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More From Iraq
Tuesday, 26 December 2006 13:29
by Larry C. Johnson

[I received this from a U.S. soldier with three tours in Iraq. He's a thoughtful soul and has the benefit of being on the frontlines in this madness. Since he wants to continue with his military career I am protecting his identity.]

I have a lot of assessments and opinions that are based on my experiences in Iraq, so keeping this document unclassified was difficult. I am limiting my suggestions to broad, theoretical statements and am avoiding very specific recommendations. To keep it unclassified, I am only using open source reporting (PAO releases) as evidence for my assessments. I’ve deleted any statements that I think could be considered classified assessments. I am sure you understand the need for that. If in a more appropriate forum with security clearances, I could be more forthcoming. Of course, all of the opinions in this document are my own opinions and in no way reflect any official organizations.

These are the COAs that I see in your email:

  • Go Big (Strong): Plus up forces and target Muqtada al Sadr (MAS) and Jayshi al Mahdi (JAM).
  • Go Home: Just leave, phased withdrawal. This is already off the table, so I won’t waste time on it. I think this is inline with the ISG recommendations.
  • Continue COIN: Stay the course and focus on political, economic and security development. This is politically unfavorable because it will not appear to be a change in strategy.
  • Marginalize MAS, Co-op JAM: My recommended COA. MAS is only as important as we make him. 90% of JAM want security for their families and money for food. It is gangland warfare. The other 10% are the extremists that must be isolated and destroyed.
I will focus on COA’s 1 and 4 because the POTUS has already ruled out 2, and politically 3 is simply not acceptable.

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Go Big: Plus up US forces in Baghdad in order to target MAS and JAM.

This simply will not work. We can not solve COIN with more counter-guerilla. According the CF spokesmen, the large “sweep, clear and hold operations” in Baghdad in 2006 were not successful despite a significant increase in CF and combined operations (Baghdad is not Tall Afar or Fallujah). We failed to sweep and clear the motivation for Iraqis to join the insurgency and likely made more enemies.

Why are we targeting MAS and JAM?

  • MAS does not support sectarian violence. He is an advocate against it. He is as nationalist who wants to reach out to Sunni (despite the fact they want nothing to do with him).
  • MAS is an influential player because the Coalition made him important in 2004 by talking about him. We gave him “street credit.” We and the press boost his reputation (and ego) every time we call him the “fire brand anti-American cleric.”
  • Most JAM who attack CF are doing so against MAS’s orders, they are rogue. They consider MAS too soft on CF and too political.
  • Most JAM members are gang members who simply want security and money. JAM has become a very bureaucratic organization (they publish orders/FRAGOs, have pay roll rosters, etc).
Our time to target MAS and JAM is passed. For almost 2 years (Fall 04 – Spring 06) JAM was not targeted, and the organization grew significantly not in numbers, but in organization and capabilities. The organization is too entrenched and too diffuse to make viable targets.

Expected results of increased offensive operations to target JAM in Baghdad and MAS:

  • Increase in countrywide violence. This goes without saying, we saw it in 2004 on a couple of occasions.
  • MAS will become even more popular simply due to the fact that he is wanted by the occupation forces. Killing or capturing him will make him a martyr like his dad, which is probably not far from what he wants.
  • Further alienate the population of Baghdad who already feel threatened by sectarian violence and fear what the security forces will do to them as well.
The “Sadr City” problem: We are afraid to go into Sadr City, and the people of Iraq know it. MAS and JAM have been claiming since early 2006 that CF were planning on going into Sadr City, despite the fact that we had no intent or desire to do so. This was a very smart move on MAS’s part. He made CF look weak, timid and scared. The people of Sadr City believe that we will not go into the city for fear of high casualties, therefore they live with JAM as a reality of life. The problem is that we really shouldn’t go into Sadr City because no matter how many forces we throw at it, we will never truly be able to “separate the fish from the water.” JAM will initially fight back (or not), and they will then fade away and disappear into the city until we leave (which is inevitable). Just like in 2004, JAM will take casualties, many innocent Iraqis will be turned into anti-occupation insurgents, and we will leave. As a result, is it a Catch 22. If we go in, we will create more insurgents than we destroy, if we don’t go in, our credibility as an effective force is at risk.

