I had the good fortune to be embedded with the Army's 716th Military Police Battalion, which is responsible for training, advising and assessing the Iraqi police in western Baghdad. I don't think it's an understatement to say that the MPs' mission is critical to sustaining the security gains of the surge in Baghdad. The increasingly proficient Iraqi Army is in the process of moving out of the capital. The Iraqi police will remain behind to keep the peace. This Iraqi transition within the larger U.S. to Iraqi transition of security responsibilities is a little discussed development that I hope to address soon in an article.[# More #]
For now, I will share a few short stories. It is hard to convey the turnaround that the new counterinsurgency strategy has produced in Baghdad, but I hope these anecdotes help.
First, I sat in a traffic jam today. Yes, this is a mundane activity in the United States. However, I was in an Army convoy in downtown Baghdad. Before the surge, we would have been the perfect target for a suicide car bomber. Now, American units share the road with Iraqis and limit the use of opposite traffic lanes, which help avoid traffic jams but can scare or anger civilians.
Second, I witnessed a U.S. commander tell his Iraqi police counterpart when his U.S. unit would return to meet him at his station. Previously, passing along such information was unthinkable due to insurgent infiltration of the Iraqi Security Forces. A U.S. patrol risked being ambushed if its travel plans were known. Now, such coordination for a meeting is simply courteous and more efficient.
Third, I saw Iraqi, not international, human rights workers visit the detention facility of a local Iraqi police station. The two men were government employees checking up on the conditions of the jail. And no, they did not know that I was visiting (they actually refused to talk to me due to ministry rules on interacting with the press).
Lastly, I met two Iraqi police generals - one Sunni and one Shiite - who worked in the same mixed area of Baghdad. The Sunni general led mostly Shiite officers, who were incredibly dedicated to him.