THis is long, and I apologize for that, but it’s not available via a link.
Anyway, it’s an article examining our history against the Iraqi insurgents, and why we are currently on the track toward success. I’d love to hear comments – other than ones that just restate the obvious, namely that we haven’t won yet and things can still go awfully wrong in certain scenarios.
I think it’s a fascinating article, and it does seem to me that we’ve been very successful recently – just look at how Iraq has disappeared from the headlines.
Anyone have any thoughts?
What Went Right
How the U.S. began to quell the insurgency in Iraq
?Do not try to do too much with your own hands. 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.? ? T. E. Lawrence
It is time to say it unequivocally: We are winning in Iraq.
If current trends continue, our counter-insurgent campaign in Iraq will be fit to be mentioned in the same breath as the British victory over a Communist insurgency in Malaysia in the 1950s, a textbook example of this form of war. Our counterinsurgency has gone through the same stages as that of the Brits five decades ago: confusion in the initial reaction to the insurgency, followed by a long period of adjustment, and finally the slow but steady erosion of the insurgency?s military and political base. Even as there has been a steady diet of bad news about Iraq in the media over the last year, even as some hawks have bailed on the war in despair, even as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has become everyone?s whipping boy, the U.S. military has been regaining the strategic upper hand.
This doesn?t mean the war couldn?t still go wrong. ?It?s not over,? says a top officer in Iraq. A key assassination, continued Sunni rejectionism, an inter-sectarian explosion, or something unforeseen ? all could still derail us in Iraq. Nor does it mean that our effort is perfect. ?I give us a B minus,? says an administration official, a tough grader who is nonetheless an optimist. But it does mean that as of mid-April 2005 we are winning, just as surely as we were losing in the darkest days of the dual radical-Shia and radical-Sunni uprisings a year ago.
The basic approach of the Pentagon to the insurgency was right from the beginning. ?The strategy was always political as well as military,? says a Pentagon official. A counterinsurgency is never about simply killing enemy fighters the way it is ? or at least seems ? on a conventional battlefield. Insurgents have an endless capacity to replicate themselves, unless political conditions are created that drain them of support. If top policymakers always knew that intellectually, we have had to stumble our way to finding the correct ways to act on the insight.
Based on conversations with administration officials and key combatant commanders, this is the story of how, two years after the fall of Saddam, the U.S. has begun to win the war for Iraq.
?A NON-FUNCTIONING CITY THE SIZE OF DETROIT?
After a fairly straightforward routing of the dictator?s regime, the military got a nasty surprise. ?We thought that the regime would fall and have a hard landing, but that the society would have a soft landing,? says Maj. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, commanding general of the 1st Armored Division, which had responsibility for Baghdad from Saddam?s fall until April 2004. ?We thought the infrastructure would be good by Middle Eastern and South Asian standards.? Instead, the society had long ago suffered a hard landing, devastated by 30 years of tyranny. General Dempsey says of Baghdad, ?Imagine a non-functioning city the size of Detroit.?
?We found that the electricity infrastructure was incapable of meeting the needs of the city long before we arrived. At no time in the recent past did Baghdad have enough electricity to go 24 hours,? he says. And: ?The sewers were never running at more than 75 percent capacity. When we got there most of the sewage ran into the Tigris through the storm drains.? And: ?Trash was a huge problem. Imagine a city of 6 million where the trash system shuts down for a month.? And there was no one else around to try to fix it.
Dempsey was starting from scratch. He had to go to the Iraqis, and determine who among them could help: ?We tried to figure out who were the emerging leaders, who was trusted in the neighborhoods. We had them prioritize their needs to us. We didn?t know much about the city and that?s how we learned what the city needed.? Then he set 90-day milestones for progress toward putting the city back together again. He drew on funds from CERP, the Commander?s Emergency Reconstruction Program. It was funded with money confiscated from Saddam?s coffers after the war. ?In the traditional army fight,? he explains, ?you can see success in the number of Republican Guard units taken off the map, and in the territory taken. We had to measure success around how we wanted Baghdad to look in June 2004.?
But they were running a losing race against rising expectations. ?Some of them expected that we?d come in and immediately have electricity, sewage, and water working,? Dempsey says of the Iraqis. ?That just wasn?t happening. Some were very accepting and some others weren?t ? that?s probably where you saw some of the insurgency.?
The Sunnis wouldn?t be satisfied, even with improvements. Dempsey explains: ?The Baath party had supplied electricity to the Sunni areas. The [Sunni] Mansour district had 24-hour service. [Shia] Sadr City might have three hours.? He remembers going to brief the city council on his plan to improve and rationalize the electricity system, giving everyone in Baghdad equal service. He expected his eminently reasonable proposal to be welcomed by all. Instead, ?the Shias on the city council were overjoyed; the Sunnis took it as a net loss.?
?WE STARTED GETTING HAMMERED?
