Memo From Baghdad: Miami Soldier Says Obama's Withdrawal Plans Will Work

Capt. Agustin Dominguez understands the ebb-and-flow of America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as only a battle-hardened soldier who's been there truly can.

Dominguez, a Miami native and '98 grad of Palmetto Senior High, followed a stint in northern Iraq from '03-'04 with a tour of duty in Afghanistan from '05 to '06. Now he's back in Iraq, serving in an Army battalion charged with training two units of Iraqi National Police in Baghdad.

Violence has suddenly been on the rise in Baghdad, with a suicide bomber killing 33 Iraqi police officers on Tuesday, on the heels of another attack on Sunday by a bomb-laden motorcycle that killed 28. The attacks have left many questioning whether Obama's plans to pull 12,000 troops from the country in the next six months -- and the entire force by 2011 -- are really feasible.

But in a phone interview with Riptide from Baghdad, Dominguez says that the Iraqi police he works with are ready to take over security duties, and that he has no doubt that Obama's plans are possible.

"Our Iraqi counterparts aren't concerned about the plans," Dominguez, 29, says. "They feel they're ready."

Read more from our interview with Dominguez after the jump.

Riptide: Can you tell us a little about your background?

Dominguez: I am from Miami. I went to Miami Palmetto High and graduated in 1998. I went to military academy and graduated there in 2002. I've been in the service ever since.

Riptide: And this is your third combat tour since then?

Dominguez: Yes. My first tour in Iraq was from August of 2003, until February of 2004.  I was stationed in Kirkuk, in some villages around there in northern Iraq. Then I served in Afghanistan from March 2005 until March 2006. And this Dec. 5 we deployed here to Iraq.

Riptide: What's your mission this time around, and where are you stationed?

Dominguez: I'm the battalion effects coordinator for the 2nd Battalion, 505th Infantry Regiment.  My job is to coordinate with our Iraqi counterparts as we try work together on non-lethal operations in the area. I help coordinate all the things that go along with the reconstruction projects and the humanitarian assistance missions in the area. We're working in the the New Baghdad area, on the east side of the city.

Riptide: What changes have you noticed in Iraq since your first tour in 2003?

Dominguez: The biggest difference from the first tour is just the quality of the Iraqi security forces. In 2003, we first started trying to build the Iraqi security forces. Since then, they've undergone various transformations and now they're a very capable force. I mostly deal with the National Police, two different brigades, and they are both in my opinion two of the best in all Iraq.

Riptide: So you're actually out on the ground with these Iraqi forces, working security missions?

Dominguez: We're partnered with them across all levels. We try to do everything with these partners. We train with them on a number of things, from simple marksmanship to helping with logistics and mechanics. They're going to get Humvees soon and we're training them how to maintain those Humvees. All the commanders are partnered with an Iraqi commander with the same level of influence. We're really just a coach, a teacher-mentor partnership with them as they take the lead. We kind of take the backseat.

Riptide: There have been two large suicide attacks in Baghdad in the last week. Are you seeing an uptick in violence in your neighborhood as well?

Dominguez: What we're seeing right now compared to the past is really night and day. Right now, there's obviously still some violence in the country and a serious threat, but it's not the same organized militia that you heard about a year ago. What we're seeing now is smaller-type criminal activity. So the biggest challenge for us is working with the national police with the warrant process, doing actual police work and follow up with prosecutions and everything.

So I believe there's not really a surge in violence like we saw last year. We're not seing that kind of organization right now. Over the last year, the Iraqi security forces did a great job of going after the organized militias and capturing a lot of those guys disrupting the area. It has caused security to be night and day. These incidents are more isolated types of events. There's still loyal militia out there trying to disrupt things, but there wasn't a single attack in Baghdad during the elections, which is bigger indicators of how things are going than these recent attacks.

Riptide: President Obama has pledged to withdraw 12,000 troops by this fall, and all troops by 2011. How have your Iraqi counterparts reacted to those plans?

Dominguez: Our Iraqi counterparts aren't concerned about the plans, from what I've seen. They really feel they're ready to take over security duties in their nation. They have no concerns with U.S. forces leaving Iraq.

Riptide: And what's your opinion with what you've seen on the ground? Are they actually ready?

Dominguez: The answer is yes, I do believe their ready. They will be able to keep Iraq secure without a heavy U.S. presence.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink