- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2006

The media frenzy over the latest revelations on Capitol Hill cannot distract us from the real threats we must address. And certainly, we must deal with Iran and North Korea in the near term. But our most immediate problem is Iraq.

The obvious inability of the central government to bring sectarian violence under control requires a critical change of course. The solution lies in a multifaceted strategy that brings together all the vested interests and backs them up with credible force. Such a strategy could include the following elements:

Establish a regional Iraqi fund. Saudi Arabia would take the lead along with Egypt and the Gulf Sheikdoms to announce creation of a fund dedicated to restoring the public services in Iraq, province by province.

Funds that would have sustained the insurgency should be cut off and channeled into this regional fund. The U.S. would match funds contributed by the Saudis and their partners. The funds would be managed by a council co-chaired by the Iraq prime minister, the U.S. Ambassador and a representative from the contributing nations. The projects, which would include power generation, water purification, oil production, schools, medical services, family services, etc., should receive wide media promotion.

The groups most likely to oppose such these programs need to be dealt with. With proper inducements, they could become part of the solution. Any who reject such an opportunity must bear the full consequences of their opposition.

None of the above steps can be achieved without creating a secure environment. One approach would identify Iraqi officers who can be trusted and want to work to restore secular sovereignty. This select group would form the nucleus of a Special Elite Force (SEF). The core group would identify and select Iraqi army enlisted personnel who share their vision. U.S. Special Forces could be embedded to facilitate training and become force multipliers.

To enhance Operational Security (OPSEC), no cell phones or blackberries would be allowed. The SEF would be sequestered in secure barracks to prevent leaks. To induce Iraqi Army personnel to volunteer for the SEF, we must ensure their safety and that of their families. To do so, the regional groups of nations supporting this initiative will need to provide funds for relocating the SEF families to safe havens in Iraq or supporting countries.

The SEF will have multiple missions. Deception tactics will play a key role in making their operations successful. Radical elements in the insurgency are forcing their extreme philosophy on schools, medical facilities, and local businesses — right down to how barbers cut a customer’s hair.

But the very same facilities targeted by extreme radicals can provide a unique opportunity for the SEF much the same way American and international anticrime units stake out banks and other prime crime targets. There are multiple forms of deception, many of which the SEF should be able to utilize, that can be backed by the U.S. and its coalition partners.

While local Iraqi police have been largely discredited by radical infiltration, it should be possible to assemble an elite police unit similar to the SEF via proper vetting, guaranteed safety for police families, and financial “inducements.”

Orchestrating this multifaceted strategy will require a unique approach. A special presidential envoy, well respected in the Middle East and comfortable working well under the media radar, should be appointed to promote the program. The minute regional states buy in, U.S. and coalition forces must be prepared to move decisively and with appropriate force to eliminate the Mahdi Army and other Shi’ite and Sunni militias and death squads. Simultaneously, moderate clerics must be provided ample venues to voice their support of the overall effort.

It is an unhappy truth that, from the prime minister on down, no one in Iraq’s government has so far demonstrated the backbone or grit necessary to bring the insurgency under control. If the government is to achieve any credibility, its loud and vocal support for the regional fund and the establishment of the Special Elite Forces would be a welcome first step in the right direction.

James A. Lyons Jr. is a retired admiral in the U.S. Navy and a former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal advisor on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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