Thursday, November 13, 2014

Understanding Anbar Pt XIV Gen Abdullah al-Jabouri

General Abdullah Mohammed Badr al-Jabouri joined the Iraqi army in 2004. He served in the 1st Division as a battalion commander, division operations officer, chief of staff, and then brigade commander. He would later command the 2nd and 7th Divisions. Most of this time he served in Anbar. In 2008 U.S. Marines interviewed the general about how the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) had to win the trust of local Anbaris to turn around the security situation there.

From 2004-2005 the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in Anbar was mostly on its own. The public didn’t want to work with them at first. One reason was that they were scared of the insurgents and what they might do to them if they were seen with the ISF. The militants had an extensive intimidation campaign consisting of threats and assassinations against suspected collaborators. Another major reason was that many in the province were supporters of the militants. Finally, the ISF were seen as puppets of the American occupation. Tactics like raids and mass arrests along with disbanding the military and deBaathification led many locals to oppose the U.S. On top of all that the ISF were major targets of the insurgency, as well as being infiltrated. For example, the first Iraqi policeman to work with the U.S. in Fallujah was executed outside of his house with “traitor” written on him in April 2003. In July 2003 there was an attack upon an ISF training center in Ramadi killing seven police recruits and wounding 40 others. (1) In August 2004 U.S. marines arrested the Anbar police chief on charges that he was working with militants. Overall, the ISF in Anbar was under siege. It was undermanned, under gunned, mistrusted and considered American stooges. It was an uphill battle for it to win over the populace and become an effective force

General Jabouri said that the security forces had three goals in Anbar to reverse their predicament. One was to convince the populace that the security forces were reliable partners. Second was to convince them that the insurgency was against Iraq. The third was to get the Americans to change their practices and recognize the tribes. From 2003-2004 the U.S. made many mistakes in Anbar, but by 2005 they were finally starting to learn about how to work with Iraqis and improved their cooperation with the ISF as a result. When the locals began to understand what the insurgency was doing in the province, especially Al Qaeda in Iraq with its imposition of Islamic law, killing of civilians, etc. they slowly started turning on them. This led people to start moving towards the ISF and providing intelligence to them. This was crucial, because General Jabouri didn’t think that the ISF and U.S. could defeat the insurgency on their own, they needed popular support. This eventually manifested itself in the tribal rebellion and the Awakening that emerged out of it. The Americans facilitated the situation by pushing for the inclusion of the tribal fighters into the police and army. In Ramadi for example, the center of the Awakening, the U.S. was able to raise the police force from around 150 to 1,500 by the end of 2006 by recruiting tribesmen. That showed the huge turnaround the ISF and Americans were able to make in a few years in Anbar. They were finally able to win over the populace, and find local allies to assist them in fighting the insurgency. Al Qaeda in Iraq played its own part by overplaying its hand in the province, costing it support.

Today, the ISF are up against it once again in Anbar. Since December 2013 it has faced one reversal after another. At the start of the year it lost Fallujah and sections of Ramadi. Then in June it unilaterally withdrew from the Syrian border conceding the area to the Islamic State. Recently it lost Camp Saqlawiya, and then Hit. The army has mostly abandoned the field leaving the police and tribes to do the heavy fighting. New forces have been sent in from Babil, but no big offensive has materialized yet. Currently the security forces in Anbar are facing a new set of challenges. First, they are suffering from poor leadership. For instance, the trapped soldiers at Camp Saqlawiya called their commanders for supplies and ammunition, but received nothing. The then head of the Anbar Operations Command General Rasheed Flayh called the troops at the camp whiners. The survivors of the siege were immediately sent back to the front even though some of them didn’t have their weapons or equipment. That might change as Prime Minister Haider Abadi just dismissed General Flayh. Second, the ISF lacks a winning strategy. In Anbar the police and army have proven capable of clearing towns and cities, but they have not been able to hold them. Instead, the ISF regularly goes from place to place letting insurgents infiltrate back in to locations after the ISF’s departure. It also lacks the mobility of the insurgents who have specialized in hit and run tactics to draw out the security forces and then encircle and destroy them. Finally, the Anbar council and others have consistently complained that Baghdad has not sent the ISF and tribes the weapons and supplies they require to fight. This might be on purpose as some have speculated that the government has largely written off Anbar, so that it can concentrate on other areas of the country. Together, these factors have cost the government control of 80% of the province, and the ISF are largely on the defensive. That makes the situation far direr than General Jabouri’s period, and the outcome far harder to predict.


1. Schlesinger, Robert and Walt, Vivienne, “As attacks escalate, US troops no longer sole target,” Boston Globe, 8/20/03


Al Forat, “Let. Gen. Qasim Mohamadi appointed as Commander of Anbar OC,” 11/12/14

Kozak, Christopher, “ISF Withdraws to Defensive Positions in Anbar Province,” Institute for the Study of War, 10/29/14

Kukis, Mark, “Turning Iraq’s Tribes Against Al-Qaeda,” Time, 12/26/06

Al Mada, “Survivors of Saqlawiyah forced to return to the fighting without weapons and soldiers upheld as “a death sentence for treason,” 9/28/14

McWilliams, Chief Warrant Officer-4 Timothy, and Wheeler, Lieutenant Colonel Kurtis, ed., Al-Anbar Awakening Volume II, Iraqi Perspectives, From Insurgency to Counterinsurgency in Iraq, 2004-2009, Virginia: Marine Corps University, 2009

Morris, Loveday, “Islamic State attack on Iraqi base leaves hundreds missing, shows army weaknesses,” Washington Post, 9/22/14

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

Schlesinger, Robert and Walt, Vivienne, “As attacks escalate, US troops no longer sole target,” Boston Globe, 8/20/03

Semple, Kirk, “Facing Militants With Supplies Dwindling, Iraqi Soldiers Took to Phones,” New York Times, 9/26/14

Wong, Edward, “Iraq guard general arrested,” San Francisco Chronicle, 9/27/04

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