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Can We Win? What Metrics Determine Success? Alcohol, Drug Use Among Troops?
By JANE ARRAF 06/16/2007 11:27 AM ET
Correspondent Jane Arraf, who's been based in Baghdad for most of the past decade, this week ended her five-week-long IraqSlogger assignment embedded with US forces in Iraq.

Before departing Iraq, she answered these questions from IraqSlogger readers:

Jane writes: Thanks, everyone, for the great questions. As always, the simplest ones are the hardest to answer – like “Are we winning? Can we?” We used to say "define winning." That definition has changed a lot in the past four years.

Remember ‘mission accomplished’? There’s a lot less certainty now on the ground about how to define that mission. You most often hear commanders tell their soldiers it’s to bring stability to the people of Iraq. Now at the highest levels the answer is reducing violence to ‘acceptable levels’. So if winning is fulfilling the mission, there are some neighborhoods in Baghdad and some parts of Iraq where there is a tenuous stability and where there are only occasional attacks. But overall, there is serious concern on the part of Iraqis and the U.S. military about the stability of the country and the ability to restore a functioning government. What that means on the ground is electricity most of the day, enough fuel to run factories, generators for hospitals and provide gasoline for ambulances and police cars, schools that don’t get attacked, a level of crime low enough to make people feel relatively safe in the streets, bombings that are rare enough to allow people to feel comfortable opening their shops or sending their children to school, a police force that people can trust. Those are pretty basic things that don’t have a lot to do with the original concept of winning for the United States, which involved creating an outpost of democracy in the Middle East. After five weeks on the ground, I have to conclude that winning now means not losing too badly.

I have to say I think the following question says more about the complexities of the war than any of my answers could:

I need an honest answer. Do you think there is any chance that the Surge will reclaim my five bedroomed house lost in Jamiah District near the Police Tunnel. I was kidnapped by the Islamic Army near my home and was only released after payment of a huge ransom that left me and my family totally destitute. I was ordered to leave Iraq altogether. Now friends tell me that there is no real effort by the US or Iraqi Army to liberate Jamia district and near by districts of Amiriya, Ghazalia and Adel. The story goes that the US army is now colluding with the Islamic Army and so called Ishreen revolution brigades. Is this true ? Of course I cannot reveal my true identity but I am genuine.

Let me give it a shot: In neighborhoods where the surge is doing what it intended – creating the conditions for Iraqi police to maintain stability, I think it will still be a long time before people who were forces out of their houses will be willing or able to move back. In a lot of those cases, as you know, those homes have been occupied either by people forced out of their own neighborhoods or members of militias that have engaged in ethnic cleansing. If the homes haven’t been occupied, most people are still waiting to see what happens in surrounding neighborhoods before they believe it’s safe enough to move their families back. I’ve been out with American soldiers in Amiriya and Ghazilia and they are making a huge effort to clear those and other neighborhoods of insurgents. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be suffering casualties every day. The surge though depends on handing the neighborhood over to Iraqi forces – the Iraqi Army and then the police – to maintain security as part of the ‘clear, control and maintain’ strategy. In Amiriya for instance, there is no effective Iraqi Army or police force that can operate there. The U.S. is colluding if you will with insurgents who have agreed not to attack U.S. and Iraqi forces so they can jointly fight al-Qaeda in Amiriya and other neighborhoods. I wouldn’t have imagined this four years ago but right now a lot of people are willing to try whatever works. I wouldn’t have thought Haifa Street would be as relatively safe as it is now. The situation is so fluid in Baghdad, it’s really difficult to make predictions – even about a single neighborhood.

What metrics will be used to determine the success of the surge?