That was just a taste of the broader Sunni disaffection from the new Iraq that would help fuel the insurgency. It really began to bite in August 2003. ?We started getting hammered, and we?re saying, ?What?s going on here??? says an administration official. It took time to figure out the nature of the insurgency, putting the military in the uncomfortable position of fighting a complex, multifaceted foe it didn?t entirely understand.
In general, post-invasion Iraq was a tinderbox. ?There are plenty of unemployed men, there is plenty of propaganda from the mosques, and there is plenty of ammunition. All you need to make the insurgency go is money,? says another administration official. And there was plenty of that too, from Saddam?s stash, much of it spirited away to Syria. In restive al-Anbar province, the $200 someone might be paid for an attack against the Americans equals six months? salary. It makes it a good deal, especially if 72 virgins await you if you fail. As the administration official puts it, ?You say, ?What the hell???
Conditions were ideal for an insurgency in other ways. Sunni tribal leaders had made money from smuggling ? smuggling of the sort that fed the insurgency cash, men, and mat?riel from Syria ? for centuries. Previously they had been bought by Saddam; now some of them were bought by the insurgents. And the tribal organization of Iraqi society, with its tight bonds of trust within certain groups, created a natural cell structure for the insurgency.
In the meantime, in formerly repressed Shia slums, such as Sadr City, there was always a latent violence that Saddam?s murderous regime had kept under wraps. ?If you remove that violence from the top, the potential violence from underneath is unleashed,? says an administration official. That is the dynamic that fed a Moqtada al-Sadr, whose father had been killed by Saddam, but who was ready to send armed men into the street to secure an outsize place in the new Iraq.
The insurgents were a formidable challenge to a military with awe-inspiring technological capabilities. ?Our advantages are the range of our weapons and our sensors,? says a Pentagon official. ?Fighting from 50 feet neutralizes those advantages. Fighting in the open, how long could the Iraqis last? Two weeks. The insurgency? It?s two years and counting.?
?We weren?t looking for it,? an administration official says of the insurgency. ?The Army was not ready to fight an insurgency.? Some generals, not all by any means, were still primed for a conventional fight of the sort we planned for against the Soviets in the Cold War or waged against Saddam in the Persian Gulf War. Also, every insurgency is a little different, and is likely to catch even the best-prepared military unawares.
Critics have pounded the Pentagon for the inadequate armoring of Humvees. But Humvees aren?t designed to be used in combat ? ?they are four-wheel-drive pickup trucks with flat sides,? says a Pentagon official. They were inadequate only when their original purpose as behind-the-lines transport was eclipsed by the rise of the front-less insurgency. In the new circumstances, even tanks were inadequately armored. We have lost a stunning 80 M-1 battle tanks. They are most heavily armored in the front to do battle with other tanks. In the streets of Iraq, insurgents attack them from behind.
In countless ways, then, the fight against the insurgency has involved learning and adaptation, and those ways are large (e.g., the order of thousands of armored Humvees) and small. One officer who served in the Sunni Triangle describes getting a tip from an Iraqi who said his neighbor was putting together roadside bombs in his home. ?We said, ?Great, what?s his address??? The streets didn?t have addresses. ?We said, ?Okay, point it out to us.?? He wasn?t willing to take the risk of being seen with Americans. How to raid the right house? Eventually, our troops found a way (although one they would prefer not to see described in print).
The biggest adjustment was one of understanding. Since every insurgency exists in a particular cultural and political context, you can?t fight it effectively until you thoroughly understand that context. That takes on-the-ground experience, and time.
Maj. Gen. Raymond Ordierno commanded the 4th Infantry Division in the Sunni Triangle from April 2004 to the beginning of 2005. ?We suspected some resistance would be left,? he says, ?but we were a bit surprised by the insurgency. We had to adjust how we did business.? He cites the bewildering complex of tribal leaders, family lines, and Baath-party ties: ?We had to understand the relationships.? That required a crash course in tribal Arab culture: ?We don?t understand what it is to be part of a tribe and how they understand family ties. It?s different from our culture. It is difficult. But we are learning it over time.?
?Some say we missed the insurgency entirely, but that?s a bad rap,? says General Dempsey. ?We saw this thing building, but it just takes time to build relationships in that culture.? It was winning the trust of the people ? to get intelligence tips and to deny the insurgents public support ? that was key. But that couldn?t be done overnight: ?In the same circumstance, if we knew exactly what was coming, the culture still would have presented obstacles. If the trust and confidence we had from the public was no better, we weren?t going to get better intelligence than we did initially.?
Slowly, things came into focus. The former regime elements (FREs) were the core of the insurgency. At least some of them were apparently directed by Saddam to secret themselves in safe houses north and south of Baghdad and wait to strike after the U.S. invasion. Others had fled to Syria, which they used as a sanctuary to direct and feed the fight against the Americans. The FREs had a loose system of leadership, but no clear leader.
Their biggest pool of support came from Sunni rejectionists and fence-sitters (e.g., tribal leaders who might be coaxed into becoming rejectionists). On the edges of this core of the insurgency were criminals (Saddam emptied the jails in October 2002 in anticipation of the invasion), foreign Islamists (e.g., Zarqawi), indigenous Islamists (e.g., the Sunni radicals of the Muslim Clerics Association), and Shia extremists like Sadr. ?They hate each other,? an administration official explains, ?but they have a common objective to drive us out.?
