Saturday, July 25, 2009

Omen of Bad Things to Come

Today's Post has a very disheartening piece on an incident in Abu Ghraib (the town, not the prison). The gist of the story is that an American convoy came under attack and the convoy returned fire and pursued the attackers, resulting in three dead and four wounded Iraqis. But the worst part happened when the Iraqi Army showed up.

The Iraqi commander attempted to arrest the American soldiers for firing indiscrimantely. The US commander on the ground talked him down basing his case on self-defense and a serious situation was narrowly avoided. Given the vast discrepancies in how each side interpreted the new rules, it appears that US forces are set up for more such incidents in the future.

I have no idea what would happen if something like this occurs again and the Iraqi commander can't be persuaded to stand down. I hope that US commanders are preparing for the possibility however they can. I do know that the outcome won't be good for US/Iraqi relations.

12 comments:

  1. I think you exxagerate. This is one incident. Hopefully in the future, MNF-I convoys will increasingly be escorted by IP or IA.

    The fact that the IP seem to be aggresively investigating the incident and who was responsible for attacking the convoy is promising.

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  2. I don't think that I am. This is an incident that shows that both sides don't interpret the rules the same and that could (let's emphasize that word) cause an incident that won't end as well as this one did. It creates an environment that is conducive to problematic encounters.

    If an IA captain wants to arrest some US soldiers, well, let's just say that I'm pretty sure that my soldiers when I was in Iraq would have not let that happen. I'm not sure I would let it happen if I was in command and felt I had engaged as a response in self-defense. How do the folks on the ground difuse the situation? I don't have answer for that, but it will be a lot of angry people with guns on the scene.

    I hope that you're right and that convoys will have more and more ISF escorts - which would help mediate these divulgent SOFA intrepretations.

    You are absolutely correct that an IP investigation is promising.

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  3. I don't think Gunslinger's exaggerating, but it looks like things may not be quite as bad as they seemed initially:

    An Iraqi officer who ordered the detention of U.S. soldiers last week after they killed three Iraqis while pursuing insurgents acted in error and was "out of line," Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday.

    The officer "did not understand the agreement" governing U.S. military activities since the American forces withdrew from Iraqi cities last month, Maliki said in an interview, adding that it "clearly states that American forces have the right to defend themselves, and that's what they did."


    More here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/25/AR2009072501729.html?hpid=topnews

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  4. Here is an interesting question. Only the IP can arrest people in provinces where MoI is in the lead. Why was an IA officer asking to "arrest" US soldiers? Was he really asking to "temporarily detain" US soldiers for questioning?

    There are many IP in Iraq that are difficult to trust. However the IA is much more professional. {This perception is widely experienced and felt by Iraqi civilians. One Iraqi told me that the IP flirt and are undisciplined. Iraqi kids and woman trust the IA more. It isn't uncommon in Iraq for IA to escort or transport students to school if there are security concerns. Iraqi parents are more wary of IP doing this.}

    If the IA politely requested that soldiers in an escort go to an Iraqi Army division headquarters to inform the IA about what happened, would this be more acceptable? Every IA division HQs has US advisers (although 14th IAD HQs might still have British advisers vise American.)

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  5. I would argue probably not. Contact and unit information should be exchananged, but I doubt the US commander would abandon his already disrupted mission because an IA officer thought he may have violated the SOFA.

    And it's great that Maliki understands the nuances of the agreement. I think it's dangerous that the guys on the ground with weapons either don't or are put in gray-area positions. That is what I'm concerned about that may lead to an unfortunate incident.

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  6. Agreed - but better this is a transient problem of getting the word out to the guys on the ground than a disagreement on interpretation all the way up and down the chain.

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  7. Transient problem or not, I echo gunslinger's concern re: letting my men be disarmed by an angry IA unit after engaging in justified self defense. In fact, I'll tell you right now I would not let that happen, period...good luck trying to get any Soldier to do that, either. I'm almost positive that 90% of the time an IA Captain who pushed this scenario too far would end up with a firefight on his hands,some dead IA and maybe some dead Americans, not to mention another international incident. So, while everyone up in the rarified air back in Baghdad may have a lovely understanding of the rules and regulations surrounding SOFA, it really doesn't mean shit in the really real world down here if their subordinates don't understand it. Gunslinger is right, this is absolutely one of the new nightmares for junior leaders acting as the rear guard in Iraq.

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  8. The IA backed down this time, maybe because there are still 130k American troops still in country. What happens when there are far less American troops in the very near future?

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  9. That would be my concern too. (goesh)

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  10. The town of Abu Ghraib is a festering boil,
    That pops when we march over their soil,
    It's time to leave town,
    Not sit and hunker down,
    Forget about them and their oil.

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  11. MEK shows you where its heading. You will by chased out the door by the Iranians, if you dont look out. Hey, hows that for ya snli?

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