So how’s Iraqification going?

Derrick Jackson argued in the Boston Globe last Friday that the U.S. has no exit strategy for Iraq and this is costing us allies: Country by country, the coalition is wilting from such uninspired leadership from the United States. Once Italy, Poland, Ukraine and Netherlands finish jumping ship, the U.S. percentage of the dubious Iraq ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

Derrick Jackson argued in the Boston Globe last Friday that the U.S. has no exit strategy for Iraq and this is costing us allies:

Derrick Jackson argued in the Boston Globe last Friday that the U.S. has no exit strategy for Iraq and this is costing us allies:

Country by country, the coalition is wilting from such uninspired leadership from the United States. Once Italy, Poland, Ukraine and Netherlands finish jumping ship, the U.S. percentage of the dubious Iraq mission will creep to 90 percent from 85 percent. Italy is pulling out because it sees no exit strategy. The coalition of the willing is no longer willing to accept America’s rosy scenario on Iraq.

Jackson cites this Government Accountability Office report detailing the difficulties the United States is having with reconstituting Iraqi security forces. From the abstract:

U.S. government agencies do not report reliable data on the extent to which Iraqi security forces are trained and equipped. As of March 2005, the State Department reported that about 82,000 police forces under the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and about 62,000 military forces under the Iraqi Ministry of Defense have been trained and equipped. However, the reported number of Iraqi police is unreliable because the Ministry of Interior does not receive consistent and accurate reporting from the police forces around the country. The data does not exclude police absent from duty. Further, the departments of State and Defense no longer report on the extent to which Iraqi security forces are equipped with their required weapons, vehicles, communications equipment, and body armor….without reliable reporting data, a more capable Iraqi force, and stronger Iraqi leadership, the Department of Defense faces difficulties in implementing its strategy to draw down U.S. forces from Iraq.

Sounds like Iraqification is not going well. However, two press reports from inside Iraq suggest that in fact progress has been made. John F. Burns reports in the New York Times that the transfer of duties from the U.S. military to Iraqi security forces has helped in one Baghdad neighborhood:

When most roads in central Baghdad are choked with traffic, there is rarely more than a trickle of vehicles on Haifa Street. At the day’s height, a handful of pedestrians scurry down empty sidewalks, ducking into covered walkways that serve as sanctuaries from gunfire – and as blinds for insurgent attacks in one of Iraq’s most bitterly contested battle zones…. In the first 18 months of the fighting, the insurgents mostly outmaneuvered the Americans along Haifa Street, showing they could carry the war to the capital’s core with something approaching impunity. But American officers say there have been signs that the tide may be shifting. On Haifa Street, at least, insurgents are attacking in smaller numbers, and with less intensity; mortar attacks into the Green Zone have diminished sharply; major raids have uncovered large weapons caches; and some rebel leaders have been arrested or killed. American military engineers, frustrated elsewhere by insurgent attacks, are moving ahead along Haifa Street with a $20 million program to improve electricity, sewer and other utilities. So far, none of the work sites have been attacked, although a local Shiite leader who vocally supported the American projects was assassinated on his doorstep in January. But the change American commanders see as more promising than any other here is the deployment of large numbers of Iraqi troops. American commanders are eager to shift the fighting in Iraq to the country’s own troops, allowing American units to pull back from the cities and, eventually, to begin drawing down their 150,000 troops. Haifa Street has become an early test of that strategy. Last month, an Iraqi brigade with two battalions garrisoned along Haifa Street became the first homegrown unit to take operational responsibility for any combat zone in Iraq. The two battalions can muster more than 2,000 soldiers, twice the size of the American cavalry battalion that has led most fighting along the street. So far, American officers say, the Iraqis have done well, withstanding insurgent attacks and conducting aggressive patrols and raids, without deserting in large numbers or hunkering down in their garrisons. If Haifa Street is brought under control, it will be a major step toward restoring order in this city of five million, and will send a wider message: that the insurgents can be matched, and beaten back…. Iraqi units still complain about unequal equipment, particularly the lack of the heavy armor the Americans use, like Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks. But the complaints among American officers about “tiny heart syndrome” – a caustic reference to some Iraqi units’ unwillingness to expose themselves to combat – have diminished. “Now, they’re ready to fight,” said Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American officer overseeing the retraining effort, in a recent interview at his Green Zone headquarters. Lethal intimidation of recruits – the suicide bombing of army barracks, police stations and recruiting lines, with scores of volunteers killed – remains the single biggest problem in building the Iraqi forces, the general acknowledged. But an overwhelming majority of new recruits have refused to buckle, he said, and they understand that they are fighting, not for the Americans, but for their own country. “Guys who get blown up in the morning get themselves bandaged up, and they’re back in the afternoon,” he said. The uncompromising image is one that Gen. Muhammad al-Samraa, 39, the commander of the Iraqi 303rd Battalion, based on Haifa Street, is eager to push. “My aim is 100 percent clear: all the terrorists living here, they go now,” he said, in halting English. He was a major in Mr. Hussein’s air defense force, and spent a year as a bodyguard and driver for a Shiite tribal leader in Baghdad before signing up for the new army.

