5 years, 10 months ago
Counterinsurgency tactics are finally being applied to Sadr City.
Trying to stem the infiltration of militia fighters, American forces have begun to build a massive concrete wall that will partition Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite neighborhood in the Iraqi capital.
The construction, which began Tuesday night, is intended to turn the southern quarter of Sadr City near the international Green Zone into a protected enclave, secured by Iraqi and American forces, where the Iraqi government can undertake reconstruction efforts.
“You can’t really repair anything that is broken until you establish security,” said Lt. Col. Dan Barnett, commander of the First Squadron, Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment. “A wall that isolates those who would continue to attack the Iraqi Army and coalition forces can create security conditions that they can go in and rebuild.”
The team building the barrier was protected by M-1 tanks, Stryker vehicles and Apache attack helicopters. As the workers labored in silence, there was a burst of fire as an M-1 tank blasted its main gun at a small group of fighters to the west. An Apache helicopter fired a Hellfire missile at a militia team equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, again interrupting the night with a thunderous boom. A cloud of dark smoke was visible in the distance through the Stryker’s night-vision system.
Concrete barriers have been employed in other areas of Baghdad. As the barriers were being erected in other neighborhoods, some residents said they feared being isolated. But walls have often proved to be an effective tool in blunting insurgent attacks.
Many of the Shiite militias that the American and Iraqi forces have been battling in the Tharwa area of Sadr City in the past several weeks have been infiltrating from the north. Al Quds Street has become a porous demarcation line between the American- and Iraqi-protected area to the south and the militia-controlled area to the north.
The avenue has been filled with numerous roadside bombs that American teams in special heavily armored vehicles have sought to clear. The militias have stacked tires on the road and turned them into burning pyres to hamper the American infrared surveillance and targeting systems or to soften the concrete to make it easier to bury bombs.
They are trying to take a page from the hugely successful Operation Alljah in Fallujah (2007), in which concrete barriers separated neighborhoods. But something is missing from the picture. Can anyone spot the problem?
Lt. Col. Barnett wants to establish security, and indeed he must. But in Operation Alljah, concrete barriers were not used to establish security. They were used to keep and maintain security after it had already been established. Robust kinetic operations against the insurgents were a prelude to neighborhood security.
Unless Sadr City sees strong U.S. military action against the militias, the concrete barriers will become useless and pricey monuments to failed attempts at counterinsurgency – a laughingstock rather than an actual tool to prevent ingress and egress of insurgents.
In other words, the area has to be rid of insurgents, at least mostly, before ways and means can be effective for keeping insurgents from returning. This will involve operations such as disarming the militias. At the very minimum, even if this is accelerated counterinsurgency, kinetic operations must accompany the barriers.