Iraqi Premier Admits Errors In Introducing Security Plan In Baghdad

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
February 7, 2007
By Marc Santora
BAGHDAD, Feb. 6 — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that his government had stumbled in its efforts to carry out a new security plan in Baghdad and that the delays and mounting violence were hurting its credibility with the Iraqi people.
“I feel that we are late,” he said in an address to his senior military commanders that was broadcast live on Iraqi national television. “This delay is giving a negative impression and has led some people to say that we have already failed.”
Pressure is increasing on the Maliki government to show signs of progress on the security plan that was announced more than a month ago, especially after three weeks of bloody violence that has killed 3,000 civilians.
Mr. Maliki made it clear to the commanders that they needed to show results soon. “I call on you to quickly finish the preparations so that we don’t disappoint people,” he said.
Mr. Maliki offered no reasons for the delay, but Iraqi military officials have expressed frustration over the slow pace and have cited several problems, including the failure of Iraqi troops from other parts of the country to arrive on schedule in Baghdad, the capital.
The choice of top commanders, drawn from the army and the police, has largely been settled, the officials said, but was slowed by sectarian disagreements, with Shiites objecting to Sunnis and Sunnis objecting to Shiites.
Integrating the Iraqi police force with the army, essential to the plan, remains a problem, officers say. Some Sunni neighborhoods remain off limits to the police, because they are thought to be deeply infiltrated by Shiite militias and are widely distrusted by Sunni residents.
The stepped up pace of the violence against Shiites since the plan was announced, which American and Iraqi officials say is part of a strategy by Sunni insurgents to undermine the government, has further convinced many Shiites that the Iraqi security forces are hapless.
Mr. Maliki told his commanders that they needed to be aggressive and to deploy their troops in force soon to combat that impression, and he promised that unspecified elements of the crackdown would start within days.
“We should not be late, because any more delay would raise suspicions about the military and police forces,” he said.
Mr. Maliki has sought to put an Iraqi face on the new plan, but people whose lives have been torn apart by the bloodshed here have also blamed the Americans for failing to provide security. American officials have defended the pace of the operation, emphasizing that it involves a rolling buildup of forces that will take time.
On Tuesday, few signs indicated that anything had changed on the streets of Baghdad, aside from some new checkpoints scattered around the city. An aggressive clearing operation began Tuesday night in a Sunni neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. Iraqi officials said it was part of the new crackdown, but similar operations have been under way for weeks.
American military officials said one large event to signal the start of the crackdown was unlikely.
The violence continued Tuesday, though perhaps more slowly than in the past few days. An employee in the prime minister’s office who was working on antiterrorism issues was killed, a police official said.
Three car bombs killed at least six people and wounded 17 more, gunmen killed two police officers, and 11 people were kidnapped from a house in the Sadr City section of Baghdad overnight.
Mr. Maliki’s aides said that while they were frustrated by the delay, trying to rush the security plan into action before the forces were ready would only compound the problems.
“It could be like an abortion for this operation,” said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to the prime minister. “Finishing it before it starts.”
American officers said the new plan, under which an additional 17,000 American forces are to be deployed in Baghdad, would not necessarily have an official start. They said it would be more accurate to describe the effort as a broader strategy shift that would put American troops in Baghdad neighborhoods in more aggressive ways, living and working with Iraqi troops.
The Americans are arriving in staggered intervals over months, and troops on the ground are beginning to carry out the new strategy, the officers said. In western Baghdad, American forces are living with Iraqi soldiers at new Joint Security Stations in two neighborhoods. More stations are under construction.
From the beginning, American officers have cautioned that the new plan would take time, because any chance of success rests on building trust with a population whose faith has been severely tested by nearly a year of vicious sectarian violence. But they know that time is not on their side.
“There have to be some early successes to establish momentum,” said one battlefield commander, who like the others spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not designated to talk with reporters.
Despite the setbacks, the shape of the Iraqi side of the plan is coming into focus.
Last month, Mr. Maliki appointed Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar as the overall Iraqi commander for forces in Baghdad. General Qanbar, who had worked in the prime minister’s office for six months on security issues, was not Mr. Maliki’s first choice; that one was rejected by the Americans as too sectarian. But Mr. Maliki, in turn, rejected the candidate proposed by the Americans, leading to a bitter row that ultimately ended with the Americans accepting General Qanbar, who was largely unknown to them.
But one of General Qanbar’s chief selling points to Iraqi officials was precisely his relative obscurity since the American invasion in 2003. “There are many officers who could do the job better, but appointing them would have caused an uproar among the Sunnis,” an Iraqi officer said.
Under the new plan, two other commanders will report directly to General Qanbar, one responsible for eastern Baghdad and the other responsible for western Baghdad. The Iraqis and the Americans have agreed on those appointments.
The plan also calls for Baghdad to be divided into nine security districts, each with a commander. Those choices were completed recently, Iraqi officials said.
Qais Mizher contributed reporting.