For months the nation has had a deservedly high profile discussion of the potential calamities that would ensue if we were to precipitously withdraw and/or lose in Iraq. There has been little discussion of what may happen if the informal alliance of the Democrat left, the MSM and Al Qaeda fails, and America and its coalition and Iraqis allies prevail.
If that happens, we may end up with more than most may now realize.
We and the Iraqis may be in the process of building up in the area of the world that needs it most, the Middle East, an experienced, effective and disciplined counter-terror-insurgency military force. Further, this would be a force indigenous to the region and comprised largely of Arab Muslims and answerable to a democratically elected government. Such could be the Iraqi army of a few years hence.
President Bush has defined victory as something in the order of a democratic Iraq, at peace with its neighbors, able to provide for its own security and an ally in the war we are in. That latter part, about Iraq as an ally, has not been well examined in our national discussion.
The evidence has been unmistakable for quite a while that the Iraqi army is increasingly ‘standing up’. Some units of that army have become highly effective, and others are rapidly catching up. Listening to General Petraeus' testimony and reading the detailed accounts of various Milbloggers and "Beyond the Green Zone" journalists (like Michael Yon and Michael Totten) something comes across about the Surge that has gotten very little attention. It has not been just another 38,000 or so American troops. The increase in our forces enabled us to put more combat forces in an aggressive posture teamed with many thousands of Iraqi forces. The Americans and Iraqi forces are acting as hammer and anvil in smashing the terrorist operations.
When in November of 2005 John Murtha claimed that our troops had become the “primary target” of the insurgency, for months before and continuing afterward, Iraqi army and police, mostly recruits, were being killed at a rate two to three times that of our forces. In 2004-2005, Al Qaeda and the various terrorists and insurgencies did their murderous best to try and keep Iraqis from enlisting, including mass executions of unarmed recruits and bombings of recruiting stations killing dozens at a time. Even so, the Iraqi’s continued to enlist. That was a stunning defeat of the enemy’s strategy, and it was not recognized in our media as such.
Democrats invoked the “Whack-A-Mole” imagery in 2005-2006, and still do, on the understanding that every time we kill an insurgent/terorist, another or several take his place. They never had and still don’t have the intellectual honesty much less the decent consideration for an ally to apply that to the terrorist/insurgency as to why they might be losing. The insurgent/terrorists had been killing the Iraqi army, border forces and police, mostly recruits, by the thousands, and yet today there are nearly a quarter of a million Iraqis in those forces.
The Iraqi army has been born in the crucible of insurgent-terror war, and its basic training camps were located in the theatre of battle.
I believe that history will judge the total disbanding of the Hussein army will have been the right course of action for the long term, though likely costly in the short term. Doing so has enabled the creation of an Iraqi military well suited to the hearts and minds requirement of counter terror-insurgency warfare. When the fighting is conducted where your family lives and in your own community, the hearts and minds aspect is not a theoretical abstract. Likewise, building a new army from scratch made null any effect of the well deserved distrust of most of the population for the Hussein army.
Some years ago I read an American military officer saying that one of the most difficult concepts to get across to members of the new Iraqi military was obedience of the military to democratically elected civilians. The Iraqis were skeptical of the idea that those who had the guns and the power would and even should be so deferential. Now, though, the soldiers in the Iraqi military are well aware that commanding generals in the powerful American military will not only defer to the decisions of the civilian U.S. government, but also to those of the fledgling democratically elected al-Maliki government of Iraq, and that there is a soldier’s honor in that.
Assorted embedded milbloggers and others have noted a growing bond between the Iraqi army and the Iraqi people. The people of Iraq are developing pride in their army and are increasingly pleased to ecstatic to encounter them, and the army is proud that its people recognize them for what they are doing. While the left and a great many Democrats can’t comprehend the cause and emotional depth of that bond, most Americans will, as it is similar to what most of us feel about our Marines and soldiers and how they feel about how we see them.
In their NY Times piece ‘A War We Just Might Win’, O’Hanlon and Pollack wrote:
“The Iraqi Army’s highly effective Third Infantry Division started out as overwhelmingly Kurdish in 2005. Today, it is 45 percent Shiite, 28 percent Kurdish, and 27 percent Sunni Arab.”
That is a national force, not an ethno-sectarian one, and that is undoubtedly one of the reasons for the positive response of the Iraqi population.
Combat Command Structure
All military forces, especially those that may have enjoyed years of peace, must make critical personnel adjustments when war comes. They need to identify who among their officer corps and senior NCOs belongs where in the organizational structure for optimal combat effectiveness. They must determine who are the most effective warriors (as opposed to administrators) and what level of command they are best suited for. Those critical decisions can only be reliably made in a time of war, and the Iraqi’s are doing so, with experienced assistance from our military.
