Divide and rule - America's plan for Baghdad
Revealed: a new counter-insurgency strategy to carve up the city
into sealed areas. The tactic failed in Vietnam. So what chance
does it have in Iraq?
By Robert Fisk
Independent" -- -- Faced with an ever-more
ruthless insurgency in Baghdad - despite President George Bush's
"surge" in troops - US forces in the city are now planning a
massive and highly controversial counter-insurgency operation
that will seal off vast areas of the city, enclosing whole
neighbourhoods with barricades and allowing only Iraqis with
newly issued ID cards to enter.
The campaign of "gated communities" - whose genesis was in the
Vietnam War - will involve up to 30 of the city's 89 official
districts and will be the most ambitious counter-insurgency
programme yet mounted by the US in Iraq.
The system has been used - and has spectacularly failed - in the
past, and its inauguration in Iraq is as much a sign of American
desperation at the country's continued descent into civil
conflict as it is of US determination to "win" the war against
an Iraqi insurgency that has cost the lives of more than 3,200
American troops. The system of "gating" areas under foreign
occupation failed during the French war against FLN insurgents
in Algeria and again during the American war in Vietnam. Israel
has employed similar practices during its occupation of
Palestinian territory - again, with little success.
But the campaign has far wider military ambitions than the
pacification of Baghdad. It now appears that the US military
intends to place as many as five mechanised brigades -
comprising about 40,000 men - south and east of Baghdad, at
least three of them positioned between the capital and the
Iranian border. This would present Iran with a powerful - and
potentially aggressive - American military force close to its
border in the event of a US or Israeli military strike against
its nuclear facilities later this year.
The latest "security" plan, of which The Independent has learnt
the details, was concocted by General David Petraeus, the
current US commander in Baghdad, during a six-month command and
staff course at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Those attending the
course - American army generals serving in Iraq and top officers
from the US Marine Corps, along with, according to some reports,
at least four senior Israeli officers - participated in a series
of debates to determine how best to "turn round" the disastrous
war in Iraq.
The initial emphasis of the new American plan will be placed on
securing Baghdad market places and predominantly Shia Muslim
areas. Arrests of men of military age will be substantial. The
ID card project is based upon a system adopted in the city of
Tal Afar by General Petraeus's men - and specifically by Colonel
H R McMaster, of the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment - in early
2005, when an eight-foot "berm" was built around the town to
prevent the movement of gunmen and weapons. General Petraeus
regarded the campaign as a success although Tal Afar, close to
the Syrian border, has since fallen back into insurgent control.
So far, the Baghdad campaign has involved only the creation of a
few US positions within several civilian areas of the city but
the new project will involve joint American and Iraqi "support
bases" in nine of the 30 districts to be "gated" off. From these
bases - in fortified buildings - US-Iraqi forces will supposedly
clear militias from civilian streets which will then be walled
off and the occupants issued with ID cards. Only the occupants
will be allowed into these "gated communities" and there will be
continuous patrolling by US-Iraqi forces. There are likely to be
pass systems, "visitor" registration and restrictions on
movement outside the "gated communities". Civilians may find
themselves inside a "controlled population" prison.
In theory, US forces can then concentrate on providing physical
reconstruction in what the military like to call a "secure
environment". But insurgents are not foreigners, despite the
presence of al-Qa'ida in Iraq. They come from the same
population centres that will be "gated" and will, if
undiscovered, hold ID cards themselves; they will be "enclosed"
with everyone else.
A former US officer in Vietnam who has a deep knowledge of
General Petraeus's plans is sceptical of the possible results.
"The first loyalty of any Sunni who is in the Iraqi army is to
the insurgency," he said. "Any Shia's first loyalty is to the
head of his political party and its militia. Any Kurd in the
Iraqi army, his first loyalty is to either Barzani or Talabani.
There is no independent Iraqi army. These people really have no
choice. They are trying to save their families from starvation
and reprisal. At one time they may have believed in a unified
Iraq. At one time they may have been secular. But the violence
and brutality that started with the American invasion has burnt
those liberal ideas out of people ... Every American who is
embedded in an Iraqi unit is in constant mortal danger."
