Listening to Those Who Know
The Washington Times
December 24, 2006
President Bush has been asking a lot of peoplewhat he should do next in Iraq. But he won't be consulting with Travis Patriquin.Captain Patriquin possessed two qualities most of those offering Mr. Bush advice do not. He'd been in Iraq for a lot more than a couple of days, and he spoke fluent Arabic.
A former Special Forces officer then assigned to the First Armored Division, Capt. Patriquin, 32, was killed in Ramadi Dec. 6. But he left behind an 18-page briefing on "How to Win the War in al Anbar" so simple (with stick figure drawings) that even the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee could understand it.
Americans can't win in Anbar (populated almost entirely by Sunni Arabs) by fighting the insurgents, because they can't tell "the good Iraqis from the bad Iraqis," Capt. Patriquin said.
Iraqi army units (composed almost entirely of Shias and Kurds from outside the area) have the same problem, he said.
The solution is to work with tribal sheikhs who oppose al Qaida and their militias, Capt. Patriquin said. Sheikhs have been authority figures in Anbar for 14,000 years, and they and their militias know who's who.
Give the sheikhs respect and government contracts, and recruit their militias into the local police, Capt. Patriquin said.
Soldier-blogger "Teflon Don" says Capt. Patriquin's approach works:
"A local sheikh came to the Army unit in charge of the sector he lived in, announced he wanted to fight the insurgents, and asked for help in doing so," he wrote Nov. 29. "To demonstrate his commitment, he organized his militia and began to quell some of the violence in the sector. With days, indirect fire attacks against U.S. bases dropped to nearly zero."
Sir Thomas Gresham noted that: "bad money drives out good." (When two precious metals are in circulation as currency, people spend the silver and hoard the gold.)
A kind of Gresham's Law applies in politics and journalism. Bad advice drives out good. The recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (composed of 10 famous people who know next to nothing about either the military or the Middle East) received enormous attention from the news media. But the report last week from people who actually know what they're talking about received little.
Aside from the surreal recommendation that we ask our enemies, Iran and Syria, for help in quelling the violence they are largely responsible for fomenting, the ISG recommended, essentially, that we do more of what hasn’t worked very well.
General Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the Army, and former West Point professor Frederick Kagan have a different view. They headed a study group for the American Enterprise Institute which issued its report Dec. 14. They think it's about time we tried the only thing that's ever worked in fighting insurgencies.
Every counterinsurgency that's succeeded has done so by protecting civilians from insurgents, Gen. Keane noted.
But protecting Iraqi civilians isn't even formally a mission for U.S. troops, which explains in part why we're doing such a poor job of it, Prof. Kagan said.
The mission given our military by the Bush administration is to train up the Iraqi security forces so we can leave. The Iraqi army and police are getting better. But the situation is deteriorating faster than the capabilities of the Iraqis are increasing.
Gen. Keane and Prof. Kagan want to surge U.S. troop levels by seven brigades (about 30,000 troops) to secure critical neighborhoods in Baghdad and Ramadi.
Along with the increase in the number of troops would be a change in strategy. Currently, after U.S. troops 'clear" a neighborhood, they return to their bases, permitting insurgents to slip back in. Any civilians who cooperated with U.S. or Iraqi troops are subject to retribution, which discourages cooperation. The higher troop levels would permit a constant presence in the disputed neighborhoods.
The AEI study has a specificity the Iraq Study Group report lacked. It identifies the particular mixed Sunni/Shia neighborhoods in Baghdad where the security problem is worst.
"Going big" may be our best hope for success in Iraq. But there is a critical precondition. We must have an Iraqi government willing to crack down on Shia death squads as well as Sunni insurgents.
Establishing this precondition may be why President Bush met at the White House Dec. 4 with Abdul Aziz al Hakim, the Moqtada al Sadr's foremost Shiite rival, and last week with Tariq Hashimi, leader of the largest Sunni party in parliament. Stay tuned.
U.S. Cannot Accept Defeat
By Frederick W. Kagan
America faces a critical moment in Iraq. Sectarian violence threatens to destroy Iraq's government and society and what's left of America's will to fight. Yet the consequences of accepting defeat would be horrendous.
Iran and Iraq's Sunni neighbors would vie for dominance, and the conflict would likely expand throughout the Middle East. Al-Qaeda could establish a base in the ensuing vacuum. Abandoning Iraq to chaos would harm America's vital interests immeasurably.
It is essential, therefore, to adopt a new strategy. We must secure Iraq's population and thereby bring the violence under control, abandoning the failed attempt to hand responsibility over to the Iraqis prematurely.
As we saw in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, military forces, together with political and diplomatic initiatives, can control ethnic and sectarian conflict. A large scale two-year effort to clear and hold critical areas in Baghdad that are the center of sectarian violence in the capital can succeed today. U.S. forces secured Tal Afar in 2005 and parts of Sadr City in 2004.
U.S. commanders admit that recent attempts to gain control of Baghdad in Operation Together Forward II failed through lack of resources. Many neighborhoods were cleared, but there were too few American troops to maintain security in those areas. U.S. military forces know how to establish security and maintain it, but they cannot do so without the necessary resources and time.
Securing the critical areas of Baghdad would require a surge of at least 35,000 more U.S. combat troops into Iraq (some would go into Anbar province and elsewhere to contain any spillover from Baghdad). This surge would come from extending the tours of soldiers already in Iraq and accelerating the deployment of a few brigades. It would require two years to succeed, accompanied by economic reconstruction and political efforts to strengthen the Iraqi government. Training of the Iraqi army would continue, and the Iraqis would have to take responsibility for their own security at the end of these efforts. They can only do so, however, if we bring the violence down as we train the Iraqis up.
Some argue that these actions would "break" our Army by destroying morale. But with more than a million men under arms, these claims are not credible. The extensions are modest and within the bounds of what the United States has done in this conflict. Above all, let us consider the alternative: A defeated Army would have to withdraw under fire, humiliated, watching as the enemy tortures and kills the Iraqis it had worked with and defended. Nothing would break the Army more surely than ignominious defeat.
The options in Iraq are stark: withdrawal, defeat and regional disaster, or an effort to secure the population to permit the political, economic and social development and national reconciliation needed for Iraq to move forward. The president's determination to win with a comprehensive new strategy isn't stubbornness. It is wisdom.
Frederick W. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq.