(The full article, cross posted from ePluribus Media.)
I distinctly remember, after the fall of Baghdad, all the self-congratulatory backslapping over the fact that we hadn't needed to conduct brutal house-to-house warfare in Iraq's capital city. Since then, we've been doing a lot of urban fighting. Right now, we're doing a whole bunch of it in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar Province. We're been trying to tame Ramadi since Saddam's statue came tumbling down.
The latest operation to take control of what Dexter Filkins of the New York Times describes as "...the toughest city in the most violent of Iraqi regions" launched on June 18th. Filkins reports that "Whole city blocks here look like a scene from some post-apocalyptic world: row after row of buildings shot up, boarded up, caved in, tumbled down." Many parts of the city are out of control of either American or Iraqi forces.
After prior failed efforts to control the chaos in Ramadi, coalition forces are trying something new. Rather than making a full frontal assault on the entire city, they plan to take the city a neighborhood at a time, and they're using a prime tenet of the "stand up/stand down" strategy. U.S. forces seize territory and round up or kill whatever insurgents they find there. Then they establish a secure outpost and turn the area over to Iraqi troops.
But nobody, including the U.S. commander in Ramadi, expects the Iraqis to take charge any time soon. Col. Sean MacFarland says, "I don't think by this winter we'll be quite ready to turn over completely" to Iraqi forces.
The delay in turning the job over isn't so much a function of readiness of Iraqi troops, but of how many Iraqi troops want to do the job.
How Long Will This Be Going On?
Mister Bush has said that Iraq's future is in the hands of its new government. But it appears that the new government's army doesn't want to get its hands too dirty in the course of forging the country's future.
Lieutenant Colonel Raad Niaf Haroosh, commander of the Iraqi battalion in Ramidi, only has 145 of his troops committed to the operation. He left 500 of them back in Mosul. Why? According to Colonel Raad, it's because they fear that they'll create tribal vendettas if they kill fellow Iraqis. "They said, 'We don't want fight our own people.'"
Isn't that dandy? NPR reports that recruits have to pay a $600 bribe to get into Colonel Raad's battalion. If I could serve in a battalion where I didn't have to fight if I didn't want to, I'd pay money to get into it too. Staying back at the base and peeling potatoes beats the heck out of getting shot at.
My time at the U.S. Naval War College and subsequent study of military art tells me there are no absolutes in armed conflict. All wars are the same, and they're all different. But a fairly reliable rule of thumb says that if you're going to conduct a counterinsurgency operation in your own country, your own soldiers are going to have to kill some of their countrymen, including some who are related to those soldiers through blood, marriage, and extended tribal ties. If you can't get your soldiers to do that, you're not going to conduct much of a counterinsurgency. Moreover, if you can only employ a fraction of any given unit to an operation, none of your units will ever be at full combat effectiveness no matter how well equipped or trained the individuals may be.
And as the Times' Filkins points out, this situation is not unique to the present operation in Ramadi. It has been endemic throughout the stand up/stand down process. If this optional participation policy is anybody's idea of "standing up," I'd hate to see what they consider "sitting down on the job." This critical vulnerability in the stand up/stand down strategy won't go away. We can't wave a magic wand and un-relate people.
We've arrived at a point where we're fighting Iraqis because the Iraqis don't want to fight among themselves. How many American troops are in harm's way in Ramadi right now because 500 Iraqi soldiers got to sit this dance out and wax the floors in the barracks instead?
Are we showing resolve in Iraq, or are we being played for chumps? Getting into a bar fight over a girl you just met shows resolve. Waking up in jail the next morning with a black eye and two missing teeth shows how stupid you are.
Iraq has turned into a goat rope tied in a Gordian knot wrapped around a Mobius strip. How did the mightiest nation in human history let itself get into such a bind?
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.