November 9th, 2006 03:27 EST
Iraqi Tipping - Point Is It Working?
Last month, the Islamic world celebrated Ramadan. Unfortunately, extremist elements in Iraq — particularly in BaghdadU.S. service members and three times more Iraqi Security Forces were killed during October; in addition to scores of civilians. — used this normally sacred and celebrated time to step up attacks on security forces and innocent Iraqi civilians. More than 100 U.S. service members and three times more Iraqi Security Forces were killed during October; in addition to scores of civilians.
A couple of weeks ago, I was widely quoted saying that this violence was disheartening. What is disheartening is that a minority of extremist elements in this country are inflicting suffering upon the vast majority of Iraqis who seek unity, security, and prosperity. The average Baghdad citizens want jobs, electricity, and streets where their children can play without fear. It is disheartening that these extremists use a holy time like Ramadan, when Muslims focus on peace and forgiveness, to try to shatter the collective Iraqi will and derail their elected government.
However, what is encouraging is how hard the Government of Iraq is working — through Iraq’s political, religious and tribal leaders — to unite all factions of Iraqi society.
Look at such efforts during October: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, key ministerial leaders, and sheiks from al Anbar province met in Baghdad to tackle tough security, cultural, and economic problems in that province, while earlier in the month a conference of tribal chiefs in Anbar ended with a pledge to support the national government’s campaign against al-Qaida insurgents. Another conference in Babil province concluded with tribal sheiks signing an oath to work hand-in-hand for the future of their children. Maliki, in October, also announced a four-point plan to establish committees in Baghdad districts to oversee and create trust in Iraq’s security forces. And most recently, Iraqi Sunni and Shiite religious leaders met in Saudi Arabia as part of Organization of the Islamic Conference and signed a declaration to end inter-Islamic fighting. Despite the significant obstacles facing the young Iraqi government, it has progressed forward on many reconciliation initiatives.
Also promising are indicators showing most Iraqis support unity efforts.
In July, a poll by the nonprofit International Republican Institute found 94 percent of Iraqis said they support a “unity” government. Seventy-eight percent opposed Iraq being segregated by religion or ethnicity. Even in Baghdad, where sectarian violence is heightened, 76 percent opposed ethnic separation. According to a September WorldPublicOpinion.org poll, 97 percent of Iraqis said they “strongly disapprove” of attacks against Iraqi civilians, and 96 percent of Iraqis disapproved of attacks on Iraqi Security Forces. And in a State Department poll released Oct. 5, large majorities of Iraqi youth in six regions surveyed agreed “It is essential that Iraq remains one nation.” These findings confirm that Iraqis want to live in a unified, multi-ethnic country.
Military efforts can only set the conditions for a political solution for the reconciliation needed to reduce violence. But if Iraqi leaders are rejecting violence and the vast majority of Iraqis seek unity, what gives? What will it take to reduce the violence?
First, the Iraqi people must reach a tipping point where they actively — not just passively — renounce the extremists creating violence and work with security forces in getting rid of those extremists. For this to happen, Iraqis must trust their security forces. So secondly, the government must deal with the serious problem of militias, which undermine Iraq’s police and military. Further, the government must continue to train those police and military forces and rein in rogue elements within these forces that contribute to violence.
On the first point, Prime Minister Maliki stated his government will not tolerate illegal armed groups. He has formed a committee to begin transition and reintegration of militia members into society. It, however, is not an easy task and will take time.
As for building security capacity, the Iraqi forces have come a long way in three years, with more than 319,000 trained forces. Prime Minister Maliki recently stated his desire to immediately form several new rapid deployment units as part of an aggressive modernization program. Maliki also authorized the Iraqi military to add more than 30,000 troops to the existing force structure. As for the Iraqi Police, the Minister of Interior is putting all nine National Police brigades through its four-phase transformation plan, which is meant to instill national allegiance and weed out corrupt elements.
Iraq will not be completely free of violence, as no country is. But once Iraqis trust their security forces and actively work to rid the country of extremists, violence can be reduced to acceptable levels. Iraqis are making progress, and the Coalition Force remains steadfast in its support of Iraq through its transition to a more unified, secure, and prosperous country.
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV is spokesman for the Multi-National Force-Iraq and is based in Baghdad
In other developments throughout Iraq: