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Successful Anbar Model Validates Security Approach in Iraq

By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 12, 2008 – When security responsibility for Iraq’s Anbar province was turned over to the Iraqi government this month, it validated the security model that has been applied throughout the country, a coalition spokesman said Sept. 11.

Successful coordination of a surge in U.S. forces, the emergence of the Awakening movement, and political movement by the Iraqi government resulted in the weakening of the al Qaeda in Iraq terrorist network into a more containable scattering of individual cells, said Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, deputy chief of strategic communications, Multinational Force Iraq.

Anbar province, Driscoll said, is “now kind of the model for how Iraqis have made the transition from really chasing al Qaeda out of the cities and main areas and putting them on the run.”

The next steps in the process for Anbar residents involve embracing the political process and focusing on reconstruction and restoration of essential services, Driscoll said.

On Sept. 1, Iraqi civilian authorities assumed responsibility for security in Anbar through a transfer coalition leaders call “provincial Iraqi control.” Anbar is the 11th of Iraq’s18 provinces to gain that status, and the transfer is significant because Anbar is where the Sunni “Awakening” movement began when former insurgents turned against al Qaeda in Iraq.

The success of joint Iraqi and U.S. efforts has fractured the terrorist network, Driscoll said.

“We're seeing that they are certainly under pressure and certainly not in a position where they'd like to be,” he said. “We've broken it down now from an insurgency, if you will, to a series of isolated networks and pockets of resistance.”

The remaining threat should not be understated, Driscoll cautioned, but the coalition intends to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq until the group is destroyed, he said.

“I don't think we want to have a situation where there's some ongoing levels of violence continually in Iraq,” he said. “The focus here is to eliminate them.”

Key to long-term success is integrating the Awakening members into either the Iraqi government or labor market, Driscoll explained. The coalition’s goal is to transition the Sunni volunteers into official Iraqi security forces or provide them literacy and vocational training and move them into the economy, he said.

Pushing through that objective with the Shiia-led Iraqi government is not always easy, Driscoll said, describing “ongoing tension as we work through this reconciliation process.”

“You reconcile with your enemies, not your friends,” Driscoll said. “We're having former enemies reach across the table, shake hands and extend some degree of forgiveness for what was done in the past.”

Despite perceived overtones of sectarian bias in the government’s handling of the Awakening members, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki set the same standard when dealing with Shiite militias in Basra, Driscoll explained.

“Iraq cannot afford to have various armed groups besides the police and the army,” Driscoll said. “It can't be tolerated, because if one group gets to have their armed group, then they're all going to want one.”

Part of the challenge in transitioning the Sunni force, and one reason for the delay, is the need to vet out al-Qaeda infiltrators among the groups, Driscoll said.

Success in the effort is critical however, the admiral said.

“Moving from the kinetic portion of the counterinsurgency fight to this reconciliation phase is key to being successful,” Driscoll said. Integration “is one of the key things that's going to demonstrate to the Sunnis that this government has a place for them.”

(Tim Kilbride is assigned to the New Media Directorate, Defense Media Activity.)

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