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CALL Newsletter 04-13
Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)
CAAT II Initial Impressions Report (IIR)

Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)
CAAT II Initial Impressions Report (IIR)

Chapter 2: Civil Military Operations - Civil Affairs
Topic C: Cultural Issues in Iraq

Observation Synopsis

Interviews indicate an area needing improvement is institutional preparation in language, as well as political, ideological, and cultural training. Cultural awareness in the IOE goes beyond the simplistic "do not use the left hand" or "show the feet" that is characteristic of U.S. briefings and preparation for operations in the Middle East. Rather, "cultural awareness" is a component of the politics, religion, values, history, society, and economics of a particular region. In other words, culture transcends all aspects of a society and cannot be delineated into a separate simplistic category unto itself. In the Middle East, Arab "values" are amalgamated into Islam, which in turn is an evolving system that reproduces itself. Socio-political establishments such as tribes are a historical fact that in turn embody economic and religious imperatives and interact with local and national governments. Cultural awareness thus needs to address different forms of religion, political structures, and modes of production and their influence on a given region. A failure to understand the role of tribalism, for instance, has led to some American units disproportionately empowering tribal structures, while others have virtually ignored them. In Iraq, religion and politics cannot be separated. Consequently, an academic understanding of Islam is less relevant than an understanding of the unique versions of Islam that exist in the different areas of Iraq and the role that each plays. Training for U.S. forces in Iraq thus needs to focus less on Arab culture and more on the specificity of Iraq.

Operations in Iraq require understanding of tribal and religious structures. These are often in competition with other governing and administrative structures such as town councils and local police. In a single town, there can be multiple forms of authority, to include religious leaders, tribal leaders, elected councils, prominent and educated citizens, as well as former and newly appointed leaders. These sources of authority may be complementary or in competition, so it is important to deal with appropriate leaders. Tribal leaders, for instance, have limited authority within certain parameters, such as settling minor disputes between their own tribal structures. In other matters and places, tribal leaders have limited or no authority. A failure to recognize the different sources of authority can disrupt existing governance and resolution structures. In this light, consistent guidelines that promote understanding should be forthcoming from the CPA and the U.S. Army.

The use of translators is an area meriting improvement. Due to a lack of trained military Arabic-speaking linguists and contracted third country translators, U.S. forces are reliant on locally hired translators. This has the potential to cause problems due to the disproportionate influence and bias that translators tend to wield. This can result in some groups being favored at the expense of others, while the subsequent animosity towards the translator may be directed at American forces. In an extreme example of this, American forces that entered Iraq with Kuwaiti translators encountered a negative Iraqi response stemming from animosity between Iraqis and Kuwaitis. Similarly, tribal and sectarian affiliations of locally hired translators may interfere with U.S. objectives and operations. In short, the lesson is to be aware of one's operating environment and the differences between the nationalities and ethnicities in the Middle East.

Coalition forces in Iraq are engaged in combat operations against insurgent forces that do not wear uniforms and who take advantage of populated areas to hide in. Despite the challenges this presents, Coalition forces need to integrate an awareness of the Iraqi perceptions of American practices and operations. Tactics such as detaining the family members of anti-Coalition suspects, destroying the houses of captured suspects without judicial due process, and shooting at Iraqi vehicles that attempt to pass Coalition vehicles on major highways may bestow short-term tactical advantages. However, these advantages should be weighed against Iraqi sentiments and the long term disadvantages associated with the image that this creates. It is a practice in some U.S. units to detain family members of anti-Coalition suspects in an effort to induce the suspects to turn themselves in, in exchange for the release of their family members. In at least one such example, a note to that effect was left by American forces. Whereas this might have the immediate desired effects, the detention of women and children without due process contributes to a lasting negative image of the U.S. military in the eyes of the Iraqis and could thus severely undermine overall U.S. goals in the region. Such practices further show a disregard for the Iraqi culture. Women and children, for example, contribute to the honor of men and families. Their detention conveys that the U.S. is not honorable in its dealing with the Iraqi people.

When it is necessary to detain Iraqis, it is important that timely and accurate information be provided to the families of the detainees via the Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC). Initially, in Iraq, it took several months for information concerning detainees to be transferred to CA forces. This was later reduced to about two weeks, with the information being accessible on a SIPR webpage. The lesson learned is that this information should be provided to the families as soon as possible so as to avoid the appearance that the U.S. is secretly detaining or possibly executing Iraqis. This was a common tactic of the Saddam Hussein regime that the U.S. should not be associated with.

