Winning Anbar: Diplomacy with a Gun

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

It remains as important today as it was a year ago to understand why counterinsurgency was successful in the Anbar Province.  The tribal “awakening” was attempted in other parts of Iraq, most notably in the South with the release of Moqtada al Sadr in 2004 at the behest of Sistani and the British, in the hopes that he would lead his Shi’a faction into peace.  Why the difference in results?  The National Journal recently carried an article entitled Chess with the Sheiks that, while far reaching and sweeping in terms of our understanding of the importance of tribe, gives us an insight into the success in Anbar.  This is the money quote.

Westerners tend to think of fighting and negotiating as incompatible. Arabs tend to see them as complementary. The West’s great military theoretician, the 19th-century Prussian Carl von Clausewitz, is often quoted as saying, “War is a continuation of politics by other means,” as if normal politicking suddenly switched off when violence switched on. But Clausewitz’s actual point is more nuanced and more applicable to Iraq: “War is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse with an admixture of other means.” American military officers reared on the short form of Clausewitz’s maxim are now learning the full principle and how to blend their two approaches to Iraq: the one they call “kinetic” — bullets and bombs — and the one they call “nonkinetic” — negotiations and deal-making.

This is not necessarily a kinder and gentler way of war. Although negotiation can sometimes forestall violence, in Iraq it is more often the case that violence is a necessary form of negotiation. “Of the seven or eight tribes in my area,” said Maj. Morgan Mann, a Marine reservist who commanded a company in Babil province, south of Baghdad, in 2004-05, “one was the primary financiers and coordinators of most of the enemy activity.” Much as Capt. Bout did a few months later, Mann targeted the leaders of the “enemy tribe” with relentless house searches, heavy patrolling, cordon-and-search operations that shut down entire neighborhoods, and “very aggressive counterfire” — that is, shooting back intensely at attacking insurgents. “It culminated in my arresting the grand sheik of this tribe,” Mann said. “That was one of the no-no’s, supposedly. But as a result of that, we were able to get that sheik and about 20 or 30 of the sub-sheiks of this large tribe into a meeting in Baghdad to discuss how we were going to work together.” One of the subordinate sheiks put it bluntly to Mann: “I’m not your friend, but it doesn’t make sense for me to fight you” — for now.

“It quieted down the zone considerably for the duration I was there,” Mann said, “which unfortunately was only about another month.” When Mann’s unit went home, its personal relationships and hardball tactics did not carry over to the follow-on unit. The result was a resumption of violence.

This resumption of violence occurred in Fallujah as well after the clearing operations in 2004, up until Operation Alljah in 2007 when it was finally put to rest.  The primary point here is that the picture painted above doesn’t exactly comport with that painted in FM 3-24.  Yet it was remarkably successful, and Anbar is the model province for peace today in Iraq.  Diplomacy with a gun was practiced throughout the Anbar province by the U.S. Marines.  In other words, the picture painted above by Major Mann is consistent with operations for three years and throughout the terrain in Anbar.  This model is sensitive to the fact that this region of the world had learned to respect diplomacy only when it was coupled with power, something missed in the South where counterinsurgency followed the approach laid out in Northern Ireland.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,The Anbar Narrative and was published May 9th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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