Wednesday, September 01, 2010

An Example of Progress in Northern Iraq

By General Tom Vandal RealClear Iraqis and Americans serving together has been the hallmark of Operation Iraqi Freedom in recent years. Long gone are the days of the initial invasion and removal of Saddam Hussein. Today, U.S. Forces (USF) and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) partner together while conducting stability operations - USF advising, assisting and training the ISF to increase their capability to ensure the security of the Iraqi people. In the northern Iraqi province of Ninewa, an Iraqi General and a U.S. General have shared an area of operations since 2008. As a result of this continuing partnership and the September 1 drawdown to 50,000 American troops, it is an opportune time to examine a central question regarding the future of Iraq: are the Iraqi Security Forces ready to provide security for the Iraqi populace? A logical place to look for answers to this question is Ninewa Province and the effective working relationship formed there between USF and ISF over multiple years. If Iraq is going to be a stable and secure country, Ninewa will be a key component to that equation. Partnering with Lieutenant General Hassan Karim Khudayr Abbas al-Sa'ady, the situation is improving daily and the future of the province is no longer one of fear and violence, but of hope and potential. Ninewa is situated in northern Iraq with Syria to the west and the Kurdish Region to the north and east. The human environment is complex with Sunni Arabs as the primary demographic, as well as Kurds, Turkmen, Yezidi, Christian, Shabak, Assyrian and others intermingled along a seam called the Disputed Internal Boundary. It is an area filled with economic potential, containing fertile farmlands and deposits of oil. Added to this dynamic mix are boundaries between the Kurds and Arabs which have been disputed for hundreds of years, and the city of Mosul, often cited as the place where insurgents hope to make a final stand to obstruct progress in Iraq. Future stability in Ninewa - and throughout Iraq - depends on a capable, strong and apolitical Iraqi Security Force. Through extensive training and commitment to the Iraqi people, the ISF are keeping pressure on violent extremist networks, and conducting effective, intelligence-driven operations, with minimal U.S. involvement. Fueling the renewed effectiveness of the ISF, which consists of the Iraqi Army, Iraqi Police and Kurdish Regional Guard Brigades (RGBs), is their ability to work together against a common enemy. Two examples highlight the progress made by ISF in recent years: combined check points and Mosul Dam joint security. There are eleven check points located throughout the province. These check points, manned by ISF, USF and RGBs, known collectively as the "Golden Lions," create an environment where all sides share intelligence and conduct operations to provide security and to build confidence with each other. The lesson Iraqis take away from the team work at these check points is that despite differences, their belief in a strong, unified Iraq binds them together for a common purpose. Implemented in February 2010, the joint efforts are not the first initiative where ISF and RGBs have come together to form a single security force. The first time ISF and RGBs worked together to provide security for a key piece of infrastructure was on the Mosul Dam. Today, Mosul Dam is secure and able to operate uninterrupted as a result of this combined effort. The net result of an improving ISF is apparent in decreased violence across Ninewa and in the severely degraded capabilities of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and other violent extremist groups. Overall, since ISF assumed complete control for security in the city of Mosul on June 30, 2009, attacks have declined over 200 percent, going from 60-80 attacks per week to 10-15 per week. Across Ninewa, attacks have decreased from a high of 720 in March 2008 to less than 50 a month for the past 90 days. Combined with security gains and an increasingly effective provincial government, and using the expertise of the U.S. State Department Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), Ninewa is an example of the progress that can be made when civil and military leaders work together for a common purpose. There is still a long struggle ahead in Iraq and increasing the capabilities of the ISF in Ninewa is critical before the U.S. departure in December 2011. But all signs point in the right direction as the ISF continues to demonstrate their ability to provide for the security of the Iraqi people. The final outcome of the war in Iraq will not be seen for years, but with Arabs, Kurds and others working together, combined with assistance over the next 16 months from the U.S. military and diplomats, a fully capable ISF and prosperous Ninewa province are achievable. Brigadier General Tom Vandal is the Deputy Commanding General for the Third Infantry Division and Task Force Marne, currently deployed in northern Iraq.


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