Archive for the 'Iraq SOFA' Category

Powerline Blog Calls It Quits On Afghanistan

BY Glen Tschirgi
13 years ago

Normally I enjoy reading the posts by John Hinderaker at Powerline, but his recent post is an exception.  With a strange bit of melancholy or resignation, John argues that it is time to pack up and quit Afghanistan.   I will detail this in a bit, but suffice it to say that I found most of his arguments shallow and unpersuasive.

Even so, I would not bother making John’s post the subject of my own, but for two things that alarm:  (1) Powerline has one of the highest levels of readership in the blogosphere, so its opinions reach a lot of people, aggravating the damage;  (2) this recent post seems to be indicative of a growing opinion among conservatives (as shown by the large, positive response it has received so far).

So here goes.

Here are the reasons supplied by John Hinderaker for calling it quits.   After stating that he supports the initial attack to chase Al Qaeda out of its bases in Afghanistan, he sees the ensuing efforts differently:

Since then, for going on nine years, we have pursued a somewhat half-hearted peacekeeping/democracy policy in Afghanistan. The Bush administration was right, I think, not to devote excessive resources to Afghanistan, which is virtually without strategic significance compared with countries like Iran, Iraq and Egypt. Moreover, the country’s human natural and human raw material could hardly be less promising.

Afghans are not just living in an earlier century; they are living in an earlier millenium. Their poverty, cultural backwardness and geographic isolation–roads verge on the nonexistent–are hard for us to fathom. They are a tribal society run by pederasts whose main industry is growing poppies. If our security hinges on turning this place into a reasonably modern, functioning country, we are in deep trouble. But I don’t think it does; and, in any event, I don’t think we can do it.

In large part, our effort in Afghanistan has been devoted to protecting normal Afghans against extremists like the Taliban. But, as the current rioting in Kandahar, Mazar-e Sharif and elsewhere reminds us, there there may not be a lot of daylight between the Taliban and more moderate Afghan factions.

For Hinderaker, Afghanistan and its people are pretty worthless, to put it bluntly.  No “strategic significance compared with…Iran, Iraq and Egypt.”  The country is devoid of raw materials or human potential.  In his view, it is such a backward, black hole of inhumanity that any change is hopeless.   Even Obama, presumably, wouldn’t try to sell his snake oil there.  The rioting there over the Koran burning is proof of sorts, he says, that the country is hopeless.

I hate to say it, but this is just lazy, generalized thinking.

It is very tempting thinking, however.   There is certainly alot of things about Afghanistan that repulse our cultural sensitivities and it is indeed easy to see the depths to which the country has sank and believe it has always been this way, but this is not a reason for leaving, in and of itself.   It is just letting our prejudice show.  It is hard to remember as far back as the 1960’s, but Afghanistan had a functioning monarchy with a tolerable standard of living in Kabul and prospects for reform and political rights up until the communist takeover in 1978.   What Afghanistan has become, after 30 years of war, brutal totalitarian rule and the importation of strict, Islamic codes, is not what is has always been nor its eternal fate.

As for the claim that Afghanistan has no strategic value, that is at least a debatable point.  If we had a coherent and consistent foreign policy that looked at the broader interest of the U.S. in the region, Afghanistan has significance.   If, for example, we had a foreign policy that recognized the dire threat that the Iranian regime poses to the entire Middle East (and beyond), the ability to stage forces on both sides of Iran— in Iraq and Afghanistan– would enable the U.S. to effectively aid insurgents and opposition groups in Iran.

Having a presence in Afghanistan also gives the U.S. a key leverage point and access to Pakistan.  Like it or not, nuclear Pakistan is a major threat to the U.S. so long as it teeters on the edge of political instability and the possibility of the Islamofascists getting their nukes.   The U.S. has a natural affinity with India that could be cultivated into a strategic partnership in the region as a counterbalance to China and the growing Islamofascist threat in Pakistan.   Afghanistan is valuable to that partnership as well and we could be doing much more to involve India.

Hinderaker believes Afghanistan is worthless, a view not shared, however, by Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the Muslims, the  Tsarist Russians, the British Empire and the Soviet Union.

I think that the heart of the problem for Hinderaker and other conservatives when it comes to Afghanistan is the notion of “turning this place into a reasonably modern, functioning country…”   In many circles, you can add in “democracy” to that list.   This has been the great mistake of our involvement in Afghanistan.

Our first and primary goal in Afghanistan should always have been to establish security, period.   Without security first, every, other goal is like piling up sand on the beach.   Security against the Taliban and Al Qaeda is a limited, achievable goal.   It is measurable victory.  And, once established, it creates the necessary space and stability for the kind of investments and social reforms that, over the long term, can make a real difference in the development of the country.  The problem for the U.S. has been that we have been way too ambitious, trying to establish security and establish a democratic government and re-build their infrastructure and make it into a “modern, functioning” country.

This is analogous to a man, near starvation, who is rescued and then force-fed a king’s banquet: it will kill him.   His shriveled stomach is not ready for that.   After such deprivation, he needs a little bit at a time, slowly and carefully. Afghanistan is the same way.   After over twenty years of ruin and oppression, we cannot descend upon the country and begin force-feeding it with hundreds of billions of dollars in aid for every conceivable project, no matter how well-intentioned.   We have almost literally been killing Afghanistan with kindness.   Funny how they don’t appreciate it.

