New pact with Iraqis often ties U.S. hands
January 2, 2009
BAGHDAD –— The platoon was inspecting insurgents’ rocket launch sites Friday in Baghdad’s Sadr City district when they got a tip about two weapons cache sites.
The soldiers followed the grid to a residential area and realized they’d need Iraqi army soldiers to search inside the homes. They drove their Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles to the Iraqi army company they normally work with, but the Iraqi commander wouldn’t let his men patrol in an area that belonged to another company. The Americans trekked to the nearby headquarters and waited for a crew of Iraqi Army soldiers to get ready. By the time they returned to the residential area, more than an hour had passed since they got the tip.
The difficulties highlight the growing pains American forces face from the security framework agreement that went into effect Friday. The agreement, also called a Status of Forces Agreement, requires all operations beyond those necessary to support and protect U.S. forces to be done in cooperation with Iraqi forces. It also requires the Americans to obtain warrants for anyone they detain and sets a timeline for the American withdrawal from Iraq, among other provisions.
"New rules for a new year," said 1st Lt. Jamen Miller, a platoon leader with Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment.
Units have been gearing up for the new requirements for the past couple of months in an effort to make the transition as smooth as possible. For the most part, that appears to have worked.
Sgt. Ruben Bustos, a team leader in Miller’s platoon, said he didn’t feel like his job had changed from Thursday to Friday.
"It’s not too different," Bustos said. "Gotta control my guys a little bit more. But they understand that sooner or later [responsibility] is gonna be handed over to the Iraqis."
Miller conceded that Friday’s patrol was the first stumbling block with the security agreement, but he expects everything to go smoothly. The Iraqis and the Americans are already sharing their patrol schedules so that they can better coordinate their efforts. In the future, his platoon should be able to automatically transition from an independent operation to one that requires Iraqi forces.
"That’s where the mind-set and the muscle memory has to set in so we don’t just go do it; we stop and say, ‘Wait a minute,’ " Miller said.
There’s still room to grow, though.
The Iraqis had to return to their base after the group searched the first suspected cache site without success. Security agreement or not, the Americans moved to the second suspected cache site and searched two homes without the Iraqis. They didn’t find anything there, either.