The Magazine

Premature Iraqification

From the September 22, 2003 issue: Why creating Iraqi government and security can't be done overnight.

Sep 22, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 02 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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It would be interesting to know, of the 50,000-plus Iraqis under arms (an impressive number given that the war ended in April), how many come from the Sunni/Baathist strongholds of Ramadi and Tikrit. In all probability, the numbers there aren't large. The advantage of "all-Iraqi" security forces in these towns, where popular sentiment definitely seems to be nostalgic for the rule of Sunnis, the Sunni-dominated Baath, or both, would be in such forces' ability to sleuth out the whereabouts of the guerrillas and terrorists and their most operationally critical sympathizers. Sending more non-Ramadi and non-Tikriti Iraqi security officials into these towns might conceivably spur the patriotism of the hard-core denizens who have become guerrillas-cum-terrorists and their key supporters, but it doesn't seem likely. These pro-Saddam and militant Sunni fighters are playing for keeps. An Iraqi face on security doesn't appear likely to make them less inclined to kill Iraqis, Americans, or other foreigners. These men know their world is over unless they down both the Americans and the Iraqis--overwhelmingly Arab Shiites and Kurds--who will inherit power in Uncle Sam's wake. With either the Americans or the Iraqis on the cutting edge of internal security or in control of the national government, the hard-core insurrectionists have to be arrested or killed. One day they might, just possibly, be reeducated (converted Communists and Nazis have existed), but increasing the number of armed Iraqis whom they consider traitors can't accomplish this over the next several months.

And does the Bush administration really want newly constituted Iraqi security forces in the thick of things in the hostile Sunni belt? Any successful national internal security force will have to reflect more or less the composition of the Iraqi population. Do we want to send so soon a force overwhelmingly composed of Shiites and Kurds into Tikrit or Ramadi? If local police in the Sunni regions have so far proved ineffective in penetrating and thwarting homegrown or imported guerrilla and terrorist forces in their regions, it may well be because they lack the will to do so.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld suggested this when he chided Iraqis on his recent visit to their country. "This country belongs to the Iraqi people, and in the last analysis it's the Iraqi people who will provide the security in this country," he said. "Instead of pointing fingers . . . at the security forces of the coalition because there are acts of violence taking place against the Iraqi people, . . . it's important for the Iraqi people to step up and take responsibility for the security by providing information to . . . [the Americans] to a greater extent than they're doing."

Of course, Iraqi Sunnis might not want "to step up" because the Americans did a lackadaisical job of arresting former Baathists after the fall of Baghdad. These Iraqi Sunnis may think that America's "footprint" in their neighborhoods is too light, not too heavy. They might disagree with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz when he recently echoed the sentiments of former New York City police chief Bernie Kerik, who was overseeing the creation of a new national Iraqi police force: ". . . if you triple the number of coalition forces, [per Kerik], 'You'll probably triple the attacks on the troops.'" (According to this logic, the Pentagon ought to have a pint-size force patrolling the heartland of Saddam's power.)

In a post-totalitarian society, it is, of course, quite understandable for even the bravest individuals to fear coming forward. In Iraq, where Saddam's killers may in many areas control the streets, it's sensible to stay ignorant and keep your head down. It is also possible that a great many Iraqi Sunnis are still spiritually allied with the old Sunni Baath order. If this is true--and this is the worst-case scenario--then the Pentagon is going to have to be much more intrusive than it has so far been. Counterinsurgency wars are ugly and labor intensive.

Yet the Pentagon's contention is undoubtedly true that more Iraqis are needed to aid the coalition forces. "Iraqification" ought to be a question of degree and speed, not kind. Having more anti-Saddam Iraqis directly reaching out to their countrymen would certainly work vastly better than having Kevlar-clad Americans in armored vehicles waiting for tips. The Iraqi National Congress's Ahmad Chalabi was right when he argued long before the war began that America would need Iraqi eyes and ears both attached to and independent of U.S. military forces.

The State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency strenuously and successfully fought this plan. Truth be told, the Pentagon, including its civilian leadership, failed to go to the mat to ensure that a large Iraqi expeditionary force was ready by March. It is worth noting, too, that the Sunni-dominated oppositionist groups that the CIA and the State Department liked--most famously the coup-plotting Iraqi National Accord--have, according to Pentagon and CIA officials, so far accomplished little to nothing on the ground in Iraq. Whatever influence the Iraqi National Accord had among the Sunni military elite and the Baath party, it's not translated into any intelligence punch on behalf of U.S. soldiers fighting in the Sunni belt. By comparison, the Iraqi National Congress, whatever its faults, has been more successful in its tactical understanding of the post-Saddam battleground.

In any case, the Pentagon's all-purpose refrain that it could succeed if only it had good intelligence is a truism that suggests its offensive tactics may be lacking. On the ground, intelligence, particularly the human kind, is always less than it should be. The CIA has been for decades between mediocre and awful in supplying human intelligence on Iraq. With hard targets like ex-Baathists, Wahhabi fundamentalists, and foreign jihadists of various stripes, there is no reason to believe that the clandestine service will be any more effective now than in the past.

If the Pentagon really doesn't think the coalition is winning on the ground--and any honest observer who's been to Iraq can certainly make a case that the coalition is doing passably well--then it should switch tactics and stop scolding the Iraqis for their sub-par performance. In the short-term--and given the likely two or three-year maximum mandate the United States will have from the Iraqi people, the short-term is what matters--the battle for hearts and minds in Iraq is for the United States to lose, not for all-Iraqi security forces to win. The latter have an important role to play in securing their country for a freer, democratic future. But we need to be careful not to put the cart before the horse.

The mandate and daily practice of the Iraqi Governing Council, the coming, tempestuous constitutional convention, and the new constitution itself are what ought to preoccupy the Bush administration after the bombs of August. The forging of decent new political institutions should be the means by which we transfer power to the Iraqi people and neutralize the forces that want to destroy a democratic Iraq before it is born. Would that the Pentagon, the Coalition Provisional Authority, and the State Department spent more time talking in detail about that exit strategy.

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.