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How to Win the War in al Anbar

By Jack Kelly

President Bush has been asking a lot of people what he should do next in Iraq. But he won't be consulting with Travis Patriquin.

Captain Patriquin possessed two qualities most of those offering Mr. Bush advice do not. He'd been in Iraq for a lot more than a couple of days, and he spoke fluent Arabic.

A former Special Forces officer then assigned to the First Armored Division, Capt. Patriquin, 32, was killed in Ramadi Dec. 6. But he left behind an 18-page briefing on "How to Win the War in al Anbar" so simple (with stick figure drawings) that even the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee could understand it.

Americans can't win in Anbar (populated almost entirely by Sunni Arabs) by fighting the insurgents, because they can't tell "the good Iraqis from the bad Iraqis," Capt. Patriquin said.

Iraqi army units (composed almost entirely of Shias and Kurds from outside the area) have the same problem, he said.

The solution is to work with tribal sheikhs who oppose al Qaida and their militias, Capt. Patriquin said. Sheikhs have been authority figures in Anbar for 14,000 years, and they and their militias know who's who.

Give the sheikhs respect and government contracts, and recruit their militias into the local police, Capt. Patriquin said.

Soldier-blogger "Teflon Don" says Capt. Patriquin's approach works: "A local sheikh came to the Army unit in charge of the sector he lived in, announced he wanted to fight the insurgents, and asked for help in doing so," he wrote Nov. 29. "To demonstrate his commitment, he organized his militia and began to quell some of the violence in the sector. With days, indirect fire attacks against U.S. bases dropped to nearly zero."

Sir Thomas Gresham noted that: "bad money drives out good." (When two precious metals are in circulation as currency, people spend the silver and hoard the gold.) A kind of Gresham's Law applies in politics and journalism. Bad advice drives out good. The recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (composed of 10 famous people who know next to nothing about either the military or the Middle East) received enormous attention from the news media. But the report last week from people who actually know what they're talking about received little.

Aside from the surreal recommendation that we ask our enemies, Iran and Syria, for help in quelling the violence they are largely responsible for fomenting, the ISG recommended, essentially, that we do more of what hasn't worked very well.

General Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the Army, and former West Point professor Frederick Kagan have a different view. They headed a study group for the American Enterprise Institute which issued its report Dec. 14. They think it's about time we tried the only thing that's ever worked in fighting insurgencies.

Every counterinsurgency that's succeeded has done so by protecting civilians from insurgents, Gen. Keane noted.

But protecting Iraqi civilians isn't even formally a mission for U.S. troops, which explains in part why we're doing such a poor job of it, Prof. Kagan said.

The mission given our military by the Bush administration is to train up the Iraqi security forces so we can leave. The Iraqi army and police are getting better. But the situation is deteriorating faster than the capabilities of the Iraqis are increasing.

Gen. Keane and Prof. Kagan want to surge U.S. troop levels by seven brigades (about 30,000 troops) to secure critical neighborhoods in Baghdad and Ramadi.

Along with the increase in the number of troops would be a change in strategy. Currently, after U.S. troops "clear" a neighborhood, they return to their bases, permitting insurgents to slip back in. Any civilians who cooperated with U.S. or Iraqi troops are subject to retribution, which discourages cooperation. The higher troop levels would permit a constant presence in the disputed neighborhoods.

The AEI study has a specificity the Iraq Study Group report lacked. It identifies the particular mixed Sunni/Shia neighborhoods in Baghdad where the security problem is worst.

"Going big" may be our best hope for success in Iraq. But there is a critical precondition. We must have an Iraqi government willing to crack down on Shia death squads as well as Sunni insurgents.

Establishing this precondition may be why President Bush met at the White House Dec. 4 with Abdul Aziz al Hakim, the Moqtada al Sadr's foremost Shiite rival, and last week with Tariq Hashimi, leader of the largest Sunni party in parliament. Stay tuned.


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