Sitting in on daily briefings that military commanders get – from the top level of the Multinational Corp all the way down to battalion level – is an illuminating look at the components of this fight – they track sectarian murders, major attacks, electricity levels, infrastructure projects, progress of Iraqi forces, media coverage. I keep asking ‘how will you know if the surge is working?’. The first thing I generally hear is: ‘we won’t know until months from now’ – certainly after September when General Petraeus is due to report back to Congress. The most consistent metric is the level of sectarian violence as measured by what they call EJKs – extra-judicial killings. It’s considered progress if there are single attacks with single victims as opposed to dozens of people executed at one time. The number of bodies found does seem to be dropping – particularly in areas where the U.S. military has set up joint security centers with the Iraqi Army and/or police in the middle of neighborhoods. Attacks now are more aimed at U.S. forces – one of the key factors that the military is increasingly looking at in terms of trying to predict what would happen if they were not there.

It seems to me that MORE DOGS should be used to SNIFF OUT concentrations of explosives, buried, or on clothing...why won't this work???

The underlying problem is trying to stop the spread of suicide bombers and of IEDs through better and more intelligence and perhaps more importantly, by attacking the conditions that are creating them. There has to be a political solution that will share power more equitably with Iraq’s Sunni population without making Shiites feel overly threatened. There have to be jobs that promise a better future for young people than laying IEDS. Re the dogs, they’re only as effective as their handlers and there are limited numbers of trained dogs, which are extremely expensive, and trained handlers. Apart from that there are a lot of places where you can’t use dogs in a Moslem society that considers them religiously unclean. You can use them to sniff out explosives in cars or in people’s belongings but having them sniff out peoples’ clothing would be terrifying.

How widespread would you estimate alcohol and drug use is among the coalition troops?

If a soldier is really determined, alcohol is quite accessible even though the military tries very hard to keep it off the bases. For most of them, not drinking is the least of the hardships of being deployed for a year – or more. But the military is representative of the population in general and there are a minority who feel a need to drink and find a way to do it. Some non-American members of the coalition have a different attitude about drinking – British forces in parts of southern Iraq where they weren’t actively fighting had been able to occasionally drink a couple of beers at their very own pubs on the bases for instance. But there’s an agreement that in most places alcohol, lethal weapons and the rage of young soldiers in a very difficult war is a really dangerous combination.

What do you think the average American soldier or functionary thinks about Arab/Islamic culture and have you seen any contacts between Iraqis and Americans that might indicate mutual understanding and respect?

In the four years since the war started there have been been fewer rather than more contacts between Iraqis and American soldiers or civilians as security has declined. At most Army or Marine bases now there are very few Iraqis. The bases are staffed by ‘third country nationals’ – Indians, Bangladeshis and others brought in by KBR. It’s possible for military people and civilian staff on some of the biggest bases to go through entire days without talking to a single Iraqi. I’ve seen countless encounters on the ground between Iraqis and Americans that indicate mutual understanding and respect in areas where soldiers and the Iraqis they’re trying to help interact every day in the streets. I’ve also gone out with soldiers who wave to children from their humvees and say ‘Hello, little terrorists’. A minority I think but after four years that feeling is definitely there. I could go on about this for hours but the bottom line is I think that however well-meaning most of this has been, we stumbled into a country and culture we never understood and still don’t.

What can you tell us about the Iraq-Iran border situation, where MNF-I briefers have said arms-smuggling is ongoing?

There are ten official border crossings with Iran. I’m told only two of them have coalition forces monitoring Iraqi border controls – there hasn’t been the money or the personnel to devote to them. So the potential for arms smuggling across even the legal crossings is huge. It’s a huge border but a lot of it is still laid with mines from the Iran-Iraq war and the feeling is it is still relatively easy to pay off border guards at the official crossings to look the other way. In parts of southern Iraq controlled by pro-Iranian militias – the crossing near Basra for instance – smuggling is said to be particularly prevalent. The U.S. tries to keep an eye on the border with aerial surveillance and the Brits have roving border patrols, thought by the Americans to be less than effective. Some of the smuggling appears to be coming through the traditional route of the marshes by boat.

How do most of the Iraqis you meet compare the situation now with Saddam Hussein days? Iraqis in US I have met say they still think Iraq as it is now is better, but I wonder if it is not because they are not faced with bombs everyday.

