INTEL DUMP -Fighting for their own country, their own way
Greg Jaffe had an exceptional piece in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) describing the rise of "irregular" Iraqi units around the country, which were popping up on their own, raised by individual officers, funded privately, with little connection to the U.S.-led effort to raise an Iraqi army. Surprisingly (or maybe not so), these ad hoc units appear to be better led, better equipped, and more combat effective than their "official" brethren. And, perhaps more importantly, some U.S. officers are recognizing this, and figuring out how they might co-opt or work together with these Iraqi forces.
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- In the battle against insurgents here, two kinds of Iraqi military forces are emerging: the planned units and the pop-ups.
The planned units of the Iraq Army, about 57,000 soldiers strong, are the result of careful preparation this summer between the U.S. and Iraqi commanders. The pop-ups started to emerge last fall out of nowhere, catching the American military by surprise. These dozen disconnected units totaling as many as 15,000 soldiers are fast becoming one of the most significant developments in the new Iraq security situation.
The unplanned units -- commanded by friends and relatives of cabinet officers and tribal sheiks -- go by names like the Defenders of Baghdad, the Special Police Commandos, the Defenders of Khadamiya and the Amarah Brigade. The new units generally have the backing of the Iraqi government and receive government funding.
While regular units of the Iraq Army have taken up residence on rehabilitated army bases, the others camp out in places like looted Ministry of Defense buildings, a former women's college, an old Iraqi war monument and an abandoned aircraft hangar. Frequently, U.S. officials don't find out about them until they stumble across them. Some Americans consider them a welcome addition to the fight against the insurgency -- though others worry about the risks.
"We don't call them militias. Militias are...illegal," says Maj. Chris Wales, who spent most of January tracking down and finding these new forces. "I've begun calling them 'Irregular Iraqi ministry-directed brigades.' " The "pop up" label comes from other U.S. military officials in Baghdad.
Troops who might have otherwise joined the regular Iraqi Army are drawn to these units because they are often led by a particularly inspirational commander or made up of people with similar tribal and religious backgrounds. This makes the units more cohesive and potentially effective against the insurgency. "Just show us where to go and we will eat the insurgents alive," an Iraqi in one of these units told Maj. Wales earlier this month when he tracked them down at a long-shuttered Baghdad airport.
Mr. Jaffe's article continues that these units do carry some risk, in that they are not folded into the regular command structure, and thus at risk for fratricide and other problems. Nonetheless, senior U.S. officers see a great deal of promise here:
As these irregular units proliferate, U.S. officials face a thorny dilemma: whether to encourage these forces, whose training and experience varies wildly, or to try to rein them in. "There is a tension between on the one hand encouraging and fostering initiative and on the other executing the plan for the Iraqi Security Forces that everyone agreed on," says Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who is overseeing the massive U.S. effort to help train and equip Iraqi military units. "To be candid, I would err on the side of fostering initiative. I want to get the hell out of here."