Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Whither the Sons of Iraq?

Via Acute Politics, I came across this article from the Long War Journal regarding the groups of local security fighters who have risen up across Iraq to fend off AQI and other threats to the integrity and safety of their communities....or, as the Democrats put it "the insurgents and sectarian militias which we are arming in their civil war."

Snark aside, it is true that many of these fighters took up arms against the Jihadi interlopers not only out of disgust and rage at the horrifying behavior of AQI toward their families and themselves, but out of a genuine lack of options and need for the paycheck. For a land as ravaged by war and tyranny as Iraq has been, however, I must question the judgment of someone for whom the absolute purity of intentions is required of all allies. Part of what makes a well-conceived COIN strategy work is the willingness to adapt to the realities on the ground, such that one is in a better position to influence their unfolding in a desired direction.

In the case of the Sons Of Iraq, the concern has been that these individuals --many of whom are illiterate teens-- will constitute a destabilizing force, a group of armed and combat trained youths with no options and no place in peaceful society. This is a legitimate concern, which is being addressed in just about the best way I can imagine. A sizable proportion of them are being readied for transition to the official security forces (Army and Police) of the Iraqi state. But Anbar Province, for example, is already looking to have a surplus of security forces as an unaccustomed calm settles more deeply into the daily life of its residents. This is a situation which --all other things being equal-- appears to be poised to pertain to larger and larger swathes of the Iraqi landscape. For them, there is this:

[The Arab Jabour village of] Hawr Rajab is unique in that it is home to a trial program that will train and transition Sons of Iraq from a security force into skilled laborers. If the program is judged to be successful, it will become a model for other areas across Iraq.

As the first step of the transition program, US Air Force construction engineers of the 557th Expeditionary “Red Horse” Squadron built a $13 million facility next to Patrol Base Stone, the small US outpost in Hawr Rajab. The complex will house the squadron and a large team of interpreters while they train former Sons of Iraq. There will also be classrooms for teaching and a dining facility.

The “Village of Hope,” as the school is now called, will graduate a class of 50 men every three months, after training them in a variety of disciplines. Instructors cover basic skills in masonry, concrete, general construction, plumbing, and electricity. Trainees are graded on a pass or fail basis, and receive a certificate of completion and hiring preference on projects in the village once they graduate.

The fierce pride which is woven into the Arab consciousness has been bruised raw by generations of strife and civilizational underachievement. If the reconstruction of Iraq were to be solely the business of foreigners --however well-intentioned-- that pride would hardly be assuaged. Much of what we are trying to accomplish in OIF and other fronts of this Conflict is to foster the creation of a new and more sustainable set of anchors for that pride, to direct it away from the impotent rage which for so long has been its only outlet. The more rapidly we can create the conditions for Iraqis to claim a larger stake of ownership for the prosperity of their society, the more progress we will have made in providing a definitive answer to the nihilistic fury which is what the Jihadis have had to offer the Arab and larger Muslim world.

You can give a man a fish, teach a man to fish...and then you can train him in the skills to build and market a better fishing rod.


MAJ Erik Backus, US Army, Engineer said...

As an original actor on the "Village of Hope" team, I applaud your review.

I would note for you that the Long War Jounal article had a slight error in that there is not a $13 million facility that is being used to train the Iraqis, but instead we are spending $13 million to give the Iraqi trainees the training, tools, equipment, and materials to rebuild thier destroyed homes and village as the "training aides" to teach the much needed skills.

The focus of this program is employment, training, and then housing/construction. The goal is giving these Iraqis the life-long skills to never need to return to the life of strife they saw before AQI or the Baathist Regime under Saddam Hussein. As you articulate in your post, we are thinking not just about how to get them fish, but how they can build a society that enables them to develop a fish export buisness with a full supporting supply chain management system to boot!

Thanks again for the post.

Noocyte said...

Major Backus,

Thanks so much for your kind words about my humble blatherings, and for the correction. Actually, as nice as a $13M facility of brick-and-mortar might have been, I do feel better about the idea of pouring that coin directly into the tools and training and gear themselves (the beauty of which, of course, is that the Iraqi trainees can then turn around and build their own facilities, if they like). Much more efficient allocation of resources, that.

Again, thanks for stopping by; your insights are always welcome. Meantime, do mind your six, and keep doing us proud.