problem, however, is that Democrats have stripped 200 million, specifically from the PRT program, from the supplemental budget the Bush administration requested. These teams are key to success. The combat brigades consider them force multipliers and absolutely critical to their strategy.
This has to be the first time in American history that one political party has attempted to engineer an American military defeat for their own partisan advantage.
 
Written By: Aldo
URL: http://
I still want to know why we couldn’t have done this a year ago . . .
There are two main reasons...

1) Lack of enough Iraqi manpower to HOLD the ground cleared.

2) Lack of willpower on the part of the Iraqi government to make operations "non-partisan," i.e. going after all the bad actors, not just the Sunnis.

Every successful clear and hold operation that’s taken place before, had these 2 things in common. The local governing bodies wanted the bad actors out, and there were Iraqi troops who could be stationed there after the fighting was all done.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com/
Doesn’t matter now, the Senate has also officially voted for cut and run.
For most in the House and Senate its all political posturing. Say what you want about Lieberman and Hagel, two mavericks in their own parties, but they seem to be taking a principled stand on what they believe. The rest seem to be asking, "OK, what will serve us best in 2008..." I don’t think either party is better than the other at that, though some individuals on each side of the aisle rise above the posturing.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
There are two main reasons...

1) Lack of enough Iraqi manpower to HOLD the ground cleared.

2) Lack of willpower on the part of the Iraqi government to make operations "non-partisan," i.e. going after all the bad actors, not just the Sunnis.

Every successful clear and hold operation that’s taken place before, had these 2 things in common. The local governing bodies wanted the bad actors out, and there were Iraqi troops who could be stationed there after the fighting was all done.
Evidence in support of your claim is that this was preceded by intense pressure on the Maliki government, as well as a lot of dealing between Maliki and al-Sadr.

While I still oppose our policies in Iraq, at least it appears that since sometime in mid-2006 the Administration has become competent in its handling of Iraq. I suspect the realism of Secretary Rice is pushing policy away from the more ideological drive that Cheney and his allies pursued. For a long time I thought the Administration didn’t understand the forces it was dealing with, that they were driven by wishful thinking and beliefs about reality shaped more by ideology than the facts on the ground. Now I think that’s changed, which is very welcome. I’m more optimistic now that it’s possible for this to end soon and with a relatively stable Iraq than I have been at any time since the attack four years ago. I still don’t think it likely, but it happens, Rice may emerge the hero.

 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
I still want to know why we couldn’t have done this a year ago . . .
There are two main reasons...

1) Lack of enough Iraqi manpower to HOLD the ground cleared.

2) Lack of willpower on the part of the Iraqi government to make operations "non-partisan," i.e. going after all the bad actors, not just the Sunnis.

Every successful clear and hold operation that’s taken place before, had these 2 things in common. The local governing bodies wanted the bad actors out, and there were Iraqi troops who could be stationed there after the fighting was all done.
Good points, Keith, but if that’s the case, I’m somewhat puzzled. Combined US-ISF operations were indeed taking place in central Iraq last March, multi-battalion operations even—like Operations Northern Lights, Iron Strike and Scales of Justice. US military leaders were making statements like this, which seems to indicate they thought differently than your analysis indicates. They clearly intended to accomplish something in and around Baghdad, but they were also traipsing around other parts of the Iraqi countryside.

And mind you, I’m not saying that Kirkuk and other parts of Iraq weren’t important too—the enemy was comparatively weak there, and mopping them up helped to concentrate and isolate more and more of the enemy in Baghdad.

But I have to wonder what we could have accomplished if the Administration had committed to a surge early last year. Last March, Al Qaeda was ramping up attacks in central Iraq, as were several other groups, in an (apparently successful) attempt to stoke sectarian violence. Sadr and his militia were acting pretty bold about the whole thing. We were quickly losing the confidence of key portions of the Iraqi populace as a result of our failure to act, and to the average resident of Baghdad, who could blame him for thinking that American forces were making his life more rather than less dangerous?

If we’d said it was time to ramp up our forces and go for the throat in Baghdad, I wonder: would Sadr have left the country then? Were the ISF really that much weaker or more prone to sectarian bias? Could we have pulled together the same kind of force?

Anyway, you may very well be right, ultimately. But those questions bugged the heck out of me a year ago.
 
Written By: Bryan Pick
URL: http://www.qando.net
But I have to wonder what we could have accomplished if the Administration had committed to a surge early last year.
Do you think they may have feared the impact of a surge on the fall elections?
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
The election in the United States? I had a sneaking suspicion at the time, yes, and I still think it was a factor. Hence my earlier comment,
Lord knows I was calling for [serious action in Baghdad a year ago]. But alas, it was an election year, and the predictable rise in American body count with an operation of this intensity wouldn’t be expected to go over well. I mean, gosh, the Republicans might have lost both houses of Congress!
Keith does have a good point about the ISF, since they have matured a good deal in the last year. But man... at the time, it was under my skin.
 
Written By: Bryan Pick
URL: http://www.qando.net
Since the Iraqis couldn’t handle clearing and holding the few neighborhoods in Baghdad in the operations that were tried last year, the full scale operations we are seeing today would have been doomed to failure.

We’ve been driving towards the point where we could push the Iraqis to the front of the fight. To me, this counter-offensive was inevitable and just a matter of timing. We needed all the pieces to fall into place before trying large scale operations again. Rushing the Iraqis into battle would have been a disservice to them, and only guaranteed a publicity victory for the insurgents/terrorist. As it is, the publicity is turning in favor of the Iraqis and us.
Do you think they may have feared the impact of a surge on the fall elections?
I think it would be naive to say it didn’t play into it at all. I would hope that it wasn’t a primary concern.

However, I really think if you look at the numbers and some of the comments regarding the ISF, you’ll see that the ISF just wasn’t up for the task at that time, both in numbers, and competency.

For instance, in May of 06, 2 Div HQ’s, 16 BED HQ’s,and 63 BN’s had lead responsibility for COIN ops in their areas. In Feb of this year, those numbers are 8, 31, and 93 respectively.

I saw one comment from a General about the difference being that last year, Iraqi companies broke when they tried to move them into dangerous areas. Now, in many cases, they are leading the way.

I really think the political component of this is the greatest factor. Without the political will, victory is impossible.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com/

 
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