Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Joint Security Stations in Baghdad

Neighborhood security facilities to solicit intelligence from residents that we are forced -- for security reasons -- to keep secret from those same residents.


Rarely do U.S. military officials talk about the month-old security crackdown in Iraq without mentioning three words: "joint security stations." The stations are considered crucial to the plan's success because of their emphasis on giving Baghdad's toughest neighborhoods a 24/7 troop presence.

Four years ago today, U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. The fears and distrust resulting from the subsequent warfare make it difficult, if not impossible, to persuade Iraqis to use the stations as they were intended: as friendly neighborhood cop shops where anyone can drop by with a tip on a suspected terrorist next door.

This is a country where working for foreigners can get a citizen killed for being a suspected collaborator. It is a country where people have little faith in the U.S. military's commitment to providing them the electricity, jobs and improved lives they were promised as part of the American-led attack that began March 20, 2003.

Under the best circumstances, analysts say, classic counterinsurgency tactics can take years to work. Combine that with the limited U.S. troop levels in Iraq, and with security concerns that prevent the military even from telling people where the stations are located, and it becomes clear that in the context of Iraq in 2007, the simple idea of security stations is laden with complications. ...

Among Iraqis who say they would use the stations, several interviewed in various neighborhoods expressed doubts as to their effectiveness, a reflection of the hopelessness driving so many here to leave the country.

"For me, it is just one of the numerous promises we have heard about but that have yielded no results," said shop owner Abu Qusai. "People are sick of new promises."

If such opinions concern the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, he didn't show it during a visit March 13 to a joint security station in Ramadi, the capital of Al Anbar province, a longtime center of the anti-American insurgency led by Sunni Arabs. Petraeus touted the decrepit former school in a bleak, rocket-scarred neighborhood as an example of counterinsurgency at its best. ...

The Army counterinsurgency manual that Petraeus himself drafted emphasizes the importance of stationing military troops in neighborhoods they have secured. The thinking is that if they stay on and provide security and basic services to help people recover from conflict, streetwise residents will warm to them.

But the manual also calls for a ratio of roughly one service person for every 50 civilians, something impossible to achieve with the U.S. forces at Petraeus' disposal. Petraeus said the ratio was reachable if one counted Iraqi troops and private security workers contracted to do jobs that might otherwise fall to troops, such as protecting the U.S. Embassy.


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