The mistake that Hinderaker makes is looking at the process and concluding that the entire enterprise is worthless or hopeless.  They seem to have gotten discouraged because all of our ‘force-feeding’ has not brought a miracle cure.   Their answer, to throw the hapless man back in the desert to starve again, is absurd.  Rather, they should see our actions to this point in Afghanistan as the excessive blunder it has been.

If the U.S. had been single-mindedly pursuing security and the elimination of the Taliban since 2001, we might well have drawn down our troop levels there to some border outposts to interdict insurgents from Pakistan while leaving the interior to ANA forces that would have had almost a decade of solid training by now.   Even if you view the ANA as a hopeless project, at the very least we would have had time to establish local militias that would keep the peace in their locale and govern themselves.   We would not have diverted billions of dollars to a corrupt, central figurehead like Karzai.  All of these things feed the disenchantment that Hinderaker and others feel.

But just because mistakes have been made– even terrible mistakes– should not give way to careless analysis and spotty observations.   It should, instead, be a call for better policy.

When Hinderaker turns to the consequences of quitting Afghanistan his view is rather limited:

Is there a danger that if we leave, the Taliban will re-take control and, perhaps, invite al Qaeda or other terrorist groups to join them? Yes. However, it it not obvious that, after what happened in 2001, the Taliban will be quick to make its territory, once again, into a launching pad. If they do, one would hope that drones, bombs and perhaps the kind of small-scale insertion of troops that we mounted in 2001 will be an adequate response. In any event, when it comes to harboring terrorists, I am a lot more concerned about Pakistan than Afghanistan.

The war in Iraq is over, and has been for some time. Our mission there has been a success; how important a success depends not on us but on the Iraqis. For a predominantly Arab country, Iraq is doing well. At this point, we have done about all we can do. Our troops are no longer in a combat role, and we should bring them home, and honor their victory, on schedule.

There are several problems in these paragraphs.

First, as John admits, it quite possible (I would say likely) that the Taliban will allow Al Qaeda and its affiliates to set up shop again in Afghanistan.  For him to say, however, that we should “hope that drones, bombs and perhaps the kind of small-scale insertion of troops… will be an adequate response” is fanciful.

Those “drones” and “bombs” have to come from somewhere.  If we pull out, there will no longer be any bases from which to fly the drones and the “secret” bases in Pakistan will likely be closed down as well once it is clear to the Pakistanis that we are done.   As for the “small-scale insertion of troops,” I assume he is referring to the SOF and CIA teams that partnered with the Northern Alliance forces and rained down smart munitions on the Taliban positions.   Trouble is that there will be no Northern Alliance forces for these teams to partner with if we pull out.

Second, if the U.S. pulls its forces out as John suggests, there is very little likelihood that those forces will ever return again.  Even if the U.S. was capable of flying in sorties of long-range bombers and sending in cruise missiles, Al Qaeda has learned a thing or two since 2001 about nullifying the effects of long-range munitions.   Al Qaeda can expand into the remote areas of Afghanistan where the U.S. will be increasingly helpless to affect.  With the bombing option of little use, what chance is there that the American people will want want to re-commit troops after having gone through the national trauma of pulling forces out in disgrace? (And I dare anyone to say that doing so at this juncture would be anything other than a U.S. humiliation).  It is not going to happen.

Third, are we willing to face the unbelievable humanitarian crisis that will result when the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan?  Are we willing to accept into the U.S. as refugees the hundreds of thousands of Afghans that Hinderaker denigrates as “pederasts” and “tribal” and hopelessly backward?  We still have an ugly spot on our national honor from abandoning South Vietnam to the communist killers.    Anyone remember the Boat People?  The world well remembers how we abandoned the shia in Iraq to Saddam’s mass executions and tortures in 1991.   Are we willing to endure yet another flag of shame in Afghanistan?

Finally, the view espoused by Hinderaker and others is incredibly short-sighted.  Our best hope of eliminating Al Qaeda or keeping them disrupted is by having troops and bases in Afghanistan that allow us at least the option of ground action against their sanctuaries in Pakistan.   The only reason that we can even contemplate leaving Afghanistan is because we have not suffered any large-scale attacks since 2001.  That is remarkable in itself and should be kept in mind when contemplating withdrawal.

Our continuous presence in Afghanistan, while extremely problematic, deeply flawed and poorly run, gets at least some credit for keeping Al Qaeda on the defensive and ill-prepared to mount another large-scale attack against the U.S.    If, God forbid, Al Qaeda should pull off another 9/11-type attack and we can trace its origins to the Pakistani FATA camps, do you think we will want U.S. combat forces right next door in Afghanistan to go in and wipe out every, last camp and terrorist hideout?   You bet we will.   But if those forces are gone, our ability to make Al Qaeda pay (and to force our will upon Pakistan if they resist us crossing the border) is neutered.

(I cannot in good conscience leave off here without at least commenting on John’s statements above about Iraq.  As Herschel Smith has said on more than a few occasions, the U.S. achieved an incredible feat of arms in 2006-2007 by taking it to Al Qaeda and Sadr’s illegal militias only to risk most of those gains by hastily agreeing to a status of forces treaty with Iraq that severely restricted our forces there.   Since Obama’s election, the U.S. has been withdrawing troops at a pace that further jeopardizes our hard-won gains in security there.   Too much American blood and treasure has been invested in Iraq for us to simply throw up our hands and say, “Well, it’s up to the Iraqis now.  Good luck, we’re outta here!”  Iraq can and should be a major ally of ours in the most crucial spot in the Middle East.   We should be doing everything we can to ensure that we have a continuing military presence there as well as increasing diplomatic and economic ties.   We still have troops in Germany and Japan, for crying out loud.   How much more important is it to have troops or at least air bases in easy reach of Iran and the Persian Gulf — not to mention Syria and Israel?)

