Humanitarian missions and the military in the stabilization operations: the example of the intervention in Iraq 2003-2011

The Coalition forces intervention in Iraq – which ended in 2011 – can only be called a total failure. That operation was meant to be a stabilization operation, transformed later on into a training mission. But even during it’s existence it appeared to be clear that the military actions which were the core of this operation failed in every aspect. They did not brought democracy to Iraq, nor did they stabilize or reconstruct the country. So what went wrong, if there were enormous sums of money invested into this operation and hundreds of thousands of the soldiers rotated through Iraq? Many of those soldiers lost their life or their health. In the USA there are two main points of view in this respect. Republicans claim that George W. Bush’s plan and its realization fulfilled the task and brought stabilization to Iraq, but the next (Democratic) president – Barack Obama – ruined those efforts by withdrawing US troops too soon. On the other side, Democrats are convinced that the operation was wrong from its beginning, and Barack Obama simply lessened the consequences by withdrawing US soldiers. The decision making process of the Coalition Provisional Administration is presented in another article: “Decision making process and it’s consequences: (de)stabilization of Iraq” http://wp.me/p4y6QP-52. But that article does not explain all the reasons for the failure of the Iraq operation, only focusing on one (although decisive) point of the process which brought Iraq to ruin and chaos.

 Slajd1     Despite the political mistakes, another failure was the trust in the ability of the Armed Forces to stabilize the country. The reconstruction and establishment of peaceful interactions between ethnic and religious groups is not the task a military is prepared for so the Armed Forces dont have any tools or competencies to undertake such missions. To fulfill that gap, the PRT – Provisional Reconstruction Teams – were created at divisional and brigade levels. Those Teams were composed of civilian and military personnel. The civilian side was composed of State Justice or Agriculture Department representatives and also humanitarian organization people. The military part consisted of officers from logistics or CIMIC branches. Even if it (the composition) looked right on the paper, 10 PRTs for the whole of Iraq were not enough. In such a complicated and difficult situation as in the Iraq of 2003, only fully professional and experienced organization could bring real stabilization. Unfortunately in the Brigade Combat Teams all tasks were performed by military personnel who had to plan and perform these tasks under the pressure of the commanders. In 2007, the number of PRTs increased to 20, which was still just a drop in the ocean. In the case of Polish PRTs those teams were too small and their number too few, but most importantly they didn’t have any experience in nation-building. The military had at their disposal a large sum of money spent on activities which were unfamiliar for them (Robert M. Perito, Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq, United States Institute of Peace, Special Report 185, March 2007).

Slajd2     The military, having the task of stabilizing the country, performed actions which were characteristic for them; patrols, convoys, shows of force, or cordon & search operations. Those activities were aimed at searching for and destroying the terrorists and the protection of their own personnel. Those actions made by the PRT’s or doctors under escort, performing so called “White Sundays”, were used by the media to show a picture of the stabilization mission which was widely disseminated in the West. The effect was measured by the media news, not in real help for the Iraqis. . The problem was that there was no wider plan of the country reconstruction – it was entirely ad-hoc. It caused the situation, when spending even large sums of money and with a relatively big effort of the military personnel involved, to become intractable.

The main focus of the Coalition Forces in Iraq was in fighting terrorism not stabilization in humanitarian terms. But the instability and lack of basic conditions for normal life gave life to terrorism. So the military in fact fought the enemy it created . At the other end are  humanitarian organizations, which there to help local people organize and take care of their lives. Such help is called “good” as it motivates the people to work. It gives them hope that there is a chance for progress and that, at the end will pass through their current difficulties. There is also “bad” help – which can render people unable to take care of their communities, families, making them dependent on foreign aid. The “bad” help does more harm than good in the long run. So true stabilization can only be achieved when there is some very well -prepared “good” humanitarian aid which starts local activity. The role of the military can only be in protection of the humanitarian workers and in protecting the area. Depending on the circumstances, there can also be the necessity to fight terrorists, but it needs to be really well- defined who could be called a terrorist. Unofficial definitions in that matter cause occasion for abuse.

There is a possibility of working out a model of a stabilization mission which has to be much more effective than the two largest stabilization missions of modern history: Iraq after 2003 and Afghanistan after 2001. There are good signs showing what such cooperation between military and humanitarian organizations can look like. Polish soldiers in Iraq showed constantly that in that field of operations, it is not the number of “terrorists” killed that can determine how the task is realized, but the quality of life in the Area of Responsibility. Soldiers did a lot to help people, even beyond the procedures. Ordinary soldiers without cameras and journalists quite often gave the food and water to the children – who were always waiting for Polish patrols. Those soldiers didn’t use force without necessity, because they were sensitive to human tragedy. Even now, most people in Iraq remember the Polish soldiers with sympathy. Other contingents acted in the same way (like the Bulgarians, the Lithuanians and others). At the other end of that scale were the private military organizations (like Blackwater) which spread chaos in their routes and areas of operation. I am sure there is a possibility to train and organize regular military units to protect humanitarian organizations without causing harm to their reputations or the abilities to proceed with their actions. It could produce truly quick and effective stabilization.
(The photos were taken by myself during patrol from Camp Echo to Camp Charlie and convoy from Camp Echo to Tallil).

Text was corrected thanks to Sarah La Pietra @ . Thank You Sarah

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