Archive for the ‘ISF’ Category

In a sobering account of the Iraqi Army’s combat readiness, The New York Times’ Campbell Robertson reports from Khan Bani Saad:

While Americans and Iraqi civilians alike are increasingly eager to see combat operations turned over to the Iraqi Army, interviews with more than a dozen Iraqi soldiers and officers in Diyala Province, at the outset of a large-scale operation against insurgents led by Iraqis but backed by Americans, reveal a military confident of its progress but unsure of its readiness.

The army has made huge leaps forward, most of the soldiers agreed, and can hold its own in battles with the insurgency with little or no American support. But almost all said the time when the Iraqi Army can stand alone as a national defense force is still years away.

‘You can’t go from a lieutenant all the way to a general at once,’ said one Iraqi officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. ‘The army needs more time.’

In its rush to (re)announce mission accomplished, the Bush administration, with considerable help from MNF-I, has been pushing a narrative about the ISF finally “standing up”. Here’s what LTC Muhammad Najim Khairi of the Third Battalion of the IA’s 19th Brigade thinks:

“We are too many years behind other countries. We need the coalition forces until 2015.”

And what happens if the Americans leave earlier?

“Believe me”, says COL Ali Mahmoud, commander of the 19th Brigade’s Third Battalion. “There will be a big disaster.”

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In a sign that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government seeks to build a new national security state over the ruins of the previous one, Pentagon last Friday announced military sales to Iraq worth some $9 billion. AFP has the details:

The biggest proposed sale was for 392 Light Armored Vehicles, radios and anti-tank weapons at an estimated cost of three billion dollars, the Defense Security and Cooperation Agency said.

Congress also was notified of a possible sale of 140 upgraded M1A1 Abrams tanks as well as armored Humvees, tracked logistics vehicles, armored ambulances, vehicles to carry shelters and command posts, and trucks to transport heavy equipment.

It was valued at 2.16 billion dollars.

A separate 2.4 billion dollar helicopter deal would provide the Iraqi government with 24 Bell Armed 407 helicopters or 24 Boeing AH-6 helicopters, along with engines, missiles, mortars, machineguns, and rocket launchers.

Good news is, they’re actually paying for this stuff.

The bad?

Call me a party pooper, but I think the chances of all this hardware not being used against ordinary Iraqis at some point are pretty slim.

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In a sure sign that security has greatly improved in Diyala, the Iraqi Army has ventured out of its barracks to conduct one of its live combat simulations in the province. Touted as a “major offensive” by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the U.S. military and the skeleton crew of journalists still in Iraq, the operation will most likely involve no shooting, as the government announced its intentions weeks ago, giving Sunni insurgents ample time to scurry off.

At least the people of Mosul can let out a collective sigh of relief, as their city now appears to have lost its title of “the last urban stronghold of al-Qaeda”.

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Mosul: SNAFU

Juan Cole has an update:

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that the security situation has taken a dramatic turn for the worse in Mosul. Yesterday a bombing killed 2 and wounded 90 persons, and a municipal leader was assassinated; in addition, a roadside bombing killed 3 US troops and their interpreter. An informed source told the Baghdad daily that the security campaign in the northern city of 1.7 mn. led by PM Nuri al-Maliki was deeply flawed. He said that there had been no coordination between the government forces sent into Mosul with the police in their 80 local HQs, nor with the 48 offices of parties that maintain powerful militias.

Peshmerga troops of the Kurdistan Alliance in Mosul began being replaced on Wednesday by units of the Iraqi Army after severe pressure was exerted by the people of the city, tribal elders, and notables. (Mosul is about 80 percent Arab, but there is a Kurdish minority; residents fear that Kurdistan is trying to annex the city). An Iraqi Army source said that in the Waterfall District in the east of the city, a Peshmerga unit had already been switched out with an Iraqi Army one.