If we and our Iraqi allies prevail in Iraq, what might the situation be in three to five years, and what effect could the Iraqi military then have in the region?
If Al Qaeda and its affiliates find that Iraq is simply too costly or unwinnable for them, they may withdraw from there (at least temporarily) but they will not necessarily give up their takfirist ideology and the fight. They will likely still cling to the takfirist goal of purifying the Muslim “Ummah” by removing, forcibly and by terror, all corrupting influences, be it western, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, secularist, democratic, commerce related or anything in any way liberal in the traditional sense. They will likewise still seek to deal with the supposed “takfirs”, Muslims they deem apostate, by means of terror and murder, even murder en masse. They will simply seek other targets in the Middle East. Bin Laden has always wanted to ‘purify’ Saudi Arabia, and al-Zawahiri has wanted to do the same to Egypt.
Only weeks ago the Lebanese military succeeded in killing or driving out hundreds of Fatah-al-Islam terrorists from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. While undoubtedly a win and good news for the good guys, there is a lot to be concerned about in those events. It took the Lebanese army over three months to defeat a few hundred terrorists. Between 30,000 and 40,000 civilians were displaced. By the conclusion of the fight, the Lebanese army had about the same number of killed as the terrorists, and maybe half of the terrorists escaped. While on their own the Fatah al-Islam terrorists had to be forcefully addressed, I cannot but imagine that Lebanese government and military planners pursued the action with a mind to the all but inevitable looming clash that will someday come between the Lebanese army and that state within the Lebanese state, Hizbollah, and its several thousand well armed fighters. When that day comes, Lebanon will need a lot of help, as other Middle Eastern states will require a lot of help if Al Qaeda targets them for purification, singly or in groups.
A Regional Counter Terror-Insurgency Force
That is where a largely Muslim Arab professional military with proven counter terror-insurgency capabilities and inherent understanding of the hearts and minds aspect of such warfare may do a world of good, by providing assistance ranging from trainers and advisors to even boots on the ground and combat support. It would be in Iraq’s own interest to do so. The new Iraq knows well the danger of insurgent and terror groups, and that such are cancerous. If they operate in the region with success, like a cancer they will spread, and democratic Iraq will be a target again, sooner or later. That would be the same whether it is Al Qaeda-like takfirists or Iranian/Syrian supported organizations like Hizbollah.
Iraq also has additional self interest in regional security and peace for the sake of its economy and the future well being of its citizens.
General Petraeus and others have spoken well of the combat performance of the Iraqi Special Forces, and one hopes that a relationship with and training of them by our SF is continued long term. They may prove to be the force that can engage and counter or even dismantle the Iranian Quds Force, that has been so active in training and enabling terrorists throughout the Middle East.
Even with oil revenue, Iraq is far from a wealthy country. In the path forward building of their military, assuming a success in the present fight, they will need to balance thier forces between counter terrorism-insurgency and defensive conventional set piece war involving large unit formations and heavy armor and artillery. If Iraq focuses and builds its army primarily around a counter insurgency-terror framework, the likelihood of other area states seeking cooperation with Iraq will be enhanced, because Iraq will not be a military threat to those nations. Think Kuwait or even Saudi Arabia and the previous Iraqi army.
There is of course risk to Iraq in pursuing this military weighted in favor of counter terror-insurgency. Its army, while becoming possibly the foremost effective and indigenous counter terror-insurgency force in the Middle East (and I include the IDF in that calculation), would not necessarily have the capability to protect the nation from more conventional attack by other nations. If some years from now Iraq is substantially aiding Lebanon in expelling or destroying Hizbollah, the terrorist group’s patrons in Iran and Syria may consider a conventional attack on Iraq to prevent that. Such an attack may use air assets, heavy armor, set piece movements of brigades and divisions, or in general the type of attack that an army that heavily targeted its training and material procurement at counter terror-insurgency might have difficulty repelling. That is where we would have to act on the understanding that ‘allies’ presuppose an alliance. If Iraq forgoes the option of building a more formidable conventional military force in favor of specialization in counter-terror-insurgency, we must commit to providing Iraq with an American air power umbrella in the event of a conventional attack on Iraq. We’ve offered similar alliance protection effectively for over a half century.
Just days ago AP had a report that might be a step in that direct:
AP - "We will ask the council to include an article that allows Iraq to enter into negotiations with the United States to reach long term security agreements to meet Iraq's security needs bilaterally," (Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar) Zebari added.
An effectively operating and largely Arab Muslim counter terror-insurgency force in the Middle East could be a strategic disaster for our enemies, and it is a very real possibility, if we prevail.