- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2009

A report to be published this month by the U.S. government’s prestigious National Defense University warns that the Iraqi army and police are becoming pawns of sectarian political parties — a trend that it calls “a recipe for civil war.”

The report by Najim Abed al-Jabouri, a former Iraqi mayor and police chief who helped run the first successful counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, also concludes that U.S. forces have failed to use their remaining leverage as trainers to insulate the Iraqi army and police from the influence of powerful Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim and Kurdish parties.

“U.S. efforts to rebuild the [Iraqi security forces] have focused on much needed training and equipment, but have neglected the greatest challenge facing the forces’ ability to maintain security upon U.S. withdrawal: an ISF politicized by ethno-sectarian parties,” he wrote.

“These ties pose the largest obstacle to the ISF in its quest to become genuinely professional and truly national in character. A professional military force holds the best prospect of gaining and keeping the trust of the people, but a force riven with destructive sectarian and ethnic loyalties is a recipe for civil war.”

The paper, made available to The Washington Times, carries particular weight considering its author.

Mr. al-Jabouri was the police chief and later the mayor of Tal Afar, a city in Ninevah province, in 2005 and 2006 when he and then-Col. H.R. McMaster waged a counterinsurgency campaign that became the model for the strategy that was successfully employed in 2007 and 2008 throughout Iraq. In a March 20, 2006, speech, President Bush singled out Mr. al-Jabouri, saying the U.S. was “proud to have allies like Mayor Najim.”

The strategy, which is now being applied in Afghanistan, requires the armed forces to earn the trust of the local population by providing security and by proving to be an honest broker of internecine disputes.

“What gives this piece its particular value is that it comes from someone who provided the leadership necessary to help stop a brutal localized civil war,” said Brig. Gen. McMaster, who was promoted last year.

“If it had not been for his courage and nonpartisan leadership and his reform of the police, we could not have moved the various communities in Tal Afar toward the political accommodation necessary to break the cycle of sectarian violence,” he told The Times.

Under a U.S.-Iraq status of forces agreement, the U.S. is to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. The hope is that by then, Iraq will have security forces trusted by Shi’ite and Sunni Arabs, Kurds and other ethnic and religious minorities.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a recent interview with The Times that sectarian conflict poses the greatest challenge to Iraq’s stability.

“The biggest threat long-term would be the breakout of sectarian violence,” he said last week. “I would extend that to your question about the sectarianism inside the military. … The sectarian issue is one that we are very focused on. It was a brutal, brutal teacher to so many of us. I don’t think Iraq has much of a future if that breaks out.”

Adm. Mullen said, however, that authorities had defused several potentially explosive incidents over the past few months without sectarianism raising “its ugly head.”

“It didn’t happen,” he said. “That is not a prescription for [saying] it won’t happen, for sure. Except that all the leaders, political and military, recognize this could be their undoing.”

Mr. al-Jabouri’s assessment suggests that Iraqi restraint may melt away as U.S. troops withdraw and leave the Iraqis to their own devices.

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