In Mosul, a Hopeful Partnership

The U.S. military is relying on Iraqi security forces to help patrol a formidable urban stronghold of the Sunni insurgency.
By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 24, 2008

MOSUL -- The mission was as dangerous as any that American troops could face in Mosul. An Iraqi informant had tipped them off about an enormous stockpile of homemade explosives and rocket-propelled grenades hidden along a city block within a few hundred yards of the place where 15 tons of explosives had blown up less than a month earlier, killing as many as 60 people.

As illumination flares drifted down over the desolate northern city, Apache attack helicopters circled the neighborhood and U.S. armored vehicles took their positions around the block. "If there's ever a time that you need to find God," said Sgt. James Leisinger, "now's the time."

But instead of storming the buildings themselves, standard procedure for them over the past five years, the American soldiers deferred on this night to their partners. Dozens of Iraqi soldiers jumped down to the pavement and searched 22 buildings as the Americans watched from their vehicles. No weapons were found, and the soldiers drove back unharmed.

"It cuts down on the danger to American forces," said Sgt. Christopher Sherman. "It's nice to have some people helping us kick in doors."

With just 2,000 American soldiers to patrol a city of 1.8 million people -- the Iraqi Sunni insurgency's most formidable urban stronghold -- the U.S. military strategy in Mosul relies to an unprecedented degree on the Iraqi security forces. U.S. military officials here say there will be nothing like the "surge" of thousands of American troops that helped ease the fighting in Baghdad and no major effort to search for insurgents block by block. Instead, they are betting that 18,200 Iraqi soldiers and police can shoulder the load against the kaleidoscope of insurgent groups fighting in the city.

"We see the Iraqi security forces, more and more, take the lead and take the fight to the enemy," said Maj. Adam Boyd, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment's intelligence officer. "You do see a capability that we have not seen before."

In recent months, three Iraqi army battalions have returned to Mosul from deployments in Baghdad. The Interior Ministry has approved 2,000 additional police recruits for the city, and a new Iraqi operations command is coordinating the efforts of the Iraqi security forces.

But some Iraqi soldiers say they have neither the manpower nor the equipment to defeat the insurgency in Mosul, where violence has increased over the past six months. As of mid-February, there were 80 attacks a week, a quarter of which killed or wounded people.

Mosul's ethnic composition poses unique challenges for the Iraqi security forces. Sunni Arabs constitute four-fifths of the population, and there is little of the sectarian violence that has caused so much bloodshed elsewhere in the country. But many residents are openly hostile to the Iraqi army forces, whose leadership in Mosul is predominantly Kurdish, viewing them as a force for Kurdish encroachment. The insurgent violence here is focused almost entirely on Iraqi and U.S. security forces. Since the new American regiment arrived in Mosul in November, its troops have encountered hundreds of roadside bombs, according to U.S. military officials.

Iraqi army battalion commander Col. Dildar Jamil Dosky lives with his soldiers at a new outpost on the western bank of the Tigris River. His men have occupied the abandoned, bullet-scarred hulk of the Mosul Hotel, where shattered glass is scattered across the lobby and machine guns are mounted on the roof. American soldiers call this side of the city the "wild west," and Dosky's men endure regular sniper fire and rocket-propelled grenade, mortar and roadside bomb attacks. Dosky's 520 men have just 18 armored vehicles, and 11 of them are broken; some lie in a field below the hotel, half-cannibalized for spare parts.

The eight casualties the Iraqi battalion has suffered in its first 50 days in Mosul are more than it suffered in the whole of a seven-month tour in southwestern Baghdad last year. During that time, the soldiers, most of whom are Kurds, felt like impartial arbiters in the war between Sunnis and Shiites. In Baghdad last October, Dosky helped negotiate a pioneering neighborhood reconciliation pact between rival factions. His unit's welcome in Mosul has been much colder.

"Now they hate us more than the Americans," Dosky said. "They think we are American agents . . . that we are not officially army, that we are not serving our country, just Kurdistan."

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