Meanwhile, Time‘s Christopher Allbriton reports on the growing professionalism of The Iraqi Special Forces Brigade (ISOF):

Two years since the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. is scrambling to train and equip a new Iraqi army to take over combat duties and pave the way for a reduction in the size of the U.S. troop presence. After a slow start, the training program appears to be picking up momentum: last week the Pentagon announced plans to trim the number of U.S. troops in Iraq from 150,000 to 105,000 by early next year, a move that reflects the improved capabilities of the Iraqi forces. The top commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, said that “very much sooner rather than later, Iraq will be able to provide for its own security.” ….While their numbers are few, Iraqi special forces have assumed a bigger role in sensitive counter-insurgent operations, often acting as the lead teams in raids and rescue missions. In some cases, Iraqi units have used intelligence gleaned from locals to identify their own low-level targets, and then execute small raids on their own. Trained by Task Force Pioneer, a unit drawn from a support company from the U.S. Special Operating Force’s 10th Group, the emerging Iraqi commando units have impressed U.S. commanders with their combat performance and bolstered confidence that Iraqis can keep the insurgents at bay on their own. “We can step away more now,” says the U.S. commander of Task Force Pioneer, who, like all of the special forces in this story, cannot be named. “It’s about 50-50.” ….Advisors from the U.S. Green Berets say the Iraqi special-ops teams have suffered none of the problems of desertion in the face of enemy fire seen in most of the regular Iraqi units. None have refused to fight, they say, and rates of those absent without leave are well below other forces. “It’s unbelievable, but it’s all down to the espirit de corps,” says the Americans’ Executive Officer. Putting Iraqis on the front lines, U.S. officials say, is yielding results in the shadow war against the insurgents. When the key to unraveling insurgencies is denying the rebels the support of the population, putting an Iraqi face on the offensives is vital. It also helps avoid blunders. Often targeting information is slightly off, with troops raiding the wrong house. Local Iraqis are loath to point the Americans in the right direction. “They’re not scared of Americans, but when an Iraqi in a ski mask confronts them they talk a lot more, and they’re more likely to say, ‘He’s not here but lives across the road,'” says Task Force Pioneer’s commander. During the raid on Tamimi’s safehouse, the joint U.S.-Iraqi team hauled off Tamimi and another insurgent suspected of being a key bombmaker. The other men upstairs were left behind, a mark of the more “surgical” style of business the Green Berets are hoping the Iraqis can deliver them, blunting locals’ perceptions of Americans as brutish and arbitrary. “In the past, we’d have scooped them all up,” says an American with the CTF, “but we only took the guys our Iraqis said were dirty.

At this rate, the departure of other coalition country forces from Iraq is less a sign of failed American leadership than a sign that they can hand over their duties to the Iraqis themselves. Everyone agrees that this is the best possible exit option. Developing….

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

Tag: Theory

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