I think that’s absolutely true – there has always been a significant gap between Iraqi expats and those who lived there under Saddam and stayed – that’s part of the reason there’s such a disconnect between a lot of Iraqi officials and government ministers, many of whom are expats, and many of whom live in the Green Zone, and their constituents for instance – they know two different Iraqs. In Amiriya over the past few weeks, I sat and talked with a group of men in their 50s who had retired before their time. It’s a largely Sunni neighborhood but there was a Shiite lawyer who can’t go to his office and a former police officer, also Shiite, sitting with their neighbor, a Sunni school teacher who lost his job under de-Baathification. They don’t necessarily want Saddam back but they’re afraid of the religious extremism on both sides that now defines Iraq – for better or worse – they were part of an Iraq that was much more religiously moderate than it is now. I asked young Shiite police in the Shula neighborhood whether it was better now and they said the only thing that was better was that Saddam was gone – apart from that in their day-to-day lives they had felt safer under Saddam, they said. Having lived their for years I think the trade-off has been that some Iraqis have gained in the big political picture but at the cost right now of every-day security.

What do you make of (NY Times correspondent) Ed Wong's last column in which he posits that an "Iraq's Curse: A Thirst for Final, Crushing Victory." is a very real phenomenon. He seems to feel the country will not be stable until one side completely vanquishes the other. How close to reality do you think he is? Thanks for your incredible work and the courage you have to do it.

Thanks so much for that. Ed is an amazing journalist. If there’s one thing I’ve been reminded of over the past five weeks out in Baghdad and Baquba it’s that things are a lot fuzzier on the ground. I went into neighborhoods that had been largely ethnically cleansed and still found Sunnis and Shiites living together. My guarded optimism over Iraq has taken a beating over the past year but it hasn’t been totally extinguished. I’ve been attached to the country for so long though that some of that optimism probably lies in my unwillingness to believe until I absolutely have to that so many people have died and so much has been destroyed in vain. I don’t think we’re there yet.

In the big political picture, I think that Ed is right. This is seen as a fight for survival among Shiites and Sunnis in the political arena as well as within the militias that have taken over neighborhoods. But I think there’s been a growing recognition on the part of Sunni players that there is a Shiite majority here and they’re going to have to deal with it. I’m not sure there’s the same recognition on the part of Shiite politicians that it’s in their interest to compromise. What was most alarming on the ground – beyond even the shocking but sadly predictable violence – was the lack of basic services getting through to neighborhoods – particularly Sunni ones. If you’re sitting at home without electricity or clean water and there are no jobs and you can’t go out because it’s too dangerous, that doesn’t exactly instill confidence in even the concept of a government. The other key fact on the ground I saw is that some neighborhoods that are secure have been made secure because they’ve been cleansed of their Sunni or Shiite minorities and are patrolled by either militias or security forces affiliated with militias. But again I think the jury is still out. What I really wanted to do by getting out with the soldiers and talking to Iraqis over the past five weeks is get a first-hand look at how things have changed and what still might be possible. And I saw enough – from neighborhood councils springing up – from Iraqi soldiers that actually patrol – to lead me to believe still that there is a hope for at least parts of that country – if the politicians don’t screw it up.

Only on Slogger
The U.S. Army’s Tribal Engagements in Embattled Diyala Province
By JANE ARRAF 06/13/2007 00:57 AM ET
Sheikh Ahmed al-Tamimi meets US Army brigade commander Colonel David Sutherland near Baquba.
Photo by Jane Arraf/IraqSlogger
Sheikh Ahmed al-Tamimi meets US Army brigade commander Colonel David Sutherland near Baquba.
Al-Huwaider, Iraq – The sheikh’s long elegant fingers moved liked birds as he spoke with the American commander from Texas. Religious authority met military power – and they agreed on one thing.

“The enemy didn’t come from outer space or the moon. He is between us, from here,” Sheikh Ahmed Hamid al-Tamimi told Colonel David Sutherland.

