Monday, February 25, 2008

The Long, Slow Slog to Secure Mosul

Mosul is al Qaeda in Iraq's last major stand. Unfortunately, we have to use different tactics to secure the place since the Sunni Arabs there were not exposed to the jihadi tender mercies enough to sour them on association with the thugs.

So it will not be dramatic like either the Second Battle of Fallujah or the Battle for Baghdad in 2007:

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.

This will be slow and steady and in many ways the Battle for Mosul will represent a final exam for the Iraqi security forces to take the lead in destroying the enemy with our forces in support.

I imagine that decisions about our pause in force reductions following the surge will depend a lot on how the Iraqi security forces handle Mosul over the next 6 months.