If the post by John Hinderaker is a real indication of the trends of conservative thinking (or the thinking of the public in general) then the U.S. is in big trouble in the world.

Can we save a few bucks from the budget by calling it quits in Afghanistan?  Sure, but even Hinderaker admits that the cost is comparatively small change.

Let me emphasize here that I do not advocate an unlimited and unconditional engagement in Afghanistan.   I have said before that if the U.S. is not serious about winning there, if we are simply using the precious lives of our combat forces as a political game or in some half-hearted program to get re-elected, then those forces should come home.   But the rational response to bad policy and poor management is not to shut everything down and hide under the bed at home, it is to recognize the problems and do something about it:  throw out the policy-makers and bad managers and implement a better approach.

It saddens me to think that John Hinderaker has gotten so discouraged with our Afghan policy that he would rather hide under the bed than use his considerable intellect to advocate for a better way.

Iran’s Special Groups in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 3 months ago

Nouri al Maliki has ruled out the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of 2011, saying his new government and the country’s security forces were capable of confronting any remaining threats to Iraq’s security, sovereignty and unity.  Maliki also said that “he wouldn’t allow his nation to be pulled into alignment with Iran, despite voices supporting such an alliance within his government.”

Thus does Maliki imagine fairy tales.  In what is being called the Battle of Palm Grove, the ISF proved just how problematic their tactical disadvantage is in fire fights.

Despite the fact that the U.S. military insists Iraqi security forces are ready to handle their own security as American troops withdraw from Iraq, one U.S. commander says glaring mistakes were made by Iraqis during a recent battle.

Lt. Col. Bob Molinari of the 25th Infantry Division based in Hawaii says the fight in the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala, now being called the Battle of the Palm Grove, involved hundreds of Iraqi soldiers, U.S. ground troops and American fighter planes dropping two 500-pound bombs — all to combat just a handful of insurgents. And in the end, the enemy got away.

Molinari says the troubles in the palm grove started when local residents reported that insurgents affiliated with al-Qaida had assembled there to build bombs. An Iraqi commander led a unit of Iraqi soldiers in to investigate.

Molinari says Iraqi commanders from a total of seven different units showed up at the scene. Even the minister of defense was there. Molinari says too many commanders meant no coherent plan of action.

Iraqi soldiers were sent into the grove, in single file, each headed by an officer, Molinari says. The insurgent snipers would simply take aim at the officer who was leading each column.

“It was a matter of, as soon as the officers went down, the [Iraqi soldiers] went to ground. They didn’t know what to do next,” Molinari says.

Concerning air space sovereignty, Iraq will be a protectorate of the U.S. for the next decade, and would be vulnerable without U.S. air support and defense.  U.S. control and influence is ebbing, and “even the Green Zone, once an outpost of Americana in a chaotic Iraq, is no longer a US zone of influence. The United States handed over control to Iraqi security forces last June, along with responsibility for issuing the coveted badges that allow access to the walled enclave, relinquishing the ability to control who may come and go.”

But if the diminution of U.S. influence is proceeding apace, the increase in Iranian influence is matching it.  Michael Knights has authored an important analysis in the West Point’s November Combating Terrorism Center Sentinel, entitled The Evolution of Iran’s Special Groups in Iraq.  Selected quotes are provided below.

As the unclassified Iraqi government Harmony records collated by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point illustrate, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been in the business of sponsoring Iraqi paramilitary proxies for 30 years, practically the government’s entire existence. In some cases, the same Iraqi individuals run like a thread throughout the entire story, from Islamic terrorists, to exiled anti-Saddam guerrillas, to anti-American Special Group fighters in post-Ba`athist Iraq. Many of the historical patterns of Iranian support to Iraqi proxies hold true today …

The armed factions that make up the Special Groups have passed through significant changes in the last two years, and they continue to evolve. The government security offensives of spring 2008 caused considerable damage to Iranian-backed networks, and many Special Group operators fled to sanctuaries in Iran. Since the summer of 2009, these groups have been allowed breathing space to recover and begin to reestablish their presence in Iraq.

There are many reasons why recovery has been possible. In June 2009, the U.S.-Iraq security agreement ended the ability of U.S. forces to operate unilaterally in Iraq’s cities, where much of the fight against the Special Groups has been conducted. The U.S. military thereafter required an Iraqi warrant and Iraqi military cooperation to undertake raids against the Special Groups. In the extended lead-up to Iraq’s March 2010 elections, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki sought to win favor with other Shi`a factions by using his direct operational control of Iraq’s Counterterrorism Command to place a virtual embargo on such raids. Lacking the judicial evidence to hold Special Group detainees transferred to the Iraqi government, and facing pressure from Shi`a groups, the government began to release Special Group prisoners as soon as they were transferred to Iraqi custody by the United States.

Knights goes on to detail the various manifestations of Iranian meddling, including both groups and tactics.  He ends with this warning.

