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March 04, 2007

Hope Breaks Out In Iraq, Part II

Yesterday, the editorial staff rudely pointed out that hope (like that annoying bluebird of happiness which flies right up your nose when you least expect it) seems to be breaking out in Iraq. Today we continue to rain on John Murtha's 'redeployment' parade. Three separate sources in this morning's reading seemed to reinforce the same message. There are early indications that even before all the "surge" troops are in place, the new tactics are taking effect. This is seen in three ways: violence is down, intelligence tips and recruiting for the IA/IP are up, and most importantly - and this is crucial - when terrorist attacks do occur, they are no longer quite so successful in inciting sectarian reprisals. It is quite possible that just as a string of small setbacks can easily demoralize and bog down an army, so a series of small victories establish a momentum that compounds like interest in the bank, acting as a force multiplier. Ralph Peters reports:

Of the five additional U.S. brigades headed for Baghdad, only one is in place, with the second starting to arrive. Yet the city is already quieter and safer. The terrorists continue to detonate their bombs - with suicidal fanatics targeting the innocent - but sectarian killings (death-squad hits) have dropped from over 50 each night down to single digits.

* The tactic of stationing U.S. units and their Iraqi counterparts down in the Baghdad 'hoods is already paying off. (It should have been used from the outset - instead of hunkering down on massive bases. But better late than never.) The effort has triggered a flood of intelligence tips: When citizens feel safe, they cooperate. And when they help us, our success compounds.

* We hear the bad news from the rest of Iraq, such as this week's monstrous car bombing of children at play on a soccer field in Ramadi, but we don't hear that such attacks by al Qaeda operatives have infuriated mainstream Sunni sheiks and their tribes - who increasingly make common cause with us and their government. And winning over the Sunni "middle" is crucial to Iraq's future.

* We'll never stop all suicide bombers and car bombers, but our security crackdown has already taken out two major Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) factories. And we took down a huge arms cache late last week.

Via McQ, Bing West's Iraq report gives a broader picture:

In Anbar about 60% of the tribes are tilting toward the Marines and fighting the al-Qaeda types. Police ranks are swelling with tribal members. Anbar is improving, but how the Sunni tribes will work with the Iraqi Army, let alone the central government, is moot.

Prognosis for the next six months: Progress but no breakthroughs. The central government has to woo the sheiks and offer terms, figure out how police chiefs and Iraqi army commanders share power in the cities, and crack down on the insurgents captured in Anbar (put them away for life). Jails in Anbar are filling up, and the central government is not stepping up.

In Baghdad, as the Shiite ethnic cleansing advances, the front lines are easily marked by the blocks of abandoned houses. Checking the cleansing can be done by military means – barriers, patrols and the like. The Americans are likely to stop this and turn around the trend.

West nails what he calls the Achilles heel of the coalition plan:

Also in Baghdad, the Sunni extremists strike with suicidal murderers and car bombs. It is unlikely, given a million cars, that a technique will be developed to curtail this inside six months. In most countries, bombers are stopped by effective policing and spy networks, and Iraq is years away from that. This is the Achilles Heel. No matter the progress on other fronts, the persistence of gore and Shiite mass deaths is likely to continue to fuel hatred.

What, then, is the biggest problem? How the Americans can infuse into the Iraqi army and police in Baghdad a sense of mission and even-handedness such that the Americans can withdraw from neighborhoods in eight to twelve months without backsliding.

Existing American military tactics and techniques are adequate to staunch the ethnic cleansing; to transfer those conops or to design substitute techniques that the Iraqi army and police can use – and to meld the army and police into a unity of effort – is a far more problematic task. On the other hand, I’ve seen enough examples of tough Iraqi leadership at the battalion and police chief level to believe that some leadership is emerging. Right now, though, the glue is the presence of the American troops. They have to be out on the streets first, then the Iraqi forces fall in behind them.

The places in Baghdad where I saw clean streets, open shops, and guards on every corner were the Shiite areas. It’s too early to tell whether we’re dealing with a rope-a-dope feint by the Shiite politicians. It is in their short-term interests for them to help us purge bad elements, and restore order and services. But whether they believe a compromise with the Sunnis is possible or necessary – who knows?