The senior generals who constructed the new "security" plan for
Baghdad were largely responsible for the seminal - but
officially "restricted" - field manual on counter-insurgency
produced by the Department of the Army in December of last year,
code-numbered FM 3-24. While not specifically advocating the
"gated communities" campaign, one of its principles is the
unification of civilian and military activities, citing "civil
operations and revolutionary development support teams" in South
Vietnam, assistance to Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq in 1991
and the "provincial reconstruction teams" in Afghanistan - a
project widely condemned for linking military co-operation and
FM 3-24 is harsh in its analysis of what counter-insurgency
forces must do to eliminate violence in Iraq. "With good
intelligence," it says, "counter-insurgents are like surgeons
cutting out cancerous tissue while keeping other vital organs
intact." But another former senior US officer has produced his
own pessimistic conclusions about the "gated" neighbourhood
"Once the additional troops are in place the insurrectionists
will cut the lines of communication from Kuwait to the greatest
extent they are able," he told The Independent. "They will do
the same inside Baghdad, forcing more use of helicopters. The
helicopters will be vulnerable coming into the patrol bases, and
the enemy will destroy as many as they can. The second part of
their plan will be to attempt to destroy one of the patrol
bases. They will begin that process by utilising their people
inside the 'gated communities' to help them enter. They will
choose bases where the Iraqi troops either will not fight or
will actually support them.
"The American reaction will be to use massive firepower, which
will destroy the neighbourhood that is being 'protected'."
The ex-officer's fears for American helicopter crews were re-emphasised
yesterday when a military Apache was shot down over central
The American's son is an officer currently serving in Baghdad.
"The only chance the American military has to withdraw with any
kind of tactical authority in the future is to take substantial
casualties as a token of their respect for the situation created
by the invasion," he said.
"The effort to create some order out of the chaos and the
willingness to take casualties to do so will leave some residual
respect for the Americans as they leave."
FM 3-24: America's new masterplan for Iraq
FM 3-24 comprises 220 pages of counter-insurgency planning,
combat training techniques and historical analysis. The document
was drawn up by Lt-Gen David Petraeus, the US commander in
Baghdad, and Lt-Gen James Amos of the US Marine Corps, and was
the nucleus for the new US campaign against the Iraqi
insurgency. These are some of its recommendations and
* In the eyes of some, a government that cannot protect its
people forfeits the right to rule. In [parts] of Iraq and
Afghanistan... militias established themselves as
extragovernmental arbiters of the populace's physical security -
in some cases, after first undermining that security...
* In the al-Qa'ida narrative... Osama bin Laden depicts himself
as a man purified in the mountains of Afghanistan who is
inspiring followers and punishing infidels. In the collective
imagination of Bin Laden and his followers, they are agents of
Islamic history who will reverse the decline of the umma (Muslim
community) and bring about its triumph over Western imperialism.
* As the Host Nation government increases its legitimacy, the
populace begins to assist it more actively. Eventually, the
people marginalise insurgents to the point that [their] claim to
legitimacy is destroyed. However, victory is gained not when
this is achieved, but when the victory is permanently maintained
by and with the people's active support...
* Any human rights abuses committed by US forces quickly become
known throughout the local populace. Illegitimate actions
undermine counterinsurgency efforts... Abuse of detained persons
is immoral, illegal and unprofessional.
* If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch
with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the
initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling,
ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk
shared with the populace and contact maintained.
* FM 3-24 quotes Lawrence of Arabia as saying: "Do not try to do
too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably
than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to
help them, not to win it for them."
* FM 3-24 points to Napoleon's failure to control occupied Spain
as the result of not providing a "stable environment" for the
population. His struggle, the document says, lasted nearly six
years and required four times the force of 80,000 Napoleon
* Do not try to crack the hardest nut first. Do not go straight
for the main insurgent stronghold. Instead, start from secure
areas and work gradually outwards... Go with, not against, the
grain of the local populace.
* Be cautious about allowing soldiers and marines to fraternise
with local children. Homesick troops want to drop their guard
with kids. But insurgents are watching. They notice any
friendships between troops and children. They may either harm
the children as punishment or use them as agents.
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited
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