Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Untold Story of Iraq (Part 2): Security

Iraq’s security is greatly improving with the surge of U.S. troops and counterinsurgency strategy, but its largest province, al Anbar, is improving at an accelerated rate and stands out as a model for the rest of the nation. Marines sought to implement a counterinsurgency strategy when they returned to Iraq in 2004. However, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had sought to impose Islamic law on the Sunni dominated province and turn it into a safe haven to launch attacks on Baghdad. This led to a drawn out kinetic contest for both security and the hearts and minds of the Iraqis living in al Anbar. Only when Anbaris realized, after centuries of indoctrination and isolation, that al Qaeda was the enemy, not the United States, did this begin began to change.

The Sahwa, Awakening, movement created an opening that allowed U.S. Marines to work with the Iraqi Army and police toward a common goal of protecting the Anbaris from AQI’s murder and intimidation campaign. While developing a more proficient Iraqi police and military, Marines secured the cities and towns across al Anbar, from Fallujah and Ramadi in the east, up the Euphrates River valley to Hit, Haditha, and al Qaim on the Syrian border. After first establishing security check points controlling access into the cities, searching everyone and requiring identification cards for all Iraqis, Marines divided cities into neighborhoods or precincts to control movement and further restricting al Qaeda and foreign insurgents. Iraqi police controlled the checkpoints entering the city while the Sons of Iraq worked with Iraqi police at precinct checkpoints to their own neighborhoods. Marines moved from hardened bases into smaller outposts within these “gated communities,” and began living with Iraqis police where they conducted joint patrols to engage the population and root out remaining insurgents living in the cities. Meanwhile, Marines simultaneously worked with tribal and business leaders, government representatives, and Imams to provide humanitarian aid, rebuild infrastructure, and provide vital services. These efforts brought significant success, which neutralized the enemy in al Anbar and set the conditions for bigger and broader gains. Not only were Anbaris pointing out weapons caches, but they were pointing out insurgents and their supporters—eliminating whole terror cells and their financial supporters.

As the Iraqi police and Army recruitment grew, Marines provided the necessary training for them to defeat AQI on their own. However, by living and working with the Iraqis, mentoring them and setting examples for them to follow, they built comradery, trust, and respect. With Anbar’s key cities secure, Marines reduced their presence while demilitarizing the cities and began turning more responsibility over to the Iraqis. This allowed Marines to turn outward to the outlying areas where they began driving AQI terrorists father out into desolate desert regions, and pursuing them relentlessly. In the cities, Marines fell back into support and mentoring roles, and then turned their attention to assisting with improving al Anbar’s economy, local government, infrastructure and vital services, rule of law, and education. Currently, this transition is providing a sense of normalcy to Iraqi life, and other provinces are now trying to emulate al Anbar, which stands as a model for all of Iraq. Meanwhile, U.S. Marine trained Iraqi Army brigades are defeating AQI cells and Muqtada al Sadr’s Iranian backed militia in other areas both inside and outside al Anbar, thus setting the conditions for these provinces to follow the al Anbar model.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Untold Story of Iraq (Part 1)

Traveling around Western Iraq has left little time for writing. Nonetheless, my travels expose the untold story of Iraq—untold in-part because few Western journalists venture to this area. Many of those journalists that do come to here are respected by Marines for attempting to report the full scope of what is taking place here in al Anbar Province. Others journalists, like Sudarsan Raghavan, the Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post, are not. Raghavan came to Fallujah under the pretenses of covering Fallujah as a whole, but ignored the city’s security, clean streets, new construction, and cooperation between Iraqis and U.S. forces. Instead, he attempted to gain access to the high security detention facility after Marines had told him he couldn’t go there in an effort to cast a shadow over Fallujah’s progress and the U.S. presence here. Raghavan then moved to Basra where he provided reports sympathetic to Muqtada al Sadr’s Iranian supported militia that terrorized the population.

Having crossed paths with a few journalists here, I have come to better understand why the full story of Iraq is not being told. According to two journalists I spoke during my travels, most Western journalists will not come out here because there is no shooting going on here. They also told me that they are willing to write about the progress in al Anbar, but that most editors and producers do not want that story. It comes down to the old cliché—“if it bleeds, it leads.”

Iraq’s untold story begins here in al Anbar Province, the largest province in Iraq. It is an area that some Iraqi and U.S. officials wrote off as untamable two years ago, but has become the model for Iraq.

Iraq’s untold story is first one of security. Aside from Iranian backed militias in Sadr City and Southern Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and similar terrorist groups are crippled throughout most of Iraq. Here in Western Iraq AQI is neutralized. Ongoing operations continue to hunt down AQI remnants with great success. In regard to Sadr’s militia’s, Iraqi military success in Basra is a sign of what promises to be a final showdown in Sadr City. Second, Iraq’s untold story is one of economic regeneration and the promise of prosperity. Not only are Iraq’s schools, hospitals, and infrastructure improving, but factories, refineries, and businesses are beginning to return to life—attracting foreign and domestic investment. Meanwhile, job training programs are providing new skills. Third, Iraq’s untold story it is one of social progress. Iraq’s democratization brings with it the rule of law, and women are being given bigger roles in Iraqi society. Finally, Iraq’s untold story is one of cooperation and friendship. In all areas, Iraqis are working with Americans towards common goals in improving Iraq’s security, infrastructure, and economy. I will elaborate on each of these areas in up coming posts. For more see: