6 years, 11 months ago
The Sunnis in the Anbar Province have taken a rapid ride from enemy of the United States, to tepid ally, to strong ally, and finally to full partner. In Operations in Northern Iraq we discussed the movement of the last of al Qaeda North to Mosul, Tikrit and outlying areas. In Last Stand in Mosul we expanded this discussion to include the diehard Ba’athists and Fedayeen Saddam who will not reconcile; they also have retreated to the North. In light of these developments, it is important that the “awakening” has finally expanded to the North.
HAWIJA, Iraq (AP) – Nearly 6,000 Sunni Arab residents joined a security pact with American forces Wednesday in what U.S. officers described as a critical step in plugging the remaining escape routes for extremists flushed from former strongholds.
The new alliance—called the single largest single volunteer mobilization since the war began—covers the “last gateway” for groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq seeking new havens in northern Iraq, U.S. military officials said.
U.S. commanders have tried to build a ring around insurgents who fled military offensives launched earlier this year in the western Anbar province and later into Baghdad and surrounding areas. In many places, the U.S.-led battles were given key help from tribal militias—mainly Sunnis—that had turned again al-Qaida and other groups.
Extremists have sought new footholds in northern areas once loyal to Saddam Hussein’s Baath party as the U.S.-led gains have mounted across central regions …
The ceremony to pledge the 6,000 new fighters was presided over by dozen sheiks—each draped in black robes trimmed with gold braiding—who signed the contract on behalf of tribesmen at a small U.S. outpost in north-central Iraq.
For about $275 a month—nearly the salary for the typical Iraqi policeman—the tribesmen will man about 200 security checkpoints beginning Dec. 7, supplementing hundreds of Iraqi forces already in the area.
But a cautionary note is in order. We have strongly advocated and supported the strategy of “concerned citizens” and paid neighborhood watch and auxiliary police, but they must eventually be integrated into the the Iraqi government - either police or Iraqi Security Forces. Anthony Cordesman states.
A change in US tactics, and the Sunni tribal uprising in Anbar province, have sharply reduced the level of violence in some important parts of Iraq. The violence and numbers of dead are down to the levels of spring 2006, before the escalation of civil violence that tore the country apart. The worst fighting is now concentrated in and around the mixed areas in Diyala. Large parts of Baghdad and many formerly hostile towns in the west are relatively secure. The number of improvised explosive device attacks has also declined. How much of that is due to Iranian restraint, improved US tactics and technology or less active Shia hostility to coalition forces is as unclear as how long the drop will last.
US and Iraqi forces are scoring important, if regional, tactical victories. However, these cover only western and central Iraq and may well be temporary. For all the claims that the “surge” worked, it is clear that it did not work purely on its own. The build-up of US forces and change in tactics from staying in bases to “win and hold” have accomplished a great deal. However, it was only the combination of the tribal uprising in Anbar, the build-up of troops and the change in US tactics that prevented al-Qaeda and its supporters from dispersing to the areas around Baghdad and intensifying the fighting in central Iraq.
The US team in Iraq deserves great credit for reacting to the Sunni tribal uprising in Anbar, supporting and co-opting it and broadening it to other areas. But that effort may be wasted if the Iraqi government continues to equivocate in allowing the Sunnis to join the police and security services, and if Iraq’s factions cannot agree on how to share the nation’s power and wealth. Everything depends on converting a US-led military success into Iraqi political accommodation.
Cordesman’s words echoes the sentiments of the Sunnis. An eerie warning was recently issued by a top Sunni cleric concerning the fate of the Sunni fighters who sided with the U.S.
A top Iraqi Sunni cleric called on Wednesday for the tens of thousands of Sunni Arab militants allied to US forces in the fight against Al-Qaeda to be integrated into the regular security forces.
Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarraie, head of the Sunni endowment, told AFP that the fate of around 70,000 Sunni Arab men fighting against Al-Qaeda in Iraq militants must be decided by Baghdad soon.
“The fate of these 70,000 men is not defined and it must be decided soon,” said Samarraie, whose organisation oversees the management of all Sunni shrines across Iraq.
“These fighters must be integrated into the police and army,” he said.
It is clear that the Anbaris in particular desire a long term U.S. presence in terms of investment and financing. It is also clear that they desire the eventual departure of U.S. forces – at least in terms of military authority, even if a force presence is kept for years to ensure the security of Iraq (perhaps with bases in the Kurdish region). What is not clear is just how long the surge can be maintained or troops can continue to patrol through the streets without being seen as the occupier rather than the ally.
The situation is proceeding apace in Iraq, and the government has an opportunity to integrate the Sunni forces into the nation-state. Failure to do so may bring catastrophy, but success will bring a stand down of a significant number of U.S. forces in Iraq and their possible redeployment to Afghanistan.