4 years, 4 months ago
U.S. forces in Iraq may as well be under house arrest according to one Iraqi Colonel.
The Iraqi military has turned down requests from American forces to move unescorted through Baghdad and conduct a raid since the transition of responsibility for urban security at the end of last month, an Iraqi military commander said Monday …
Col. Ali Fadhil, a brigade commander in Baghdad, said the transfer had occurred with minor friction in the capital where violence has dropped dramatically since the sectarian bloodletting and insurgent attacks that swept much of the country in past years.
Fadhil told The Associated Press about two occasions in which Iraqi troops turned down U.S. requests to move around the capital until they had Iraqi escorts, and one instance to conduct a raid, which the Iraqis carried out themselves.
“They are now more passive than before,” he said of U.S. troops. “I also feel that the Americans soldiers are frustrated because they used to have many patrols, but now they cannot. Now, the American soldiers are in prison-like bases as if they are under house-arrest.”
Outside urban areas, where U.S. troops are still free to move without Iraqi approval, Americans are assisting with the search and arrest of insurgents, manning checkpoints and continuing ongoing efforts to train Iraqi forces — from medics to helicopter pilots. U.S. soldiers recently advised Iraqi soldiers during a seven-hour humanitarian aid drop in Diyala province.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the highest-ranking U.S. military officer, Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, downplayed reports of tension. Both said cooperation is going well, and Gates said he has heard nothing to suggest that U.S. forces are in greater danger.
“There clearly are challenges, but I think the leadership is working its way through each one of those challenges,” Mullen said. “So I’m encouraged.”
Gates said he received a report on the issue Monday from the U.S. ground commander, Gen. Ray Odierno.
“He said that the level of cooperation and collaboration with the Iraqi security forces is going much better than is being portrayed publicly and in the media,” Gates told reporters at a Pentagon press conference.
As to whether U.S. forces are under “house arrest,” Gates offered a sly smile.
“It is perhaps a measure of our success in Iraq that politics have come to the country,” Gates said …
Hadi al-Amiri, a lawmaker and member of the parliament’s security and defense committee, said the Americans’ withdrawal from the cities went very smoothly — “like removing a hair from dough.”
Outside of cities, Americans are free to move without Iraqi approval, he said. “They have the right to respond to any attack. In Basra, the Americans have the right to return fire.”
On July 11, an American soldier shot and killed a truck driver, an Iraqi citizen, who did not respond to warnings to stop on a highway north of Baghdad. On July 9, a civilian Iraqi motorist died in a head-on collision with a U.S. Army Stryker vehicle, the lead vehicle of a joint U.S.-Iraqi convoy in western Diyala province.
But things are different under the restrictions in Baghdad.
Fadhil said an American patrol wanted to pass through an area in west Baghdad during daytime hours.
“I prevented them and told them they were not allowed unless they had approval, and even if they had approval, Iraqi forces had to accompany them,” Fadhil said. They were allowed to continue with Iraqi vehicle escorts.
Another time, Fadhil said a U.S. patrol wanted to leave the walled-off Green Zone, which houses the U.S. embassy and Iraqi government headquarters, to travel less than a mile to nearby Muthana Air Base. Again, they were allowed through, but only after Iraqi troops accompanied them.
When an American patrol wanted to arrest an enemy target in a Sunni area of west Baghdad, Fadhil said he told them: “No, you cannot.” He said he told the U.S. troops they had to hand over the tip about the target to Iraqi troops, who later made the arrest.
Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi cited three other incidents in early July when he said U.S. patrols violated the security pact in parts of Baghdad. He said these incidents were addressed at a committee of top U.S. and Iraqi officials, who meet regularly to resolve disagreements that surface about U.S. and Iraqi troop movements.
At the meeting on July 2 — two days after the new rules took effect — the Iraqis were annoyed, said al-Moussawi, who was told details of the tense discussion. The Iraqis complained that U.S. troop patrols in Taji and Shaab in northern Baghdad and Ur in northeast Baghdad were violations of the security pact, Moussawi said. The Iraqis told the Americans that they could conduct patrols only at night and only with permission from the Iraqis.
Minutes of the meeting read by an AP reporter, stated: “The Americans cannot move except from midnight until 5 a.m.”
We learned while previously addressing this issue of Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger’s (commander of the Baghdad division) indignation at these new interpretations of the SOFA.
“Our [Iraqi] partners burn our fuel, drive roads cleared by our Engineers, live in bases built with our money, operate vehicles fixed with our parts, eat food paid for by our contracts, watch our [surveillance] video feeds, serve citizens with our [funds], and benefit from our air cover.”
Time to stop, said we. Let them clear their own roads, develop their own intelligence, provide their own logistics support and do their own operations management. If the ISF fails, then their next overtures to U.S. forces won’t be so haughty. If they succeed, then it’s time to leave Iraq.
But there is something larger in this subsequent report by Iraqi Colonel Ali Fadhil. The reputation of U.S. forces is at stake. If the Iraqi people see U.S. forces as weak, impotent or otherwise in a subservient role to Iraqi forces, then the future of this and all other counterinsurgency campaigns has been placed on the bartering table for turnover and subsequent withdrawal. Eventually U.S. forces must withdraw and the ISF must take over all operations. But in the mean time, for U.S. forces to be in a situation in which they appear to be under effective “house arrest” is not conducive to appearing as the stronger horse (harkening back to UBL’s views that the people naturally gravitate to the stronger horse).
It isn’t good for the morale of the troops, the qualifications of the Army, or the reputation of America for troops to be sitting on FOBs waiting for permission to move from place to place. The best option is to turn over operations in these areas fully and completely (except for force protection, logistics and transit of American nationals), and let the ISF succeed or fail without U.S. air support or logistics. U.S. forces are better off in areas where there is no dispute concerning their authority.
The upshot of this is that U.S. forces have been given a reprieve in their training. The debate rages on concerning training in counterinsurgency tactics versus more conventional warfare. Three U.S. Colonels have written a paper questioning field artillery’s ability to provide fire support to maneuver commanders in more conventional operations. Rather than waste time sitting in FOBs waiting for permission to conduct operations while accompanied by Iraqi Security Forces, the solution is to redeploy to the more rural areas, inform the ISF that they are conducting training operations, and then re-train and qualify at the things that have been languishing during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Iraqi Security Forces can sink or swim on their own until they muzzle their haughty commanders. The benefits of this approach are threefold: (1) The ISF demonstrates whether they are capable of fully independent operations, (2) the U.S. troops cross train in conventional operations that have been languishing, and (3) the reputation of U.S. forces is preserved.
Even if we don’t make the choice to train in fire and maneuver warfare and use of combined arms, U.S. forces can always better themselves by increasing their skill set in language, field medicine (e.g., combat lifesaver), marksmanship and even online college courses. Anything is better than the damage done to American reputation by asking for permission to conduct operations in urban areas.
Finally, the lesson concerning Status of Forces Agreements is don’t enter into them, and even though the bit of history surrounding the Iraq-U.S. SOFA cannot be recapitulated, we can refuse such agreements in Afghanistan because we have seen the debacle it can become.