Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Call for Iraqi Government Legitimacy - Not More Troops - by Lt. Col. Gian Gentile

I am blessed to know quite a few men and women serving overseas, as well as many more who have served in recent years in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea and beyond. So, I often hear first-hand accounts of what our forces on the ground are seeing as they face the challenges inherent in fighting a protracted war halfway around the globe. I am also hearing a variety of opinions about what is working and is not working – what we should be doing and should not be doing to bring the present conflict to a satisfactory conclusion.

Captain Michael Cooper, a graduate of the West Point Class of 2002, has served two tours of duty in Iraq, winning the Bronze Star for valor. Mike is nearing the completion of his commitment to the U.S. Army, and currently serves under the direction of Squadron Commander, Lt. Colonel Gian Gentile. A few days ago, Mike was kind enough to share with me a thoughtful article that Lt. Col. Gentile had written. He asked me not to share it until it had been published in the Washington Post. The article ran in this past Sunday’s edition, so I now have the permission of the author to share his thoughts with the readers of The White Rhino Report.

* * * * * * *

by Lieutenant Colonel Gian P. Gentile

Legitimacy of the Government of Iraq as seen through the eyes of all Iraqis--Sunnis, Shia, Kurds--is the necessary pre-condition for peace based on reconciliation in
Iraq. My experience on the ground over the past year as a tactical battalion commander in Baghdads Sunni Ameriyah district showed that the prospect of Government legitimacy was exponentially more important than the amount of Coalition and Iraqi Army forces patrolling the streets, the number of Coalition Force advisors with Iraqi Army and Police units, and money spent improving essential services for the local population.

In Ameriyah we were neither winning nor loosing, we were in stasis. More troops, more advisors, more money spent would not break the deadlock, only the perception of a legitimate government that sought to protect equally and fairly the interests of all Iraqis would do it. In fact for about a recent five month period between August and November 2006, through concentration, I increased substantially the number of American and Iraqi Army combined patrols in Ameriyah and the capacity of the American advisor team that worked with a local Iraqi Army battalion. Still, the deadlock in Ameriyah--or tipping point between loosing and winning
did not break.

Ameriyah is one of the few districts in
Baghdad that is almost completely Sunni; probably close to 98 percent. It has been predominantly Sunni since it was first built in the early 1970s as a residential area for lawyers, doctors, engineers, educators, and elite Baathists. When the Sadam regime fell in 2003 affluent Ameriyah residents had the most to loose. As the Sunni insurgency grew after the regimes fall, and because of its long standing tribal ties to Anbar province, Ameriyah became Baghdads Sunni insurgent headquarters.

Ameriyah has seen the brutal face of sectarian war. In the spring of 2003 Sunnis were about 85 percent of the population with the remainder mostly Shia. But through the process of sectarian killing by Sunni against Shia since the Samara shrine bombing in February Sunnis now make up about 98 percent of the population in Ameriyah. It has become relatively safe and secure for Sunnis but lethal for the few remaining Shia.

So the
enemy to peace in Ameriyah, much like in the rest of Baghdad, was and is a hybrid one. The enemy is a still an un-defeated Sunni insurgency that attacks Coalition Forces and Iraqi Security Forces. The enemy is also a vicious and brutal sectarian war that is carried out now not only by Sunni and Shia extremists groups but sometimes by neighbor against neighbor. The sectarian war is a war of the people in the district of Ameriyah.

As violence increased significantly in Baghdad over the summer we confronted this hybrid enemy head-on for a one-week period in early August in Ameriyah with a surge of almost four-fold the number of American and Iraqi troops. We also did things that were extra-ordinary and non-sustainable for and extended period like shutting down all vehicular traffic in the district.

The stated purpose for our efforts during this one-week period was to provide
space and time for the Government of Iraq, or breathing room, or more simply a break in the violence to get on its feet and demonstrate that it was a government of unity. In this sense we cleared Ameriyah and we were successful; there were no violent acts during this one week period. Yet the four-fold increase in American and Iraqi troops in Ameriyah was not sustainable over time.

In the weeks and months that followed our one-week operation in early August American forces did not leave or abandon Ameriyah. We held it with nearly double the number of American and Iraqi Army troops that habitually had operated there. My basic and most fundamental mission was to protect the people. I used Colonel H.R. McMaster
s brilliant operations in TalAfar and my own Brigade commanders successful operations in the nearby Sunni district of Dorra as my models. I also used the American Armys new counterinsurgency doctrine as my operational guide. We spent millions of dollars on rebuilding schools and cleaning up garbage from the streets. We continued to capture and kill Sunni insurgents and Shia militia who attempted to attack Ameriyah from outlying areas. We established a new-found trust between the Sunni population and us and improved their views of the local Iraqi army battalion. Ameriyah in fact became one of the most secure districts in Baghdad for
its Sunni residents.

But the violence continued. Why? Because the people of Ameriyah did not see the government as legitimate. So Sunnis kill Shia because of sectarian hatred, because of retaliation for what they see the Shia government doing to them, and because of fear that any Shia remaining in their district would act as a conduit for more oppressive government actions against them. And Sunni insurgents continue to attack the government and its associated security forces that they see as illegitimate.

In Ameriyah could more American troops eliminate the Sunni insurgency? No because to crush the insurgency the people must be willing to separate themselves from the insurgents. And the people of Ameriyah are not willing to do that because they still see the Sunni insurgents as their final force for protection when they are left with what they see as an illegitimate Shia-sectarian government out to crush them.

In Ameriyah could more American troops stop the sectarian violence? Possibly if this sectarian war was still being carried out only by Shia and Sunni extremist groups. But it is now a sectarian war of the people. What numbers of American soldiers would it take on the ground in Ameriyah to stop neighbor from killing neighbor?

When I was on the ground in Ameriyah, when I spoke to the people there from shop keepers, to professionals, to mosque imams, to a person they said that the solution to ending the violence
--both insurgent attacks and sectarian killings-was an Iraqi government that was legitimate in their eyes.

More American troops, more Iraqi troops, more American advisors will not produce a legitimate government; only the Iraqis can do that. To be sure there is a minimum amount of military power needed in a place like Ameriyah to maintain a semblance of security and order. Those forces are in place now and should remain to provide a baseline of security for the Iraqi government to demonstrate to all Iraqis that it is a force for reconciliation and fairness, not division.

* * * * * * *

Thanks to the author, Lt. Colonel Gentile and to Capt. Michael Cooper for making these insights available to us.


No comments: