The note below is from a reader of the blog who takes issue
with the "unraveling" thread. I am quoting this with his permission and leaving
out his name at his request. This is a guy who knows what he is talking about.
His comments are especially interesting because the New York Times
Fallujah, near where he is operating, as one of the places where things are
unraveling. He disagrees.
This officer's interesting bottom line: "we have taken it as far as Americans can."
24 June, 2009
now more than halfway through our stint here in eastern Al Anbar Province, just
west of the greater Baghdad area. Things have been going well, all things
considered, and the days are moving along quickly now. We are living at a
relatively large base with all of the amenities of an occupying force: laundry,
plenty of food, gym, internet, phones, and (unique to this base) a small
man-made lake that was once Uday Hussein's vacation retreat. The base is
called Camp Baharia...
My battalion currently operates
in the Fallujah, Saqlawiyah, and Karmah regions, a space once occupied by a
force about ten times ours. We arrived as one of the first battalions to
operate exclusively under the new guidelines set forth in the Status of Forces Agreement signed last fall.
Early on our mission was to pair
with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), which includes the Iraqi Police, Iraqi
Army, and the Provincial Security Forces (a national guard of sorts) to conduct
counter-insurgency and capacity building. We soon found that our ability
to influence enemy activity was severely restricted as we could no longer
detain suspects and we could no longer immerse ourselves in the population
through the use of combat outposts within the cities.
This forced us to work through
the ISF. Instead of doing the work for them we came to think of ourselves
as instructors, not concerned with the who-did-what-to-whom, and more concerned
with how they conduct police and security operations.
This means we are less concerned
with who the high value individuals are (the really bad guys; our obsession
last year) and are more concerned with the ISF's ability to conduct an
investigation, obtain a warrant from the (albeit corrupt and feckless) local
judge, handle evidence, handle detainees, conduct questioning, and develop a
case to be heard at a higher court.
This has been halting and
frustrating work. I have worked with our Battalion Staff Judge Advocate
(lawyer), a very smart guy who speaks Arabic, to try to develop the ISF
understanding of proper evidence and the judge's understanding of warrants and
trials. It has been a bit like Law
& Order: Iraq, but
without the happy ending and closed case. The greatest hurdles we have
are out of our control at the District level in Fallujah and the Provincial
level in Ramadi. Even when we do everything right at the local level
there are hundreds of stories of a tribal leader paying off judges and police
to release his wayward son who promises never to commit a crime again.
Many of the local ISF won't know one of their detainees is released until they
see him on the street the next week.
Another key part of our job has
been to facilitate the transfer of the Sons of Iraq (SOI) program (also known
as the Iraqi Civilian Watch) to Iraqi control. This US-founded program
hired thousands of disenchanted, largely Sunni, male youths, gave them a
weapon, and told them to stand post. It worked spectacularly well,
largely by giving a population of potential insurgents a better
alternative. But now the US is done paying for it, so it is left to the
Iraqi Ministry of the Interior to handle. We helped with the security of
these operations, though we have done our best to take the backseat.
Attached are some photos of the pay operations, which are at once chaotic,
joyous, and hot (it's averaging around 110 these days) affairs.
In addition to the capacity
building and SOI payments, we have been a part of the gradual release of
detainees from US custody. The US prison in Bucca has been releasing its
less-threatening inmates to Iraqi custody for the last year now. Our job
has been to smooth the transition and ensure that the local security forces are
aware of the releases.
Capacity building, hands-off
security, and detainee releases all means that the average infantry Marine has
been pretty bored this deployment, which is, of course, a good thing. The
Marines, to a man, would rather be in Afghanistan a conflict they see as
simpler than the legalistic, restrictive environment here. But they have
done a terrific job at staying busy, conducting training, and staying active.
Despite recent reporting, the area is stable, while still not completely safe. The
attacks mentioned in the article are not part of a mounting trend, but are
normal and to be expected from time to time in this environment. If we
want Iraq to return to normal it will necessarily mean making itself more
vulnerable to these kinds of attacks.
But we have taken it as far as
Americans can. In my opinion, anything we do now may do more harm than
good in delaying the inevitable and reinforcing their, at times, crippling
malaise. The only enduring role for Americans is to provide the safety
net to prevent complete collapse, chaos, and civil war; three things that I do
not believe will happen in any event."
It seems to me that he is saying that he doubts an
unraveling will occur, but if it does, there isn't a whole lot we can do to
prevent it at this point, so we might as well leave.