The insurgency had a Leninist strategy of ?worse is better.? Make Iraq ungovernable, and perhaps get the chance to regain power. Most fundamentally it sought to sever the sinews of any functioning society ? trust. American officers describe having Iraqi police officers who would talk to them candidly only if they were in a room without any other Iraqis. This atmosphere made working with Iraqis almost impossible. In one case, Iraqi police jumped out of the second-story windows of a police building when they saw Americans coming, to avoid being seen with them. Sometimes Iraqis would patrol only at American gunpoint.
The U.S. strategy became to use every instrument of power at our disposal (military, political, economic, etc.) to drive a wedge between the Sunni fence-sitters and the irredeemable elements of the insurgency ? the criminals, the various Islamists, and the FREs. Attempts would be made to engage the Sunnis, while the other forces would be captured or killed. The strategy involved four main lines of operation ? security, governance, basic services, and the economy ? all of which complemented each other and had the goal of creating a legitimate Iraqi government that could look after its own security.
It was a blending of carrot and stick. There are two ways to try to keep someone from taking $200 to attack Americans: ?You can raise the cost to someone of planting an IED [an Improvised Explosive Device] by making it more likely you will kill him, but also by providing alternatives that make him less likely to want to take the risk in the first place,? says an administration official. Or as an officer in Iraq puts it, ?You can?t kill or capture everybody.?
That?s why infrastructure projects and other economic-development measures are so important. For ordinary Iraqis, who have no taste for the niceties of Leninism, better is simply better. The counterinsurgency is reminiscent of Rudy Giuliani?s fight against crime in New York City. There is the same tough-minded commitment to taking down the bad guys, coupled with attention to the broader conditions ? the ?broken windows? ? that foster crime, or, in Iraq, insurgents. ?It?s exactly like Rudy Giuliani fighting crime, except the criminals have automatic weapons and 155-rounds,? says a Pentagon official.
?WE REVERSED THE PARADIGM?
April 2004 began a period that ran through November 2004 when the insurgency presented stiff military challenges. In the spring, our position in Iraq seemed precarious to the point of collapse. ?It could have gone either way,? says an administration official. It went the right way, establishing the basis for important political developments.
In April, Moqtada al-Sadr seized key buildings in five southern Shia cities. Immediately, half of the Iraqi National Guard and police walked off the job. It fell to Dempsey?s 1st Armored Division to clean up. By this time, Dempsey and his troops had gotten their footing in Iraqi politics and culture.
?We had a different understanding of the things that make you successful,? Dempsey says. ?A year earlier we might have been too imprecise and heavy-handed. A crucial question was, What is our information campaign? What do we tell the Iraqi people to get them to solve this problem before we have to, and if we have to, to make them see it as very deliberate and precise?? So the information campaign came first, and the military operation was supplementary to it. ?We reversed the paradigm that we had lived with during my first 30 years in the Army,? says Dempsey.
The campaign was about politics as much as military might. Dempsey moved first to take back the government buildings in all five cities. Sadr had an obvious political purpose in taking them in the first place: ?Sovereignty was going to be transferred on 1 July. He wanted to establish a shadow government.? Sadr also took the mosques: ?He took over the mosques for financial reasons. There are significant monies associated with them because of the pilgrims.? This is where it got especially tricky, since the U.S. couldn?t be seen as disrespectful to these religious sites, especially the Mukhaiyam Mosque in Karbala and the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, two of Shia Islam?s holiest sites.
Dempsey didn?t hide his plans, but broadcast them far and wide, publicizing that he was going to systematically take back the cities, leaving Karbala and Najaf ? the most sensitive tasks ? for last. ?We were giving the Iraqi people a sense that we were giving [Sadr] a chance to stand down,? Dempsey says. ?We were telling them that we were going to do it in a responsible fashion.? This was a move calculated to exploit Sadr?s political weakness. His uprising was a challenge not just to the U.S. but to the moderate Shia establishment, and most Shia didn?t appreciate it. ?He was unpopular,? says an administration official. ?He stopped commerce, stopped trade, stopped everyday life in Najaf and Karbala.?
Dempsey realized that the operation needed Iraqi cover. In each area, Dempsey says, ?we tried to find and empower one single Iraqi figure.? For instance, in Najaf, Dempsey took aside one Iraqi leader and told him, ?You are our guy, everything we do, we are going to explain it to you and say it?s because you want us to do it.? The information campaign and this sort of politicking were crucial to the overall campaign?s success. ?It couldn?t have been done the previous year, because we just didn?t understand it,? says Dempsey.
