Reconciliation in Balad
In January 2008, Multi-National Division – North began sponsoring the Musalaha program across certain areas of northern Iraq. Musalaha literally means “reconciliation” and is meant to build on other ongoing reconciliation efforts in Iraq including the Sahwa movement, the Sons of Iraq program, and the Amnesty law passed as part of a legislative package earlier this year. Unlike the Sahwa movement or Sons of Iraq program in which local Iraqis are recruited as security forces, the Musalaha program is simply an exit for fighters who want to come clean and reconcile with the Government of Iraq (GoI) and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).
Under the Musalaha program, individuals who admit to having attacked only Coalition Forces are essentially given a clean slate. They are screened and required to undergo iris scans and fingerprints. If they pass screening they are offered the opportunity to sign a cease-fire and a pledge to follow all Iraqi laws. Upon release they are monitored and subject to harsh penalties if they return to violence. This process is reinforced by the fact that many of the individuals who participate in the Musahala program are brought in through tribal networks. Their behavior upon release is subsequently tied to tribal ties in their respective local areas, which helps to ensure that they do not break their pledge. The program also offers a fig leaf to those who have conducted attacks against ISF and Iraqi civilians. Individuals in this category remain responsible for their crimes, but are charged through Iraqi courts and offered a “fair” legal process.
In general, the increased security across many parts of northern Iraq has provided the foundation for the Musalaha program. As operations have pushed al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and other insurgents out of certain areas, security levels have stabilized and residents have come forward to work with ISF and Coalition Forces. The Musalaha program takes advantage of these local level dynamics by then offering residents who may have been involved in attacks a way to reconcile. This process has the potential to create increasing returns to security over time. As reconcilable individuals agree to exit the insurgency, it isolates the remaining irreconcilable insurgents and reduces their recruiting pool and operational capabilities. Moreover, those who do reconcile, often assist ISF and Coalition Forces in finding weapons caches and identifying irreconcilable insurgents. These factors lead to increasing security gains, which in turn spurs more individuals to reconcile.
So far more than 1,000 individuals across northern Iraq have come forward to participate in Musalaha. The program has been used effectively as part of Operation Restore Peace in the Hawijah district in Tamim province where violence has been reduced by 80-90% since last year. More recently, a Musalahah program was started in the city of Balad where ISF and Coalition operations have effectively forced insurgents to the table.
Balad is located 50 miles north of Baghdad along the southwestern side of the Tigris River and is home to roughly 100,000 residents. It is a mostly Shi’a city, but is surrounded by Sunni villages and lies in the heart of the Sunni triangle. Since the start of the Iraq War, the Balad area has been a center of insurgent activity and in 2006 was highly contested as part of the sectarian conflict that engulfed the country. During 2007 a series of Coalition operations helped clear central Iraq and eliminate insurgent strongholds in places like Balad. A substantial ISF presence in the city has helped maintain security, but insurgents have continued to operate in villages in the surrounding area and occasionally conduct attacks in the city. The Balad area, including the city of Duluiyah northeast of Balad on the opposite side of the Tigris River, is also an important node along the Tigris River Valley corridor and the 2/3 highway that runs from Kirkuk through Diyala province.
In the beginning of May, the Musalaha program was expanded to Balad and importantly targeted local tribal leaders in the Sunni villages in the area. Many local residents were initially skeptical of the program, but it has slowly gained credibility. On May 23rd, the program really gained momentum as 140 individuals turned themselves in to the Joint Coordination Center in Balad. In the previous days, Coalition Forces had targeted and killed three key insurgent leaders removing individuals who were intimidating local foot soldiers in the area and demonstrating the continuing resolve of security forces to target insurgents in the area. Ultimately, these kinetic operations, combined with the urging of local tribal leaders, led to non-kinetic successes as 140 individuals agreed to join the Musalaha program.
In total, more than 300 individuals have come forward to participate in the Musalaha program in Balad in the month of May. Most of them were screened and released after signing the pledge to follow all Iraqi laws. 76 fell into the second category and are to face Iraqi charges in court. There is also evidence that the reconciliation of these 300 individuals has already led to increased security and greater operational effectiveness in the area. According to Multi-National Forces – Iraq, “The 1st BCT, 101st AD Soldiers in Balad continued to reap the benefits of successful reconciliation over the past several weeks as intelligence tips from local citizens led them to two more caches over the weekend (May 31 – June 1).”
The Musalaha program in Balad will hopefully help lead to lasting security gains. Importantly, the local level dynamics in Balad have the potential to radiate outward as the program expands to more villages in the area. This expansion, in turn, has the potential to help secure a key node north of Baghdad and impact the security environment in neighboring areas as well.
Multi-National Forces – Iraq
Kim Gamel, “Some Iraqi Insurgents Agree to Reconcile,” AP, May 23, 2008.