Tamimi, who identified himself as a representative of the powerful Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is intimately acquainted with a wide variety of enemies. He moved from Baquba to this Shiite community just outside the city after an assassination attempt. Threatened by both Sunni al-Qaeda and by Shiite extremists, he is afraid to travel. He keeps in touch with the Ayatollah al-Sistani in Najaf by telephone.

Sutherland, commander of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, had arrived to discuss an upcoming meeting in Baquba of sheikhs from the Diyala River valley - tribal leaders the U.S. has increasingly turned to in an attempt to stop the violence here.

The strategy rests on convincing tribal leaders, many of whom see the U.S. as occupiers, to identify insurgents in their midst to the American military. The American military deals directly with Tamimi as a representative of Sistani, the most revered Shi'a cleric in Iraq.

“They want checkpoints as opposed to addressing who the bad people are so we can arrest them,” Sutherland complained to Tamimi. “I don’t need help with tactics – I need help with the people turning against the terrorists. I’ll bring the terrorists to justice but we need to stop this support that your friends – our friends – are giving here every day to the terrorists.”

If the strategy is working in some places, it is because tribal leaders have decided al-Qaeda has become more of a threat than the U.S. Army. Military commanders are concentrating on providing amnesty to those they deem ‘reconcilable’ and capturing or killing those who are not.

“People here need the olive branch and they need the gun,” Tamimi said.

Only the U.S. has the kind of guns they need.

At the sheikh’s meeting a few days later, several of the tribal leaders stood up and said they needed more U.S. forces with more heavy weapons to help defeat al-Qaeda.

Religious and tribal leaders at recent meeting of Diyala River valley sheikhs in Baquba.
Photo by Jane Arraf/IraqSlogger
Religious and tribal leaders at recent meeting of Diyala River valley sheikhs in Baquba.
This is a part of Iraq with its own strictly defined rules, for the most part little understood by even those in the cities. One of the sheikhs had taken off his egal – the black cord securing the headdress – in shame. He said insurgents had kidnapped women in his village and stolen the livestock and he was incapable of defending their land.

The U.S. commanders told the sheikhs in return for military support the U.S. needed their cooperation in identifying the terrorists.

“I have found in my seven months here that the sheikhs have power beyond understanding,” Sutherland told them through an interpreter. “Understand that I hold the sheikhs responsible for actions on their land. Understand that I hold the sheikhs responsible for the actions of their people.”

Sutherland at these gatherings is treated as an honorary sheikh – given the seat of honor beyond even that of a normal guest at many gatherings. At the head of the table as the sheikhs and U.S. officers dug into lunch after the meeting, he stood and ate with his hands, like his hosts rolling rice and lamb into a ball with practiced fingers.

Four female members of the provincial council who had attended the meeting were taken to wait in another room, uncomplainingly, as the men ate. Plates of food appeared for them an hour later.

Of the many things, the U.S. failed to understand about Iraq when it invaded in 2003 was its tribal structure and how it held large parts of the country together.

Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel Richard Welch spent 18 months after the start of the war mapping out who the tribal leaders were and reaching out to some of them. He couldn’t get anyone to take over the project when he left.

“I don’t think we have ever been serious about it and I don’t think we understood it,” he said in an interview in Baghdad. “We’re now realizing we have to do something – it’s the one force in this country we have not tapped into and harnessed in a unified way.”

Welch, who deals with tribal and religious engagement and reconciliation for coalition forces in Baghdad, said the military is now making an effort. “They’re not waking up because of me – they’re waking up because there’s a security situation that’s out of control.”

In such an alien and ancient culture, tribal engagement is fraught with missteps. “We have a data base that is probably 98 percent accurate about who the major leaders, who the major sub-tribal leaders are, that’s who we try to encourage our leaders to work with – I’ve seen situations where our leaders were starting to build relationships with someone who wasn’t a real tribal leader but said he was to the exclusion of the real tribal leader.”

In Diyala, U.S. commanders and their Iraqi advisers say they believe they are dealing with most of the key tribal leaders. But there are others who refuse to meet with American forces.

“There are reports that there are some tribal alliances working within Diyala that we don’t know about and they don’t want us involved,” said an intelligence officer.

