How to Lose in Iraq: Inconsistent and Inequitable Policy

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 11 months ago

In Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq, we discussed the two-step process by which the United States Marines have prevailed in the Anbar province.  First, they have substantially militarily defeated both the terrorists and the indigenous insurgency.  Second, upon recognition of this and settling with the enemy, U.S. forces have actually made military use of the erstwhile insurgents for both intelligence and kinetic operations against the remaining terrorist and insurgent elements.  It has been observed that  “Americans learned a basic lesson of warfare here: that Iraqis, bludgeoned for 24 years by Saddam’s terror, are wary of rising against any force, however brutal, until it is in retreat. In Anbar, Sunni extremists were the dominant force, with near-total popular support or acquiescence, until the offensive broke their power.”

Having militarily lost, and seeking a place in the new government, the tide has turned against the terrorists, as we observed in The Counterinsurgency Campaign in Anbar Expands.  ““This is much less about al-Qaeda overstepping than about them [Sunnis] realizing that they’ve lost,? said Lt. Col. Douglas Ollivant, a planner for the U.S. military command in Baghdad. As a result, Sunni groups are now “desperately trying to cut deals with us,? he said. “This is all about the Sunnis’ ‘rightful’ place to rule? in a future Iraqi government, he said.

But now comes an example of exactly the wrong way to do it, an approach that is almost certain to stop the progress of this model in its tracks; perhaps U.S. forces even risk a turnaround in the all but pacified Anbar province.

BAGHDAD – Wearing a bandanna that hides his face, Omam Abed leads U.S. soldiers on raids in the west Baghdad streets where he grew up – kicking down doors and interrogating neighbors in search of fighters for al-Qaida in Iraq.

The 20-year-old is part of a ragtag collection of former Sunni insurgents – some even from the al-Qaida ranks – who have thrown their support behind U.S.-led security forces under pacts of mutual convenience.

The Sunni militiamen have grown leery of al-Qaida in Iraq and its ambitions, including self-proclaimed aims of establishing an Islamic state. The Pentagon, in turn, has latched onto its most successful strategy in months: partnering with former extremists who have the local know-how to help root out al-Qaida in Iraq.

But for Abed and others, this new war also brings grave dangers …

Last month, two of Abed’s best friends, both 18-year-old members who also decided to aid U.S. forces, were dragged out of their high school during final exams and beheaded. Their bodies were flung up into a tree with the severed heads displayed on the sidewalk below, according to Abed and U.S. military officers stationed in the area.

There was no claim of responsibility, but the scene didn’t need one. All knew it was a ghastly warning to residents who choose to challenge al-Qaida in Iraq, which takes inspiration from Osama bin Laden but whose direct links to his terror network is unclear.

“They weren’t wearing masks on missions, so al-Qaida recognized who they were. They were my friends – we were always the three of us, like brothers,” Abed told The Associated Press in an interview this week, choking back tears.

He would not give his real name out of fear for his safety, and would not comment on his past insurgent activity. His codename – Omam Abed – means “courageous slave” in Arabic.

Since the murders, Abed wears a mask or scarf to conceal his identity when he accompanies U.S. and Iraqi soldiers on raids. These are the same palm-shaded streets with wide green lawns where he played as a boy. His father was a prominent businessman who owned a textile factory here before fleeing to Syria in 2003. Almost everyone knows Abed and his family.

“I want to stay and help my neighborhood, and the future of my country, but sometimes I’m scared I’ll also be targeted,” he said.

The Amariyah beheadings – and waves of other attacks – suggest a mounting al-Qaida campaign of reprisals against fellow Sunnis who challenge group’s footholds in Iraq.

On Saturday, militants bombed the northern Baghdad home of a moderate and highly regarded Sunni cleric, Sheik Wathiq al-Obeidi, who had recently spoken against al-Qaida. He was seriously wounded and three relatives were killed.

The same day, police said a local tribal leader in Albu Khalifa, a village west of Baghdad, was killed by gunmen who stormed his home. Sheik Fawaq Sadda’ al-Khalifawi had recently joined an anti-al-Qaida alliance in Iraq’s western Anbar province.

[ … ]

Abed wears a beige bulletproof vest with “Allah Akbar” – `God is great,’ in Arabic – written in permanent marker across the front. He bought it on the black market with his own money. He does not earn a salary for working with U.S. forces, and the military does not provide him with weapons, equipment or safe haven …

“(Al-Qaida) is trying to get me or my family. I’m constantly changing locations – not staying in one place longer than a few hours – and moving my children,” said Abu Abed, who also refused to comment on his own insurgent past.

American military officials acknowledge that Abed’s group is in danger because of its cooperation with U.S. forces. But – as former insurgents – the fighters are not eligible for services provided to civilians or legitimate Iraqi security forces.

“It’s just not something we can do,” said Lt. Col. Dale Kuehl, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.

At least two members of the group were former allies of al-Qaida, said Kuehl, 41, from Huntsville, Ala. Others, he said, were part of the Islamic Army in Iraq, the 1920s Revolution Brigades and Tawhid and Jihad – all Sunni insurgent groups responsible for past attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.

The U.S. military offers humanitarian aid, but the fighters are denied access to U.S. bases and military hospitals. American medics, however, have treated them on the battlefield.

Kuehl is awaiting approval from his commanders for a 90-day security contract under which the fighters would be paid to man checkpoints and conduct regular patrols through Amariyah. The salaries would be commensurate with the Iraqi police, about $300 a month.

Until the contract wins U.S. approval, the fighters remain unpaid volunteers.

Capt. Dustin Mitchell, with the 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Reconnaissance Troop, said it sometimes creates awkward moments for his soldiers.

“We try to help them out within the guidelines if our commanders approve it,” said the Louisville, Ky., native. “If not, we’re the guys who look them in the eye and have to say, `I’m sorry.'”

The contrary example is given to us with the approach to the Shi’ite in the South of Iraq.  As we observed in The Rise of the JAM, neither (a) has there been a decisive and final military defeat of the Mahdi army (or the Badr organization), nor (b) has there been any interest in reconciliation on their part.  Yet the Mahdi army is allowed to roam freely throughout Iraq, and U.S. forces are said to avoid direct confrontation with them.  They are the military wing of a political bloc in Parliament, and are responsible for the deaths of not only Sunnis but U.S. forces as well.  Further, there is an unwillingbess to excise Badr from the ISF, while Badr, funded and backed directly by Iran, is believed to still carry out targeted assassinations.

The Sadrists are allowed their own political bloc in Parliament, their own militia, and the freedom to behave like mafiosi in the neighborhoods, while U.S. forces steer clear of entanglement with them.  Conversely, former Sunni insurgents are relegated to the sidelines where policy stipulates that they can never be under the permanent employ of the Iraqi government.  Even temporary support for these fighters is subject to a 90-day ‘security’ contract, permission for which likely sits in bureaucratic quick sand, the location of which only God and a few people know.

These circumstances are a perfect catalyst for the Sunnis to conclude that the deal they struck with the Americans wasn’t so good after all.

You are currently reading "How to Lose in Iraq: Inconsistent and Inequitable Policy", entry #577 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,Jaish al Mahdi,Sunni Insurgency and was published August 15th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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