Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Counterproductive Tactics Of The Iraqi Security Forces

Parts of Iraq’s Anbar province are in open rebellion right now against the central government. One of the main complaints of the Sunni population who is behind the revolt is the abuses of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The army and police no longer carry out counterinsurgency operations where they attempt to protect the population, but rather act like the United States did before the Surge with indiscriminate shelling of population centers and mass raids and arrests. Because of these tactics many feel like they are suffering mass punishments simply because they live in the wrong area and happen to be Sunni. This is a major reason why some people have decided to take up weapons against the government once again.

One of the reasons why so many thousands of Anbaris have fled their homes during the current round of fighting is to escape government shelling. On January 4, 2014, Reuters reported that the army was shelling parts of Fallujah with mortars. One local source told the agency that eight had died as a result, while a medical source claimed the toll was much higher at 30. The next day a local Iraqi reporter in Fallujah provided the BBC with more details pointing out that Askari in the east, Shuhada in the west, Jufhifi in the north, and Nazzal and Andalus in the middle were all being hit by government shelling. This was leading to hundreds of people leaving their homes. January 16, the National Iraqi News Agency (NINA) said that dozens more families departed Fallujah after another round of army shelling of the Golan, Shuhada, Andalus, and Jumhuriya areas. January 19 NINA reported that the army was hitting Nizzal, Shuhada, Askari, and Jebel, causing damages to homes, and more displacement, and that was repeated on January 21. This immediately became an issue with Anbar notables. On January 5 for example, a meeting took place of Fallujah religious leaders and sheikhs who called for a halt to military operations and the shelling of the city. Then during Friday prayers in Fallujah on January 17, clerics brought up the issue demanding that the army withdraw from Anbar, and to stop the artillery and mortar strikes on homes. While some of this fire might be aimed at insurgents, too much of it appears to be indiscriminate. This is destroying and damaging dozens of homes, and causing a huge out migration from the city. It also doesn’t give the impression that the federal forces care about the local residents or that they are going after the insurgents. This was exactly what the U.S. did before the 2007 Surge. In Ret. Lt. Col. Nathan Sassman’s Warrior King and Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco for example, they talked about how many U.S. units believed that they had to instill fear in the Iraqis so that they would not carry out attacks. A common tactic was to reply to mortar or gunfire with heavy artillery. Then American forces were mostly concerned with protecting themselves, and believed that an overwhelming response such as using artillery after a security incident would deter the gunmen, but it never did. The Iraqi government is repeating the same mistake.
(Getty Images)

Before and during the Anbar fighting the ISF was also carrying out mass punishments against Sunni neighborhoods. January 11, a parliamentarian from Mutahidun demanded that the prime minister stop security operations in Abu Ghraib, Latifiya, Radwaniya, Tarmiya, and others areas of Baghdad where the ISF were limiting the movement of residents. December 12, 2013, another politician called on the government to stop blockading the Tarmiya area in north Baghdad, claiming that it had been on lockdown for over a week. In November, militants assassinated the mayor of Fallujah. In response, the ISF arrested 400 people and held them for over two weeks with no charges according to their relatives. That same month Human Rights Watch issued a report saying that the Iraqi forces routinely cordoned off Sunni areas such as during Shiite pilgrimages. During the first week of Muharram for instance in November, the security forces raided houses and carried out mass arrests in Dora and Adhamiya in the capital, as well as Diwaniya in Qadisiyah, Hillah in Babil, and Fallujah and Hit in Anbar. Sheikhs told Human Rights Watch that this had become the norm. Whenever there were Shiite religious events the army and police would arrest people before the ceremony, and then release them afterward. Again, the ISF may believe that this is the way to impose security, but it only antagonizes the population. Many come to believe that they are being harassed and arrested simply because they are Sunni. Not only that but the mass arrests rarely include people actually involved with the insurgency. Instead it usually nets not only young men, but the family members of people the government is looking for who are held as virtual hostages until their relatives turn themselves in. This is another repetition of the mistakes that the Americans made from 2003-2006. The U.S. Army and Marines would routinely round up all fighting aged males. In turn, these men were often radicalized in jail or would turn against the government and sometimes join the insurgency after they were released. The same thing is likely happening again today.

The Iraqi army and police had years of training in counterinsurgency operations from the Americans, but after their departure they stopped because Premier Nouri al-Maliki did not want to cooperate with the Sunni community anymore. The result is that the ISF have reverted back to the routine of the pre-Surge U.S. forces carrying out raids, arrests, and indiscriminately firing artillery and mortars at populated areas. This use of group punishment only increases tensions between the populace and the government. It also provides the perfect environment for the insurgency to flourish. Not everyone in these areas that feel punished by Baghdad support militants, but some do, and their numbers appear to be growing. More importantly others turn a blind eye to their activities denying the ISF of valuable intelligence that would allow them to carry out more precise operations and round up the bad guys rather than groups of innocent people. It is up to the prime minister and his aides to recognize the missteps they are making, so that they can start to turn around the security situation, which is deteriorating with each day.


Agence France Presse, “Iraq Forces Under Fire Over Abuse as Unrest Surges,” 12/30/13

BBC, “Residents flee occupied Fallujah amid army bombardment,” 1/5/14

Dreazen, Yochi, “Retired Colonel Criticizes Iraq Strategies in Book,” Wall Street Journal, 7/11/08

Human Rights Watch, “Deter Attacks With Investigations, Not Harassment,” 11/15/13

Al-Mada, “Khatib Fallujah: our city is under collective punishment because we raised our constitutional demands,” 1/18/14
- “Scholars and elders of Fallujah denounce the bombing of the city and hold the governor and the top responsibility for bloodshed,” 1/5/14

National Iraqi News Agency, “Bombardment to Neighborhoods South and Eeast of Fallujah Renewed,” 1/21/14
- “Breaking News..The Displacement of Dozens of Families in Fallujah as a Result of Shelling,” 1/16/14
- “mortar shelling resumed in east and south areas in Fallujah,” 1/19/14
- “MP calls prime minister to end blockade on Tarmiyah north of Baghdad,” 12/11/13

Reuters, “Iraqi army shells Falluja to try to dislodge militants,” 1/4/14

Ricks, Thomas, Fiasco, New York: Penguin Press, 2006

Shafaq News, “MP demands Maliki to lift the siege of Baghdad areas belt,” 1/11/14

Van Heuvelen, Ben, “Next door to Syria, an al-Qaeda-linked group is also gaining ground in Iraq,” Washington Post, 12/7/13

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