Yesterday afternoon a reader sent me a link to an MSNBC.com story about the efforts to hand responsibility for some areas in Iraq completely over to Iraqi forces. I didn’t get to post on it right away and, being MSNBC, the story is now about something completely different.
Here is a link in the Detroit Free Press that seems to be more or less what my readers sent: Handover of power to Iraqis to start with some cities
The reader wrote
Personally, I think they need to gather some of the best (and ethnically diverse) soldiers that the Iraqi Army can muster, and put them in control of a major city, one that has had some security problems but not in such a dangerous area that it would threaten to overwhelm them. This should remain in place for a few months, and would accomplish the following:
1. Gives Iraqi troops experience in actually “owning” a city without the coalition forces always there to back them up. These troops could be rotated out to spread this experience to other cities, increasing the Iraqi role across the country.
2. Iraqi troop cohesion, purpose, and morale would (I imagine) improve as a result of a successful “watch”.
3. A successful “watch” over a few months would be a major symbolic victory, both boosting the morale of the Iraqi people, and hurting the morale of the terrorists and insurgents.
4. We can get more of our boys (and girls) home.
This is key. If Iraqis don’t (or can’t) step up to the plate, US soldiers are going to be bearing the bulk of the burden in Iraq for the foreseeable future. If Iraqi forces can perform solidly, these “secret” plans of US and UK draw down that have been attracting so much attention can be put into motion and pretty much everyone everywhere except for the Iraqi insurgents and multilateral suicide bomber alliance will be happier for it.
Now, this has been tried before, and the results were dismal.
First, after the first Stryker Brigade’s successful introduction, Iraqi forces were put in charge of Samarra. The Strykers had pretty much pummeled the insurgency in the city into submission, and things looked okay. The Iraqis moved in January of 2004 when the Strykers moved up to Mosul. By late summer the insurgents were running the city and the Big Red One had to assist in operations to reclear it.
More well-known but far less significant was Fallujah. After the initial Marine push into the city during the uprisings of early 2004, US forces drew back and allowed Iraqi forces to assume control after a deal was struck. That went so well that the Marines and the Army had to retake the city building by building in November.
But the Iraqi Army is far different today than it was then. The troops are far better trained and equipped. A number of major operations over the summer have given many troops badly-needed experience. Since the elections, more Iraqi residents support the Iraqi troops and have become fed up with the insurgents, providing fewer hiding places for the bad guys and more tips to intel groups.
I think we need to do exactly what my reader suggests. We need to pick a spot (or several spots) and give the Iraqis pretty much full control for day-to-day security and operations. If major high-value targets or a coordinated offensive materializes, US troops could support them, but (other than airpower) I’d like to see what the Iraqis can do.
Off the top of my head, I’d wonder if Samarra, Kirkuk, Urbil, Najaf, and maybe even Basrah might not be potential Iraqi-controlled cities. Kirkuk and Urbil, in predominantly-Kurdish areas, and Najaf and Basrah, in the Shiite south, would be high-visibility examples of what Iraqis can expect if things can get under control. Samarra could be a bone tossed to the Sunnis as an act of good faith. In addition, some neighborhoods in Baghdad could go all-Iraqi as a further test and example. Mosul is too close to the Syrian trail, and Fallujah and Ramadi are still too touch-and-go.
We could initially pull the US and multi-national troops (mostly Brits from Basrah) back, staging some as a powerful quick reaction force to be dispatched if any Iraqi forces falter. The rest could be sent on the offensive along the Syrian border, or be used to swamp Ramadi. In any event, even if the Iraqi forces fail, we’d at least have a better idea of where we stand.
Until we try it for real, we won’t know for sure. Until we know for sure, we can’t begin the draw down. Until we begin the draw down, we won’t have a clue whether this has all been worth it.