The Surge Goes South
Of all the threats to Iran, this may be the most dangerous. Bill Roggio reports:
In southern Baghdad province, the establishment of the Concerned Citizens, also referred to as Iraqi Police Volunteers, began to take hold in late spring. Initiated by tribal connections from Anbar province, the movement mimicked the rise of the Anbar Salvation Council in some respects, but differed in many ways. This bottom up process of local reconciliation consists of both Sunni and Shia tribes wishing to restore a measure of peace to the war torn regions south of Baghdad.
The establishment of Concerned Citizens cells has been helped along by a Coalition Cell, learning to do it the only possible way: on the job.
The cell is tasked with devising strategies to get the local communities to provide for their security and become part of the reconciliation process, then to see these strategies through at the tactical level. The cell ... is comprised of three officers [who] ... work long hours putting together the pieces of a complex puzzle, which includes learning the tribal relationships and influential sheikhs, demarking the geographic and sectarian boundaries.
The reconciliation cell also learned its craft on the job. ... This was required, as while similarities existed between the movement in Anbar and the uprising against al Qaeda in southern Baghdad and northern Babil provinces, the unique nature of the region southwest of Baghdad had its own solutions.
The process of empowering local groups is fraught with risk. Even the US military felt uneasy about dealing with armed groups outside the structure of the regular Iraqi armed forces. Roggio says that the coalition cells categorically do not arm or provide ammunition to these groups; they simply redirect them, pointing the guns from one direction to another.
... the process of establishing the Concerned Citizens groups unfolded, there was resistance among the military officers. Many were skeptical about the effectiveness of these groups, their ability to provide security, and the inherent dangers in establishing armed groups outside the purview of the Iraqi Security Forces. “Now 99.9 percent of the officers are on board,” Waldron said. ...
Arming these groups is a “red line,” Waldron stated. “People think we are arming Sunnis; that is not true.” ... “These guys have all the weapons they need, we’re just having them point them in the right direction,” against al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army.
TE Lawrence would have understood. He would also have understood how quickly guns pointed away can turn 180 degrees around. But given that the guns were initially pointed at Americans to start with, pointing them against al-Qaeda and the Mahdi Army is for the moment an improvment.
A large part of the new-found influence over militias comes from money. "With over 15,000 volunteers and growing being paid an average of 10 dollars a day – less than is being paid an Iraqi soldier or policeman – the US is paying over 150,000 dollars a day for the local security forces." This is not as radical as it sounds. Co-opting local militias is a time-honored practice in counterinsurgency. The problem normally comes afterwards, after the main enemy is defeated and the weapons must be collected to lessen the danger of criminality.
The inability of the West to provide enough troops over an extended period probably means that additional forces to fight al-Qaeda and Iranian-sponsored forces will come from locals. Bing and Owen West, writing in Slate in May, 2007 proposed that the US shift to an "adviser" model in which Americans "advise, coach, teach and mentor" instead of directly fighting. Advising has long been under way co-existing with direct US combat operations. The cell Bill Roggio describes is performing a function which used to be the province of Special Forces. West had this to say in May:
Today, every Iraqi army and police unit has between 10 and 25 advisers, called "transition teams," living with them. While some advisers perform as drill instructors for recruits and others work with Iraqi staffs behind barriers of American concrete, the majority do their job by setting the example outside the wire in combat. Many battalion advisers accompany Iraqi patrols twice a day, setting a much higher operational tempo than most American units.
The difference here is that Americans are not only "advising" Iraqi Army units, they are advising militias. I expect the New York Times to soon generate ominious news stories about how the organizing the locals is creating unknown dangers. In truth, organizing locals always creates unknown dangers, but not in these least -- and this is fundamental -- to the enemy. If the Iranian-supported Badr Brigades and Madhi Army are run out on a rail from Southern Iraq in the same way al-Qaeda has been given the bum's rush from Anbar it has the potential to shake the regime in Teheran to the core. It will indicate that the Americans have found a social weapon, which combined with US firepower and money, poses a significant threat to the hitherto-successful Iranian model of terrorist subversion.
It is a dangerous weapon; but all powerful weapons are dangerous. The US must learn how to remain in control. But if Americans become increasingly adept at organizing locals around grievances and directing their anger against the terror bosses it will have all the impact of the arrival of fast carrier task forces in the Pacific. They will have created a combined arms weapon which integrates social agitation with already existing high-technology firepower and blazingly fast kinetic combat power. If the US can pull it off, and I were the Ayatollah Khameini, I would be looking to surrender.