Monday, November 15, 2004


With "allies" like these...

I hate to sound so negative, but we really are not bringing security to Iraq.
Friend or Enemy? The Iraqi Uniforms Don't Always Tell


RAMADI, Iraq, Nov. 14 - American soldiers went to see the Iraqi police at Al Farouk substation in Ramadi on Sunday. But no one was home. Not much was left of the station, either.

Instead, the soldiers were surprised to find a shell of a building - with rebar concrete slabs arcing downward from what appeared to be a giant blast - where not long ago perhaps 50 police officers had worked. Neighbors told the soldiers that the police had left five or six days ago, and that they had heard a loud explosion at night.

"This thing was hit pretty hard," said Capt. Christian Lewis of Dover, Del., as he picked his way through pieces of plaster, glass and concrete. At first, it appeared the building had been merely looted, with electrical sockets and wiring ripped from walls. But then soldiers saw that high explosives had collapsed the second floor and ripped open parts of exterior walls. "It looks like the muje pushed these guys out and bombed the place," said Captain Lewis, using a shorthand reference for the mujahedeen, a catch-all term for Islamist insurgents in Iraq.

In the grand plan of the American military, the police substation, one of six in Ramadi, should be brimming with police work and training in preparation for Iraqis to take over their country's security from American-led forces. At least that is part of the three-step American strategy for success in Iraq: American forces will root out insurgents and foreign fighters; prepare the country for national elections; and train the Iraqi police and Iraqi National Guard so they can credibly take over security.

But in insurgent strongholds like Ramadi, the reality is bleak: at best, the police are feckless and scared. At worst, they are corrupt and in league with insurgents. Either way, the experience in Ramadi suggests that no matter how well the Americans are doing with the first two steps of the plan, it may be a long time before they accomplish the third.

"It's clear that our expectations for them are way above their concept of duty and performance," said Lt. Col. Justin Gubler, commander of the First Battalion of the Army's 503rd Infantry, garrisoned at a camp called Combat Outpost near downtown Ramadi. "The Iraqi police are clearly intimidated to the point where they don't want to come to work."

Colonel Gubler said things had gotten so bad that when the Americans attacked Falluja, the Ramadi police were told not to come to work "just so we could differentiate them" from revenge-minded insurgents posing as police officers, he said. A sure way to know a car is packed with a suicide bomb, he added, is when the Iraqi police refuse to inspect the vehicle. "Somehow, they know."

The American troops get regular warnings about the Iraqi police before driving their armored Humvees into the dangerous streets of Ramadi. In the briefing for the mission to visit Al Farouk substation, for example, a young lieutenant told soldiers that it is "game on" if an Iraqi policeman pulls out a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. "If an IP shoots, we shoot back," he said.

Not that soldiers need the advice: one week ago an Iraqi policeman - or an impostor with a police uniform and car - wounded 15 troops riding in an open-backed seven-ton truck just outside the main gate of Combat Outpost. The bomber had been directing traffic at an intersection near the base for about 20 minutes, his police car parked nearby. After spying the truck, he hopped in and detonated his bomb.

From his experience, Colonel Gubler said, the Iraqi National Guardsmen in the region are only slightly better, though one Iraqi National Guard officer he knew stood out: the lieutenant colonel in charge of a national guard battalion near Falluja, 30 miles east of Ramadi. That commander, Colonel Gubler said, "was very good, but he was captured in Falluja and his head was cut off." He said he believed that the commander's subordinates had probably been complicit in the murder, committed in August.
Considering that insurgents are killing Iraqi policemen and other security forces with almost as much gusto as they are killing Americans, it's hard to be too surprised that some Iraqi police and National Guardsmen are less than 100% devoted to their duties.

So, Mr. President, tell me again exactly how things are going so wonderfully in your Iraqi garden paradise?

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