It is a common practice amongst U.S. forces to fire warning shots in the direction of civilian vehicles or at civilian vehicles that are attempting to pass slow-moving convoys along major highways in Iraq. Although this may be perceived to contribute to the immediate short-term protection of American forces, this policy varies by unit and region in Iraq and is not accompanied by an information campaign to inform Iraqis of the dangers of approaching American convoys from the rear. This is particularly important while operating in other Coalition sectors where this is not a common practice. The British sector, for instance, is relatively free of anti-Coalition attacks, yet American convoys moving north from Kuwait from the British sector have fired at British contractors who drove near the American vehicles on a major highway.

A common sentiment amongst Iraqis is that the U.S. is in Iraq for its own economic interests and not for the greater welfare of the Iraqi people. Additionally, in a culture where honor plays a major role and where gaining the acceptance of the population is critical to mission success, it is important for American Soldiers to have a positive image. Along these lines there have been confirmed cases in both the British and American sectors of Coalition forces stealing money from Iraqis on raids. While these do not represent official Coalition policy or practice by any means, these examples can be used by anti-Coalition elements to mobilize anti-Coalition sentiment by conveying that the Coalition is not honorable nor does it have the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind.

Historically, in the Middle East it has been difficult to neatly differentiate between religion and politics. Consequently, in addition to being a place of religious worship, mosques have often been used for political activism and even military operations. In Iraq, it is thus often necessary for U.S. forces to enter mosques in order to search for weapons or arrest suspects. Because of the sensitivity of entering a mosque, however, American forces have adopted TTP to minimize the impact. These include the use of Iraqi Police (IP) and/or Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) as the lead elements in entering the mosque. When IP or ICDC are not available and Americans must enter the mosque, the use of translators to explain U.S. actions is absolutely mandatory. Prior to entering a mosque, a worshipper is required to remove his shoes and wash his feet. This is unrealistic for American Soldiers conducting a raid. To circumvent this, American Soldiers have adopted the habit of placing plastic surgical booties over their boots. If it is necessary to arrest an Imam (Muslim cleric), it is important that this action be accompanied by an information campaign that explains why the person is being arrested. Additionally, coordination should be made immediately with the Ministry of Religious Affairs to have a replacement Imam as soon as possible. As a general rule, mosques should not be entered or raided on Friday, the Muslim day of worship.

American forces have engaged in the practice of destroying the houses of anti-Coalition suspects. Whereas this might appear to be an effective measure, the destruction of private residences creates animosity amongst many Iraqis. This is a sensitive issue that needs to weigh short-term military success against longer term anti-American sentiment. Additionally, the destruction of houses used by insurgents is a common tactic used by the Israeli military in the occupied territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The tactic is known throughout the Middle East and highly publicized by the Arab media. Aside from the immediate hardships imposed on the family members who lived in the house, the association of the U.S. with Israel undermines the image of the U.S. providing the Iraqis with liberty and democracy under the aegis of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the past, American forces have mistakenly raided the wrong house and in some cases caused significant damage to the house and hardship to the occupants. Given the multiple sources of information and lack of street addresses in many areas, this is perhaps unavoidable. To address this, however, one division created a "Task Force Neighborhood." The task force is basically a collateral damage response team that repairs damages and processes claims within twenty-four hours of the raid/search and explains the mistake. The team is composed of engineer, CA, psychological operations (PSYOP), and legal personnel.

Even when the right house or person is targeted, CA forces need to be able to explain US actions to the Iraqi populace. Consequently, CA forces need to be involved in all planning processes for operations affecting Iraqi civilians and all command and staff elements should be fully briefed by Army lawyers concerning the legality of different types of US actions. Additionally, maneuver units should have a feedback mechanism for assessing the impact of their operations and ascertaining host nation opinions and sentiment. Without doing so, American forces have no idea if actions such as destroying houses are effective or counterproductive.

Currently, American forces are operating in a relative vacuum of Iraqi sentiments. This stems from a lack of utilizing methodologically acceptable survey techniques continually throughout U.S. sectors in Iraq. The limited perception of Iraqi sentiments comes largely from a reliance on translators or Iraqis who visit CMOC. These people are not necessarily representative of wider Iraqi sentiments and could present a significantly skewed picture of Iraqi perceptions and attitudes. This contrasts with the British, who have developed a 20-question survey that is continually administered throughout their area of operations.

