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April 7, 2005
Testing Their Mettle

The Iraqi security forces will get their first test of effectiveness in Mosul, as the Americans have assigned an Iraqi army group to secure a strategically significant area of Mosul. So far, the experiment appears to be a success, although others caution about a rush to expand it:

The two dozen Iraqi soldiers marched in formation into downtown Mosul, streets emptying in their path. The men trained their rifles on potential bomb threats: a donkey-drawn vegetable cart, a blue Opel sedan, a man with a bulge beneath his tattered gray coat.

Less than a month ago, U.S. forces patrolled these dangerous streets. But on this humid morning there were only the Iraqis and a lone U.S. adviser, Marine Staff Sgt. Lafayette Waters, 32, of Kinston, N.C., who blended unobtrusively into the patrol.

This is Area of Operations Iraq, slightly more than two square miles in the heart of Iraq's third-largest city. It is also at the center of the U.S. military's strategy to hand off counterinsurgency operations to Iraqi security forces and ultimately draw down the number of American troops.

Since Iraq's Jan. 30 parliamentary elections, that process has accelerated much more rapidly than U.S. commanders have previously acknowledged. Although AO Iraq is one of just two sectors currently under Iraqi control (the other is the area around Baghdad's Haifa Street), two senior U.S. officers said the Iraqis' zone of responsibility would soon expand and eventually include all of Nineveh province, including Mosul and Tall Afar, another volatile city, possibly within a year.

We have worked and built up the Iraqi security forces for precisely this purpose. The US and the Iraqis want to have native army and police forces take over normal security details from Americans, British, and other Coalition forces, relying on us more and more for emergency cases only. This move is a necessary step in strengthening sovereignty for the Iraqis; after all, they cannot feel as if the nation has truly been returned to the people until their own security apparatus becomes fully functional, under their civilian control.

While all of these are laudable goals, we have to guard against pushing too quickly to declare victory and split. As the Post reports, the Iraqis remain poorly equipped and inexperienced, if better trained than Congress acknowledged during Condoleezza Rice's confirmation hearings. In order to instill a truly professional discipline, the Iraqis will require much more training by Western military experts. That should be combined with a substantial transfer of armored materiel and modernized small and medium arms to the Iraqi Army, which will need it to combat the local jihadists in their midst.

However, the Mosul experiment gives the Iraqis a chance to create a background of success for themselves that will allow them to build a foundation for their esprit de corps. Handling the job of AO Iraq on their own, with just a single American as an advisor, will inspire not just the soldiers of the Iraqi unit but ordinary Iraqis in the street who want to know that their country will truly be theirs. Expanding that optimisim which started with the capture of Saddam Hussein and exploded into full flower during the January 30th elections will be the final and most important victory of the US and its coalition.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 7, 2005 6:28 AM

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