New Iraqi National Guard (ING) 2014
Iraq's national plan "calls for the establishment of locally-rooted security structures that are directly integrated into the Iraqi security forces," US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Baghdad 11 September 2014, adding that the Iraqi National Guard "will protect the population of Iraqi cities and towns, and it will also deny space for ISIL." According to Kerry, the Iraqi National Guard will become the key to guaranteeing that the country's territorial integrity stays unthreatened.
US strategy "will be comprehensive with Iraqi forces on the ground in Iraq with an army that will be reconstituted and trained and worked on in terms of a number of different strategies through the help not just of the United States but of other countries also," Kerry added. The Iraqi army needs reforms and training to fight Islamic State (IS) forces, Kerry said.
Iraq's top Sunni religious, political and tribal leaders met in the Kurdish regional capital Irbil December 18, 2014, where they denounced Islamic State terrorists and called for the formation of a National Guard to help combat them. Iraqi Sunni Vice President Osama Nujeify insisted the force will not be sectarian and that it will not pose a threat to the unity of the country. A number of top Sunni leaders, including Parliament Speaker Selim al Jabouri, did not attend the meeting.
In July 2014 the Common Council of Iraqi and Arabic Tribes registered with the US Government as a Foreign Agent. The registration filing states that "The Tribes of Iraq are members and contribute time, effort and funding to it.... The Council is a cooperative entity of willing members of the community that seek the development of security, prosperity and equal rights for all Iraqi citizens and children regardless of ethnicity or; religion. The council will seek the prevention of conflict and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes through civic engagement and creation of an environment to develop peace. The council rejects the use of violence and terrorism,; and will use any legal means to combat both. We will assist the council and its decision makers by providing the skills, tools and access needed to create partners in peace. The council wants to develop a strong society and educational system for the future of Iraq and rebuild it after years of conflict and suffering through our work with the US government and others."
Julian Pecquet reported in August 2014 that "Iraqi tribal leaders on the front lines of the battle against the Islamic State (IS) are being denied an audience in Washington as the Barack Obama administration focuses instead on working with Baghdad. Several tribal sheikhs say their tribes have infiltrated IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL, on both sides of the border with Syria and are ready to share valuable information with the US military that could be used to locate hostages, target supply routes and monitor recruitment efforts. There’s a catch, though: The United States must deal directly with them, not with a central government that they see as little more than a stooge for Iran that has been oppressing them for the past decade."
Rebuilding relations with Sunni tribes who partnered with the United States during the 2003-2012 Iraq war will be one of the most serious problems in the regional fight against the Islamic State (IS) militant group, former US ambassador to Iraq Jim Jeffrey said. "It's a huge problem," Jeffrey told RIA Novosti 24 October 2014. "It's most serious because there's a lot more tribal members with guns than there is ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria]. But it's a question of mobilizing them and being out there with them, and convincing them that you're going to stay."
During the 2007 surge in Iraq, the US military relied heavily on Sunni tribal leaders in the fight against the insurgency. The military and intelligence capabilities developed with these groups during the surge were critical to the success of putting down the insurgency, according to military experts involved in the mission. However, when the US withdrew, the groups were subject to the largely sectarian rule of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
"They felt we left," Jeffrey continued. "And they don't like the government in Baghdad. They think it's too dominated by the Shia and the Kurds." When asked whether it would be difficult to rebuild a coalition including the Sunni tribes, Jeffrey noted that "we didn't succeed in staying with them before, so that's the mess we've got now." Jeffrey also said that the issues of rebuilding those tribal relationships are both military and diplomatic.
The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said 30 October 2014 the Pentagon is considering ways to better engage the Sunni Arab tribes of Iraq's Anbar province in the battle against Islamic State militants. General Martin Dempsey told reporters Thursday that Islamic State advances in Anbar province require empowering the tribes that are battling the extremist group. "That's why we need to expand the train-advise-and-assist mission into al-Anbar province. But the precondition for that is that the government of Iraq is willing to arm the tribes," he said.
Engaging the Sunni tribesmen in Anbar is one of three key elements of a strategy for defeating Islamic State fighters in northern and western Iraq, Dempsey said. Another key element is creating what he called "national guard" units designed to aid the Iraqi military. That element would first need approval from the Iraqi government. The third component, he said, is advising and assisting Iraqi and Kurdish troops.
But the Wall Street Journal reported on 16 October 2014 that the US-backed plan to bring tribal forces fighting Islamic State under the supervision of the central government was in danger of being abandoned - "... lawmakers, tribal leaders and government officials say the divisions are so deep that it is unlikely the plan will be implemented in the near future, if at all.... Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi hasn’t taken urgent action on the matter, with his office saying the plan is “still being studied.” That represents a significant retreat from earlier statements that the national guard would be a cornerstone of the government’s effort to fight back... "
Some Shiite forces argued that they deserved to be represented in the force, as their militias had proved to be among the more effective fighters in staving off the Islamic State, and indeed some Iraqis characterized the National Guard as a Shiite formation.
But Iraq’s powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militias, Badr Corps and Mahdi Army, lobbied hard against the plan. Iran and Hezbollah are closely linked with Iraqi Shiite militias. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard general Ghasem Soleimani has become synonymous with the handful of victories attributable to Iraqi ground forces. Soleimani's Quds Force, the special operations component of the Revolutionary Guard, has been involved for years in training and financing Iraq's Shiite militias.
