Thursday, December 28, 2006

Training Iraq's Troops

Perhaps the most catastrophic error committed by the United States in the post-conflict period was to dismantle the Iraqi army and police forces. It seemed the U.S. was unable to distinguish between Saddam's Sunni regime and the security forces, which were in fact 90% Shia. This created an enormous security vacuum and is largely to blame for the present situation.

In response to this crisis, the Iraq Study Group and many others have recommended that the U.S. Army shift from conducting combat operations to advising and training Iraqi security forces. This is of course a great idea as besides reducing American casualties, it will allow the U.S. to responsibly withdraw from Iraq without fear that that security situation will decline precipitously. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, Vice President of Iraq, Tariq al Hashimi fully supports this recommendation, declaring that once Iraq has a fully operational and effective security force, "the U.S. must leave Iraq".

The keyword here is "effective." While the numbers of trained security forces are rising, they remain politically unreliable, often contributing to the sectarian strife rather than containing it. Today's New York Times reports:
"The soldiers who came upon the car in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad were part of a joint American and Iraqi patrol, and the Americans were ready to take action. The Iraqi commander, however, taking orders by cellphone from the office of a top Sunni politician, said to back off: the car’s owner was known and protected at a high level...This time, it was a Sunni politician — Vice Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie — but the more powerful Shiites interfered even more often."
Prime Minister al Maliki has on several occasions allowed his loyalties to al Sadr to compromise Iraq's security, most recently lifting a roadblock around Sadr City that was immobilizing some of Iraq's most notorious death squads.

According to Brookings' Iraq Index, only 10,000 of the 115,000 trained and equipped Iraqi forces are politically reliable.

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