The Iraqi government lost more than a fighting ally when the last U.S. troops left the country Sunday.
Since the 2003 invasion, U.S. service members had woven themselves into the fabric of Iraq’s power structure - its politicians, soldiers, village elders and tribal sheiks.
Army and Marine Corps officers acted as small-town mayors. They had authority to spend nearly $4 billion over seven years on local construction and humanitarian projects via the Commanders Emergency Response Program.
U.S. military personnel - whether sergeants, platoon leaders or brigade commanders - helped settle major political disputes in Baghdad and brokered talks at local levels among various tribal chiefs.
Their power base: as many as 170,000 U.S. troops, M1 tanks, advanced jet fighters and the American military uniform.
Now all that persuasive power is gone. Left to fill the void are the State Department and a limited diplomatic presence at the U.S. Embassy and two stations outside Baghdad.
It took only one day after the U.S. exit for Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority to move against the highest-ranking Sunni, accusing the country’s vice president of terrorism and provoking a government crisis in the process.
“Our pullout is not just the number of brigades, it’s not about the numbers,” said retired ArmyMaj. Gen. Robert H. Scales, who has been to Iraq as an independent adviser and has interviewed returning soldiers.
“The Army had a postgraduate course in how to kill insurgents and work with the people,” he said. “They became toward the end the glue that tied together these factions in Iraq whose natural condition is to spiral apart.
“The Iraqis relied on us not just to kill insurgents and train the Iraqi army or do nation-building; they relied on us as an excuse to stay together.”
The Pentagon’s counterinsurgency strategy embodied more than killing. Protecting and winning over the population stood as a major goal, particularly after 2006, when Gen. David H. Petraeus rewrote the doctrine and took command in Baghdad.
It put emphasis on the commanders’ pocket money through the emergency response program. Officers could make spot decisions to build or fix a building, start electric power or make a condolence payment - without a lot of red tape.
In one town, cash on the spot enabled the Army to build a sports/community center, renovate a fruit-and-vegetable stand and complete a water-sewage treatment plant.
Then there was the pivotal 2004 battle to defeat Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr’s marauding militia in southern Iraq, a beating that told the fiery cleric that he would not rule Iraq by force. The militia had taken over several towns - including Karbala, Najaf, Kufa and Diwaniyah - and imposed harsh Islamic law with terrorism and executions.
The Army’s 1st Armored Division executed Operation Iron Saber in stages, first destroying the enemy, then shifting to people-to-people programs that made soldiers part of the town’s leadership.View Entire Story
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