The political situation in Iraq will have a significant effect on the further evolution of Special Groups. If, as seems likely, Moqtada al-Sadr joins key Iranian-backed parties such as Badr in the new government, many elements of PDB, AAH and KH will probably be drawn into the security forces as Badr personnel were in the post-2003 period. Some types of violence (such as rocketing of the government center in Baghdad) may decline, while targeted attacks on U.S. forces would persist or even intensify due to the new latitude enjoyed by such groups. Kidnap of Western contractors or military personnel has been the subject of government warnings during 2010 and could become a significant risk if U.S.-Iran tensions increase in coming years. Sectarian utilization of the Special Groups to target Sunni nationalist oppositionists could become a problem once again. If Iraqi government policy crosses any “red lines” (such as long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq, rapid rearmament or anti-Iranian oil policy), the Special Groups could be turned against the Iraqi state in service of Iranian interests, showering the government center with rockets or assassinating key individuals.

And as Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes, Sadr has indeed joined Maliki in forming a new government.

Just before leaving for Baghdad last week, I spoke by phone to my Iraqi driver Salam, who was recently released from prison.

What he told me haunted me during my visit. It made me question what kind of Iraqi regime will emerge after U.S. troops exit by the end of 2011, and what sort of long-term relationship can develop between Washington and Baghdad.

Salam spent two years in jail on false charges brought by relatives of Shiite militiamen from the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. These militiamen, who were killing Salam’s neighbors, were arrested after he tipped U.S. troops. When American soldiers left Baghdad, the killers used contacts inside Iraq’s Shiite-dominated army to get Salam – and his two teenage sons – jailed.

The three were finally freed by an honest judge. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has now made a political deal with the Sadrists in order to finally form a government, nine months after Iraqi elections. The deal, brokered by Iran, required that large numbers of Mahdi Army thugs – like those Salam fingered – be freed from prison. This deal resurrects a fiercely anti-American group that battled U.S. forces until it was routed in 2008.

As I have noted for more than two years, the Status of Forces Agreement under which U.S. troops have operated, combined with the precipitous decline in U.S. presence, has created a power vacuum in Iraq into which Iran has rushed.

Renegotiation of the SOFA, along with the realization by Maliki that his troops cannot secure Iraq, would be helpful, but the real need of the moment is regime change in Iran.  That may be Iraq’s greatest hope, although not in time for the Christians.

AQI Courting Shi’ite Gangs?

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 7 months ago

Iraqi military officials have had some buyer’s remorse over the U.S. exit, calling for more troops for an extended period of time.  The knowledgeable ones know the drill, and they know that Iraq is not ready.  Conditions continue to be problematic in Iraq, and AQI appears to be courting Shi’ite gangs for membership.

Shiite gangs are joining the Sunni extremists of al Qa’eda to form new and dangerous alliances that threaten stability in southern Iraq, government officials and community leaders have warned.

A series of deadly attacks last month in once secure areas, including the southern cities of Kut and Basra, caught the Iraqi authorities by surprise and, they say, indicate that al Qa’eda has made contacts with Shiite groups willing to carry out strikes in the region.

The cooperation, driven by a mixture of money, fear and a mutual hatred of Iran, represents a stark reversal. Since the formation of al Qa’eda in the late 1990s, the radical Sunni Muslim group and its affiliates have regularly targeted Shiites, whom they consider heretics. That hostility continued following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the factional fighting that broke out soon thereafter.

There are signs, however, that this longstanding acrimony has given way to the desire of al Qa’eda sympathisers to penetrate Iraq’s Shiite-dominated southern provinces. To that end, they have found willing Shiite allies, according to regional officials.

“It is unfortunate but we understand that some Shia people are involved with and support the work of al Qa’eda,” said Shamel Mansour Ayal, chairman of Wasit provincial council’s security commission, which is headquartered in Kut.

Some might say that this is a sign of desperation, but at what point has AQI not be desperate?  That’s not the point.  The point is that Iraq needs U.S. troops and they know it, but even if the troops are deployed, they are essentially powerless without renegotiation of the SOFA.  Witness the most recent stupidity in a long line of them.

Gone are the days when U.S. soldiers kicked in doors and searched for insurgents and weapons, U.S. officers say, adding that they cannot even enter towns now unless invited and escorted.

However, a tip-off that a suicide bomber from the Iraqi affiliate of al-Qaeda planned to attack a joint Iraqi-U.S. checkpoint in western Nineveh during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which started on Friday, led U.S. troops to take the initiative in a raid last week.

“Being that it is a credible threat specifically against U.S. forces, we kind of have to act,” said Captain Keith Benoit, a squadron commander in the 7th Cavalry Regiment, at the checkpoint a few hours before the raid.

The mission was planned by U.S. forces but it was to be carried out by the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga security forces, while U.S. soldiers stood about 100 meters away, said Benoit.

“If we were to capture these folks alive tonight, I have a specific interest in this … so I would probably join in the questioning, but there is no unilateral questioning by U.S. forces any more,” he said.

Then there is no point in U.S. forces being deployed there.  There are no kinetic operations, and the patrols and questioning necessary to develop atmospherics and good intelligence networks are non-existent.  Bring the troops home now or renegotiate the SOFA.

Iraq has buyers remorse over U.S. exit

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 months ago

General Ray Odierno has stated concern over the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq, saying that U.S. funding will still be needed for the ISF.  Iraqi officials have stated their needs more clearly and comprehensively than that.