The US has decided to arm Sunni tribesmen in Iraq for the purpose of fighting Islamic State militants stationed in the Anbar province, Reuters reported 23 NOvember 2014. AK-47s, grenade launchers and mortar rounds received Congressional approval for delivery. A total of $24.1 million would be spent as part of a much larger $1.6 billion effort proposed for the training and arming of the country’s armed forces, as well as elements of the Kurdish resistance. The Pentagon had underscored the importance of the strategy to Congress, as an essential step to stopping the onslaught of IS extremists.
The equipping estimated cost to support an initial Anbari force of tribal fighters is $18.5 Million. The GoI can use their Iraqi Popular Mobilization Program to recruit and pay for these fighters but require weapons and related equipment. The GoI intention is that these forces will eventually be subsumed into the Iraq National Guard when it is created. This funding is part of the short term bridging mechanism to resource Sunni fighters resisting ISIL and in support of the ISF until a National Guard structure can be created.
Engagement from Sunni tribes is critical to the long-term defeat of ISIL. If these fighters do not receive the support they need to counter-ISIL, in conjunction with the GoI tribal outreach, they will not be effective in combating ISIL in their areas. Failure to equip these forces mean a less effective armed opposition to counter the Islamic State and its ability to gain the local support necessary to effectively control the areas it holds. If not properly equipped, the tribal forces will have little interoperability with the ISF. In addition, it will allow ISIL to continue its intense violence to coerce and intimidate the tribes, demand tribute and recruit personnel to its cause.
ISIL has committed massacres and other atrocities against tribal fighters and tribal civilian populations that have risen up against them in Iraq and Syria. This ISIL use of terror and retribution has been a powerful deterrent to those tribes opposed to ISIL, who are insufficiently armed and equipped to effectively counter ISIL forces. The Shi’a-dominated ISF is not particularly welcome in Anbar and other majority Sunni areas because of past excesses and sectarian activities, and poor combat performance. Armed tribal forces fighting on their own territory and among their own people offer both a more effective, motivated force and encouragement to like-minded tribal forces to initiate their own insurrection against ISIL – so long as these tribal forces operate under the ISF security umbrella.
Not arming tribal fighters will continue to leave anti-ISIL tribes reluctant to actively counter ISIL. A lack of tribal or local opposition in ISIL’s rear areas frees their forces to engage ISF elsewhere. A program to assist in the training and equipping of pro-GoI tribal and local forces will also help counter past GoI broken promises and assist in eventual assimilation into regular ISF/ING forces.
By early 2015 many Iraqi political factions and citizens were puzzled by the contradictory policies pursued by the government and political parties by incorporating the Popular Mobilizations into the armed forces while refusing to form a National Guard to fight the Islamic State in the Sunni provinces. The Badr parliamentary bloc, headed by Hadi al-Amiri, said that Iraqis do not need a National Guard to defeat the criminal organization [Islamic State]. They claimed that militia volunteers and Popular Mobilizations are able to defeat the organization. Most Shi’a groups shared the Badr Organization’s position opposing the formation of a National Guard in Sunni areas.
The proposal to establish an Iraqi National Guard was meant to kill two birds with one stone, i.e., create a viable anti-IS Sunni fighting force and tame the Shi’a militias in one fell swoop. On 03 February 2015 the Iraqi cabinet sent parliament the long-awaited National Guard draft law (as well as proposed reforms to the Justice and Accountability or “De-Baathification” Law). Optimists claimed that within months the National Guard will be up and running, but the bickering that immediately followed the submission of the draft law would seem to indicate otherwise.
Several Iraqi parliamentarians and analysts accused the government of submitting a draft law that was different than what was agreed upon earlier. There was little to no indication that influential Shi’a political blocs are on board with the project. Even assuming a law is passed, many practical details remained unanswered. Who will pay for the Iraqi National Guard? There is no allocation in the 2015 Iraqi budget for this purported force. The fall in oil prices created pressure to trim rather than expand the budget. Some wonder whether the US government, a major backer of the idea, was interested in footing the bill. Another important procedural issue requiring clarification concerns the chain of command. Is the prime minister, the various provincial governors, or someone else ultimately in control of the National Guard?
It was easy to see why some may argue for directly arming certain Sunni tribes, a la Sons-of-Iraq. That plan, of course, came with its own long litany of pitfalls, including the IS’s proven ability to navigate and exploit tribal dynamics far better than any other entity, whether Iraqi or foreign. Suppose a successful Iraqi National Guard is formed and able to militarily defeat the IS. What next? The fact is that although the IS may be mismanaging its supposed state, it is not the first to do so in the post-Saddam era. Until a viable governance model emerges, the IS is unlikely to go away.
Who will rule the areas that are liberated from the Islamic State? The former politicians who were unable to stand up to the group and who are appointed by the Baghdad government? The tribal leaders who fight against ISIL? Officers from the National Guard? One of the dangers of the US arming the tribes is that these weapons will provide fertile ground for a civil war in Iraq, whether between Sunnis in Anbar and Mosul or between Sunni and Shi’a in Salahaddin, Diyala, and the Baghdad Belts.
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