Wednesday, October 1, 2003

What if they gave an insurgency and nobody came? That’s how we’ll know when we’ve finally won in Iraq. The urban insurgency in Iraq has likely been won already; the pundits and retired military commentators just haven’t figured it out. It was won by a decision made in Washington and Tampa to let the Iraqis themselves win it.

The counter-insurgency campaign will be won by U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces. These include the police, local security guards and the new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC). The creation of the ICDC takes a page from the Small Wars manual that outlines the successful strategy employed by the Marine Corps in winning similar insurgencies in Haiti and Nicaragua in the first half of the last century.

Central Command is recruiting and training the ICDC as a gendarme force. Although its primary mission is counter insurgency, it will likely also engage in nation building civic action projects. As was the case in the Banana Wars and the successful Philippine counter insurgency campaign, the ICDC constabulary will be trained and equipped by U.S. and coalition forces. Partner coalition units will mentor the ICDC troops as they begin assuming point defense and patrolling missions in the neighborhood of the triangle and elsewhere in the country.

The mentors will not throw the green ICDC to the wolves; rather, they will judge when each Iraqi unit is ready to solo on its own. This will be done on a case-by-case basis. Eventually however, the coalition forces will turn over day-to-day security of the cities to the Iraqis and go into a reserve reaction force mode. This will also free up mobile U.S. forces who are more suited to patrolling the outlying power grid and oil pipelines; that is a mission far more suited to the heavily armored and mobile U.S. forces now in the triangle from urban patrolling missions that are not their forte. This mission change will speed up reconstruction.

The ICDC is a good idea on several levels. No one likes to see foreign occupiers patrolling the streets of his nation’s towns and cities. The ICDC sends a clear signal that the Iraqis are regaining control of their nation, and that those in control will not be Ba’athist thugs or fundamentalist nut cases. The vast majority of Iraqis don’t want a return of the Ba’athists and a clear 60 percent majority rejects the notion of an Islamic theocracy. This directly addresses the two platforms that the unholy alliance of Ba’athist holdouts and foreign led fundamentalists hold in common. The first being to resist the foreign occupation and the second being that the nation is not being repaired fast enough. Absent those two causes, opposition has a very weak political hand.

The Central Command leadership has been wise in not confining the ICDC concept the largely Sunni Ba’athist triangle. If the ICDC is seen merely as an instrument of Sunni domination in disguise, there will be trouble. Indeed, the 101st Division in the largely Kurdish northern part of the country led the way in recruiting and training its ICDC levy first. The 101st has also had great success in peacekeeping and nation building in that dangerous region. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this phase of the war has been in the largely Shia south, where the British and the Marines have struggled with great success to date to avoid the mistake the Israelis made in Lebanon, by falling afoul of the poor but proud Shia in that country. To be sure, the effort has had its setbacks, including the assassinations of several Shia leaders. The Marines and Brits have deftly managed to remind the Shia that they have much more to gain than to lose by participating in a democratic political process.

Make no mistake, the Shia don’t love us, but at least they are playing ball. They understand that they will be the main players in anything approaching a democracy because they will have the most votes. The former military “talking heads” and the media pundits are wrong when they call Iraq a military quagmire or debacle. At least they are consistent. They were wrong about the operational pause, the “Second Stalingrad” of Baghdad, and that Pvt. Lynch was the second coming of Alvin York.

Now that we are in it, we have to be prepared to see it through to success. Those are the words of Howard Dean, not mine.

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps officer. He recently visited Iraq as a Defense Department special adviser.

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