Page 3 of 3   <      

Excerpt: The Gamble | The Insurgent Who Loved 'Titanic'

- promise to help provide security,

- come in with a guarantor, who becomes subject to arrest if the insurgent

can't be found, and

- be ready to come in any time they are summoned.

They had seven days to consider those terms, after which they would be targeted. Most obeyed these rather strict rules of parole, Cook noted, and those who didn't were arrested.

The rounds of conversations that followed "flipped the light switch on and allowed us to see the insurgency, the leaders, the structure, their tactics, everything," said an amazed Cook. American tactics and practices immediately improved in myriad ways. For example, the new commander of the turned insurgents, now working with the Americans, strongly recommended that Iraqi police not be permitted to keep cell phones at checkpoints. He also named the Iraqi police officer who was responsible for keeping top insurgent leaders informed about the whereabouts of planned American raids. One such leader would tell Cook later about being warned and so hiding in a prepared hole next to his sister's house, where a cow conveniently sat while the Americans looked for him. Cook's bottom line was that many low- level fighters had joined the insurgency for the money. By taking them away from al Qaeda and putting them on the American payroll, he said, the huge economic advantage of the United States was finally brought to bear in Iraq. "They could not compete with the sheer volume of cash we were able to put in people's hands," he said. Payments of $300 a month each to 1,500 local security guards amounted to nearly a half million dollars a month, he noted. "Instead of devoting twenty- five to fifty percent of my combat power to route security patrols, sniper outposts, et cetera, I have been able to spend my time hunting intelligence gathering, raids, overwatching enemy houses with snipers."

Having former insurgents as guides also meant there was suddenly much more information on which to act, both because the insurgents were talking but also because they were no longer violently preventing civilians from doing so. Indeed, there were so many new informants that it made it difficult for the remaining insurgents to pinpoint the origins of the new American intelligence. They "knew where the [arms] caches were, they knew all the names of the al Qaeda leaders," said Capt. Zane Galvach, a platoon leader in the 2nd Infantry Division's 3rd Stryker Brigade.

All told, the Americans arrived at local cease- fires with 779 local militias, some as small as 10 men in a neighborhood, some as large as 800 armed fighters, said Army Lt. Col. Jeffrey Kulmayer, who oversaw the U.S. military's relationship with the groups in 2008. Permitting the Sunnis to field militias, commented Carter Malkasian, the counterinsurgency adviser to the Marines, was probably "one more step toward the fragmentation of Iraq." Despite that concern, he endorsed the idea. It was time to select "least bad" choices. "Optimal is no longer a luxury the United States can afford," he wrote. "Right now, we must focus on avoiding the worst possible outcome."

A little noticed aspect of this embrace of former enemies was that it was a second major instance of the leaders of the U.S. effort quietly imitating Saddam Hussein. The first was Gen. Odierno's decision that in order to secure Baghdad he had to focus on the surrounding Baghdad belts. After being weakened by his partial defeat in the 1991 war, Saddam also had reached out to Sunni tribal leaders. Just as Petraeus would allow former insurgents to keep their arms and patrol their neighborhoods, after the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam had "embraced auxiliary tribalism by allowing sheikhs to create their own private armies equipped with small arms, rocket- propelled grenades, mortars, and allegedly even howitzers," noted Austin Long, a RAND Corporation expert on counterinsurgency.

But, Long noted, the U.S. policy faced an additional difficulty: It was opposed by the Baghdad government, while Saddam's earlier move had been implemented by Baghdad.

Making peace with some of one's foes made sense when one's allies were sometimes secret enemies. In January 2007, for example, insurgents assaulted a police station in Karbala where U.S. advisers were based. One of the Americans was killed, three were wounded, and four were kidnapped, only to be shot and killed later. A subsequent investigation found strong evidence that some of the Iraqi police colluded with the attackers. Some left the compound before the assault began, and a back gate had been left unlocked. Also, the attackers somehow had obtained the uniforms worn by U.S. bodyguards. Later that year, the head of police intelligence in Karbala Province was detained after roadside bombs and other weapons were found in his house. In Baghdad, U.S. troops detained an Iraqi police lieutenant suspected of being a Shiite militia leader, only to have other policemen open fire on them from a checkpoint and from nearby rooftops. Six of the police were killed.

<          3

© 2009 The Washington Post Company