The Iraqi army will require American support for another decade before it is ready to handle the country’s security on its own, Iraq’s army chief of staff told AFP on Wednesday.

Lieutenant General Babaker Zebari said Iraq’s politicians had to find a way to “fill the void” after American troops withdraw from the country at the end of next year under a bilateral security pact.

“At this point, the withdrawal (of US forces) is going well, because they are still here,” Zebari said.

“But the problem will start after 2011; the politicians must find other ways to fill the void after 2011, because the army will be fully ready in 2020.

“If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the US army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020.”

There certainly seems to be buyers remorse over the negotiated withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq.   At least there is so among those who know anything.  But as I have also pointed out before, while we cannot draw down too precipitously and need to keep a presence in Iraq for years to come, the real issue of importance is not so much numbers, but the Status of Forces Agreement that makes U.S. troops like prisoners under house arrest in their own FOBs.  If Iraqi officials care about U.S. presence in Iraq, they will renegotiate the SOFA.  First things first.  Without a new SOFA it doesn’t matter how many troops the U.S. keeps in Iraq.

Maliki Threatens Iraq Stability

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

Max Boot on Maliki and the recent Iraqi elections.

Maliki, a sectarian Shiite, won’t accept the possibility that Allawi, a secular Shiite who enjoys overwhelming support among Sunnis, could displace him as prime minister. To prevent this from happening, Maliki is making common cause with the Iraqi National Alliance, a group of religious Shiites close to Iran that includes his archenemies, the followers of Muqtada Sadr.

Maliki has also counterattacked in the courts. First he pressured a three-judge election court into ordering a recount in Baghdad that could take weeks to finish but that isn’t expected to alter the outcome. Second, and more serious, he has endorsed what are, according to Army Gen. Ray T. Odierno, Iranian-orchestrated attempts by Iraq’s Accountability and Justice Commission to disqualify winning Sunni candidates for alleged ties to Sadam Hussein’s Baath Party.

With Maliki’s support, the commission has already disqualified 52 parliamentary candidates, including one who won a seat as part of the Iraqiya list. At least eight more winning Iraqiya candidates could be disqualified. That would give Maliki more seats than Allawi and fundamentally undermine the legitimacy of the vote.

A victory for Maliki (or a Shiite ally) that is achieved through postelection manipulations would make it extremely difficult for the new government to reach out to Sunnis either in Iraq or in the broader region. It might even reignite civil war if Sunnis feel that they are being disenfranchised.

Senior officials in the Obama administration are reportedly becoming more involved behind the scenes to avert such a disaster, but so far they have made limited progress despite a visit to Baghdad earlier this year by Vice President Joe Biden, the administration’s point man on Iraq. Diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad put the emphasis on “transition” and “drawdown” rather than on ensuring the long-term success of Iraqi “democracy” (a word avoided by the administration).

That should be no surprise considering that President bama’s overriding objective is to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq. The Iraqi-American security accord negotiated by the George W. Bush administration called for the departure of all our soldiers by the end of 2011. Obama added a new twist by ordering that troop strength be cut from the current 95,000 to 50,000 by September.

The presumption was that the drawdown would occur after Iraq had installed a new government. American officials expected that postelection jockeying would end by June at the latest. But Iraqi politicians now expect that no government will emerge before the fall. Thus the Iraqi and American timelines are dangerously out of sync. Large troop reductions at a time of such political uncertainty will send a dangerous signal of disengagement and lessen America’s ability to preserve the integrity of the elections.

The delay in seating a government also endangers the possible negotiation of a fresh accord to govern Iraqi-American relations after 2011. It is vital to have a continuing American military presence to train and advise Iraqi security forces, which have grown in size and competence but still aren’t capable of defending their airspace or performing other vital functions.

U.S. troops also play a vital peacekeeping role, patrolling with Iraqi troops and the Kurdish peshmerga along the disputed Green Line separating Iraq proper from the Kurdish regional government. Kurdish politicians I met in Irbil warned that if Iraqi-Kurdish land disputes aren’t resolved by the end of 2011 (and odds are they won’t be), there is a serious danger of war breaking out once American troops leave. The possibility of miscalculation will grow once the Iraqi armed forces acquire the M-1 tanks and F-16 fighters that we have agreed to sell them. It is all the more important that an American buffer — say 10,000 to 15,000 troops — remain to ensure that those weapons are never used against our Kurdish allies.

Boot hits on some common themes we have already covered in:

Bad Developments in Iraq

Iraqi Elections

Whence Goeth Iraq?

To say that Maliki is bad for Iraq is redundant.  Chalibi is a treacherous liar, cheat and rogue.  He is out for the Shi’ite powers in Iran and Iraq, but first of all himself.  His “Justice Commission” is a front for the Iranians.  He is a scumbag in the superlative degree.  The Maliki-Hakim-Sadr alliance will only end, if it does, as it suffers under the weight of the collective pride, self worship and disdain for the common Iraqi.

It may also be true that U.S. presence is a good thing for tamping down internal sectarian violence.  But there is a very important element of the current situation that Boot is missing, and it must be incorporated into our framework in order to understand the degree of U.S. inability to change the situation.