I hate to say I told you so:

“A lion’s peep in Mosul” — May 12
“O.K. Corral, Maliki style” — May 13
“Come out with your hands in the air” — May 16
“Informed Comment on Mosul” — May 19
“Mosul: Lights on, nobody home” — May 21
“Déjà vu Mosul” — May 25
“Iraq: Yazidis under attack” — May 27
“Insurgency in Mosul: Now you see us, now you don’t” — May 30
“Mosul: Finally, a reporter on the ground” — June 1
“Mosul: Life Is Like It Used to Be” — June 10

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Déjà vu.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has extended the deadline for Shia fighters in Amara to surrender themselves. This is becoming something of a habit. Amnesty was also offered to militants in Mosul after a much-advertised government crackdown failed to produce results. Today, the terrorists are back with a vengeance.

Here’s a tight and precise update from NYT’s Oppel:

Iraqi troops have fanned out in force in Mosul to try to quell the insurgency there led by Baathist fighters and Sunni extremist guerrillas. Violence has dropped in the city in recent months, but according to officials knowledgeable about the fighting, many of Mosul’s most fearsome guerrillas have been pursued by U.S. special operations forces operating in secret rather than Iraqi troops. It remains to be seen whether the Iraqi forces can keep the Mosul insurgency in check, or whether the guerrillas will reassert their presence, as they have in the past.

And, going against the “al-Qaeda” meme:

The [U.S. military] statement said the blast had been caused by a car bomb and carried out by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the largely homegrown Sunni insurgent group. The statement offered no explanation of why the military believed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had been responsible for the attack, and not any of the other Sunni extremist and pro-Saddam groups that still operate in the city.

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The Marines will transfer control of Anbar to the Iraqi Army on Saturday. I’m sure this will greatly bolster the self-confidence of the local Sunnis and give them a new sense of autonomy and direction. Still, the Reuters story leaves the most important questions unanswered. Among them:

  • Which Iraqi units will take over from Kelly’s troops?
  • Are they ready and combat-tested?
  • What is their sectarian composition?
  • How will their performance be monitored?

In other words, contrary to what MNF-I would like us believe, transfer of control in itself doesn’t signal “a remarkable turnaround”, or show that Iraqi forces are “increasingly ready to defend Iraq against threats such as those posed by al Qaeda”. Rather, it shows that Petraeus is anxious to throw the ball back to the Iraqis before his stint ends, no matter what the consequences.

For a sobering reminder of where things really stand with the ISF, I recommend Cordesman and Mausner’s excellent report. Among other things, it details major problems in ISF progress reporting (read: unrealistically upbeat assessments by the U.S.), combat performance, and force expansion.

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Stephen Biddle of CFR has many words of praise about the improved situation in Iraq. Alas, there’s this one tiny little “issue”:

The Iraqi Security Forces are now so large that there’s some danger of Praetorianism—a coup d’état—growing in Iraq. Interestingly, when you look back to the pre-Petraeus era [before Gen. David Petraeus took command of coalition forces in Iraq in early 2007], one of the reasons that the ISF didn’t grow so fast was because there were fears that if they got too big, they would either pose a threat to Iraq’s neighbors or a threat to Iraq’s civilian government. There was a worry that there’d be a coup d’état if the Iraqi security forces got too big.

The interviewer: “You think this is a possibility?”

Well, I think it’s a growing possibility. I think one of the things our presence does is moderate and mitigate that dramatically. It’s much harder to imagine a Praetorian solution, a coup d’état, a military government as long as we are there. If we were to leave, you could easily imagine a situation in which the military as the most effective institution in society decides to take over. The parliament is the least respected institution in Iraqi society.

And the ministries in the executive branch are typically doing a very poor job of delivering essential services to the public. It’s not uncommon in the developing world to get situations in which, in the presence of a dysfunctional and unpopular civilian government, soldiers stand up and seize the reins.

I know those of you familiar with Thomas Carothers are probably nodding in agreement, but still — the irony is mindboggling. To have another military strongman run Iraq after five years of bloodshed is such a perfectly messed-up narrative it’s probably going to happen.

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