Alternate COA: Marginalize MAS and Co-op JAM.

In my opinion, we have a classic chicken or the egg argument, which comes first, security (stability) or economy. Do you need stability and security to establish a good economy, or do you need a good economy to have stability? When left to military leaders, the correct answer is always SECURITY! It is, after all, a principle of patrolling. I argue that if you focus small, but effective security on key points of infrastructure, economy and key AQ targets such as Shia markets, holy sites (not trying to secure the entire country at once), that as the economy improves, the reason why Iraqis become insurgents will go away. That is our ultimate goal and that is the only way we will win.

MAS is what we make him. JAM is a very well organized gang-like security force to protect Shia areas from Sunni extremists and provide employment (even if it is illegal). I will use DIME to organize my thoughts:


  • Let Iraq deal with their neighbors, we have nothing to offer Iran or Syria as carrots. Plus, Iran will NEVER back down, so it is wasted effort. The only thing we can take away from Iran is Iraq’s permission for Iranian pilgrims to visit Iraq. Saddam never allowed it because he knew that the pilgrims would be heavily infiltrated with IRGC and MOIS, which is exactly what is happening to Iraq now.
  • We should have more open diplomacy with moderate Sunni insurgents. What do they really want? Do we know?
  • Take away MAS’s street credit by getting him back into the political arena. He has often refused to meet with any Americans because he knows it will destroy his credibility with the more extreme members of his following. Therefore we should make every effort to call MAS a “good guy” and meet with him openly. It will increase his political standing (in his own mind, most politicians want nothing to do with him), but it will actually alienate much of his supporters. MAS will feel important, but his importance will be lessened and he will fade away as a failed politician. What would be the harm to policy and CF reputation in Iraq if we try to reach out to him ,and MAS “stands us up?” The Iraqi government could put a spin on his refusal to meet as being an obstructionist, stubborn and not helping the Iraqi people.
  • This will leave only the extremists (such as AQ and rogue JAM) who represent only a fraction of the insurgents. Isolate the extremists. We must get back to that, and that is done through diplomacy and control of information at many levels.

  • We are getting our butts kicked in information. I don't even know where to start on this one except to say that COIN is won with ideas. Information is the poor man's nuclear bomb. Everyone plays lip service to it, but we do very little about it. All of the things listed below happen at some small scale, but there needs to be a dedicated effort to drastically improve the way we handle Information Operations throughout the military.
  • For example: A classic example of how information operations can be more effective than kinetic operations. By saying that CF are coming into Sadr city, MAS increases the desire for protection (which JAM provides). When the CF don’t come, he uses the inaction to bolster his own credibility for providing protection. Well done. What could we have done?
  • Information Operations (IO) needs to be thought of as more than a supporting effort, it is the Main effort. Everything else that we do either supports our IO campaign or our enemies’. This is contrary to what is taught in doctrine and in the war college and is very hard for senior leaders to accept.
  • IO messages are very top driven and are very unresponsive (reactive). The creation of IO messages need to be delegated down to battalion commanders based on a set of approved themes.
  • The IO plan needs to be briefed in every order at every level. No raid should ever occur without a preplanned message for the local population. No patrol should be allowed to leave the gate without either specific talking points with a specific target audience, or a list of IO information requirements to confirm or deny the delivery, comprehension, and reaction to previous IO messages. The patrols’ feedback must be streamlined to reach decision makers to update IO messages. (standardized reporting)
  • Intelligence collectors (includes patrols) need to actively collect the threats’ IO messages. These messages need to be analyzed and countered immediately.
  • Part of IPB needs to include: MLECOA and MDECOA for IO messages, how they will be delivered, what they will say and who will say them.