The Status of Forces Agreement has lead to intelligence ambiguity in Iraq due to the fact that patrols are no longer conducted.  Our once powerful and productive information and intelligence campaign has all but dried up.  It’s difficult to assess atmospherics when you can’t go on patrol and talk with the population.  The SOFA has caused U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraqi cities to the countryside because they cannot even ensure force protection in the cities.  The Marines are entirely gone from the Anbar Province because they couldn’t even move outside of their bases without an Iraqi escort and without giving 72 hours notice.  The Marine Corps Commandant will not leave Marines in a situation in which they cannot ensure force protection.

The U.S. Army is under virtual house arrest in Iraq.  Said Colonel Ali Fadhil of the ISF, “the American soldiers are in prison-like bases as if they are under house-arrest.”  They have been given times that they cannot leave their bases, stipulations for permissions, and requirements for escorts.

I have been brutal on the Obama administration on everything from health care to the  handling of the campaign in Afghanistan.  Additionally, Obama could actually put Iraq under the charge of someone who is competent rather than Biden.  But the hand was dealt long before the Obama administration, even if Obama would have fled the country anyway.  There is little to nothing that U.S. forces can do under the current SOFA, and that is the fault of the previous administration, like it or not.

We failed to confront Iran in the regional war it has been waging more than 40 years (and for the eight years we have been in Iraq), and then we tied the hands of our warriors so that they couldn’t effect change in the situation.  They are busying themselves with lifting weights, playing ping pong and going to classes.  They have nothing else to do because we made it that way for them.

Whence Goeth Iraq?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

Ralph Peters is sanguine concerning Iraq.  Daniel Pipes is much less so.  I tend towards bleak outlooks, but am waiting on either of the very good analysts at Iraq the Model to weigh in, or Nibras Kazimi at Talisman Gate (with whom I have had knock down, drag out fights).  Several things are clear at this point.  It is clear that there is a lot of confusion.  It is clear that Ahmad Chalabi is a sniveling lackey and treacherous scumbag who has empowered Iran and hurt Iraqi unity by causing the dissociation of its sects.  I have complained long and loudly concerning the Status of Forces Agreement and what it has done to U.S. power in the region.  We have spent too much blood and treasure to give up so much authority and allow the criminalization of so many Sunnis who participated in the sons of Iraq program to defeat al Qaeda.  ITM weighed in on the exclusion of so many Sunnis from elections and concluded that it has as its basis sectarianism.


More troubling still, this sectarian violence is still going on.

Hunkered down in a community outside Baghdad, Raad Ali watched the national elections Sunday in anonymity. No one bothers him here. Strangers think he is just another displaced Iraqi from the capital.

The days are long, and he misses his wife and children.

He believes that the election results could mean either his return home or exile, far from his loved ones.

With his button-down shirts, slacks and habitual smile, Ali looks like an unassuming civil servant or eager salesman growing into a chubby middle age. The only sign of worry is his five o’clock shadow.

A little over two years ago, he was shaking U.S. Army Gen. Ray Odierno’s hand in his old neighborhood, Ghazaliya, where Ali commanded one of the first Baghdad branches of a Sunni paramilitary movement that helped restore calm to Baghdad. Now Iraqi security forces are hunting him, despite the fact that he took on the Mahdi Army and Al Qaeda in Iraq in his west Baghdad neighborhood.

Ali prays that the national elections will solve his problems. If Iyad Allawi wins, he thinks there would be a place for him in his country. If Nouri Maliki or another Shiite Islamist wins, he believes the harassment will never stop. It would only be a matter of time before he was jailed and separated from his family forever.

“If Allawi doesn’t win, the future is dark,” he said. “They will target everyone.”

Having allowed such a situation to obtain is not only bad for Iraq (and to say that Maliki is bad for Iraq is redundant).  It is also bad for U.S. power and force projection.  God help us if we ever have to go back to Iraq, or if the tribal leaders in Afghanistan see how we have deserted the Sunnis.  We have no staying power, no stomach for enforcing deals we have struck.  We are in such felt-need for legitimacy in our campaigns that we are willing to allow Iraq to stipulate the conditions of the SOFA when the U.N. approvals expire.  To have a picture of General Odierno shaking the hand Raad Ali in 2008 while he is being hunted now is more than embarrassing.  It’s belittling to the most powerful nation on earth – which is also still engaged in counterinsurgency campaigns across the globe.

I have the utmost respect for General Odierno and his son who lost his arm fighting in Iraq.  I have difficulty mustering such respect for the politicians who agreed to the Status of Forces Agreement or timeline for withdrawal, or who refused to take Iran on in the regional war that it declared against the U.S.  This picture is worth a thousand words, and it makes me sick.

Intelligence Ambiguity in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

The mood is tense in the Anbar Province, but more to the point, there is general intelligence ambiguity in Iraq.

U.S. commanders say they are unsure about who is responsible for the persistent violence in Iraq, underscoring the challenge they face trying to keep a lid on it amid parliamentary elections this weekend.

While security has improved significantly across Iraq in recent years, in the weeks leading up to the March 7 vote, U.S. commanders have reported an increase in low-level violence: kidnappings, assassinations, and mortar attacks against Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of government power.

And since August, a series of large-scale bombings aimed at government buildings have ripped through Baghdad, killing several hundred people and shaking confidence in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s security services, following the withdrawal of most U.S. combat forces from major Iraqi cities last summer.

Commanders worry the violence could spike further after the election if parties feel there was fraud or if negotiations to form a government after the vote break down.