Eventually, he went after Sadr?s forces militarily. He beat them back into the mosques at Karbala and Najaf. ?We decided not to go into the mosques,? says Dempsey. ?It was absolutely the right decision.? There was a negotiated solution, with the U.S. giving up on its demand to arrest Sadr, who was wanted on a murder charge. It was an imperfect solution, but part of what we have learned is to settle for those. Sadr survived to fight another day, but he lost political support during the confrontation, rather than gaining it, as he might have if we had been heavy-handed. ?This was very delicately done,? says an administration official.
The fight in the south was just one part of April?s double nightmare. Sunni militants probably always had a plan for an all-out assault on the U.S. occupation, but Sadr?s uprising provided the perfect opening. ?They took the opportunity to glom on to the Shia uprising with the goal of collapsing the entire coalition effort,? says an administration official. In April, the insurgents attacked 15 different static locations, all of them lines of communications, bridges, roads, or supply routes. ?It was planned and highly organized,? says the official. ?The Sunnis hurt us bad. People at the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] working in the Green Zone were eating off paper plates and food rations were cut.?
But the U.S. held on. Even though it was hard to see at the time, April marked a turning point. ?It was a strategic defeat for them, because they failed in their goals,? an administration official says of the Sunnis. Altogether, it was a bad month for the radicals: ?We killed thousands of Sadr?s guys. We killed a s***load of Sunni extremists. It sent shock waves through both those movements.?
Unfortunately, we started, then aborted, an attack on Fallujah. By the end, Sadr?s forces were holed up in the mosque in Najaf and the Sunni insurgents had been pushed into Fallujah. Not an ideal result, but given how precarious the situation had been, hardly disastrous. And it meant conditions were tolerable enough for the next big political step, the handover of sovereignty from the Coalition Provisional Authority back to the Iraqis.
?LIBERATION RATHER THAN OCCUPATION?
A crucial moment in our Iraq project was little noticed at the time. In October 2003 there were three days of meetings at the Pentagon between top policymakers and CPA head Jerry Bremer and Gen. John Abizaid, head of the United States Central Command, to review where things stood. A decision was made to set deadlines for agreement on the Transitional Administrative Law (a.k.a. the temporary constitution), and, most important, on the termination of the CPA. At the White House, the date of June 30, 2004, was chosen for the handover ? almost by throwing a dart at a calendar. There was nothing special about that date, except that it wasn?t too far in the future.
Bremer had contemplated the CPA?s lasting as long as three years. This would have meant that the occupation ? the prime political liability for the U.S. in Iraq ? would have dragged on and on. The post-invasion difficulties in Iraq have obviously brought plenty of criticisms of the Pentagon, some fair, some not (see my ?What Went Wrong,? NR, October 25, 2004). But as long as there is score-settling, it should be noted that the Pentagon was always consistent in wanting to end the occupation and get to elections as quickly as possible, and events over the last year have vindicated this approach.
?The idea that some of us had right from the beginning was that it was going to be crucial to emphasize the theme of liberation rather than occupation,? says Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy. ?At those October meetings, we got to get the CPA out of existence in the foreseeable future.? Bremer took the decision back to Iraq and held to the deadlines for the Transitional Administrative Law and the handover. The deadlines were important. ?It?s not clear anything would have happened without a deadline,? says Feith.
The transfer unlocked all sorts of positive forces. It meant, most fundamentally, that we realized that ultimate victory over the insurgency would have to be won by the Iraqis, with an assist from the United States. ?The idea,? says an administration official, ?was to have the same relationship as with Karzai in Afghanistan ? we?re there to help him.? This set up an entirely different political dynamic with the insurgency, which was no longer opposing an occupation government. ?Now the insurgents were attacking a lawfully recognized sovereign government,? says one official.
Capable Iraqis were encouraged to step forward in a way they hadn?t been before. ?We were looking at the Iraqis in the summer of 2003,? explains Feith, ?and they were not playing the role that we were hoping. They weren?t stepping forward. There was a reluctance on the part of the Iraqis to play a prominent role in a CPA-led government.?
The transfer put the Iraqis at the forefront of the information campaign against the insurgency. And they knew what would work. The single most effective tool against the insurgency, a TV program that features unflattering interviews with captured insurgents every night at 9 p.m., was an Iraqi inspiration. It is the most watched program in Lt. Gen. David Patreaus, who commanded the 101st Airborne during the assault on Baghdad and afterward and now is in charge of training Iraqis, says, ?As an Iraqi told me the other day, ?We have seen the face of the insurgency and it is ugly.? There is nothing romantic or uplifting about the insurgents or what they are doing. They are just thugs and brutal criminals.?
Finally, the Iraqi interim government gave the Iraqi security forces something at the very top of the chain of command to which they could be loyal. Within months, their performance had improved. ?They had a sense that they were fighting for their own government,? says Feith.
The U.S. had begun to piece together the puzzle of a successful counterinsurgency, and a big part of it was relinquishing political control, rather than monopolizing it. T. E. Lawrence had it right in his long-ago admonition to hand as much responsibility as possible to indigenous forces, even if they aren?t fully prepared. Says an administration official, ?He knew how to deal with the Arabs. We had to learn.?
?A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIGHT?
