Petraeus: Battling for Iraq

LTG David Petraeus has an interesting piece in today’s WaPo, in which he describes the daunting task ahead for the Coalition. He led the 101st Airborne Division in the ground war and is now charged with training the Iraqi security forces.

Six battalions of the Iraqi regular army and the Iraqi Intervention Force are now conducting operations. Two of these battalions, along with the Iraqi commando battalion, the counterterrorist force, two Iraqi National Guard battalions and thousands of policemen recently contributed to successful operations in Najaf. Their readiness to enter and clear the Imam Ali shrine was undoubtedly a key factor in enabling Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to persuade members of the Mahdi militia to lay down their arms and leave the shrine. In another highly successful operation several days ago, the Iraqi counterterrorist force conducted early-morning raids in Najaf that resulted in the capture of several senior lieutenants and 40 other members of that militia, and the seizure of enough weapons to fill nearly four 7 1/2-ton dump trucks.

Within the next 60 days, six more regular army and six additional Intervention Force battalions will become operational. Nine more regular army battalions will complete training in January, in time to help with security missions during the Iraqi elections at the end of that month.

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Numbers alone cannot convey the full story. The human dimension of this effort is crucial. The enemies of Iraq recognize how much is at stake as Iraq reestablishes its security forces. Insurgents and foreign fighters continue to mount barbaric attacks against police stations, recruiting centers and military installations, even though the vast majority of the population deplores such attacks. Yet despite the sensational attacks, there is no shortage of qualified recruits volunteering to join Iraqi security forces. In the past couple of months, more than 7,500 Iraqi men have signed up for the army and are preparing to report for basic training to fill out the final nine battalions of the Iraqi regular army. Some 3,500 new police recruits just reported for training in various locations. And two days after the recent bombing on a street outside a police recruiting location in Baghdad, hundreds of Iraqis were once again lined up inside the force protection walls at another location — where they were greeted by interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

I meet with Iraqi security force leaders every day. Though some have given in to acts of intimidation, many are displaying courage and resilience in the face of repeated threats and attacks on them, their families and their comrades. I have seen their determination and their desire to assume the full burden of security tasks for Iraq.

There will be more tough times, frustration and disappointment along the way. It is likely that insurgent attacks will escalate as Iraq’s elections approach. Iraq’s security forces are, however, developing steadily and they are in the fight. Momentum has gathered in recent months. With strong Iraqi leaders out front and with continued coalition — and now NATO — support, this trend will continue. It will not be easy, but few worthwhile things are.

I’m not sure what the proper metric for determining success in an in-progress operation such as this is. Ideally, the Iraqi security forces would have been trained and ready to go months ago. But the fact that men continue to stand in line to join these forces even while they are continuous targets of terrorist bombers is a good sign.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.