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.


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