  • Counterguerilla is the name of the game, but it is only a subset of COIN, yet we spend probably 90% of our time talking about it.
  • I think we tried to do too much too fast, we tried to setup up IA Brigades and Divisions in a year using adhoc CF conventional army units (MiTTs). It was way too fast. I think we should dissolve all Iraqi Army, National Police above the Company level and start over. Instead of a small military transition team with an Iraqi Battalion HQ, place an Iraqi company under the command of American Battalion. Let the American and Iraqi company commanders work together on every mission. Once each American company has an Iraqi counterpart working for it, start building Bn staffs with the American Bn Staff. Hand pick the Bn leadership and staff members from the companies.
  • JAM are working as a security force. We should attempt to use them. Co-op JAM in Sadr City and make them an official National Police Brigade and confine them to Sadr City. Force them to hand over all of their records (for payroll reasons) and we will learn all about their structure and manpower. Hold them accountable for their actions by using the paychecks as a carrot. (JAM wants this, they want to be an Army) This will anger many Sunni, but that is where the Diplomacy comes back into the picture, it all must be interconnected.
  • Checkpoints work! (Caveat, when manned by disciplined and competent soldiers). In the fall of 2006, PM Maliki was pressured to ask GEN Casey to take down the checkpoints around Sadr City. We did, and within a short time, VBIEDs starting attacking Sadr City again. Insurgents, especially outsiders, fear checkpoints. Most munitions in Baghdad have to be brought in from outside the city. Sunni attackers who plan on attacking Sadr City must come from outside Sadr City. When we restrict their freedom of maneuver, we hurt them. When we see insurgents petition to have checkpoints removed, or we see checkpoints attacked, we should be reaffirmed that the checkpoints are in fact disrupting insurgent operations.
  • Focus security efforts. It is not possible to secure everything at once like we are trying to do, so stop trying. Focus security efforts on high pay off areas such as Sadr City, the oil infrastructure and the government. Focus security efforts in support of diplomacy, information and economy. It is all interconnected and must be synced.

  • As cynical as this sounds, money is the cure for everything. Why are there no Kuwaiti terrorists, no attacks on Americans in Kuwait despite very high numbers for over 15 years? Partly because every Kuwaiti citizen gets about $60,000 a year for being a Kuwaiti.
    Oil, we must fix the oil problem in Iraq. Once we do that, and the country has money, we can pour money into the trouble areas.
  • Infrastructure is broken. We can pour $100s of millions into Sadr City, but we are putting band aids on the problem. Sadr City has over 2 million people, and it was built for about 500,000. We should use oil-generated revenue and build new cities. There is plenty of land north of Sadr City, hire residents to start new construction with heavy oversight to ensure building standards are met. This will employ Iraqis, it will give them new places to live (fix the overpopulation problem).
  • Crazy idea: Build a wall around Baghdad, or even around Iraq. The “Great wall of Iraq” will employ hundreds of thousands and will have additional bonus effect of limited points of access into Iraq making external influence more difficult.
  • In order for a national army to work, or any work projects that take Iraqis away from home, there must a reliable Iraqi Banking system. Iraqis who only get paid hard currency are forced to travel home every payday to give money to their families. There needs to be a way that money can be wired home, or a direct deposit system. If families could go to a national bank and safely draw their husband’s paycheck, the husband can go away from home for an extended period of time to work. A husband who is not at home is not becoming an insurgent.
Additional thought:

It is hard to assess progress because we don’t have any metrics. It is very hard to map our progress because we don’t have a standardized system for reporting operational data to generate metrics. In Iraq, PowerPoint is the method of choice for operational reporting, however, PPT does not populate databases and does not reach national analysts. There is a very standardized reporting system for intelligence information (Intelligence Information Reports, TD’s, etc), however there is no standardized system for reporting operational results.

For example, an analyst in DIA is studying insurgent Abu X. He reads every HUMINT and SIGINT report about Abu X. What he doesn’t know is that Abu X was captured two weeks ago. He doesn’t know this because he didn’t get on that unit’s OPSUM distro and didn’t see the PPT slide. He also doesn’t know what was found at Abu X’s house. Hopefully, if all goes well, the analyst later figures it out when he finds interrogation reports about Abu X and reads DOCEX reports.

I had DIA analysts who worked at Camp Victory tell me in Spring of 2006 that no one patrols Sadr City anymore, that CF haven’t been there for months. Of course, that was completely wrong, we had several patrols a day in the city (these patrols were published in newspapers). The analyst is making assessments based on partial information because there is no system for putting operational information (patrol debriefs) into a database that the analyst can search.

We tried putting patrol debriefs (including raid results) into IIR formats using the American Soldier as the source. G2X shot us down because the reporting was circular because it was already on a PPT slide. This is silly because the IIR can state that this information is also stated in a named PPT f
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