Major General Caldwell on the Iraqi Security Forces
By WILLIAM B. CALDWELL IV
Published on: 09/29/06
Let's put the bad news up front: Extremist elements in Iraq are vying for political and economic power and are seeking to take advantage of this delicate stage of transition in Iraq's history.
Sunni and Shia extremists are using brutal and provocative tactics against one another. Baghdad is the center of gravity for this increasingly sectarian conflict. There are also foreign terrorists infiltrating the borders, renegade death squads, an insurgency and foreign governments who seek to exert influence on Iraqi politics.
This, however, is only part of Iraq's present story. The violence belies the gradual but remarkable transformation this nation is experiencing.
Three years ago, there were virtually no security forces in Iraq. Today, Iraqis are standing up in military and police forces that number more than 300,000. In coming months, the coalition and the Iraqi government will reach the goal of 325,000 trained and equipped force members.
Quality is improving with quantity. In April 2004, almost all Iraqi forces fled in the face of a militia uprising in Najaf. This August, when militia attacked an Iraqi army outpost in Diwaniyah, the Iraqi army counterattacked and killed 50 militiamen.
By the end of August, Iraq's special-ops brigade, with U.S. combat advisers, had netted 1,320 detainees in 445 operations all over the country this year, including three senior militia leaders and 20 most-wanted individuals. This month, Iraqi forces provided a safe environment for more than 4 million Shiite pilgrims celebrating the birth of the 12th Imam. And it was Iraqi forces operating independently who recently captured a major al-Qaida in Iraq leader, Abu Hammam.
A functioning command structure is in place. This month, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki became commander in chief of Iraq's military in more than name only. That is, the Ministry of Defense and the Joint Headquarters — who report to the prime minister — assumed operational control of the Iraqi ground forces command, navy and air force. Before Sept. 7, coalition forces exercised control of all of Iraq's military. Now, two of Iraq's 10 army divisions fall under this command structure. More will soon follow.
Security will only improve with simultaneous political and economic progress. Under Saddam Hussein, government served the will of the dictator and primarily served one sect. Today, Iraqis are learning to share power and wealth.
Local governments — provinces, districts or neighborhoods — are beginning to take responsibility for their citizens. The government must work to heal the wounds of this fractured society by getting all factions to reconcile.
In Baghdad, several hundred Iraqi civil society representatives renounced violence this past weekend at the second of four conferences that are part of Maliki's overall 24-point national reconciliation and dialogue plan.
The Iraqi government met with representatives of neighboring and European countries to form an "international compact," aimed at getting help to transform Iraq's economy.
Iraq's new unity government is moving forward and will continue grappling with tough political challenges, such as how to balance power between central and regional governments (federalism) and how to divvy up the country's oil revenues. But Iraqis have succeeded in setting a road map for resolving these essential issues. We must maintain the patience to allow their critical efforts to come to fruition.
•U.S. Army Maj. General William B. Caldwell IV is spokesman for Multi-National Forces-Iraq and is currently stationed in Baghdad.
I would add one other point that the General could not discuss in the 530 word limit given to him by the AJC. The development of an effective Iraqi Security Force is critical to winning the counterinsurgency battle we are fighting in Iraq. A cornerstone of modern counterinsurgency theory is the vital importance of training an indigenous security force. As Jonathan Nagl notes in the preface to his excellent book “Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife”:
Local forces have inherent advantages over outsiders in a counterinsurgency campaign. They can gain intelligence through the public support that naturally adheres to a nation’s own armed forces. They don’t need to allocate translators to combat patrols. They understand the tribal loyalties and family relationships that play such an important role in the politics and economies of many developing nations. They have an innate understanding of local patters of behavior that is simply unattainable by foreigners. All these advantages make local forces enormously effective counterinsurgents.
This is why in his classic work on guerrilla warfare in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence wrote, “Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them.”
In the face of daily acts of barbarity perpetrated in Iraq, it is understandable that Americans question whether we are making progress in establishing a free and prosperous country. Unlike the conventional wars that comprise the greater part of the American military experience, counterinsurgencies are long, messy affairs that do not provide clear metrics such as lines of advance by which we can mark progress. However, the remarkable success we have witnessed in training, equipping, and developing the Iraqi Security Forces strongly suggest that we are on the right track.