8 years ago
In U.S. Presses for Amnesty for Insurgents, October of 2006, I discussed the press towards a broad-based amnesty program for the Sunni insurgents, observing that:
This is without question an attempt to quell the violence in al Anbar, and the hope appears to be that the tribes in al Anbar will root out al Qaeda (and other foreign elements), while a deal with the former Saddam loyalists will end the bloodshed associated with the insurgency.
But a deal will without doubt create many personal and emotional wounds with mothers and fathers of Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines who have died in Iraq fighting the insurgency. There are still difficult times ahead. Either these emotional wounds are created – probably never to heal – or the fight continues, with an uncertain end.
More than simple amnesty, U.S. forces are making allies of former insurgents, in spite of the unease that this creates with the Shi’a and Kurds.
Shi’ite and Kurdish officials expressed deep reservations yesterday about the new US military strategy to partner with Sunni Arab groups to help defeat the militant organization Al Qaeda in Iraq.
“They are trusting terrorists,” said Ali Al Adeeb, a prominent Shi’ite lawmaker who was among many to question the loyalty of the Sunni groups. “They are trusting people who have previously attacked American forces and innocent people. They are trusting people who are loyal to the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
Throughout Iraq, a growing number of Sunni groups profess to have turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq because of its indiscriminate killing and repressive version of Islam. In some areas, these groups have provided information to Americans about Al Qaeda members or the deadly explosives that target the soldiers.
The collaboration has progressed furthest in the western province of Anbar, where US military commanders enlisted the help of Sunni tribal leaders to funnel their kinsmen into the police force by the thousands. In other areas, Sunnis have not been fully incorporated into the security services and exist as local militias.
Some of these groups, believed to be affiliated with such organizations as the Islamic Army or the 1920 Revolution Brigades, have received weapons and ammunition, usually through the Iraqi military, as well as transportation, food, handcuffs, and direct assistance from US soldiers. In Baghdad’s Amiriyah neighborhood, a local group of Sunnis, the Baghdad Patriots, were driven around earlier this month in American and Iraqi vehicles and given approval by US forces to arrest suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq members.
Marine Sgt. Tony Storey doesn’t like to think about what-ifs as he watches the young Iraqis he is helping to train take target practice. He recalls one man who was a natural with his AK47.
“Where’d you learn to shoot like that?” Storey asked.
“Insurgent,” the man said with a smile.
“Was he joking?” Storey asked while surveying the 50 men from the Albu Issa tribe firing their weapons at a distant target. “I don’t know.”
For the men of Regimental Combat Team 6, who are training members of Anbar province tribes to fight Al Qaeda, Storey’s question isn’t simple curiosity. Less than a year ago, the tribes viewed Al Qaeda in Iraq as an ally in their effort to push Americans out of the province.
Now, the tribes see Al Qaeda as a threat to their society and their businesses — many of them dependent on illegal smuggling — and they’ve turned to the U.S. military for help.
This model is also being implemented in the Diyala province. The alliance goes to the point of arming the Sunnis to manage security in their own geographical areas. After some aborted starts at a coherent reply to this, Prime Minister Maliki who initially repudiated this idea later claimed credit for it.
Maliki, representing the Shi’a, doesn’t appreciate the new alliance with and arming of the Sunni no matter what he claims, and there is a tense relationship between him and General Petraeus. But the point goes far deeper than interpersonal relationships between U.S. generals and Iraqi politicians. The alliance being implemented in Iraq is a high-risk / high payoff strategy that must be successful if Iraq is to be pacified, Maliki’s objections notwithstanding.
When the U.S. forces begin to stand down and withdraw, to remove the U.S. men and materiel in Iraq will take more than a year. Withdrawal will be slow and deliberate. Furthermore, it is likely that complete withdrawal will not happen for a long time. More likely is that the U.S. will re-deploy to the North in Kurdistan, assisting the Iraqi army and police with kinetic operations upon request, while also serving as a stabilizer for the Middle East and border security for Iraq.
But it is just as likely that U.S. forces will not be performing constabulary operations for much longer. The counterinsurgency field manual, FM 3-24, was written based on the presupposition that the U.S. has the ten to twelve years necessary to conduct the classical counterinsurgency campaign. This was never true, is not true now, and will not be true in the future. Military needs aside, the public – by the power of the vote – has the right and prerogative within the American system to make the policy decision on the conduct of war. Asking the American pubic to support a counterinsurgency campaign over three consecutive presidential administrations is expecting the impossible, no matter how well the administration communicates the conditions of the campaign to the public.
All wars must end. The end of Operation Iraqi Freedom necessitates settling with the enemy, a high stakes strategy, absent which there is only loss of the counterinsurgency campaign.