All in all, an assessment I can live with. West also has an excellent analysis of how police tactics should be brought to bear in Iraq as we transition from American to Iraqi control. Since my son is a police officer I found this particularly interesting, and I think it's spot on since I believe where the wheels are likely to fall off during the transition is the deplorable state of the Iraqi justice system. McQ comments:

Improving metrics for a police war. In essence, Iraq is now a police war. Yet our briefings, our metrics and our frame of reference – how we organize, analyze and solve problems – are military. Our basic tool to combat this insurgency and sectarian war is the patrol, too often mounted. In contrast, a police station – the equivalent of our Combat Outpost – is divided into patrolmen and detectives (of which we are woefully short because we have not thought in those terms.)

It would be interesting to invite a few senior cops from the States to visit, say, Ramadi and three districts in Baghdad. Then ask them to present how they would organize their daily brief – what metrics they would demand from their police subordinates and what conops they would put in place.

He has a point. Somewhere along the line this must transition into a police action vs. a military action. How and when does that transition take place and what are the metrics and frame of reference for that kind of action? I like his final paragraph. It's a good idea and would help in the development of those metrics and that frame of reference, allowing the transition to be planned and executed efficiently.

I agree, largely because of West's final comment:

Trust will decide this war. We know the essence of the problem: Whether the Iraqi central government and security forces are led by deceivers who tell us they believe in a stable federation with power-sharing, while they abet sectarian division. In my most recent visit, there was the pervasive, open acknowledgement by the police, IA and the residents that they trusted the Americans, but not each other.

For democracy and the rule of law to survive, there must be trust, not just in the fairness of the laws, but that that will be enforced fairly. Right now that is the missing piece in Iraq, and good policing is the first step to establishing that trust.

As to the political commitment, it's anyone's guess, but even here the early indications are heartening. Haider Ajina translates a news article from Iraq’s ‘Alsabah Aljadeed or New Sabah’ of Feb 26 2007:

Al-Maliki said, ‘Baghdad security plan will spread to other provinces as soon as it is successful in calming Baghdad. I am very optimistic about this plan, because of the support and cooperation between civilians and the security forces. There will be no peace for all the outlaws and all must know there will not be a country or security unless Laws rule. The government alone has the responsibility for the security of its citizen’s and national security’. He added, ‘the country will pursue all outlaws regardless of their affiliation. There will be no leniency for any outlaw and all security procedures will be implemented with out hesitation and completely devoid of political influence.

The PM pointed out the positive outcomes of the operation over the last few days. Dismantling a number of terrorist cells, the foiling of many plots to kill civilians and the return of hundreds of families to their original homes. The country will provide returning families with security as well as financial rewards for damages. I promise that security officers will stay until security is achieved.

His father tells of the changes he has seen already:

I spoke to my father in Baghdad, he said that the street is very impressed by the operation and receiving much cooperation from the people. They have done in four days what we thought would take them over a month. Shiites love the Americans and want them stay to help the Iraqi security stand on its feet he said. He also told me the street knows that Iran is no great friend of Iraq. Reading the PM, Al-Maliki, order the soldiers to respect the rights of the individual is still amazing to me. What large difference from just four short years ago. I am not worried about my family from the security forces; I am only worried about them from the terrorist. Before we liberated Iraq the security force were who worried me. This is the same sentiment my family has in Baghdad and Nejef. They now trust and look to the security forces for help. What a turn around, and all squarely due to our training of these new Iraqis and the Iraqi’s willingness to learn and serve. There have been problems with some of the security personnel and most of those are being and have been addressed, as is evident from the PM’s directive of nondiscrimination and no favoritism. The support of the average citizen in Baghdad for this operation is nothing short of remarkable. Of course, this only comes if the citizens feel safe tipping off the Iraqi security forces. This also shows that the terrorists are loosing much of their support base in Iraq.

Omar, too, is hopeful:

As we noted in earlier reports, we feel safer about moving around in the city now than we did a month before. I have recently been to districts in Baghdad where a month or two ago I wouldn’t have thought of going to. In the last week or two I’ve showed my ID to soldiers and policemen in checkpoints dozens of times. A few months ago this was considered an extremely risky thing to do — especially for someone whose ID shows a name and profession such as mine. “Omar” is a pure Sunni name and everyone here knows that scores of young Baghdadi men were killed by death squads just because they had the name.

...While many Iraqi families are returning to the homes they once were forced to leave, there are also Baghdadis who are reopening their stores, ending the months they spent out of business because of violence and intimidation. Some streets that were virtually deserted a few months ago are slowly showing signs of returning to life.
The reopening stores even include some liquor shops! There are two stores on one street that I used to shop that closed early last year when their owners received death threats from the insurgents and the militias. Yesterday I walked through that street and, to my amazement, I found both stores open and back in business.

