On 17 January SWJ conducted a phone interview with Brigadier General Edward Cardon, Deputy Commanding General (Support), of Multi-National Division - Center (3rd Infantry Division / MND-C). MND-C arrived in-country last March as part of the "the surge" and the new population-centric counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy directed by General David Petraeus, Commanding General of Multi-National Force -- Iraq (MNF-I). MND-C's area of responsibility are the security zones located along the southern edge of Baghdad and scales from the border of Saudi Arabia to the border of Iran.
The interview covered a wide-range of topics to include trends in security, training and employing Iraqi security forces, economic development, essential services and governance.
Highlight bullets from the interview follow.
BG Cardon is currently on his third deployment to Iraq. When he returned in March of '07 the situation was significantly worse than when he last left in January of '06 - just after the national elections. That said - he is amazed at the positive change between March and today as the Division's mission transitions from combat to reconstruction and believes this is attributable to four things.
1. A group of company commanders (with one or more previous tours in Iraq) who really understand the local dynamics to include the local population itself, the quality of the Iraqi security forces and the local governance apparatus.
2. The Concerned Local Citizens effort that basically slipped across into MND-C's AOR as a result of events ("Tribal Awakening") in Al Anbar Province. This is significant as the Concerned Local Citizens organization rejected extremists (not just al-Qaeda, but Sunni extremists in general) and forced them out of their tribal areas.
3. The events of 27 -- 28 August '07 in Karbala (fierce clashes between Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army and the mainly Shiite Iraqi security forces, leaving hundreds of Shiite pilgrims dead or wounded) resulting in Sadr proclaiming a cease-fire which provided the local population some energy and breathing-room to reject the Mahdi Army.
4. The growing strength of Iraqi security forces is very impressive -- especially the Iraqi Army. Though still suffering from some equipment issues, the Army is now composed of experienced and capable personnel as well as effective commanders. The Division is also beginning to see improvements in the Provincial police forces - though the police are not as far along as the Army. Here, a bottom-up approach is underway that includes training (both army and police personnel) and converting members of Concerned Local Citizens groups over to the police.
Lines of Operation (LOO)
1. Brigade-sized (supported by Division) operations that utilize patrol bases combined with Concerned Local Citizens checkpoints is a tactic that is working well. This includes working all LOO (not just security) to include economic development and political initiatives -- after a brigade moves in and establishes patrol bases and the Concerned Local Citizens organization is launched a political effort is established consisting of a group or groups (local government) that can connect to other local and provincial political organizations and the media. The focus of main effort is linking these efforts (local government) together. More here at the Division's web page.
2. BG Caldron is a big believer in Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) -- not just in Iraq, but anywhere US forces deploy. The EPRTs (embedded) work the local governance piece the best -- even 3-4 people can be very effective. The use of microgrants is one of the most effective PRT tools. In Jurf as Sakhr, the Division's strategic model community, $14,000 helped to open 48 shops in less than a month. An example of the Division's use of microgrants can be found here.
3. Iraqis are quite capitalistic and if provided security a lot of positive economic activity begins on its own or with some aid from basic grass-roots programs.
4. Other initiatives with great potential include the Inma Agribusiness Program designed to support the development of agribusinesses and agricultural markets and Task Force Business Stability Operations (TF-BSO) which intends to get state-owned enterprises up and running and then spin them off to the private sector. The premise here is that it is easier to privatize a functioning enterprise than one that is just standing idle. Moreover, interest in investing in Iraq by non-Iraq companies may be rising as the security situation stabilizes and corporations look at "getting in on the ground floor".
5. While economic, essential service and governance improvements are critical -- education remains a top priority with many Iraqis.
6. While the Division is working hard at the Provincial-level along all LOO, a bottom-up approach appears to be taking hold -- and working -- this includes security, economic, essential services and governance.
7. Concerning what is often called 'strategic communications' -- Iraq is a country of personal relationships and, arguably, it is the most important aspect of any communications outreach. The success the Division has seen at the company and above as well as the PRT levels is a direct result of the relationships formed by commanders and leaders with Iraqi counterparts. The importance of these relationships cannot be overstated.
8. The Iraqis are also learning the importance of the media -- the Division now has an Iraqi media section that is responsible for getting Iraqi media stories out and interviewing Iraqis. This is still a work in progress as a 'free-press' is a relatively new phenomena in Iraq and there are pressures that still need to be overcome.
SWJ hat tip to Grim of BlackFive for setting up the interview. Grim notes that blogs with a history of blogging about counterinsurgency and Iraq issues are welcome to request interviews - please send along your request via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.