Enlist Iraqis, Not More U.S. Troops
Recent attacks in Iraq have, not surprisingly, triggered calls for
more U.S. troops. But this is unnecessary. U.S. field commanders
there say they have enough soldiers to handle the threats posed by
the remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime and radical
That doesn't mean the continuing violence isn't inflicting major
political and psychological damage. The frequent ambushes and
sniper attacks, punctuated by more deadly terrorist bombings, are
intimidating Iraqis, undermining the morale of foreign and Iraqi
security forces, and deterring Iraqis from cooperating with
But the problem isn't a lack of soldiers -- it's a lack of useful
intelligence. And the reason for that is simple: We don't have
enough effective Iraqi allies to help us battle Baathist and
Islamic terrorism. Washington needs to involve Iraqis as much as
possible in defeating these scourges, both of which threaten them
more than the United States. After all, they will inherit postwar
Iraq after the coalition forces go home.
Many already realize that, including Ahmad Chalabi, a leading
member of the Iraqi Governing Council. "There is no need for more
American or foreign troops in Iraq today," he said recently. "Only
one force can defeat the Saddam Hussein network: the Iraqi
They also can help us distinguish friend from foe. "What we need is
the ability to identify, locate and capture or kill the enemy that
is trying to prevent freedom in Iraq," says Bernard Kerik, who
oversaw the re-establishment of the Iraqi police force after the
war. "No one can do that better than the Iraqis themselves."
Bringing in more U.S. troops also could jeopardize our long-term
goal to transfer authority to a responsible group of elected Iraqi
leaders. The nascent Iraqi government would find itself more
dependent on American power and less able to defend itself against
violent internal challenges.
Washington made a mistake when it dismantled the Iraqi army and
security forces without involving the Iraqi opposition groups. The
result: a chaotic vacuum in which the Baathist remnants, foreign
jihadis and various criminal gangs have flourished.
But the Bush administration still can empower Iraqis to take
ownership of their political future. It can recruit, train and
deploy more Iraqi police and security personnel to supplement the
55,000 Iraqis now participating in five different security
Approximately 35,000 of those are Iraqi police, many of whom lack
equipment and training. The Coalition Provisional Authority, led by
Ambassador Paul Bremer, plans to expand the police force by about
65,000 to 75,000 officers by the end of 2004. But local police are
often out-gunned and subject to intimidation. (They live in the
communities they patrol, which makes their families vulnerable to
That's why the United States should help Iraqis build a national
police constabulary, similar to Italy's Carabiniere. Such a force
would be much better equipped and trained than local police forces
to deal with the terrorists and mafia-like criminal gangs that now
The Coalition Provisional Authority should use close civilian
supervision, initially by Americans but ultimately by Iraqis, to
screen out Baathist sympathizers and assure that this internal
security force doesn't become as predatory and repressive as its
predecessors in Iraq.
Then, as the Iraqi police and internal security forces restore law
and order, American troops can be withdrawn steadily from urban
areas where they're vulnerable to terrorist attack and their
operations constrained by the presence of civilians.
Coalition forces also should continue transferring security duties
at hospitals, power plants, oil pipelines, schools, government
buildings and other critical infrastructure to Iraqis as soon as
possible. About 33 percent of U.S. troops deployed in Baghdad today
are responsible for guarding buildings or other important
facilities, down from 56 percent in July.
Smaller and lighter American forces, deployed away from population
centers, would minimize friction with Iraqi civilians and require
less logistical support -- which means fewer targets for
terrorists. Also, the heavy armor formations needed for the initial
invasion should be replaced gradually with lighter forces more
suitable for small-unit search-and-destroy missions, fast reaction
strikes, commando raids and intelligence-gathering missions.
Putting an Iraqi face on internal security operations is important
not only for reducing demands on American troops but for reducing
the friction inevitably generated by occupying troops, no matter
how benign, in a foreign land.
The people best equipped to root out foreign terrorists and the
stubborn remnants of Saddam's regime are Iraqis themselves. They
will succeed with our help. But they don't need more American
troops to do so.
Phillips is a research fellow in Middle East affairs at
The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a Washington-based public
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire