16 October 2006

My letter to Inteldump on Baquba and Diyala

The following was sent to Inteldump on Phil Carter's article on his experiences in Diyala Governate and Baquba in Iraq. None of this is spell checked and given 'as-is' with all the faults of what is written solely mine.

Not a criticism but further context is necessary for understanding what is being seen in Iraq in Diyala Governate. As of mid- to late- AUG 2006, it was a Governate in transition to Iraqi control and, as Mr. Carter pointed out, is in quite some turmoil being at a multiway cross-roads of faultlines in the Middle East in a geographic sense for those faultlines. The US strategy, muchly criticized for *not* going in to 'clear out cities first' was one that took a 'lessons learned' from other conflicts and went a different route from them. The main concern was that in the 'oil spot' strategy of cities then countryside, is that virulent insurgency is nearly impossible to suppress or wipe out in countrysides when they are getting local support. Thus the strategy was that of the Riverine Campaign to take out supply lines from Syria and end the Ba'athist support first and start to move the countryside via personal contacts and hard work. Those tribes take a *long* time to convince and only in the past few months has this actually paid off with Sunni tribes now signing on to the government and fighting al Qaeda and the Ba'athists that remain.

This was added to a further strategy to then move out from the provinces to re-establish contact with tribes and Governates so as to allow coherent elections to take place. Most of the terrorists and Ba'athist redentists did not *believe* that Iraqis actually would vote and did not disrupt them. These elections were key to starting a more Federal outlook in Iraq that would more tightly bring the provinces and the tribes together. As part of this the containment strategy was to secure relatively quiet provinces and work on the 'hard ones' by concentrating the violence TO them. This has been a 'divide' the Nation, secure it, move into less populated areas, get them on-board with Federalism and slowly encroach into the East and Southwest. That entire swath of Iraq is influenced by two principal borders: Iran and Saudi Arabia.

As a result the provinces now move under control of Iraqi military and police and a few hard pressed areas in central Diyala, Baghdad and the direct southern border regions with Iran and Saudi Arabia are now those being worked at. Seeing Diyala and Baquba in that context then gives meaning to what is seen and heard going on there. Violence is bad, but there is *also* the feeling in the populace that as things are getting more secure around the province, that there will be a final END to foreign supported violence. Thus the taxidriver's assessment that things were better year on year all the way to the present, while, to an outsider, it looks like chaos. Now, imagine what it was like when there was NO control over the surrounding provinces and the feelings held *then*. Iraq is coming to realize that Iran is a destabilization force and that Diyala is a one of the keys that Iran is trying to turn so as to thwart the overall integrity of Iraq.

Baghdad was always seen as the demographic centroid of Iraq and would be one of the later things to get done. In point of fact, throwing more troops *into* Baghdad without first securing the countryside was something of a meat-grinder scenario: the city would become an endless sink to soldiers and the various terrorists and insurgents would gain great play by continuing to kill MNF soldiers there. That was a prescription for years of useless fighting. The inverse strategy has had its problems, no doubt, but they have kept casualties, both MNF and Iraqi, lower than the 'oil spot' and are transitioning to more peaceful government elsewhere to build confidence in the overall project. Further, this is giving US forces valuable experience in fighting a new, across-the-spectrum fight that has not been done before. Previously this has been described as 'three block warfare', but that is an outgrowth of a more internetworked-centric outlook. I explore that idea on two future war conceptions against Iran
here and here. Overall the entire Armed Forces structure of the US is moving from the old 'Total War' idea of heavy forces and occupation to 'NetWar' concepts of denial of enemy capability and building multi-variate means of success that go beyond just military structures.

One can, with some justification, that the US 'took the path of least resistance' in this by quieting the quietest areas *first* and saving the 'tough nuts' for last. So be it. The entire military structure, however, from top to bottom, needed to inculcate this new style of warfare and understand it and what it is aimed at achieving. That learning road could not ever be done via the 'oil spot' concept and would, in point of fact, end up with a high body count and demoralized military and little chance, if ever, for anything approaching peace in Iraq. That cannot ever be achieved so long as al Qaeda can infiltrate from KSA and the southern Iranian border remains porous. Much has been done to secure the border in the more northern provinces and that still needs to work southwards fully and start getting a better command and control system in place for Iraqis to maintain and run. Getting them a properly scaled and maintainable system for that is paramount as securing the borders will be the prime mover in *stopping* foreign support of terrorists. Strangely I think we have gotten further in Iraq than along the southern US border...

