The Iraqi Plan

The Iraqi National Security Adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, published the new Iraqi government’s security plans in this Washington Post article.

The plan is to progressively turn over security governate by governate.

Iraq has a total of 18 governates, which are at differing stages in terms of security. Each will eventually take control of its own security situation, barring a major crisis. But before this happens, each governate will have to meet stringent minimum requirements as a condition of being granted control. For example, the threat assessment of terrorist activities must be low or on a downward trend. Local police and the Iraqi army must be deemed capable of dealing with criminal gangs, armed groups and militias, and border control. There must be a clear and functioning command-and-control center overseen by the governor, with direct communication to the prime minister’s situation room.

al-Rubaie also cites the specifics of the current security situation:

Despite the seemingly endless spiral of violence in Iraq today, such a plan is already in place. All the governors have been notified and briefed on the end objective. The current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has approved the plan, as have the coalition forces, and assessments of each province have already been done. Nobody believes this is going to be an easy task, but there is Iraqi and coalition resolve to start taking the final steps to have a fully responsible Iraqi government accountable to its people for their governance and security. Thus far four of the 18 provinces are ready for the transfer of power — two in the north (Irbil and Sulaymaniyah) and two in the south (Maysan and Muthanna). Nine more provinces are nearly ready.

Does this plan have any chance of success? I think so for several reasons. First, a key and underestimated factor all along in Iraq has been that there is a strong desire on the part of Iraqis to take advantage of the opportunity to form a democratic government. The prime motivator being 23 years of tyranny during which time something approaching half a million people were killed by Saddam over and above those who died in wars. That experience, I believe, has been the glue that has kept Iraqis working toward a better government despite old enmities and sectarian divisions. I believe both the Bush administration and the anti war movement have underestimated Iraqi determination to achieve decent self government. The former was initially insensitive to it and slow to harness it, the latter have ignored it or argued outright that the Iraq people are incapable of achieving it.

al-Rubaie puts this point this way:

It has taken what some feel is an eternity to form a government of national unity. This has not been an easy or enviable task, but it represents a significant achievement, considering that many new ministers are working in partisan situations, often with people with whom they share a history of enmity and distrust.

A second reason for there being a real chance of success is that it is a very different matter when troops and police representing the elected government go about establishing security than when foreign troops are doing the job.

The eventual removal of coalition troops from Iraqi streets will help the Iraqis, who now see foreign troops as occupiers rather than the liberators they were meant to be. It will remove psychological barriers and the reason that many Iraqis joined the so-called resistance in the first place. The removal of troops will also allow the Iraqi government to engage with some of our neighbors that have to date been at the very least sympathetic to the resistance because of what they call the “coalition occupation.” If the sectarian issue continues to cause conflict with Iraq’s neighbors, this matter needs to be addressed urgently and openly — not in the guise of aversion to the presence of foreign troops.

Yes, the presence foreign troops – particular combat troops – causes friction. Notice that al-Rubaie uses the phrase “removal of coalition troops from Iraqi streets” The presence of foreign troops always causes resistance and the longer it goes on the sicker the population and the foreign troops get of the arrangement. It is a recipe for quagmire and that is why al-Rubaie is dead right that we have to get the foreign, particularly combat, troops off the street. The process of turning over the war to local forces is an area where there is a valid parallel to the Vietnam conflict. The US didn’t begin Vietnamization until 1968. Iraqization was announced in less than a year after the invasion, and the occupation authority was dropped and an interim government installed by June 2004 – just over a year after the invasion. The US military did learn from Vietnam after all.

A further benefit not referred to directly by al-Rubaie is that once the combat role is taken over by the Iraqi army there will be none of the triangulation among Iraqi government, locals and Coalition forces that we have seen in Fallujah or currently Ramidi. Those currently resisting in Ramidi, for example, will know they are dealing with the Iraqi government and facing the that government’s army. The politics of this kind of situation is why the offer of amnesty to those who are only guilty of fighting foreign forces is potentially very effective at splitting the resistance.

Those of us who follow military events in Iraq closely know the Iraqi Army has made real progress at being effective and able to plan and carry out operations on their own. They will continue to need logistical support and, in the absence of an Iraqi Air Force, air support. Training the Iraqi police has not progressed as far as training the Army and an effective national police will be absolutely critical for the Iraqi plan to succeed. It seems to me that the biggest problem will be replacing the militias with national police for local security and that this will be most difficult in radical Shia areas where Sadr and his like enjoy great popularity and influence. Remember that these radical Shia factions are part of the government.

I don’t want to minimize the potential for the situation getting out of control and Iraq falling apart – perhaps even becoming three countries in the process. At the same time this is the first time we have a properly elected Iraqi government in place taking control of the situation. This is not a subservient government hand picked by the US, but one representative of Iraqis and brought into its final form through a long process of negotiation. Therefore I think it is fair to say we are entering a genuinely new phase in the conflict and over the next six months the dynamics of the situation should shift from a war for regime change fought by outsiders to the struggle of that new regime to assert itself by increasingly using Iraqi soldiers and policemen as the basis for security.

If the Iraqi government is succeeding with their plan I would expect a lasting downward trend in Coalition casualties. I would also expect to see festering situations in the Sunni triangle like Ramidi move toward resolution more quickly – peacefully or otherwise. I think the Iraqi government will increasingly set the agenda and that the Coalition will have respect the will of the Iraqi government even when they don’t like it. Some sparks will fly and I don’t anticipate the problem of militias to resolve it self soon. I expect there will be some serious failures with the Iraqi police given the history of police corruption and solving problems with violence and intimidation. I believe the better trained and US backstopped Army to do better. If the government is failing then of course we will see an increase in violence and no progress in resolving the Sunni insurgency or restraining the Shia militias. We will also discover if al-Qaeda has been seriously and permanently weakened by recent successes and if other foreign fighters continue to be a serious problem. Finally, I think if the Iraqi government can take increased ownership of national security it will be increasingly difficult for Syria and Iran to interfere.

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