February 05, 2008

Getting Things Right in Iraq ... Even in 2005

For those of you who followed last week's debate on Iraq strategy and tactics between Gian Gentile and Pete Mansoor, one of the things worth highlighting is that Gentile is, Abu Muqawama would venture to guess, a little ticked off by the way in which popular opinion divides events in Iraq into two phases: pre-Petraeus and post-Petraeus. Pre-Pretraeus, popular thinking goes, the U.S. military was more %$#@ed up than a football bat, getting everything wrong and trying to fight Desert Storm all over again. Post-Petraeus, meanwhile, the U.S. military has supposedly been officered by a corps of David Galulas who can do no wrong on the counter-insurgency battlefield. Abu Muqawama, in this case, sympathizes with Gian Gentile 100%. It ain't so black and white, gang.

It is important to see the U.S. military's experience in Iraq -- or any military's combat experience, for that matter -- as a continual learning process. There were some things the U.S. Army and Marine Corps were doing right from the get-go. And there were other things that the military figured out in, say, 2005 or 2006 before Gen. Petraeus returned to direct the war effort and implement population-centric COIN across the board. Exhibit A is a leaked, classified ROE from 2005 that Abu Muqawama read over the weekend and that Shaun Waterman of UPI reported on yesterday.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- The U.S. military's rules of engagement in Iraq in the fall of 2005 forbade troops from entering mosques, even during a firefight, without the permission of senior commanders who would consult Iraqi authorities. ...

In a special section on mosques and religious structures, the rules specify that -- though commanders on the ground may return fire, or even call in airstrikes, against a mosque that is being used by enemy forces -- U.S. troops will not enter such buildings, even during fighting, "without the approval of the (senior regional commander) in coordination with (the Iraqi ministries of defense and interior)."

If approval is granted, the rules say, Iraqi security forces will enter the building, "with cordon support from U.S. forces."

Similar restrictions govern the detention of clerics or imams.

"This is a very encouraging document," said Andrew Exum, a U.S. Army Ranger and counterinsurgency specialist who fought in Iraq and is now studying Islamist groups at King's College, London.

"It shows that somebody's done some thinking about how to deal with a very complex and confusing kinetic and cultural battleground … They are really trying to get their head around" a new type of warfare, he said.

The 2005 ROE highlights, in short, some very serious thinking being done by smart staff officers and commanders -- pre-Petraeus -- trying to adjust to the combat and challenges they faced in Iraq. Read Shaun's entire article -- the ROE went beyond just what U.S. forces can and can't do with regard to mosques.

But here is where we get onto graduate-level thinking about Iraq. Just as U.S. military efforts in Iraq weren't 100% messed up before David Petraeus got there at the head of the surge, things aren't on some inevitable path toward victory now. Nor is everything going swimmingly. Keep that in mind as you hear the black-and-white debate on Iraq take place between America's two political parties and in the news media anxious to either bury the U.S. effort in Iraq or prop it up in perpetuity. And by all means -- and along the same lines -- read the excellent post by one of our super-intelligent friends that Charlie highlighted earlier today. This is the kind of analysis you get when you send really smart people to Iraq and then allow them to explain the reality there.