The Battle for Baghdad
As the political situation evolves, the insurgency is focused on Baghdad
Baghdad has yet again become the center of gravity for the insurgency. For three years the insurgency attempted to establish its dominance in outlying cities such as Fallujah, Mosul, Tal Afar, Ramadi, Husaybah, Haditha, Samarra, Balad, Taji, Najaf and elsewhere, and failed. Baghdad is now the center of power, the seat and symbol of legitimacy of the new Iraqi government. The all important Iraqi ministries of Interior, Defense, and Oil reside in Baghdad, as does the Coalition command headquarters and the "International Zone". The media is concentrated in the city as they lack the resources to operate outside the capitol, and are required to maintain a Baghdad office.
Major General Rick Lynch, the spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq, aptly explains why the insurgency is focusing on the city, and reports on Coalition and Iraqi efforts to reduce the violence in the capitol under Operation Scales of Justice during his March 30 briefing.
Let's talk about Baghdad -- a very, very sensitive time as the Iraqis try to form this national unity government, and it's the time where the enemy is saying, "They have vulnerability. Maybe, just maybe, I can derail the democratic process. I couldn't do it in 2005. I couldn't stop the January elections. I couldn't stop them drafting or ratifying a constitution in October, and I couldn't stop the December elections. So maybe, just maybe, during this period of time, I can inflame sectarian violence and delay the formation of a national unity government."
We saw that coming with the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Security Forces, so we planned Operation Scales of Justice inside of Baghdad to create a stable environment in Baghdad so this national unity government can indeed form. We started about four weeks ago. There were about 26,000 members of the Iraqi security force there at the beginning and 10,000 coalition. We added an additional 3,700 members of the security forces. That allowed us to increase patrols by a hundred a day. That allowed us to increase the number of checkpoints and led to our effectiveness.
Remember, the enemy still wants to increase attack levels. He still wants to inflame sectarian violence, but see the effect we've had in the operation. In these particular areas inside of Iraq, inside of Baghdad specifically, you can see we've been able to reduce the daily attack average from almost 20 down to 16. And there is indeed in Baghdad an increased perception of security because the people of Baghdad are seeing increased security force presence: Iraqi army, Iraqi police and indeed coalition forces.
Maj Gen Lynch is technically correct. Attacks in all areas of Iraq are down or even, and Baghdad has seen an increase in attacks by 8% over the past two weeks. Soldier's Dad provides a briefing slide of the distribution of attacks in Baghdad, and notes the high violence in the Mansur District.
However, the level of violence, or more accurately the perception of the level of violence in Baghdad, is rising. The constant discovery of bodies tortured, maimed, executed and dumped on the roadside is eroding the faith of the residents of Baghdad in the government's ability to provide for their security. Government security forces, particularly the police, are viewed with distrust in some neighborhoods. Militias are both revered and feared. This can be seen in the reporting of Iraqi bloggers Omar and Mohammed, Zayed, Ali, Hammorabi, and Riverbend (despite opinions of each blogger, they essentially paint the same picture of the situation in Baghdad). The media, being concentrated in Baghdad, reports this, and the perception is the security situation in Baghdad represents the security situation in the rest of Iraq.
This couldn't be farther from the truth. Last evening I spoke to Gunnery Sergeant Charles Strong, from Weapons Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. His unit just returned from Iraq, and fought in some of the fiercest battles in western Anbar province over the past year. He explained the Al Qaim region is making remarkable progress, and the problems are more of the nature in getting the disparate Sunni tribes to work together. His story isn't uncommon. Much of Iraq is going through a similar transition, or is relatively peaceful. But none of this matters as long as the insurgency focuses on Baghdad.
The Iraqi government and Coalition are making an effort to secure Baghdad, as Operation Scales of Justice demonstrates, however the question that remains is this effort good enough to get a handle on the problems with the insurgency, militias, and gang violence. The Iraqi government and Coalition need to increase security in the capitol and deal with the problems in the police force immediately before confidence in the police is completely eroded. Corrupt police units must be disbanded. The creation of the equivalent of Military Transition Teams for the police is already in the works, but needs to be accelerated. Until then, pair police units with Iraqi Army and U.S. military units. The "call forward" brigade, consisting of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, is currently sitting in Kuwait. One battalion was recently moved forward to the Baghdad area to provide additional security for the Muslim holiday of Arba'een. Move the rest of the brigade to Baghdad. Consider the possibility of establishing curfews, closing off roads, placing 'battle positions' in the more problematic neighborhoods.
These actions may be viewed in some quarters as desperation, but they are prudent moves to get a handle on the security situation and change the perception among the residents of Baghdad that something is being done about the security situation. The real solution is the creation of a unity government, with serious and secular ministers in the portfolios of Defense and the Interior, who have the ability to purge the police of militias and take Sadr head on.
Insurgencies are cyclical by nature, and will move to where they perceive the weak point exists. Right now the point of weakness is Baghdad, and Sadr's Mahdi Army militia only exacerbates the problems. The Iraqi political parties need time and space to allow the torturous political process to play itself out. The Iraqi Army and Coalition need to give them that time and space.