“Those are the movements we should support,” Welch said. He said they should support them by identifying who they are and staying out of their way.

Part of the reconciliation if focused on getting the tribes to stop fighting each other. Lt Colonel Scott Jackson, the U.S. military adviser to the Diyala governor, helped broker an agreement between six tribes this year in which they agreed to stop attacking each other.

“Everybody keeps pushing for overall tribal engagement,” he said. “We have to start taking it at the small level of the village.”

Some officials worry that U.S. military commanders are taking so prominent a role it will be difficult to disengage.

“It amazes me there will be sheikh who has been solving his tribe’s problems for 50 years and he will turn to a young commander and say ‘fix my problems’. I think we need to be more facilitators rather than participants,” said one Army officer involved in the process.

Political engagements have traditionally been the domain of state department officials trained in the art of diplomacy. But in Baquba, as in many parts of Iraq for the last four years, US Army officers and soldiers have taken over that role.

John Jones, who has spent 27 years with the State Department, heads the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Baquba, focusing on the provincial government.

It’s tough work in a security climate where attending meetings in the city can kill you.

The U.S. government has donated medical equipment and 18 ambulances to the ministry of health. But it’s in a section of town near the government center where there are frequent attacks and the military has little control.

“There is some equipment that the director has ordered but I can’t see if that works well. We need to send real live people over there for a meeting. I just can’t see it. We looked at the security situation and said until it gets better over there we’re not sending our folks.”

Jones, a former Army reservist, thinks carefully about any of his people leaving the compound just outside of Baquba. There’s a ritual involved.

“If they’re riding up the road I shake their hand and give them a hug - they’ve got to the point where they won’t leave without me being out there.”

Compounding the violence in Baquba is the lack of services from the central government in Baghdad. The Shiite-dominated government says violence prevents food rations and fuel from getting to Baquba. Residents of the city and many U.S. commanders believe it’s political – meant to punish the largely Sunni area for the attacks.

Sutherland says he had a hard time convincing the Ministry of Agriculture even to conduct crop spraying in the largely agricultural area. “No one in the government in Baghdad was willing to support it,” he said. “They say ‘Diyala is a bad place – don’t give them anything. My philosophy has always been and what I taught when I was at the School of Advanced Military Studies was – you have to get jobs into bad areas.”

Welch, who is working on tribal forces which would provide a ring of security around Baghdad, believes the tribes provide the best remaining hope for Iraq.

“This is the social network that is the fabric that’s now trying to hold the country together and I think they in the broadest sense - and I’m talking about the real tribal leaders – they’re the ones who are much more concerned about Iraq they believe than anybody else in the country including some of those in the government.”

Only on Slogger
Kuehl: "Some of Them Probably Have American Blood on Their Hands"
By JANE ARRAF 06/09/2007 5:04 PM ET
U.S. soldiers hand food to Iraqi resistance fighter in Amiriyah neighborhood of Baghdad.
Photo by Jane Arraf/IraqSlogger
U.S. soldiers hand food to Iraqi resistance fighter in Amiriyah neighborhood of Baghdad.

BAGHDAD – Lieutenant Colonel Dale Kuehl called in his company commanders and explained to them why after losing more than a dozen men in the Amiriyah neighborhood in a month, they were now expected to work with the enemy.

“Yes some of them are probably former insurgents; some of them probably have American blood on their hands,” he told the captains gathered around him in the plywood-paneled battalion headquarters. “But keep in mind our mission is to bring peace and stability to the people of Iraq,” he said.

If none of the soldiers and young officers at the meeting this week quite believed that peace and stability would come to Iraq they all understood they needed to try to reduce violence in Baghdad so they could go home.

“As Amiriyah goes, so goes Baghdad and right now it’s not guaranteed which way it’s going to go,” Kuehl told about half a dozen commanders, many of them in their mid 20s.

Al-Qaeda and its allies are believed to be fighting for the Sunni enclave of Amiriyah to be able to maintain a corridor further down into other parts of Baghdad. They have declared it a capital of their self-declared Islamic State, one of the reasons that more mainstream Sunni insurgents are making a stand here.

