- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2003

BAGHDAD. — Now that the war in Iraq has been won, some worry the United States might be in danger of losing the peace. There is rising discontent among Iraqis with the lack of civic order in many parts of the country, and with the apparent sluggishness of the restoration of basic public services.

Military organizations optimized for warfighting are poorly configured for the type of peacekeeping operations on which the ultimate success of the U.S. mission in Iraq now depend.

The 1st Armored Division, which is taking over responsibility for security in Baghdad from the 3rd Infantry Division, is the most potent ground combat force its size in the world. But many of its soldiers are essentially irrelevant to the task at hand. The 1st Armored has lots of Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, but few of the up-armored Humvees that are the most useful vehicles for peacekeeping.

Iraq is still a dangerous place. Almost daily, there are reports of sniping incidents or small-scale terrorist attacks. But the military threat is essentially zero, and is likely to remain so as long as Americans are in Iraq in strength. The remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime have gone to ground, hoping to hide out until the Americans leave.

The tasks facing the Army in Iraq are essentially intelligence and police work, and the burden of performing falls upon too few shoulders.

By far the most important task is identifying and arresting Ba’ath Party leaders. Only when these have been removed from their midst will ordinary Iraqis be released from the grip of fear, and only then can we be reasonably certain a neo-Ba’athist regime will not seize power once Americans have left Iraq.

The key people performing the identification task are agents of the Army’s counterintelligence service. But in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment’s huge area of operations in western Iraq, there are only three C.I. teams of two agents each.

The key people for making arrests, and for training the local police, are the military police. But under the 3rd ACR’s command, there are only two military police companies, one that is part of the regiment and a reserve unit.

The busiest people in Iraq are the Arabic linguists from military intelligence units. There are far too few of them to go around. Tiger Squadron, responsible for peacekeeping missions along the Syrian border, has only two. The ranks of the linguists steadily are being augmented by hiring Iraqis who speak English as interpreters. But some tasks, such as helping counterintelligence agents interrogate prisoners, are so sensitive that only American linguists should perform them, and it is to the military intelligence linguists that commanders turn to vet the Iraqi linguists.

The next busiest people, after the military police, are the members of the psychological operations teams. It is chiefly upon them that the burden of conducting information operations — providing the Iraqis with information about what U.S. forces are doing and what they would like for Iraqis to do — falls. There aren’t many soldiers in the psy-ops teams, and they mostly are reservists. In Tiger Squadron’s area of operations along the Syrian border, there is only a three-man team, headed by a sergeant.

Most soldiers contribute to “security and stabilization” operations by conducting “presence” patrols, by setting up checkpoints, and by conducting “snatch and grab” operations. Some soldiers complain they haven’t been trained for these missions.

But American soldiers are adaptable, and most perform these tasks well. Just before I left Apache Troop of the Tiger Squadron, 3rd ACR, it — along with a platoon of MPs from the 94th Military Police company, a reserve unit from Londonderry, N.H. — pulled off three flawless “snatch and grab” missions, the most delicate task in security-and-stabilization operations.

A large expansion of military police units would ease the burden. The logical place for them is in the Army National Guard. But much of the National Guard consists of ground combat units, such as Pennsylvania’s 28th Infantry Division, for which there is little likelihood of need. The Army should consider converting some of these to military police units. MPs also likely would be of more use to governors in dealing with natural disasters than mechanized infantry.

Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration and is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette. He has been embedded with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in western Iraq.

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