U.S. and Iraqi successes cracking down on organized insurgent groups have caused the groups to splinter into an ill-defined web of smaller, often independent, groups with widely divergent motives, ranging from the ideological to the purely material, according to American military officials.

“There is definitely less clarity as to who the enemy is,” says a U.S. Special Forces officer in Baghdad. “The big-time players aren’t there anymore. The organized terrorists aren’t there anymore.”

Iraqi officials are blaming al Qaeda-linked terrorists and loyalists to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party for the attacks. Iraq officials said Tuesday the number of Iraqis killed in February was twice as high as in January and 40% higher than a year earlier.

But U.S. military officers, working in Baghdad and Anbar provinces, say the real picture is less clear, making effective countermeasures more difficult.

“Whether or not the violence is extremist, political or tribal is not clear at this point,” says U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Mangum, the deputy commanding general of U.S. forces in Baghdad and Anbar. “We’re not being evasive; it’s just really hard to figure out.”

Of course the situation is hard to figure out.  It’s no wonder that the U.S. Marines are now gone from the Anbar Province.  The Status of Forces Agreement tied their hands to the point that they were required to give the Iraqis 72 hours notice prior to troop movements outside of their bases, and then only with Iraqi escort.  According to one honest Iraqi Colonel, “They are now more passive than before,” he said of U.S. troops. “I also feel that the Americans soldiers are frustrated because they used to have many patrols, but now they cannot. Now, the American soldiers are in prison-like bases as if they are under house-arrest.”

When no patrols can be conducted and no force projected, the atmospherics of the population cannot be assessed.  There is no way to perform counterinsurgency under these conditions, and the best hope is that a political solution can be worked out between sects and political parties.  Based on what has been demonstrated to date, this may be a forlorn hope in the short term.

The New Battle for Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 6 months ago

Amir Taheri recently had a commentary in the New York Post which shouldn’t be passed over.

The next general election is three months away, but Iraq is already in high gear for what promises to be a hard-fought campaign over the future of the newly liberated nation. The outcome could determine the course of politics in the Middle East and the future US role in that turbulent region.

Three camps are emerging.

The first is a bloc of 40 groups led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Known as The State of the Law, the coalition promises a modern democracy transcending ethnic and sectarian divides.

Maliki quit his Islamist party, Dawa (The Call), precisely because of its Shiite sectarian nature. His new coalition includes both Arab Sunni and ethnic Kurdish groups. Yet he hopes to still attract many Shiites — who, after all, are the majority of the population.

The second camp is known as “the party of Iran.” Its hard core consists of the remnants of the Mahdi Army (Jaish Al-Mahdi) of the maverick mullah Muqtada Sadr and splinter groups from Dawa led by former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. A third Shiite group, the Supreme Islamic Assembly of Iraq — led by Ammar al-Hakim, a junior mullah — provides the remaining leg of the pro-Iranian triangle.

Jaafari is emerging as Iran’s candidate for prime minister — if his bloc, known as the Iraqi National Alliance, wins control of the National Assembly (parliament). Last week, Jaafari visited Iran to be feted by “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“The American era is ending,” Iran’s official news agency quoted Jaafari as saying. “We must prepare for a new era in which Islamic forces set the agenda.”

The third camp is formed by secular Shiite groups, led by ex-Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, plus Arab Sunni parties led by Saleh Mutlak and the remnants of the Ba’ath party.

This camp enjoys support from such Arab states as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Its principal theme: With the US embarked on a strategic retreat under President Obama, Arab states must do all they can to prevent Iran from dominating Iraq and emerging as the regional “superpower.”

Iraq’s Kurdish community, some 20 percent of the population, is also split. Massoud Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party has indicated it might support Maliki’s bloc in a common bid to preserve Iraq’s independence from Iran and Arab states. The new Change (Goran) bloc, which made spectacular gains in the last Kurdish local elections, also opposes Iranian domination.

Yet the other longtime Kurdish party — the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by President Jalal Talabani — argues that, with the US unwilling to provide leadership, Kurds must look to Iran as their protector against Arab nationalism. The Kurdish branch of the Hezbollah also supports the Iranian option.

Behind all this are Obama’s hints that he might speed up the withdrawal of US forces before 2011, short-circuiting the Status of Forces Agreement signed by the Bush administration. The American president’s obvious attitude has hurt Iraqi politicians who advocate strategic alliance with Washington.

“Obama is not interested in Iraq,” says analyst Ma’ad Fayyad. “This is because, if Iraq succeeds as the first Arab democracy, it might look as if Bush was right after all.”

Obama’s tepid, not to say hostile, attitude toward Iraq’s new democracy has some Iraqi politicians recasting themselves as anti-Americans …

“If Obama wants to run away, no Iraqi can afford to appear more pro-American than the US president,” says a political advisor to Maliki.

Meanwhile, Iran is throwing in everything to defeat Maliki and seize control of Iraq’s government …

Commentary & Analysis

Taheri’s analysis is cogent and well formulated until it goes off track into considerations of the Status of Forces Agreement.  Confined to a training role, and with no patrols allowed, much less kinetic operations, and also having to inform the Iraqi Security Forces upon troop movement of any sort for any reason whatsoever, the SOFA has left the U.S. forces powerless and ineffectual in their role.  There is no reason for them to be in Iraq.  This is not Obama’s fault.  The blame lies at the feet of both Bush and the Iraqis.

