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Jan 13

Written by: Diana West
Tuesday, January 13, 2009 6:30 AM 

How's that SOFA working out?

From the Washington Post, "US Troops Uneasy as Rules Shift in Iraq: Americans Must Coordinate with Sometimes Unreliable Local Counterparts":

BAGHDAD -- First Lt. Ilya Ivanov's initial mission of 2009 began with a crucial, if irksome, task: rousing an Iraqi army sergeant out of bed.

After trekking through dark, trash-filled streets in Sadr City, as the crackle of gunfire and the wails of stray dogs echoed in the distance, the 24-year-old infantry platoon leader arrived at the Iraqi army station one hour before midnight on New Year's Eve. The Iraqi soldier was sleeping placidly on an uneven, thin mattress, a layer of freshly applied moisturizing lotion on his face.

"Tell him we would be honored if he joined us in this mission," Ivanov asked his interpreter to relay.

Honored? Honored? When I first read this, I reflexively thought the American lieutenant was being sarcastic--but on second thought, I don't think so. Could this be the way Americans (infidel?) are advised to address their Iraqi (Muslim?) counterparts?

Tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq started the year calibrating their missions to conform with a new security agreement that demands that American combat troops depend more heavily than ever on their often-bungling Iraqi counterparts. Sometimes that means dragging one or two along on patrol.

American troops, who for years were the ultimate and only unquestioned authority in Iraq, have lost the right to detain Iraqis without warrants and are being asked to coordinate all missions with Iraqi security forces. Soldiering without the robust protections of the U.S. Security Resolution resolution that expired Dec. 31, in a country where animosity toward U.S. service members runs high, has left some troops feeling uneasy and vulnerable.

"We've got to walk on eggshells," said Spec. Cory Armer, 23, of Lake Charles, La. "I understand you can't go out and shoot everyone and play Rambo. But war is war. We shouldn't be falling under the jurisdiction of a country we're at war with."

Someone pin a medal on Spec. Armer just for common sense. No, we shouldn't. But check out line of the commanders--which is, basically, think positive thoughts:

U.S. commanders speak of the transition more optimistically, saying it's a necessary step that will force Iraqi officials to take the reins of their country. "It's a transition from a martial-law-type environment to a rule-of-law environment," said Lt. Col. Brian Eifler, commander of the 1-6th Infantry Battalion of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Armored Division. He is based in an outpost in Sadr City.

U.S. commanders lately have sought to dispel the notion that American troops remain at war in Iraq. Since 2003, U.S. service members have had the power of life and death in Iraq; many Iraqis to this day cower at the sight of a convoy of U.S. military armored vehicles.

With meaningful combat operations at a record low, U.S. commanders say, the tens of thousands of troops expected to remain over the next two years will primarily serve in advisory, training and support roles. Rules of engagement -- the guidelines that spell out defensive measures U.S. troops can take -- have been scaled down in recent years. For example, troops are no longer supposed to drive on the wrong side of the road, which they habitually did to avoid setting patterns that make them more prone to roadside bomb attacks. What commanders once called their "area of operation" is now an "operating environment."

And raids are not to be called raids. "We call them cordon and knocks now," Armer said. Echoing the view expressed privately by other soldiers, he added regretfully: "We don't instill fear in them anymore. If you have fear, you have power."

Could someone please promote Spec. Armer to Gen. Armer? And make that four stars--in our dreams, of course. Meanwhile, let's review: The United States military is "honored" to "knock and cordon" with "bungling" Iraqis in a positive "operating enviroment" "transitioning" to "rule of law" as Americans troops seek search warrants and sworn statements while obeying traffic laws (thus making themselves more prone to roadside bomb attack). Great.

Back to Ivanov, who, of course, is honored to be knocking and cordoning with the Iraqi army sergeant now dressed, finally, having "wrapped a brown-and-white kaffiyeh, a type of head scarf, around his face."

"He doesn't want people seeing him with the Americans," said Rad, Ivanov's interpreter. For that reason, the 26-year-old sergeant, a Kurd, and Ivanov asked that the man's name not be published.

Minutes before midnight, Ivanov and his men, on a joint mission with the lone sergeant, headed out to a street market to meet an informant. Ivanov possessed two sworn statements from witnesses about a man suspected of collaborating with the Mahdi Army,, the Shiite militia that for years controlled Sadr City. But he wanted more evidence to persuade a judge to sign off on a warrant.

What is this, Perry Mason?

