May 3, 2006 was the day Army reservist Michael Noonan’s analytical interest in the reconstruction of Iraq became personal.11. Noonan, “The Business We’ve Chosen”, The American Interest (November/December 2007). My day came almost precisely a year later, when I learned that my artillery platoon was to be re-organized and moved from Camp Ramadi to train and advise Iraqi police in Ramadi proper. Noonan’s account of his experiences leading a Military Transition Team (MiTT) in Ninewa province—the challenges, exasperations and above all the surreality of it all—rang true to me as the leader of a Police Transition Team (PiTT). I, too, encountered the lax discipline, the “ghost soldiers” and highly “irregular” officers, the constant scent of corruption and graft, and the nagging feeling that I would never truly know what lay in the hearts of my new allies.
The very fact that a Shi‘a-dominated national army would share the same basic institutional culture as a local Sunni police force may say something at once encouraging and discouraging about Coalition efforts to make this fractious country functional. I recently completed my stint with the Iraqi Police (“IPs”), and after that singular experience I find myself, on the whole, more encouraged than discouraged about the future (though with many caveats). More important, it’s worth examining our work here in al-Anbar province in order to see what early lessons may be drawn from it, because we’re not finished yet, not by a long shot.
Ramadi in 2006 was a horror. Insurgent forces had freedom of maneuver and were terrorizing the local population. But by 2007, Ramadi was a different kind of place. Today it is one of the few Iraqi cities in which the Petraeus counterinsurgency strategy can be observed in all of its phases, from standing start to full sprint.
The basic strategy that has been employed in Ramadi is two-pronged: the projection of military force into every corner of the city, and the simultaneous build-up of the IPs to maintain security when American forces have inevitably drawn down. The first prong was enabled by the surge, the second by the tribal alliance with Coalition forces—the 2006 “Anbar Awakening”, which signaled the civilian population’s disgust with the jihadists and brought forth thousands of new IP recruits throughout 2007 (with 9,000 and counting now on the payroll).
The results have been striking. The capital of the province that was famously declared lost two years...