Friday, September 02, 2005

A Modest Proposal For Victory

Here’s a positive suggestion for winning the war in Iraq. Stop letting the enemy go free. The overlapping systems, American and Iraqi, that are responsible for justice in Iraq today, are not much more than a set of revolving doors. Low level operatives and leaders alike are processed through a catch and release program like so many undersize fish.

An email from the commander in Iraq, whose company took over from mine, reveals that of the hundreds of enemy detained in our AO, almost all have been released. This isn’t just soldiers, or operatives. Some pretty scary people are walking the streets of that city again.

Ad Dujayl, also written Dujail is a city of 50,000, or so. It is now infamous for the 150 murders in 1982 that make up the first count on Saddam Hussein’s bill of indictment. My company patrolled the town from March to December of 2004. In early July, we conducted a multi part raid that led to the case against Hussein.

It took those first four months to develop the intelligence that led us to Sheik Abdullah Raweed and his Sunni cleric sidekick Abu Omar. In a predawn raid with US special forces, and Iraqi National Guard troops operating alongside our regular infantry soldiers, we assaulted Abu Omar’s mosque complex, and the Raweed family compound. Along with my company commander, and the battalion commander I watched as a SOCCOM Humvee crashed through the gate of the mosque. ING soldiers poured out of a five ton truck and entered the mosque, which was off limits to American troops.

A few blocks away our third platoon had opened the Raweed compound gate in a similar manner. Suddenly, as soldiers prepared to enter a figure appeared on the roof there. An AK-47 pointed towards the Sgt leading his team through the breach. His battle buddy, seeing the weapon, threw himself into his leader, knocking them both into the outer wall. As the weakened wall collapsed around them, AK rounds sprayed into the empty gateway.
Half a mile away, I heard the shots, and the answering staccato of three machine guns. A radio inquiry assured us that everyone was OK. The heavy machine fire convinced the lone gunmen to cease, and a few minutes later third platoon had one Sheik Abdullah Raweed in custody. At the same time the ING was dragging Abu Omar out of his mosque.

Abdullah Raweed had crossed our radar, as a former regime loyalist who was supporting the insurgents. Abu Omar was a new Imam in town, a wahabist preaching anti-American sermons, and an ally of Raweed’s. The command soon developed enough intel to warrant the simultaneous raid on both of them. The removal of these two from public life resulted in a curious coincidence of two apparently opposite reactions.

Publicly community leaders, sheiks, muktars imams and council members, immediately began petitioning the Colonel for the release of the two men. In visits to our Base and at city council meetings they proclaimed the honor and uprightness of our detainees. Privately they assured us that these men were terrible and dangerous and begged us to hold them. And then witnesses began to come forth.

Within a month we had a fairly complete picture of Abdullah Raweed’s role as the local point man in the 1982 revenge murders, numbering closer to 450 than 150. The lower number consists of the best documented, and was deemed enough to get Saddam the death penalty. With the city free from their influence, we developed that case. Meanwhile up at the detention facility at Brassfield Mora Abu Omar was bragging to a jailhouse snitch about his ties to Bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Saddam’s trial. Both Abu Omar and Abdullah Raweed are again free men in Ad Dujail, one in his family compound, the other in his walled Mosque. To be sure A Co 1-128th In., now consider them persons of interest. And a trial may yet await Abdullah Raweed, the local Baath party. This man was so favored by Saddam that he was given a Lexus paid for with oil for food money.
This is by no means an unusual case. A combination of factors has combined to create this untenable and unacceptable situation. The US military is not set up to arrest and process suspects. The desire to win hearts and minds has created a presumption of innocence and a burden of proof that would make William Kuntsler blush. Press scrutiny and our avowed commitment to democracy play a role. Confusion over constantly changing rule sets due to changes in military and civilian leadership, and in jurisdiction hasn’t helped.

Some commanders are unschooled in the complexities of Arab tribal culture, and mistake the public requests for leniency as genuine, rather than the posturing they are. For most of my deployment, the maximum detention period, for all but the most red handed detainees, was 30 days. That’s 30 days for attempted murder against US soldiers. That’s like a violation, not even a misdemeanor. Finally and I will talk more about this another time, the Iraqi courts are still primarily in the hands of Baathists.

So what’s an Army to do? The best suggestion I’ve heard comes from my CO, who prosecutes mobsters in real life. Let’s go back to basics. The Army needs to build a big prison in the desert. Allah knows there’s room and materiel out there. Then we start treating these detainees as POWs, EPWs, or whatever term for wartime prisoners you prefer.

The president has assured us that what is taking place in Iraq is not only a war, but part of a larger conflict. Great! I’ve believed him since day one. Don Rumsfeld now needs to tell the Army leadership. Treat these detainees as POWs. Lock them up. Give them full Geneva and Hague convention rights. Give them free Korans. Call the Red Cross and invite them to leave a permanent party. Abu Ghraib notwithstanding, the vast majority of detainees in Iraq have been treated well so this will not be a problem. But keep these enemy combatants locked up out there in the desert until we’re done. We can give the keys to the Iraqis along with a set of dossiers when we’re leaving.

If this is a war, then let’s use the techniques that have worked in the past. When we capture enemy forces we lock them up until the war is over. It worked in WWI, II, and Korea. And in those cases where there is real reason to doubt the complicity of a detainee lets track his progress. If attacks stop in an area when an individual is detained and begin again when he is released that’s it he stays in the next time he’s caught.

If we are serious about winning this war, and I know I am, we need to get this done. The catch and release policy just returns enemy fighters back to the battlefield. They get a nice rest, and a bellyful of high calorie American rations. How can we beat the insurgents if we keep letting them go free? This puts soldiers life at risk. Make no mistake hundreds of soldiers are dead because of this catch and release policy. Think about it, at the very least, an indicted co-conspirator of Saddam’s and a self described al-Quaeda preacher are walking free in Iraq. Isn’t it time to get serious about winning in Iraq?

Thanks To:

Froggy Ruminations

Right Wing News


Blogger Eric said...

One of the IR concepts we learn as poli sci majors is about international level decision making based on domestic politics and global politics. A problem here is that we're not conducting the campaign in Iraq based on what we need to do to win OVER THERE, we're conducting it based on domestic and largely media driven agendas. I think the mission is doable, but it's very complex and difficult. It needs to be conducted on terms that make sense in the region, but we may find unpalateable at home. The enemy knows that and is fighting his war in our hearts and minds as aggressively as he is in the region itself. This enemy knows what he's doing. We need to respect him a heck of a lot more than we have if we're going to defeat him.

Sun Sep 04, 12:14:00 PM 2005  

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