In the meantime, the military was honing its nontraditional responsibilities down to a kind of art form. By the time he left in April 2004, Dempsey was an Iraq expert: ?I?m from Bayonne, New Jersey. I thought I knew Bayonne. But there is nothing about Baghdad we didn?t know about.? By his departure, the sense of improvement was palpable. ?We brought the city back to life in a very real way,? he says.
Crucially, the information he had picked up on the fly, the hard way, wouldn?t be lost. ?We tried to flatten the learning curve,? says Dempsey. One of Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli?s officers ? Chiarelli?s 1st Cavalry Division would take over Baghdad in April 2004 ? was embedded in Dempsey?s headquarters for four months prior to Chiarelli?s departure for Iraq. ?Dempsey told me we have this $18.4 billion supplemental. He told me before we departed, ?You want to kind of reorient your guys, they are going to have to be overseeing a lot of this,?? says Chiarelli. He took his staff to Austin, Texas, to get seminars from the city management about basic services. ?We knew we weren?t going to make sewer-maintenance engineers out of our guys, but we understood the basics,? says Chiarelli.
So he was ready for what met him in Baghdad. ?Iraqis consistently told us, in varying order, we want the sewers fixed, the electricity fixed, the water fixed, and the trash picked up, and we want jobs and we want security,? says Chiarelli.
That?s what he set about doing. He worked with the governor and mayor, for instance, on improving the trash pickup, and trying to get people to stop throwing their trash on the ground through public-awareness commercials and information campaigns in the schools. Chiarelli acquired a kind of passion for trash, realizing its impact on the city and people?s lives: ?You and I know solid waste is ugly, but in Baghdad when garbage isn?t picked up, in the winter, it rains and runs into the sewers and clogs up the sewers.? He aimed to have trash picked up twice a week in Baghdad?s neighborhoods, and plotted progress toward that goal on a map, with the neighborhoods with no pickup at all marked in red. By the time he left in February 2005, he had achieved 70 percent coverage.
Chiarelli was involved in all aspects of Baghdad, both high and low. He could have been the mayor. ?He took polls,? says one admiring Pentagon official. So he knew, for instance, the level of satisfaction with the electricity service over time. No detail of municipal government was beneath his notice. ?He knows where the sewage is gravity-fed, and where the s*** needs to be pumped,? says the official. And like any good politician he worried about job creation.
Is all this odd for a general? Not in a counterinsurgency. ?It is a different kind of fight,? Chiarelli says. ?It takes more than combat operations to win this fight. If you go after the large number of Iraqis sitting on the fence, you take away the disgruntled folks the insurgency preys on.? You also get better intelligence, including via the five telephone tip lines Chiarelli set up.
The enemy recognized this dynamic too. In August 2004, the 1st Cavalry Division had managed to put 18,000 people to work in Sadr City. ?The insurgents looked at that and said, ?We can?t let them employ our people and fix the things we said they won?t fix,?? Chiarelli says. A fight began in Sadr City. Chiarelli sought to win militarily, but also to drive a wedge between the population and Sadr?s insurgents. The fight was concentrated in the north of Sadr City, so Chiarelli redoubled the infrastructure work in the south: ?We let them in the north look at what was happening in the south. We wanted them to say, ?These guys who are fighting have stopped the improvement, all for what? To have IEDs in the streets???
Farther south, in Najaf, the coalition was confronting Sadr as well. Conditions were more favorable to routing him from the mosque in Najaf after the June handover. Interim prime minister Ayad Allawi and the defense minister were on board the operation, giving it Iraqi cover. And more Iraqi forces were available. They were the ones that operated in closest proximity to the mosque, in the alley right next to the shrine. Eventually, Grand Ayatollah Sistani brokered another deal, this one to remove Sadr?s forces from the mosque entirely.
After Chiarelli beat Moqtada al-Sadr in Sadr City, he kept the focus on rebuilding and employment. The goal was to hire in the neighborhoods, and hire as many people as possible. ?I was upset,? he says, ?when a contractor showed up with a [mechanized] ditch digger; I didn?t want ditch diggers.? He wanted to put shovels in peoples? hands for $5-7 a day. ?We went from 160 attacks a week in August to under 10 attacks each week, at which point it gets hard to differentiate between crime and insurgent attacks,? he says.
You could call Chiarelli?s broad-based approach a kind of humanitarianism, but you also could call it force protection. ?Where we did the infrastructure,? he says, ?we saw the bad guys move out.? This made all the non-military tasks palatable to Chiarelli?s troops: ?Our guys understood, they were safer in the neighborhoods where their projects started. People say, ?You?re doing work you shouldn?t have to do.? Maybe they?re right, but no one else could do it and we were getting shot at and there was no other way to stop the shooting.?
?THEY LIVED, SLEPT WITH THE IRAQIS?