Kuehl, 41, and the commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, is from Alabama. There are lots of rules about what you can’t do but no template for how to try to defeat al-Qaeda using Sunni insurgents in the middle of Baghdad.

Lt Colonel Dale Kuehl takes call from Iraqi Army brigade commander asking for ammunition and evacuation for wounded resistance fighters last week after fighting flared with al-Qaeda in Amiriyah.
Photo by Jane Arraf/IraqSlogger
Lt Colonel Dale Kuehl takes call from Iraqi Army brigade commander asking for ammunition and evacuation for wounded resistance fighters last week after fighting flared with al-Qaeda in Amiriyah.
“I’m going to empower all of you to help figure this out. There is no model for this,” he told the captains at the evening meeting.

So far the cooperation seems to have worked. This week, the resistance fighters captured five suspected al-Qaeda members in one night without firing a single shot. “We were never able to do that,” Kuehl told his men, reminding them that “the best counter-insurgent is the one who looks like an insurgent.”

The group turned two of them over to the Americans and let three others go in what Kuehl said was their own version of amnesty. Kuehl told the men that the U.S. would consider its own amnesty for some of the fighters now working with them.

It’s the amnesty part that most troubles some of the soldiers. But most seem to have decided that al-Qaeda, believed responsible for the most lethal attacks against coalition forces, is a greater enemy than the former insurgents they’re now being asked to support – insurgents who may have attacked Americans in the past.

“This is the fight we’re in and I think people need to realize that,” Kuehl said later.

“The immediate response when your buddy gets killed is anger. Guys want to lash out and there were guys who just wanted to level Amiriyah and I see that as the anger over losing their friends. Over time they’ve come to accept it.” He said he was holding the meeting because some of the commanders didn’t understand why they were reaching out to people who they previously might have tried to capture or kill.

“If it’s important for commanders to understand, it its important for soldiers to understand: ‘Why are these guys running around with AK-47s in civilian clothes and I’m not shooting at them.’”

Although the U.S. forces dubbed them the Baghdad Patriots and then Freedom Fighters, the group calls itself the “Amiriyah Revolutionaries,” several of its members told me. They said they have about 30 fighters, many of them Saddam-era Army officers, armed with AK-47s – and now U.S. Army support.

“Excellent work, very good,” 1sst Lieutenant Argyle Nelson told the tactical leader of the group this week in a mosque courtyard that has been their temporary headquarters. “We wanted one of those guys for a long time and you brought him in.”

Nelson’s platoon was delivering food to the fighters – boxes containing canned peas, bags of rice and lentils – and a promise of fuel to be able to cook them.

The leader, looking exhausted and wearing a pistol, explained to Nelson through an Army interpreter where he believed there were more al-Qaeda leaders.

“This is their neighborhood,” said the Iraqi fighter, who asked not to be identified. “There are (foreign) Arabs with explosives – suicide vests,” he said, gesturing ripping open an explosive vest.

Nelson told them they would support them with tanks for the raids planned that night.

“If we hear heavy gunfire, the tank will move into that location,” Nelson told him.

“What do you need for this mission?” Nelson asked? He replied they needed equipment to break down doors.

Although they welcome the help, some of the fighters are equally uncomfortable working with the Americans.

“After we defeat al-Qaeda and we have gasoline and electricity what do we need the Americans for?” said one of the fighters, a former Army officer who said his name was Ta’ie.

In a relationship less than two weeks old, everyone is still figuring out where they stand.

Like many command posts here, the inside of the 1-5 battalion headquarters looks like a tree-house, hastily constructed of plywood and equipped with the best air-conditioning money can buy. Nothing can keep out the fine sand and dust that settles on the bare tables and on the telephones.

A week ago Thursday I was about to go out with a patrol into Amiriyah with one of the companies when Kuehl got a call from the Iraqi Army brigade commander. Local residents had begun fighting al-Qaeda he said, asking for ammunition and help in evacuating the wounded resistance fighters. One of them had been wounded by U.S. forces.