Inherent to virtually all operations in Iraq is the need to operate in crowds of Iraqi civilians. Such crowds may range from curious children, to impassive bystanders, to politically oriented crowds. Improper reaction to crowds could result in compromising the security of Coalition members or causing ill will amongst Iraqis by overreacting in the form of using violence or giving the impression of fear or panic.

Consequently, it is important that U.S. military receive training in how to deal with crowds in Iraq. This is all the more important given the light footprint and firepower often exhibited by CA forces. Interaction with crowds can also be augmented through situational and cultural awareness. The areas around mosques on Friday are generally crowded and often politically/ideologically charged. Additionally, peak hours in the local markets can increase the size of crowds.

When dealing with crowds that are potentially threatening, methods alternative to yelling, shoving, threats, and violence exist. These include use of Iraqi police, use of translators, the hasty establishment of symbolic barriers (such as engineer tape), physical barriers (such as concertina wire), as well as engaging directly in conversation with members of the crowd.

Coalition forces operating in Iraq are faced with a number of Muslim religious holidays. The Haj and Ashura are particularly noteworthy not only because of their religious significance, but also because they involve the cross border movements of thousands of people. For instance, forces throughout Iraq recently had to deal with roughly 70,000 pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia for the Haj. The majority of the pilgrims took an overland route through the Western Desert (Anbar Province) and drove into Saudi Arabia. Thirty-two thousand pilgrims were transported by air from Kuwait City. This involved gaining country clearance into Kuwait and obtaining visas from Saudi Arabia. This affected tactical-level maneuver and CA units in that they were faced with establishing a temporary camp in Safwan for 32,000 pilgrims while they were awaiting their Saudi visas. The actions of CA forces involved erecting tents, providing food and water, and coordinating directly with the Red Crescent. Ashura is a Shia religious holiday that involves movement of tens of thousands of Shias from Iran and Iraq to Najaf and Karbala (central Iraq). Like the Haj, it is an annual event that is considered a religious requirement. The prevention of pilgrims from fulfilling either the rituals of the Haj or Ashura will have negative national and international consequences. Consequently, it is critical that CA forces be properly educated to advise commanders on the importance of providing security, support, and passage to Muslim pilgrims. It is noteworthy to mention that this is not limited to Iraq. Coalition forces operating in Afghanistan have similarly had to take measures to facilitate the movement of pilgrims to the Haj.

Lessons Learned

  • Conduct Iraq-specific training....do not conduct generic Arab culture training or Middle East training.
  • There must be a mechanism to monitor Iraqi opinion and sentiment.
  • CA should be integrated into the planning process to help assess second order effects of military operations involving Iraqi civilians.
  • Weigh short-term tactical gains with long-term implications and second order effects.
  • Tribes in Iraq are a reality and should be dealt with from a position of understanding of their roles and power. Failure to do so can result in their gaining disproportionate power to the exclusion of educated Iraqis and those not affiliated with the more powerful tribes.
  • It is inevitable that mistakes will be made and that collateral damage will occur. Make provisions to amend and address mistakes.
  • Beware of religious holidays, especially those involving the transnational movements of thousands of people.

DOTMLPF Implications:

Training: Opinion sampling, survey techniques, and their operational integration need to be stressed in the CA and PSYOP courses.

Training: An orientation to the nature of contemporary tribal structures in the USCENTCOM AOR needs to occur at the U.S. Army John Fitzgerald Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (USAJFKSWCS) Regional Studies Course.

Table of Supporting Observations


Observation Title CALLCOMS
File Number
Crowd Control Training 10000-25974
Collateral Damage 10001-29730
Area Knowledge and Language Capability is Critical in Iraq 10000-83709
Kuwaiti Translators 10001-21737
Tribal Policies 10000-97902
Surveys of Iraqi Populace 10000-67032
Detaining Relatives of Anti-Coalition Suspects 10000-38938
Shooting at Civilian Vehicles 10000-35897
Raiding Mosques 10000-75600
Personal Iraqi Property 10001-26882
Task Force Neighborhood 10002-37475
Tribal Leaders 10000-53235
Religious Holidays 10000-19008
CMOCs need to be advised of Iraqi Detainees 10000-26307

Table of Contents
Chapter 2-Topic B: Transitioning to Civil Administration
Chapter 2-Topic D: MTOE Issues




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