This now puts the current Operation Forward Together into its proper perspective as a cordon, clean, sweep, secure and leave trustworthy troops in place to hold those sections secure. Thus a slow operation that is likely to go well into next year as the Iraqis are not able to get enough able-trained forces to hold these city section immediately. Further, they have had some problems with forces feeling regional affiliation and not wanting to move out on National orders. That will need be ended and only Iraqis can do that. Cleaning out Baghdad will be a slow, messy, time-consuming and methodical type of warfare... but there is an *end* to it as the only safe havens left are in the East and Southwest provinces. Diyala will probably need something along these lines and the large hope is that after the majority of Baghdad is cleared, a smaller operational force can move into Diyala and Baquba and achieve the same. Baquba is still in transition and will continue to BE in transition for at least a few months. Cleaning out Sadr City, the Mahdi Army and the Badr brigades is top order in Baghdad and Baquba is a bit further down the list from them.

So, *still* a holding action? Yes. Sadly, yes, but with the Armed Forces needing to keep a 'ready reserve' for other potential hot-spots in Iran and North Korea, that will remain the case. What the US does *not* have and will *never* have is a Light Constabulary Force to put in place after major combat is over. That smacks of Imperialism and is something that would gain no traction, anywhere with the US population. The US does *not* want to stay *anywhere* and we prefer to hand things over to responsible adults locally. A larger force on the ground doing the 'oil spot' strategy would, indeed, have killed many hundreds of US soldiers per month to no good end. We forget, in the US, that we have fought
much, much longer conflicts with greater death tolls previously, and even Afghanistan has not gone as well as Iraq in re-establishing civil control. And we forget that even *after* we had a Peace Treaty with Britain, our OWN government had years where it tottered on the brink of chaos over and over again between 1783 and 1787, nearly 5 years of that. And we did not have hostile Nations seeking to destroy us on two immediate borders, either. The last time the US was in anything like this current situation was in the Philippines where victory was 'declared' in 1902, but actually getting things peaceful enough to hand over to the local government could only be done in 1916.

Baquba, like Baghdad previously, is a mess. Baghdad is slowly becoming *less* of a mess as it is sectioned off and those bringing terrorism to it are found and rooted out or are forced to flee. Some, I expect, will flee to Baquba, and they will find the border to the East of them sealed, no good way North or West and forces coming for them in the South. Baquba is a key to Iraq and a major one. Place it in context and the slow, methodical operations to actually get trustworthy Iraqi forces online and clear out the traditional hiding spaces of insurgency is *working*. That is the way of the world for these sorts of conflicts... and we will, sooner or later, need to address Iran and KSA. First things first, however. Iraq is no longer a 'wide open spaces' affair militarily, but becoming a boxing ring. And as that old saying goes in a confined fight: you can run, but you can't hide.

But then, I think strange thoughts...

I thank you for your article and wonderful website!

[Name Withheld]
A Jacksonian
Yes, I do see things differently when taking a look at what has been done and achieved in Iraq. And I have found much to criticize in the Administration's policies in other areas, but the actual conception and conduct of the fighting and stabilization in Iraq is proving out to be a good one that does *not* lead to Total War meatgrinders nor to indecisive and timid actions like in Somalia and the Balkans. There are nasty, vicious places where fighting continues and, strangely, this is just the place we send Armed Forces: it is their JOB to go to such places to help the Republic in the long run.

If you want things nice and tidy, then please ask nasty governments to be orderly so that a clean and effective removal of the rulership will leave the government *intact*. Do not lose heart because we fight cowardly bullies who use vicious tactics to impose their will. Taking them on is what we DO when they bring threat to us in the long term. There are long term consequences to NOT taking them on and fighting to win, and we forget that at Our peril as a Nation.

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