Ultimately, we wanted to hand all the security over to Iraqi forces, but we had a learning curve in training them as well. General Dempsey watched half of the National Guard and police he had trained walk away during Sadr?s first revolt in April 2004. ?Something that I frankly missed is that it is a patronage culture,? Dempsey says. ?For the last 3,500 years the sheik of the tribe is the person you go to to address your needs.? The training of Iraqi forces lacked that kind of local, tribal legitimacy, even though it seemed to be going swimmingly.
?We were paying them ourselves, out of CERP. I was pinning purple hearts on them. They loved us, truly, honestly,? Dempsey explains. But when it came time to confront Sadr?s uprising, the calculation changed entirely. ?They asked, ?Who is the Iraqi face who will empower me to take on fellow Iraqis?? No one. The culture is built on patronage. No patron, off they go.?
Dempsey tried a different approach. He went to tribal leaders and to the political parties, and asked them to give him Iraqis for the military forces. These were people or bodies to whom the Iraqi recruits had a loyalty. ?I would have loved to have had them have an allegiance to a nation called Iraq,? Dempsey says. ?But in 2004 there was no nation called Iraq.?
Meanwhile, a broader reevaluation of the training program was underway. Rumsfeld had been dissatisfied with it as early as December 2003. He sent Maj. Gen. Karl Eikenberry to Iraq to review it and the general made a key recommendation in early 2004: that the training of Iraqi security forces, including the police, be consolidated under one commander.
Initially, each division commander had responsibility for training in his area. The thought was that each region was different, and training should reflect that. That this would create varying standards wasn?t a major concern, since there was an emphasis on pushing sheer numbers out the door to get forces onto the streets to deal with what were expected to be routine policing duties. ?We realized as the insurgency unfolded that the training should be consolidated,? says an administration official. The centralization would create a higher overall standard of quality.
So General Patreaus was put in charge of all training. The police needed more military-style preparation. ?We had built it on a Western, police-force-in-a-democracy model,? says a top officer in Iraq. The training now emphasizes survival skills, force protection, IED-detection, and the use of AK-47s. More emphasis has been placed on the training of units. ?Individual police are important, but they can?t stand up to insurgents,? says the officer, who invokes as a model the special carabinieri units that took down the mafia in Sicily.
Police stations have been hardened and communications have been improved. ?You never want to let the police think that no one is coming to the rescue,? says someone who has monitored the Iraqi performance. ?You never want the response to a call for help to be, ?Well, gosh, we have a lot going on ourselves, we?ll be there in a few hours.? That?s the proximate cause of the crumbling of the police in Mosul [in November].?
Although the military training was always pretty good, it too was toughened ? ?so we could find out who was suffering from tiny-heart syndrome,? says an officer. Professionalism has increased. The Iraqi policy on absenteeism is now fairly stiff. ?If someone is AWOL for seven days, they might as well not come back,? says a top officer. In general, he says, ?Iraqis discipline Iraqis far more effectively than we can.?
The resources being poured into all this are massive: $1.9 billion. Since the June handover, 130,000 AK-47s have been acquired for the Iraqi military and police. And that?s just the beginning of the build-up: 266 million rounds of ammunition; 122,000 pistols; 82,000 Kevlar helmets; 133,000 body-armor suits. The number of sets of body armor alone outstrips the size of the entire British Army by roughly 30,000.
Rumsfeld sent retired general Gary Luck to review the training again at the beginning of this year. Luck had a key insight: ?It was clear the units that had been built,? says an administration official, ?could be used.? Luck advocated a concept called ?teaming and embedding.? Each Iraqi battalion is teamed with an American battalion and mentored and encouraged. Initially, the Americans are in the lead, but over time that will shift so the Americans are only in a support role.
Also, within each Iraqi battalion is an embedded team of Americans. As one Pentagon official describes this practice, which some commanders had already been using in Iraq, ?We built special-forces teams. They lived, slept, crapped with the Iraqis.? The embedded Americans provide intense help in logistics, communications, and tactics ? ?it?s a deeper level of training,? says an administration official. They also are a connection to the teamed American battalion. A Pentagon official explains: ?The Americans all have radios, and on the other end of those radios are artillery, close air support, and MedEvac.?
The benefits of Iraqis? taking the lead security role go beyond lifting the burden from Americans and removing the political irritant of foreign troops. General Patreaus says of the Iraqi police and army units, ?They have an ability to interrogate people very, very rapidly. They speak Arabic. They speak the dialect. They know the neighborhoods. If we did it, we would still be working with the translator and asking, ?Is that Mohammad with an ?a? or Mohammed with an ?e??? The Iraqis will have already gotten the intelligence and be back in the pickup truck heading to the next target.?
There are now 100 operational Iraqi combat battalions, with an average of 750 men each. In March, 6,000 former soldiers and new recruits completed basic training. The Americans involved in this growing training effort call it the ?Mesopotamian Stampede.? It?s like an unruly cattle drive where the challenge is just to keep the herd moving, to keep the momentum going no matter what. ?It?s a drama. Every day there?s something, whether it?s ego management or some individual Iraqi soldier who is doing something. It?s unbelievable,? says an American close to the process. But the herd is growing, and moving ahead.
