Preamble & Introduction
The progress in pacification of Ramadi is well worn news now, and the next largest city in Anbar was a hard city to tame because of different culture (heavy reliance on the Mukhtars as opposed to Sheiks for leadership), but even Fallujah has in large measure been pacified. The Iraqi security forces have withdrawn from Fallujah, and the security of Fallujah is primarily an Iraqi police operation in concert with the U.S. Marines. The face of Anbar is changing to one of constabulary operations.
Even the lamentable assassination of Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha seems to have brought unintended consequences to al Qaeda, as the tribes have vowed to fight them until the “last child of Anbar.”
For the future, as part of their pre-deployment training, U.S. Marines are interested in how the Belfast police work with the military in Northern Ireland.
The US Marines are being sent to Belfast – to learn more about how police and the military can work effectively alongside each other in Iraq.
According to a senior PSNI officer who helped produce a major report on Iraqi security forces for the US Congress, the Marines hope to apply the lessons of Northern Ireland in Anbar province.
Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland, who is in charge of Belfast, said a delegation of US Marines will visit Northern Ireland next month.
Mr McCausland was the only non-American who was a member of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, which inspected the Iraqi military and police this summer and reported to the US Congress just before General David Petraeus.
Mr McCausland said the US Marines, who have helped transform the security situation in Anbar province, are interested in how the RUC and PSNI worked with the British Army and want “to look at some of the aspects we’re involved in”.
Analysis & Commentary
This is indeed a strange experiment. The British have lost Basra as we have previously discussed. We argued that the loss was due in large part to the British soft cover, tepid rules of engagement, and especially the minimal force projection. Since Anbar is probably the safest province in Iraq while Basra has taken Anbar’s place as the most dangerous province in Iraq, it might be argued that the U.S. could learn a “softer approach” much like the British forces in Northern Ireland in order to embed with the Iraqi Police effectively.
But this argument misses the point, and in the superlative degree. The British – some of them – have managed to see the problem with their Basra experience.
At first we were pretty condescending to the Americans, insisting that our light touch, learned in Northern Ireland, was far more effective than their alleged heavy-handedness. We were wrong. Basra is not Londonderry. Our ever-lower profile was seen by local militias — and the public — as weakness. As a result the militia grewstronger and stronger, and now Basra is a town of warring gangs. We never committed enough — and we reduced our numbers much too soon. We now have only 5,000 men and women in Basra.
Iraq had been brutalized by the savagery of more than two decades under Saddam Hussein, had suffered eight years of the Iran-Iraq war, was divided by religious sect and tribal allegiance, and was sitting on top of one of the world’s largest oil reserves in Basra, ripe for criminal gangs, thugs, thieves and greedy sheiks to assert power and become wealthy. Into this the British brought an approach that they had used before.
The message received by the British public was that this softly-softly approach would – thanks to experience in Northern Ireland and elsewhere – succeed in a peacekeeping mission where the Americans’ heavy-handed tactics would fail.
It was a view held almost universally in the British army. “British military guys can be totally insufferable about this,” says one retired US general who advises the Bush administration on Iraq … But the days of soft hats and handing sweets to children are now long gone.
The real problem was not soft cover, tepid rules of engagement, or minimal force projection. This model worked in other locales for the British in their history. The real problem was one of cultural ignorance and inexperience that led to these things. Northern Ireland is not the Anbar Provincce any more than it is the Basra Province, and this conflation of tactics has led to Basra being the utter disaster area that it is today. “Children are afraid to go to school,” said Ali Kareem, media officer for the Secretary of Education at Basra provincial council. “And there is a shortage of teachers because many female teachers have quit due to the violence.”
But there is a better way to train for counterinsurgency. We have previously argued that cultural sensitivity and relevance is important in counterinsurgency. We have earlier observed that:
… troops (most of the time) are given some basic instruction in Arabic as part of the training for deployment. This training is based on the philosophy of phonetics (i.e., sounds, proper pronunciation). With limited time, money and resources, this is the best approach and sure to yield the best possible results in the short term. But proper planning for the long war needs to take the next step. Immersion in Arabic (both spoken and written) needs to be part of the planning for not only officers, but enlisted men as well. A better knowledge of Arabic would cause a remarkable step change in warfighting capabilities in Iraq (and throughout the Middle East) given the nature of COIN.
W. Thomas Smith, Jr., recounts a recent experience from Anbar that informs our discussion on cultural awareness and its value.
Whenever Col. Bohm and other officers met with an Iraqi, it was always with an ever-so slight bow, a right hand over the heart followed by an extended right hand; a warm smile and a greeting, “Salam alikom, (peace unto you), my friend.