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EXCLUSIVE: Report sees recipe for civil war in Iraq
Question of the Day
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.
He notes, for example, that many of Iraq’s army divisions are more loyal to their political patrons than to the central government.
“The majority of these divisions are under the patronage of a political party,” he writes. “For example, the 8th [Iraqi army] division in Kut and Diwaniyah is heavily influenced by the Dawa Party [of Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki]; the 4th IA division in Salahuddin is influenced by President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; the 7th IA division in Anbar is influenced by the [Sunni] Iraqi Awakening Party, and the 5th IA division in Diyala is heavily influenced by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq,” a Shi’ite political party with some ties to Iran.
“The political parties are able to maintain influence over the divisions because the commanders and many of the soldiers were hired by the party,” Mr. al-Jabouri wrote.
Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaida’ie, told The Times that the report was too “alarmist” and “a little bit out of date.”
The ambassador, who served as Iraq’s interior minister in 2004, said, “We went through a time when it was a serious concern, and there was a time when the security forces could become part of the problem and not the solution. But we have gotten past that.
“There has been very active and serious purging of officers and personnel who acted in a sectarian or party political sense. Thousands were expelled. The culture that prevails now is much more encouraging toward a national awareness and loyalty to the law of the land rather than ethnic or sectarian affiliation.”
Mr. al-Jabouri’s critique in some ways echoes an e-mail made public last month by the New York Times, from a U.S. military adviser in Baghdad. Col. Timothy R. Reese concluded that Iraq’s military has little interest in becoming a Western professional force. But unlike Mr. Reese, Mr. al-Jabouri said the United States still has leverage and a window to push for reforms.
He recommended, for example, that Iraq’s Ministry of Defense begin moving battalions to different divisions to break up the monopolies of some political parties in various regions. The former police chief also said Iraq should “redouble efforts at national reconciliation,” remove corrupt ISF commanders, particularly in the Ministry of Interior, and enforce existing laws that prohibit political parties from meddling with the military.
On the last point, Mr. al-Jabouri said the government should allow more Iraqi media coverage of the military and national police and protect Iraqi judges investigating cases inside security services, particularly when they involve political parties.
His harshest charge was that the U.S. military has stood idly by as segments of the security services have become more beholden to political parties. This is a particularly stinging indictment considering that U.S. policy since 2003 has been to train the Iraqi police and military to be a bulwark against civil war.
While some recent actions by the Iraqi military suggest progress — such as an offensive in 2008 in the southern city of Basra that pitted mostly Shi’ite Iraqi soldiers against renegade Shi’ite militias — Mr. al-Jabouri says Iraqi forces have a long way to go.
“What the United States fails to realize is that the ISF itself is the battleground in the larger communal struggle for power and survival. Middle Eastern concepts of civil-military relations are fundamentally different than Western concepts,” he writes.
“Western militaries have developed a culture of political control over armed forces. While this may have been a tool for the development of Western democracies, this is not the established culture in either Iraq or the greater Middle East. In Iraq, there is a culture of ‘he who owns the security forces owns the politics.’ ”
Adm. Mullen said the U.S. mission in Iraq was well aware of the problem and was responding to it.
“I know this is something that Gen. [Ray] Odierno [commander of U.S. forces in Iraq] and his commanders address,” Adm. Mullen said.
About the Author
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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