Of course the reopening of two liquor stores is no big deal by itself when we are talking about a city where thousands of businesses are still shuttered. I regard this as a further positive sign of a change in Baghdad’s daily life. It means that those shopkeepers are leaving their fear behind, and openly ignoring the threats of militias and insurgents who once ruled the streets and intimidated the people with threats and violence.

The results of Operation “Imposing Law” are not magical. We didn’t expect them to be magical. The commanders didn’t claim they’d be when the Operation began. Still these latest developments are certainly promising. And let’s not forget that what has been achieved so far was achieved while many thousands of the new troops assigned to Baghdad are yet to arrive.

It has been such a long time coming, but somehow I can't help but find it funny that the breaking of the logjam is signalled by - among other things - the appearance of... liquor! My mind flashes back to another Spring, back in 2003, and the liberation of Najaf:

In the giddy spirit of the day, nothing could quite top the wish list bellowed out by one man in the throng of people greeting American troops from the 101st Airborne Division who marched into town today.

What, the man was asked, did he hope to see now that the Baath Party had been driven from power in his town? What would the Americans bring?

"Democracy," the man said, his voice rising to lift each word to greater prominence. "Whiskey. And sexy!"

Around him, the crowd roared its approval.

And so everything old is new again. Democracy. Whisky. Sexy. Well, we gave them the chance to build a democracy: Iraq has a Constitution, and elections, and a parliament, though she still has a long way to go before those institutions gain legitimacy in the eyes of the people. But that is the nature of democracies and the Iraqis are going to have to fight both their own history and each other to make Iraq both a just and a humane country.

It appears the whiskey has shown up.

We're working on the sexy.

After such a long winter, we are ready to feel the warmth of the sun once again on our faces. Would it not be a wondrous blessing to be able to resurrect three more old words and rejoice in the sound of them?

Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Posted by Cassandra at March 4, 2007 12:04 PM

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Great to see the good news leaking out. Just hope enough of it makes the MSM rethink their squashing of positives in favor of negatives. Every report lists the number of US casualties with nary a mention of the damage done to the other side.

By the way:"* We hear the bad news from the rest of Iraq, such as this week's monstrous car bombing of children at play on a soccer field in Ramadi,..." I thought this story was proven to be a fabrication. That in fact there was a detonation of a cache of explosives by the good guys and that blast turned out to be larger than expected. Several injured kids, all of whom were taken to hospital for care. No car bomb at all.

Posted by: joated at March 4, 2007 04:24 PM

"Democracy,Whiskey,Sexy", used to be the name of a blog that came out right after we invaded Iraq.

I can't remember the particulars, but I believe it was said by an Iraqi man in a TV interview during the toppeling of Saddam's statue.

As far as the good news goes, all one has to do is take a look at CENTCOMs Press Releases.
Out of 20 stories last week, only 17 were good news.
The rest of them were bad news, and the MSN made sure we were graphicly informed of all 3.

Posted by: Joatmoaf at March 4, 2007 05:36 PM

Once again the press plays whack-a-mole with hope.

Posted by: Cricket at March 4, 2007 07:02 PM

As we know, it doesn't work that way, people. The fishwrap below will lead, just as it did, below.

If it's good news somewhere, there must be bad news elsewhere.. and by God, there going to print it.

Posted by: El Cid at March 4, 2007 07:39 PM

Pisser, but that's our defenders of terror.

Posted by: El Cid at March 4, 2007 07:41 PM

Nooooooo! Let me dream! :p

Posted by: Cassandra at March 4, 2007 07:43 PM

In my first post, there is archaic Slovakian for they are

Posted by: El Cid at March 4, 2007 07:45 PM

Greyhawk wrote a great post today along similar lines, but of course without your singular way with words. ;)


Actually, all of his last three or four posts should be required reading for those looking for encouragement about Iraq. Good things are happening... let's hope they stay.

Posted by: FbL at March 4, 2007 07:47 PM

Ummmm, screwed the pooch again...it IS the second there that is the "archaic Slovakian".

Damn, soun asin I git threw with these here englis lesons, I gonna be reel gooder at this here shit.

Posted by: El Cid at March 4, 2007 07:50 PM

I talked yesterday to one of the Shire battalion currently over there ... he confirms that things are much better now the surge appears to be working, and he has glowing remarks for the new leadership.

Posted by: Frodo at March 5, 2007 09:53 AM

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