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June 23, 2004

Can We Accomplish the Mission In Iraq? « GWOT »

What do we need to do to win in Iraq?

Actually, that's a trick question; the main problem in Iraq is the insurgency, and any military action we take causes as many new problems as it resolves. Furthermore, victory cannot be measured in our achievements, but in what the Iraqis do. We can't stop the violence in our own capital city of Washington DC, how can we stop the violence in Iraq? Thus, our "victory" can only be defined as being able to withdraw all foreign military forces from Iraq with the confidence that it is free, democratic, stable, and possesses enough strength to remain so.

Afghanistan, by comparison, is going quite well. The final victory hasn't been achieved there, either, as many of the warlords still retain their personal militias and are still jockeying for power underneath Karzai, and would displace or replace him with a puppet if they could. But all in all, Afghanistan is much farther down the road to stability and autonomy than is Iraq, and seemingly the gap is larger than the 18 month difference in the initiation of operations in each theater.

Why does Iraq seem to lag behind? Why has Afghanistan been so successful? What needs to happen for Iraq to catch up?

Initially, it seemed there were more similarities than differences. Both nations were suffering under brutal oppressive regimes with strong ties to international terrorist organizations. Both nations had ethnically-diverse populations that should have strong incentives to cooperate in both the battle and the establishment of a democratic government afterwards. We had already selected politically-adept ex-patriots to head the transitional government in each nation until true elections could be carried out.

Unfortunately, it is the differences that have made the biggest difference. The Afghanistan militias were experienced fighters, never fully conquered by the Taliban, and both sides were veterans or trained by veterans of the resistance that drove the USSR out after a decade of warfare. After superior US military technology, training, discipline, and firepower reduced the number and capabilities of the Taliban military, the Afghani warlord militias were able to first defeat the Taliban, then reorganize into a force capable of harrying the Taliban remnants and dealing with pockets of holdouts whenever engaged. In contrast, most Iraqis have experienced decades of oppression in which any person who stands out or rises up was brutally put down, and their relatives punished and tortured. We have spent one year training the Iraqis, but in the most recent crisis against Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, most of the police quit at the first sign of trouble. General Eaton, the officer responsible for training the Iraqi forces responsible for security (both police and military), seems to understand the mistakes he made and is taking steps to correct the problem. Specifically, we need to ensure the Iraqis realize they are fighting for their own country, not for us. It is no longer our fight, and they can no longer stand by and remain uninvolved. I'm sure that many of the police lacked confidence in the professionalism of themselves and their compatriots; thus, when faced with an armed uprising, worries over what would happen to their families if they died were more important than fulfilling their professional obligation. We have reorganized both training and the chain of command for the Iraqi forces. Stability of the government should help reassure them that if they fall in defense of the fledgeling nation, their family will be cared for.

It seems we also were extremely lucky in choosing Hamid Karzai for Afghanistan, and not so lucky with Ahmed Chalabi. Karzai has proven to be an able politicician, playing warlords off against each other and increasing their commitment to the new government with coveted positions in the government. He has made some mistakes, but has always recovered; at times, the warlords have considered trying to replace him with a more tractable puppet, or displacing him with themselves, but Karzai always manages to sidestep such challenges with timely appointments and shifting alliances. Through it all, the people have been impressed by the professionalism of the new Afghan National Army in comparison to the Afghan Militia Forces (regional units comprised largely of the warlords personal armies) and are growing more committed to a strong central government to reduce the day-to-day control the warlords currently possess over the citizens in their region.

Chalabi, on the other hand, had no natural constituency in Iraq and was not well-liked. The Grand Ayatollah Sistani had more direct power over the people, and Chalabi deferred to him. Unfortunately, Sistani had no desire to oversee the transition or maintain stability, other than trying to ensure that his Shia populace obtained the bulk of political power through proportional representation. It's not that Sistani has been an obstacle, merely that he feels his role is limited to that of a religious leader ensuring the fortunes of his followers within a democratic Iraq rather than actively trying to bring about stability in the first place. It is important to note that the Muslim faith is established on the idea of a religious "marketplace of ideas", in which religious leaders gain power only through their ability to sway people to agree and follow their personal vision. There is no way for an Islamic religious leader to "ex-communicate" any Muslim who makes even a pretense of following the Five Pillars of Islam. This is why the Grand Ayatollah feels he cannot order other religious leaders to do anything, whether to stop preaching sermons against the coalition or to encourage them to support the US or transitional government. This is why he didn't do much to stop Muqtada al-Sadr's uprising, other than attempting to counsel him personally. The most any religious leader can really do is issue a religious edict and hope his wisdom and argument are persuasive. In my opinion, the people of Iraq question the legitimacy of an appointed leader like transitional government Prime Minister Allawi enough that this problem won't be resolved until we have a free, fair, and transparent election that results in a government with a clear mandate.

In conclusion, we will win in Iraq when we successfully establish a professional military and police force that is committed to the nation's well-being and survival, and when we have a government that enjoys a firm mandate of the people. Until that time, Iraqi citizens who see their security forces too afraid to fight will be too afraid themselves to help rid themselves of the insurgents and foreign fighters who use the questions of legitimacy as a pretext to continue killing Iraqis.

Posted by Nathan at 09:22 PM | Comments (0)
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