Iraq: Sunni Arab Nightmare


October 30, 2005: After two years of fighting, the Iraqi Sunni Arabs are seeing their worst nightmare come true. And that is an Iraqi army and police force that can do the job, and is not led by Sunni Arabs. For generations, Iraq was dominated by Sunni Arabs, because Sunni Arabs held most of the leadership posts in the army and police. Kurds and Shia Arabs were often the majority of the troops and beat cops, but they nearly always took orders from a hierarchy of Sunni Arab supervisors and officers. The Sunni Arabs knew that the management and leadership skills necessary to run an army or police force were not easily acquired. It took years of training and experience. There was no way the Kurds and Shia Arabs could quickly replace those Sunni Arab officers and NCOs. Thus Sunni Arab terrorists would drive out the foreign troops, especially the deadly Americans, and, then the Sunni Arabs would take over again. But then something very, very bad (for the Sunni Arab takeover plan) happened. Battalions and brigades of Iraqi troops began to show up, commanded by Kurds, Shia Arabs, and some turncoat Sunni Arabs, that could do the job. Currently there are 207,000 Iraqi soldiers and police that are trained and equipped for operations. There are sufficient leadership to deploy 120 army and police battalions for combat operations. About three dozen of these battalions are well enough led to undertake security operations without American supervision.

Every week, these Iraqi battalions undertake more operations, each raid or cordon and search operation providing the Iraqi officers and NCOs with more practical experience, and confidence that they can do the job. Each Iraqi battalion has a team of ten American advisors, who observe and advise, but are not numerous enough (and few speak Arabic) to run the battalion. The Americans help with things like logistics, which has always been a major weakness with the Iraqi army. The U.S. advisors also rate the Iraqi officers and NCOs for the Iraqi senior commanders, helping to select those who are able to do the job, and those who don't, and must be removed. This is hard to do in Iraq, where everyone has a tribe to back them up. Try and remove a man from command of a army or police battalion, and you find that you are taking on the man's entire tribe. Saddam Hussein didn't have that problem, because if he had to remove an officer from command, he would often do it by killing the fellow, and telling his fellow tribesmen that there was more death to be had if the tribe objected.

The American have brought in a radically new way to deal with these problems, and it has taken the Iraqis some time to get used to it. But the Kurds and Shia Arabs want to succeed, because they know that if the Sunni Arabs regain control, many, many Kurds and Shia Arabs will die, particularly those who are now commanding army and police units.

As of mid-October, the 18 Iraqi army battalions in the Baghdad area, all but a few are capable of going out and searching for terrorists. That means, most of those battalions have officers and NCOs that can organize convoys full of troops capable of defending themselves while moving, and quickly running through the drills required for fighting off ambushes, searching buildings, taking prisoners and so on. American battalions usually serve as backup for the Iraqi battalions during these operations. The backup battalion provides reinforcements, if needed, and form a safety net for Iraqi battalions commanded by men new to the job. American battalions are full of leaders with ten to fifteen or more years experience. Iraqi battalions are led by men with one or two years experience.

Seven of the 18 Baghdad battalions can operate on their own, and the more they do, the more confident their officers and NCOs become. On a normal day, there are one or two dozen terrorist attacks throughout the city. Each attack triggers a response from the army and police, and an attempt to round up those responsible. The Iraqi army commanders have to know terrorist tactics. The Americans, and now Iraqi, compile information on exactly how the terrorists attack, and note things like how many local Iraqi civilians are involved in the attack (as lookouts, messengers, guides or even gunmen), and where they can be found right after the attack. The Iraqi troops and police are able to catch a lot of these low level terrorists, who will often reveal who they know, leading to more arrests. Each week, a higher portion of the terrorist suspects turn out to have blood on their hands, not just people who were in the wrong place, at the wrong time with the wrong attitude.

The Iraqi battalions are able to make terrorist attacks much more costly, for the terrorists. Thus the recent terrorist attack on the Palestinian hotel, resulted in over a dozen terrorist personnel killed or captured because of prompt action by Iraqi soldiers and police. As a result of this, two more trends are in evidence. First, more and more of the terrorist activity is moving outside of heavily policed Baghdad, to smaller towns where there are fewer security personnel. Second, more Sunni Arabs are giving up on plans for any quick take over of the government. These Kurdish and Shia Arab police and army officers were not supposed to show up so quickly, if ever. But there they are.




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