?YOU CAN?T STOP AND START?
By the end of 2004, the biggest blight on the U.S. counterinsurgency was Fallujah. ?We knew the car bombers were coming on a rat line out of Fallujah into Baghdad,? says an administration official. Every city in Iraq has a section devoted to garages. Fallujah had that, except many of the garages were putting together car bombs. ?It had become a car-bomb factory within a 20-minute drive of West Baghdad,? says an officer in Iraq. There were two insurgent broadcast studios in the city. ?It was so far beyond the pale it wasn?t funny,? says the officer.
Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski, commander of the 1st Marine Division that led the assault on the city, explains: ?The insurgents used Fallujah as a sanctuary, an area where they could re-arm, rest, plan, and execute their attacks toward Baghdad or Ramadi. It was the equivalent of the U.S. having a military base in Iraq. The amount of arms and ordnance we pulled out of there was phenomenal, tons and tons.?
In November 2004, with Iraqi officials in the interim government in place to explain and defend the coming assault and with more Iraqi forces on line, it was time to deal with it. ?We worked the whole thing out with Allawi,? says an administration official. ?He and we prepared the ground. There could have been outrage in the Arab world. There wasn?t. And the Iraqis were able to tolerate it.?
Natonski too did his share of information work in the run-up to the assault: ?We tried to drive a wedge between the insurgents and the people. We dropped leaflets and made broadcasts explaining how elsewhere we were rebuilding, and they were losing water treatment plants and millions in reconstruction funds.?
There were probing attacks throughout the summer and early fall targeting the leadership around Zarqawi. The attacks also created a strategic ruse. ?They thought we were coming from the south,? says an administration official. ?The Marines were camped in the south. The probing raids were deliberately from the south.? So the insurgents oriented their defense toward the south. Instead, we came from the north.
And came in force. ?We learned the lesson from April that you just can?t do it piecemeal. You can?t stop and start, stop and start,? says Natonski. Which doesn?t mean the campaign was indiscriminate or immune to political considerations. For instance, we took the hospital first, which was used by the insurgents as a command-and-control center and to treat their wounded. ?There were military reasons for that,? says an administration official. ?But it was also because the first time, in April, al-Jazeera was in that hospital saying that the Marines were murdering children.?
About 2,000 Iraqi security forces were in the fight. ?We used them in taking down sensitive sites,? says Natonski. ?The hospital was taken with Iraqi commando units in the lead. Several mosques and the government center were taken by the Iraqis.? Iraqis had a particular nose for finding weapons caches and could immediately tell whether detainees were from a foreign country.
Six battalions of Marines and Army troops came slicing down from the north and kept on going. ?The success of the attack,? Natonski explains, ?was based on speed. Tanks and Bradley vehicles penetrated quickly, to be followed by Marine infantry. The rapid penetration disrupted the enemy?s command and control, a lot of it in the Jolan district [in the northeast corner of the city].? Weeks later U.S. troops found insurgents still holed up, awaiting orders that never came.
A favored insurgent tactic was using parked vehicles as bombs. They wanted to call on their cellphone to explode a car at the moment they saw it would do maximum damage. The speed of the U.S. assault disrupted that tactic, according to Natonski: ?If you can either kill them or make them fall back, they can no longer see the vehicles they want to detonate.?
The insurgents were fierce and determined. ?We found a lot of drugs,? says Natonski. ?They looked to be amphetamines, maybe speed. We think many of them were hopped up on drugs.? They also believed they were fighting a horrific foe: ?The second- or third-order effect of Abu Ghraib is that many of the insurgents were brainwashed to think that that was the way they would be treated, so instead of surrender they fought to the death.?
The performance of the U.S. forces was spectacular. Marines got shot and kept on fighting. When the battle ended, there was a rash of reports of previously ignored wounds. ?Headquarters asked, ?Why are you reporting 35 wounded so late??? says Natonski. ?We were reporting them so late because these kids didn?t report it when they were wounded. The Corpsmen bandaged themselves up and stayed in the fight. The Marines at Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir, and Vietnam set the bar pretty high, and they lived up to the standard.?
?WE HAD TURNED THE CORNER?
With more and better Iraqi forces up and running, with the interim government having been established, and with the Najaf and Fallujah campaigns completed, the broad conditions were set for the elections. ?The military strategy was to clean the place up before the elections,? says an administration official. ?Our strategy was to make sure that none of the country was off limits.?
Natonski and others kept up the pressure. The idea was that being aggressive prior to the election would keep the insurgents off balance. ?When you start attacking them, you throw them off their planning cycle,? Natonski says. Washington was intent on holding to the January 30 election date. One Pentagon official explains, ?If we?d slipped that deadline because of the security situation, we?d be saying, ?Look, we?ve lost the country.? It would have been a tremendous victory for the insurgents. January 30 was really a test of strength.?
