Friday, March 17, 2006

Fighting Smarter In Iraq

Vor kurzem habe ich auf einen recht optimistischen Bericht aus dem Irak verwiesen. Etwas weniger euphorisch, aber dennoch erfreulich wird die Situation im Irak von David Ignatius eingesch├Ątzt.

Iraq is still a mess. Traveling over Baghdad by Black Hawk helicopter, you can see piles of fetid trash on nearly every block and pools of raw sewage glinting in the sun. Car bombs and roadside explosions are still a daily feature of life, and the death toll remains horrific, especially for Iraqi civilians. But it would be a mistake to think that nothing is changing. The country is fragile, but it hasn't splintered apart.

I visited two bases where you can see the new U.S. strategy begin to take hold. The first was at Taji, straddling the Tigris River north of Baghdad, where the American 4th Infantry Division is gradually handing off responsibility to Iraqi units. After the Samarra bombing, enraged Shiites killed two Sunni clerics, and there was a danger that the reprisal killings could escalate.

Tensions eased after an Iraqi brigade commander, a Shiite, rolled his armored vehicles into the Sunni stronghold of Tarmiya and told local imams that his men would protect their mosques against Shiite attacks -- and that in return, they must control Sunni militants. "He laid down the law," remembers Col. Jim Pasquarette, who commands U.S. forces in the area. The crisis gradually eased there, with U.S. forces mostly remaining in the background.

"This is the hardest thing I've ever done," Pasquarette says of the new rules of counterinsurgency. "In the old days, it was black and white -- see a guy and shoot him. But counterinsurgency is a thinking man's sport. Every decision you make, you have to step back and say, 'What's the next thing that's going to happen?' " He says he drills his troops to remember the "three P's" of the new Iraqi battlefield: "be polite, be professional, be prepared to kill."

The town of Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad, faced a similar test after Samarra. The area is almost entirely Sunni; the Iraqi army unit that has responsibility there is largely Shiite. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, but the Iraqi brigade commander, a feisty Shiite from southern Iraq named Gen. Aziz, is making it work. After the Samarra explosion, Aziz told me, he convened a meeting with local tribal and religious leaders.

"I am responsible for your safety," he admonished them. "The law should protect us all. There are no militias in this area." He told the local leaders they could protect their homes and mosques, but if he found anyone carrying weapons on the streets, he would kill him. The message seemed to work. A fiery local Sunni imam told his worshipers last Friday they should try to live with their neighbors.

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