A Look Ahead: Fighting the Insurgency in Iraq

The future fight in Iraq requires constant maintenance on all three fronts: political, military and economic. Yesterday, the White House issued a document titled Progress and the Work Ahead in Iraq. The fact sheet provides a clear, concise and honest look at the challenges in all three arenas for the year ahead. This document can be considered the summary of the “short term” goals of the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.

In the political realm, the emphasis is placed on the formation of a new Iraqi government. The desired outcome is the creation of a national unity government and how they will tackle the “tough decisions on issues such as security, reconstruction, and economic reform.” The Coalition can provide limited assistance in the area of governance, and specifically “help Iraqis build an impartial system of justice, combat corruption by strengthening the Commission on Public Integrity, and build effective government ministries.” The political decisions are for the Iraqis to make.

In the economic realm, the focus is on economic reforms, rebuilding critical infrastructure, and restoring energy independence in the oil and electricity sectors. The document is quite clear there are serous deficiencies in the energy sectors; “since liberation, terrorists have targeted these areas for destruction. As a result, oil and power production are below pre-war levels.” Calls for international donors to honor their pledges and for debtors to release Iraq from Saddam’s debt are also made.

In the security arena, the focus is on building the local and national Iraqi police forces. The upcoming year has been referred to in many military circles as “the year of the police” , as the goal is to stand up local police forces to work in conjunction with Iraqi Army units and Coalition forces. For this reason, the Iraqi police are the target of a concerted al Qaeda campaign.

There are three areas the Coalition is working to improve the police forces: at the federal level with the Interior Ministry’s Special Police; the border police; and the local level. As in the economic section, the problems are not glossed over, as problems with forming police units are clearly stated. Training, human rights, and corruption are major concerns. At the local and national level, Coalition forces will pair up with Iraqi police units. The situation with the local police bears special notice:

These local Iraqi police forces need the most work. There are now over 80,000 local police officers across Iraq – a little more than halfway toward the goal of 135,000. To improve the capabilities of these local police, the Coalition is partnering local Iraqi police units with teams of U.S. military police and international police liaison officers, including retired U.S. police officers. These officers will work with provincial police chiefs and focus on improving local police forces in nine key cities that have seen intense fighting with the terrorists – Baghdad, Baquba, Fallujah, Kirkuk, Mosul, Najaf, Ramadi, Samarra, and Tal Afar.

The selection of the nine cities above highlights where the Coalition and Iraqi government predict to be the strong points of the insurgency. Each of the cities, with the exception of Najaf, are in North and Central Iraq, the Sunni heartland regions which we predicted early in December (and followed up in further detail at the end of December) would become the focus of the insurgency and joint Iraqi and Coalition operations.

Najaf is singled out as it was the nexus of firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s failed uprisings in the spring and fall of 2004. The rest of the cities lay at the heart of the Sunni seat of power, or maintain critical oil infrastructure which insurgents are targeting. The success and failure of the Iraqi police in this cities bears close watching during “the year of the police.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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