“One of your patrols has shot one of the patriots and cut his leg off,” said Colonel Ghassan, as the two commanders and their interpreters gathered around speakerphones in their separate headquarters. They later figured out a way to try to identify resistance fighters, now allowed to carry guns in the street, from insurgents who can be shot if they’re seen armed.

Kuehl’s soldiers quickly found themselves in the unusual position of being invited inside a mosque, to care for wounded former insurgents and help coordinate the battle.

Kuehl has been trying to find a way to legally get limited amounts of weapons to the fighters. He envisages them as the nucleus of a local police force which would eventually maintain security in the Sunni enclave. The current largely Shiite local police have taken heavy losses in fights with al-Qaeda and are entrenched in safe houses, too afraid to patrol the neighborhood, he said.

The Iraqi Army and Iraqi government, also largely Shiite, are wary of allowing the Sunni group to become too strong, in case the fighters turn on them.

“In some ways I just need passive support to allow us to work with the local to defeat al-Qaeda,” Kuehl said.

Lt General Martin Dempsey, who has spent 1-1/2 years building up the traditional police and Army in Iraq, said the resistance group could be an interim step in Amariyah but it would be a tough sell to the Iraqi government, which would eventually have to equip them and fund them.

“These local initiatives are probably the way to get us over the immediate crisis in security in neighborhoods,” he said. “There will have to be some salesmanship required here because it’s not the instinct of the central government to seal a local initiative which at some point could threaten the central government. So we’ve got a bit of challenge on our hands.”

Kuehl sees this as a decisive battle in the war – a possible turning point in Baghdad. It’s personal as well. Fifteen of the battalion’s soldiers have been killed in Amiriyah since May, including six who died along with their interpreter when a huge, buried, IED flipped over their bradlee. Kuehl survived an assassination attempt when a bomb went off at a meeting he was about to attend.

As well as explaining to his captains why they had changed tactics, he imparted some instructions for their men.

“Tell them to watch out how they act around the mosque,” he said. “We are there to coordinate, not to occupy.”

He told them to keep an eye on the resistance fighters as they captured al-Qaeda members. The fighters have agreed to turn over suspects to the Americans within 24 hours.

“My expectation is no beatings, no torture, and no executions and I want you to keep a watch out for that,” he said.

Italians To Try To Turn Iraqi National Police Into "Carabinieri"
By JANE ARRAF 06/08/2007 5:39 PM ET
ROME - MAY 2: : Carabinieri (Italian special police) attend the funeral Mass for the Italian soldiers killed in Iraq
Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
ROME - MAY 2: : Carabinieri (Italian special police) attend the funeral Mass for the Italian soldiers killed in Iraq

BAGHDAD – Italy is expected to try to turn Iraq’s troubled National Police into something akin to the Carabinieri – the Italian paramilitary police, said the outgoing commander in charge of developing Iraqi security forces.

Lt General Martin Dempsey, who testifies before Congress next week, said in an interview he remained cautiously optimistic that the Iraqi security forces could continue to build on progress they’ve made in developing self-sustaining institutions. He seemed somewhat less optimistic about the performance of the Iraqi government as a whole.

Dempsey is leaving his post as head of the Multinational Security Transition Command to become deputy commander of U.S. Central Command.

Lt General Martin Dempsey
Jane Arraf/Iraqslogger
Lt General Martin Dempsey

First deployed here as commander of the 1st Armored Division, he’s spent three of the last four years here – making him currently the longest-serving general officer in Iraq and one of those with the longest experience in the Middle East. He previously served in Saudi Arabia.

The National Police, seen as a participant in sectarian violence rather than part of the solution, has been one of his biggest challenges.

The Iraqi Ministry of Interior has so far removed seven of the force’s nine brigade commanders and 14 of its 24 brigade commanders for human rights abuses, corruption or ineffectiveness. An entire brigade was taken off the streets for retraining after its leaders and some of its members were linked to Shiite death squads.

