Among the three, the economy has been relatively more stable than the other two in Iraq; two steps forward then one backward, then the other way around, stable exchange price of the dinar over the past two and a half years, more or less stable oil production and exports etc, etc. while politics and security are much more turbulent and obscure.
It is true that political stability assists greatly in improving security and it is true as well that economic growth and more money in the hands of people can reduce the potential for violence but such effects can be seen only in the mid-long term but not in the short term, that's weeks or months, an improvement in the political or economic status have very little if any immediate effect on security.
Let's stop thinking like chess players for a while and think like soccer or basketball players or coaches during an ongoing match in which your team is behind in score; you do have plans for improving the physical and psychological fitness of your team players and you have plans to improve their tactics and playing skills and you are confident that these plans are very well studied and will enable your team to compete for the world cup or playoffs ten years from now.
But at this very moment and at this very match you are losing points and therefore you must figure out how to reverse the score and win the match or face the threat of seeing your team move down from class "A" to class "B" if not even "C".
Let's take a look at the situation in Iraq, two years ago, that's May or April 2004, we had almost the same number of MNF soldiers in Iraq, much less force in the Iraqi police and a lot less than that in the army, yet there is more violence now than before.
We need to review our tactics and plans and we need to do it fast.
It's obviously not about how many trigger-pullers you trained or how many armored vehicles you deployed; it's about how you use these assets to achieve your goals and I'm afraid the commanders in the Iraqi government and in the MNF were not sufficiently good at doing this.
The future of Iraq depends largely on the ability of the government to provide security for the citizens and no political progress no matter how significant will have value on the ground if citizens do not sense real improvement in security and this improvement needs to be reached as soon as possible and since time is crucial here, the government and the coalition need to think of starting with relatively smaller regions (in size) yet of high security value for the country, more specifically Baghdad.
Why is Baghdad so important?
I was reading an old post by Alaa of the Mesopotamian and I want to second his words and add my two cents. He wrote:
Yes, you have attacked brilliantly. Yes, you have coerced the enemy in many a place and inflicted heavy casualties on him. Yet the present situation is such that it seems rather more urgent to provide some "safe havens" to the people rather than just denying them to the enemy.
Imagine the situation if power and essential services are restored more satisfactorily, and if assassinations, kidnappings and the daily genocide of completely innocent people is stopped. Would that not allow the political process to proceed more smoothly and the reconstruction effort resumed meaningfully?
The present situation is untenable gentlemen; and cannot continue like this. I have said it before and say it again; controlling Baghdad is controlling the country. The enemy understands this perfectly and is concentrating his efforts accordingly.
We have seen that attempts at fighting the insurgents/terrorists from the outside-in has proven to be costly and difficult so I think it would be a good idea to try a new tactic of fighting from the inside-out; Baghdad is the capital of the country, it is where the greatest chunk of the economy and politics is and it's where 25% of the population of Iraq resides, let alone its value in morale and history that makes this city so important to us as well as to our enemies.
Iraq like many other countries is a country that exists as long as the center (the capital) exists and there are many examples in history that prove that who controls Baghdad controls the rest of the country. Back during the era of the Abbasid caliph state, Baghdad was the center of the empire for most of the time and that empire extended to China in the east and to the shores of the Atlantic in the west; the rulers in Baghdad technically had no control over those remote counties yet their deputies in those remote areas were loyal and paid their taxes and the empire lasted for centuries. Until the day when the Mongols invaded Baghdad and that was enough to make the vast empire disintegrate.
A more recent example was OIF in 2003; the provinces expected to show the least resistance like Basra kept fighting longer than the provinces that were expected to be much more difficult to conquer like Tikrit, Mousil or Anbar. Once Baghdad was in the control of the US military all provinces surrendered and in a few cases without a single shot fired.
This mentality is still strong in the minds of the insurgents regardless of their backgrounds; they still think that seizing Baghdad will make controlling the rest of the country a matter of time; last week I had a debate with a former officer from the old school of thinking and he was still talking about a coup to seize Baghdad "and rid us of the corrupt politicians who reached power through fake elections…the army should move to control the palace in the green zone and we control the state TV and radio and the rest of the country will bow to the new legitimate rule…".
Frankly, fighting the insurgents for 3 years on multiple fronts did not bring the desired results, so let's just try to focus on Baghdad for a few months, put more troops in and around the city and make securing this city our top priority, because let's not forget that it is the city that terrorists drool for and they use their bases in other cities to launch attacks in Baghdad where attacks can do the greatest harm on the country in material let alone the media value of attacks in Baghdad that is much greater than anywhere else in Iraq and if we do not counteract their efforts with suitable measures, we will find ourselves moving in circles without reaching our goals, i.e. losing the match.
So why not try to expand the safe territory from the center out? We saw that when terrorists got kicked out of Fallujah how many of them moved to Amiriyah in western Baghdad, and when operations intensified in the "triangle of death" many others moved to Doura towards the center and so on. So let's try to reverse this situation and let's start with Karrada district for example, it is adjacent to the green zone and is relatively calmer than other parts of Baghdad, do intense cordon and search operations, put the district under strict supervision for some time then finally add to the green zone after it's safe.
Repeat this with more districts one at a time and add more districts to this bigger safe zone until eventually all of Baghdad becomes secure and it won't be a bad idea to make the procedures of entering the new safe Baghdad similar to the procedures currently employed in controlling traffic into the green zone.
How many roads lead to Baghdad, 10, 20, 50?
Why not put tough checkpoints at each entrance and inspect each and every passenger and vehicle, and for more safety for the soldiers manning these checkpoint we can install x-ray machines, explosive detectors and use trained dogs to sniff baggage.
Really, I was reading the other day that in average 200,000 passengers move through Heathrow Airport a day and those all go through security one way or another, so I don't think it's impossible to have something similar for Baghdad.
Another point that I think is worth mentioning is that the terrorists are feeding on Baghdad and the resources of its citizens to fund their operations; the thousands of abductions and raids on companies and major stores make a constant flow of millions of dollars to the insurgents. There are people in Baghdad who would pay hundreds of dollars in ransom to free a relative but such people virtually do not exist in many of the other provinces, simply because people do not have as much money.
Make the people safe from abduction and make firms and stores safe from raids and you will deny the insurgents an important source of cash.
These are a few things we can do to correct the score, win this match and gain momentum for more wins to come.
Can you imagine what things will be like when Baghdad becomes a safe place where diplomats are not afraid to come, businessmen are not afraid to invest their money, people are not afraid to go to work, passenger flights are not afraid to land like they do in other airports in this world?
I can, and it's a vision of beauty that can become a reality.