A lot of members of the military are fighting machines. Not so many of them are understanding of and friendly with the indigenous people among whom they serve. Developing a rapport is, however, a critical facet of a successful counter-insurgency. Here are some examples of how it was done correctly and how it was done miserably in two places--Tikrit and ar Rutbah.
The other day I walked out of my office and found the parking lot encased in a construction fence. No one had given any warning that construction was about to begin, but it was clear that we would not be allowed to park in our parking lot for several months to come. There was a lot of talk the next day at work about how someone had come unannounced onto our turf and barred us from using it in the way that we were used to.
Imagine, if we felt so violated by a simple construction fence, how the Iraqi people felt when the coalition forces not only broke the Hussein regime, but then stayed and occupied their country. Some military leaders understood and sympathized with the indigenous people and encouraged them to invest in their own future, while other military leaders ignored the high dividends that such mutual understanding would engender. One of the most important facets of counter-insurgency tactics is to build a rapport with the people and let them know that you are there to help them achieve peace and living enjoyment. In essentially every case where this has been implemented in Iraq, it has worked marvelously. But then there are those who come in and screw it all up.
Here are two stories of how, at first, large amounts of mutual trust and understanding were built up, and then how after a battle handover, new units in the area ruined pretty much all the goodwill that had been created.
The first Marine Division had occupied Tikrit in 2003. They established a good rapport with the people of the city, particularly its leaders, considering the negative feelings the people were bound to feel for an occupying force. Then the 4th Infantry Division arrived. As the Marines gave the soldiers a tour of the city and were introduced to its leaders, who were working very peacefully with the Marines, they began to get the feeling that the 4th ID people didn't share the same priorities as they did.
The 4th ID initially assumed that the Tikritis were their enemies, and the 4th ID's oppositional tactics formed accordingly. The Marines threw a farewell party for the Tikritis, but the 4th ID representatives who were invited refused to attend. The adversarial perception became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It took a couple of months before the gains the Marines had achieved were completely wiped out in Tikrit. A city that had developed understanding and trust for the Americans now hated them.
Ar Rutbah is a fairly small city of about 25,000 in far western Anbar province. Despite having initially taken some hostile fire from the city, Major Jim Gavrilis approached its leaders in a non-hostile fashion. He tried to understand the feelings of the people, and because of this he was able to build strong relationships. He dined with them and got to know their concerns. He encouraged members of the local police force to take part in local checkpoints. He put sheikhs in charge of monitoring looting and other crimes. He handed relief supplies to the local leaders to be distributed as they saw fit. "The laws and values of their society and culture were just fine," he said. They just needed to be enforced.
The unit that replaced Gavrilis' unit had other ideas as to how to function in Ar Rutbah. No longer were the Iraqis treated as equals. No longer were American troops integrated into the social structure of the city. Quickly the situation deteriorated, and Americans came again to be seen as the occupying enemy.
It is common sense that when an army occupies another country, it will not for long be perceived as liberators. Unless--unless those who occupy make an attempt to understand the people and their history and culture. In those cases where an empathic attempt has been made, it has reaped huge dividends. Where such an approach has either not been tried or has been overturned, it has reaped the whirlwind.