“I’m optimistic that NATO will come in with the Italians as a lead nation to turn the National Police in Carabinieri and that has a lot of potential,” Dempsey said.

He said the Carabinieri – similar to the Gendarmerie in other countries - would provide more equipment and training – such as in crowd control and the rule of law – an area where the National Police are ‘far, far less sensitive that they need to be.”

He said another key element in reforming the National Police would be removing up to half of them from Baghdad and sending them to other parts of the country to serve as an interim force between the local police and the Army.

“Baghdad’s tempo is such and the level of violence is such and the pressures are such and the scrutiny is such that we’ve got to get some of them into a part of the country where they can develop because it’s very difficult to develop when you’re in knife fight every day of your life.”

Dempsey said tactical performance of the Iraqi security forces – their ability to fight – had been a ‘roller coaster” in the midst of the sectarian violence. But he said the Defense Ministry and Interior Ministry had made steady institutional progress.

“There is genuine accountability - they feel themselves responsible for the caring and equipping of their soldiers. They don’t always do it to standard but they feel responsible now which is a huge step.”

He said they were also spending more of their budgets than other ministries – one of the biggest problems with Iraqi ministries which have spent just a small fraction of the money available to them in providing services. And for the most part he said, the Defense and Interior ministries were allocating the resources equitably.

The Iraqi forces are an integral part of the surge in U.S. troops in Baghdad, which is intended to stabilize the capital to allow the Iraqi government to better function. Iraqi soldiers and police are intended to move in to maintain security in neighborhoods that U.S. forces have cleared of insurgents.

Dempsey said though he did not believe the Iraqi government would make substantial progress by the time the Commander of US forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus , is to update Congress in September on the new strategy.

“I’m not sure the government’s functioning is going to change dramatically in the 120 days . They are rather novice in what they’re doing and they have some huge issues to tackle so I don’t think you’re going to see an exponential change in the performance of the Iraqi government,” he said.

“They are not the most smoothly functioning collegial collaborative group that I’ve ever met - they are more or less accommodating each other. I’d like to report that it’s a government of reconciliation and national unity but it’s not yet – it might not even be reasonable to expect that it could be yet but I think that they can find ways and must find ways to accommodate each other.”

A key part of the plan to hand over security to Iraqi forces relies on increasing the number of Iraqi soldiers available. Dempsey said they intended to add about 20,000 men by the end of the year to about 170,000 soldiers. He said he believed they should eventually be at about 190,000 soldiers, achievable by next year.

Dempsey said the regular police were the appropriate size. “We just need to make them better not bigger.”

As for what he would have liked to accomplish: “If there is an area I wish we were further along it’s leader development.”

Saddam Hussein, he said, “culled out leaders of the kind we’re looking for now - and then they went to war with Iran and they lost a lot of leaders in some very difficult fighting, and then we went to war against them and they lost some leaders, and now they’ve been in a fight for three years against al-Qaeda and some others and they’re losing leaders.”

“We’ve been at it for two years so we’ve generated 4,800 new officers but we’ve had mixed results,” he said. “Some of them are extraordinarily brave and some of them are extraordinarily timid and corrupt and it’s a constant process of weeding them out.” .

Correspondent Embedded with US Forces in Iraq to Answer Your Questions
06/06/2007 4:35 PM ET
Iraq rhetoric and rumors aside, what's the ground truth?

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Jane Arraf has spent most of the past decade in Iraq, making her the dean of the Baghdad-based foreign correspondents' corps.

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She's been on the front lines with US and Iraqi forces in Baghdad, Diyala, on the Iraq-Iran border, and elsewhere.

She's interviewed the top US general in Iraq, David Petraeus.

She's spent time with exasperated, exhausted Iraqis, and, because she speaks fluent Arabic, she's one of the few foreign correspondents who communicates directly with Iraqis in the streets.

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This is your last opportunity during her present Iraq tour to put questions to Jane.

She'll respond to your questions in an IraqSlogger column next Monday.

Submit your questions any time via the green "Tips, Questions, and Suggestions" tab in the left column of the IraqSlogger home page.

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