I visited Forward Operating Base Justice, located in the northwest Baghdad neighborhood of Khadamiyah, in April. Its commander is Lieutenant Colonel Steven Miska. I recently asked him for an update on developments in his AOR (Area of Responsibility) that I could share with contentions readers. Here is his response:
Some notes below. I will include a few nonstandard items in the update. Apologize for the delay in response. Have been juggling missions, media, and other tasks over the last few days.
Asian World Cup Football: Did you see the CNN coverage live from FOB Justice of the Iraqi Soccer game? We threw a great party with all of our local nationals. You would have thought we were at an Army-Navy tailgate. We went downtown after the game and spoke to people on the street. Khadamiyah was absolutely nuts. Lots of fun and a cathartic experience for the Iraqis to see their team accomplish something across the sectarian divide. Hopefully, more good can come from the victory.
Immigration: A few days ago we said goodbye to “George” who is our first interpreter to get an invitation to the Embassy in Jordan. He will be a pioneer for many of our Iraqi interpreters who have applied for visas. We hope that he will not run into too much resistance and will get his visa. Stories from Jordan are not hopeful. One report said that Iraqis were getting turned around at the border if they said they were entering Jordan to go to the U.S. Embassy. George has a story about going to work for a Jordanian company that has a branch in Baghdad. He knows someone that made the recommendation for him. I have asked him to stay in touch with us, so we can track his progress and any pitfalls along the way. We gave him numerous gifts and a few certificates. I told him that his feedback could help shape U.S. policy. We also have one more interpreter who has his invitation approved. We have 22 total applications in the works. We have 59 interpreters on our base. Many have either chosen not to apply or have not met their year requirement. Many are spreading the word that we need some more interpreters, and telling about our success of getting interpreters approved for a trip to Jordan. We have also been pushing the refugee issue for families who don’t qualify under other provisions, like Iraqi Army leaders. Between the soccer party and our push to take care of our interpreters, I have seen hope in the eyes of our Iraqi colleagues. This initiative will be one of our proudest accomplishments. We will continue to use our success from TF [Task Force] Justice to sensitize other leaders to the subject.
Reconciliation: The MOI [Ministry of Interior] and other government leaders are very reluctant to endorse any initiative that empowers the local Sunni volunteers who are securing neighborhoods like Ameriyah. Ameriyah is like night and day now. One minute it was full-scale kinetic activity. Then our former enemies, Sunni insurgents from the “honorable resistance,” began asking for our assistance to drive al Qaeda out. They were immediately more effective than Americans in driving al Qaeda in Iraq from their neighborhoods. They only asked for U.S. support and coordination. They make no bones about their belief that we need to leave for our alliance to be successful beyond the defeat of al Qaeda. We recognize we may end up fighting these guys again if the GOI [Government of Iraq] doesn’t seize the window of opportunity that is now open. If the GOI can make reasonable gestures of reconciliation, like deputizing these volunteers as local police to secure their own neighborhoods, then we will have made huge strides. As always, the political line of operation is where we need the most help. We have had a steady stream of VIPs come to visit the volunteers. Everyone is pressuring the GOI. Lots of foot-dragging, mumbling, and playing with prayer beads. That being said, things have dramatically improved since the turning of Anbar province. We anticipate that the Shia government will demand repatriation of Shia families in some of these neighborhoods to demonstrate intent on behalf of the former insurgents. As long as each side continues in good faith, they will not undermine the process.
Militia Influence: On the other side of the fence, we have the militia. They are a tough nut to crack. I believe the economic line of operation will be the key to defeating the militia influence. We need to overcome the corruption and graft through vigorous, pragmatic economic policy that jump-starts latent industry and employment. Many of the State Owned Enterprises (SOE) are producing at minimal levels relative to Saddam days. These industries have the capacity to very quickly create jobs and generate productive capacity that spills across sectarian lines. The profit incentive will help drive Sunnis and Shia to collaborate together. As we create more jobs, militia recruiting pools will dry up. We need to create honorable alternatives that allow young, military-age males to provide for their families. The militia has their hands dug deepest into mob-like crime throughout the Shia communities, and most politicians can’t shed themselves of the militia influence (so a political approach is probably not feasible—just my opinion.) We must defeat the militia through economic means. I do have some hope that we might solve this Gordian knot, but it is far from undone. Paul Brinkley [the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Business Transformation] and his group have the right approach, and are encouraging many in the SOEs to bring production back on line through smart application of grants and incentives. This has great potential, but will move with the lag associated with all fiscal economic policy. All other lines of operation must continue to buy time for economic progress to continue.
The Media: The fight is complex. The challenges are hard to boil down into 9-second sound bites or catchy headlines. However, we do spend a lot of time educating reporters, in addition to VIPs. We have a few die-hard reporters that travel to the fight and get a view from the ground on the challenges and opportunities facing our forces and the Iraqis. Most of the journalists I meet are tremendous professionals who make personal sacrifices to provide transparency in a society that needs media spotlights everywhere. The press is instrumental is helping keep the good people honest and the bad guys from committing even more egregious transgressions. Many of our media colleagues have brought attention to significant challenges like immigration, the need for diplomacy around the periphery of Iraq, detainee abuse, and other challenges. We need to encourage them and help them gain access to the stories that will shape human behavior in positive directions.
I hope this provides a brief glimpse into the complexities we face in western Baghdad. We have been very busy, but understand the need to get the word out.
Steven M. Miska
Task Force Justice Commander