"We'll be patient so we can put him away for a long time," said Ivanov, of Kemah, Tex.

Ivanov, the Iraqi sergeant and the informant met in a dark spot of the market, between two trucks. Ivanov was doing all the talking, while the Iraqi sergeant smoked and wandered around. The conversation was interrupted by bursts of gunfire. Initially sporadic and distant, the shots grew progressively louder and more frequent, fired perhaps from a block or two away. Ivanov and his men looked concerned. Then one soldier looked at his watch.

"It's New Year's, sir," he told Ivanov.

Ivanov didn't want to endanger the informant if people saw them speaking on the street, so they agreed to meet at the man's house later.

The Iraqi sergeant, amused by the celebratory gunfire, asked Ivanov if he could fire a couple of rounds in the air.

No way, Ivanov shot back.

Can we just take our troops and go home now? In this uneasy pairing of Occident and Islam there may be the makings of a strange sitcom--"The Odd Cultures"--but there is no strategic alliance possible between the US and Iraq--at least not one in US interests. Meanwhile, this transition from martial law to rule of law sounds like a happy-talk charade. The story goes on:

Iraqi government officials last year demanded, as part of the security agreement negotiations, that U.S. troops withdraw from populated areas by July. American military officials have taken some steps toward that end, closing down large bases and outposts occupied only by U.S. troops. But they have no imminent plans to shut down dozens of inner-city bases like the one in Sadr City, which they call a joint security station. A handful of Iraqi officials work alongside Eifler's unit. Like other security stations in Baghdad, it is overwhelmingly populated, and unmistakably controlled, by Americans.

So, we're stuck in Sadr City and other inner-city bases. That's one way to sap US power perpetually--keep us stuck in Iraqi inner cities.

The joint security stations and outposts were built in early 2007, when sectarian violence raged and militias controlled large swaths of Baghdad. They have been crucial in restoring order, jump-starting paralyzed local economies and repairing the country's decrepit infrastructure.

In Sadr City, which the central government has ignored for years, the outpost's leaders became power brokers. They mediated chronic disputes between the Iraqi army and police, employed roughly 1,000 men as unarmed guards and have invested $50 million in reconstruction projects since April.

"We built these places out of the ashes," Eifler said. "After 15 months of putting blood, sweat and tears, they'll be able to walk away knowing that they transitioned Sadr City from what it was then."

Not happening any time soon.

The Mahdi Army's sway over the neighborhood has eroded noticeably in recent months, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. But no one is calling it a defunct threat.

"Three months ago, we took this area from the bad guys," said 2nd Lt. Thar Mahdi, one of the Iraqi army officers based at the joint security station. But fighters are "hiding" north of the wall the Americans aren't supposed to cross, he added. The progress of recent months could collapse overnight, he said, if the Americans were to leave the outpost.

Such "progress" isn't progress.

"We have a lot of corruption in my army," Mahdi said. "We have bad guys in my army that support the bad guys."

...

Across Iraq, U.S. military battalions have created prosecution task forces that compile evidence in order to secure warrants. The judges in Sadr City have refused to consider warrant petitions from the Americans, U.S. military officials said, because they were spooked by a recent assassination attempt targeting one of them.

Love that transition to rule of law.

The judges in the Green Zone sign off on warrant requests, but many demand that the Americans transport witnesses to the court so they can meet the witnesses face to face, U.S. officials said. Many witnesses have been reluctant to sign sworn statements or accompany the Americans to court. Because there is no mechanism to compel witnesses to testify, U.S. troops can do little other than plead.

"People say they are afraid [the Mahdi Army] will come and get them when we leave," said 1st Lt. Nathaniel Woodrum, 28, of St. Louis, the officer in charge of the joint operations center at the station in Sadr City.

U.S. military officials said they have been able to secure dozens of warrants in recent weeks and are building strong relationships with judges. But they acknowledged that relying on Iraq's criminal justice system will be challenging. ...

Don't they mean they'd be "honored"? Now for a scene from Bizarro Land:

Ivanov arrived at his informant's house shortly after midnight. The man was sitting on a sofa, leaning over a small space heater, watching "Black Hawk Down," a movie about the 1993 killings of U.S. soldiers during an operation in Mogadishu, Somalia. Ivanov asked the man if his target had weapons at home. The man said he didn't know. Ivanov's men stared blankly at the screen as the last American soldier was beaten to death by fighters.

Having obtained little usable information, Ivanov decided to call it a night...

Having obtained little usable anything, shoudn't the US call it a day?

 

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