And of the Iraqi security forces. We identified 26 key cities by population and sought ? mostly successfully ? to have Iraqis in control of local security in them. It was important for Iraqis to see Iraqis taking responsibility. There were roughly 5,200 polling places around the country, protected by 130,000 Iraqis. They provided the security in the inner cordon, closest to the polling places, while Americans handled the outer rings. On Election Day, not one of the polling places was penetrated, and some were protected by the heroic acts of Iraqi security personnel who tackled suicide bombers.
It was a point to which we had been building for a long time. General Chiarelli describes the long-running civic work of his men with neighborhood and district councils as ?a train-the-trainers program. It educated the Iraqis on the elections.? Now it had all paid off in what was a transformative civic statement by ordinary Iraqis. Everyone knew there were death threats against people participating in the election. ?That the Iraqis were willing to mark themselves as having voted,? says Feith, ?that showed not simply broad support for the elections, but amazing depth.?
?After the fall of Fallujah and the elections, we had turned the corner,? says Natonski. Chiarelli agrees: ?We felt it afterwards, what it did to change the psyche of the people.?
In Afghanistan, elections had produced a stirring turnout that gave the government a new boost of legitimacy, made a reassuring statement about U.S. intentions, and further isolated the insurgency politically. The Iraqi elections similarly were not only a step ahead in governance, but were a crucial piece of the information campaign against the insurgents ? and therefore part of the security campaign as well. ?We had all that in mind in the run-up to the Iraqi elections,? says Feith, ?hoping to see the same phenomenon as in Afghanistan. And we have. As different as Afghanistan and Iraq are, the parallels are striking, especially in the importance of the political process to security.?
?TAKE THE HAND OFF THE BICYCLE SEAT?
None of this is to suggest, of course, that Iraq is paradisiacal. Building the Iraqi security forces will take more time. ?An army is about leadership,? says a Pentagon official. ?It takes 20 years to make a lieutenant colonel who can command a battalion in the U.S. military.? If American commanders have had success with small-scale reconstruction projects, the larger-scale effort to restore the country?s oil and electricity is still stumbling. And there are insurgent attacks every day. ?We never defeated the Sunni hardcore in the initial war,? says an administration official. ?That?s the nut we haven?t cracked yet.?
Yet every major indicator in the counterinsurgency is heading in the right direction. If the infrastructure and economy leave much to be desired, they have improved over the immediate post-invasion conditions. Iraqi security forces are better. More intelligence is available, both from tips and because Iraqi forces ? more attuned to local conditions ? are in the fight. Sanctuaries for insurgents have been denied in Iraq?s cities and a little progress has even been made with regard to Syria. (?The resources aren?t flowing as freely from Syria anymore,? an administration official explains. ?The people who lead the insurgency are not as comfortable. They are not sleeping in the same places at night.?) Finally, the political process is on track, even if stumbling blocks remain, and it?s not clear whether the balance of Sunni fence-sitters will participate in it.
All of this is encouraging, especially if you have realistic expectations. ?It?s not the First World,? says Dempsey. ?It?s not us, and if you measured it against us, you will always be dissatisfied.? It?s not as though Iraq had ever been Sweden, after all. One official notes that violent al-Anbar province has always been ?a den of thieves.? ?There will probably be fighting there ten years from now,? he says, ?but it will be against Iraqis, not Americans.?
If success in Iraq is not assured, it is within sight. This is a testament to the resolve of President Bush, the Pentagon?s push to give more responsibility to the Iraqis, the imagination and flexibility of U.S. commanders, and ? above all ? the courage, the can-do willingness to take on any task, and the amazing capabilities of the American soldier and Marine.
The administration?s strategic scheme for success has, since the invasion, seen us moving through stages, from liberation, to occupation, to partnership, to Iraqi self-reliance. Currently, we are in the second phase of the partnership stage, with an elected Iraqi government beginning to take on more responsibility. We could move into self-reliance at the end of the year or the beginning of next, when, if all goes as planned, Iraq will have a permanent constitution and a government elected under it, with its security forces presumably even better prepared than they are now.
As we move down that path, the number of U.S. troops will gradually diminish. There are no hard deadlines. An administration official calls it ?a conditions-based strategy.? ?The longer we carry the burden,? he says, ?the more dependent the Iraqis will be. There is a judgment that the time to take the hand off the bicycle seat is now, after the elections.? Slowly, there will be ?a one-to-one replacement of American units with Iraqi units.?
It is already happening. Iraqis are increasingly in the lead in the nine peaceful provinces in the south. The Kurds are providing security in the three provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan. ?In 12 of 18 provinces of Iraq, by and large, Iraqi security forces are shouldering the work,? says an officer in Iraq. The transfer has begun even in the more troublesome parts of Iraq. The 40th Brigade of the Iraqi Army now patrols the dangerous Haifa Street neighborhood in Baghdad. This is not the precipitous ?exit strategy? demanded by the war?s critics, but a way of achieving the war?s ultimate goal ? a legitimate, representative Iraqi government that can defend itself.
?We don?t have an exit strategy,? says deputy undersecretary of defense William Luti. ?We have a strategy for victory. We?re going to win.?