But if the SOFA is in Bush’s court, the lack of interest in Iraq lies with Obama, and the current regional empowering of Iran has continued from the Bush to the Obama administration.  The Obama administration, however, took a giant leap into morally dubious (and also stupid) territory when they released Iranian Quds members expecting to get anything in return.  They have also shamefully abandoned the MEK.

Given the situation as it exists, the war now is both covert and political.  We are losing on the political front, but it doesn’t have to be this way.  Omar at Iraq the Model has information about a significant escalation in the covert war.

Unknown gunmen assassinated 30 Mahdi Army commanders in the Syrian capital Damascus. The killings, made in the past few weeks, were all made “quietly, inside the victims apartments”, said an unnamed source in the Sadr movement. The source added that among those assassinated was Laith al-Ka’bi, who commanded the Mahdi Army in the Palestine Street neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. The report adds that large numbers of Mahdi Army operatives left to Iran out of fear the assassinations wave could expand to target them.

This is a positive move, but given one view of things (from one Army intelligence officer) in the war on the CIA conducted by the Obama administration, it’s doubtful that the CIA was involved.

I would never compare my few years as an Army Intelligence Special Agent to the careers of committed CIA operatives, but I harbor no doubt that if I were one of them, I would be looking for a way out.  My immediate focus would be on protecting myself, my family and the identities of the foreign nationals with whom I worked.  I would be operating as if secrets no longer exist.  Risk taking would cease.  My reports would be gleaned from newspaper articles.

Indeed.  Much less would targeted killings be conducted by the CIA.  As both an intelligence-gathering and covert warfare organization, the CIA is effectively finished until and unless a framework is put into place that protects their agents and until an administration which is intelligence-friendly is elected.  Whomever is responsible for this (Mossad, Ba’athists in Syria?) did both America and Iraq a favor.  Obama would do well to pay Iraq a visit and express the urgent need for Iraq to abandon hopes of ties with Iran.  The war in Iraq has now taken a different turn, and we will adjust and adapt or lose to the Iranians.

The MEK, Iran and Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 6 months ago

Tom Ricks has a depressing and saddening post on the influence of Iran in Iraq relying on a first hand account by an Army officer.

Ghaz, as you may know, is mainly Shia in the northern half and Sunni in the southern half. We closed the last JSS in Ghaz on Sept. 7 (it had been allowed to stay open past the 30 June deadline) and the day after it was closed the Iraqi army battalion in south Ghaz raided the South Ghaz (Sunni) SOI headquarters, confiscating weapons and equipment a US unit had supplied them back in 2007-2008. The JSS, which straddled the Shia-Sunni fault line across the middle of Ghaz, was basically the buffer for the Sunni in the south. SOI and local council leaders were reported to have fled the neighborhood, citing Shia militia threats. Keep in mind, directly to Ghaz’s north is the Shia enclave of Shulla, a mini-Sadr City that is basically controlled by JAM remnant groups (and a heavily complicit Iraqi Army battalion). This Shia influence spills into north Ghaz and has been encroaching upon south Ghaz over the past several months.

For various reasons I am not concerned about Sunni-controlled areas like Anbar in Western Iraq (I am convinced that the Iraqi Police in Sunni-controlled areas have the upper hand).  But I am very concerned about the degree to which Iran controls the politics inside of Iraq, and no President since Carter has seriously confronted the Iranian Mullahs.  This was the great risk in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and we have not acted to in any way ameliorate that risk.

A good indication should be forthcoming as to where Iraq stands in its independence from Iran.  The MEK (People’s Mujahedin of Iran) had previously been in some trouble with the advent of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

An Iraqi judge ruled that the 36 dissidents, who went on a hunger strike in captivity, should be released. But Iraqi Interior Ministry officials, using new tactics, have argued that the dissidents entered the country illegally and should be expelled — obviously to Iran. If this tactic is successful, it could be applied to the 3,400 or so PMOI members remaining in Camp AshrafThe National Council of Resistance of Iran bluntly warned of the then-imuienant problem.

With the signing of a Status of Forces Agreement and the beginning withdrawal this year of American forces to their bases, the United States ceded sovereignty over Camp Ashraf to the Iraqis. The United States sought, and received, promises from the Iraqi government that Camp Ashraf’s population would be protected after the handover.

But Iran has been pressuring sympathetic Iraqi politicians to close the camp and expel the PMOI members. On July 28, Iraqi forces, saying they were establishing a police presence in the camp, launched an attack, killing 11 dissidents, wounding 450 and taking 36 hostages. U.S. forces nearby remained aloof.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran bluntly warned of the then-imminent problem.

Mohaddessin told Aftenposten, “We warned the United States that if the responsibility to protect Camp Ashraf is transferred to Iraq a humanitarian catastrophe would occur because the Iraqi government does Iran’s bidding. The forces’ attack against the camp did not surprise us; What we didn’t expect was the degree of brutality.”

There may be a reprieve coming.

Wednesday, Iraq’s chief prosecutor, Ghadanfar Mahmoud, issued a blanket order for police to release 36 members of an Iranian opposition group who were detained during a raid on their camp in northern Iraq in July.

The People’s Mujahedeen of Iran has claimed Iraqi security forces have refused to free the men even though they have not been charged by judicial authorities.

The group operated for years in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, but nearly 3,500 members have been confined to a camp since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The U.S. military turned over responsibility for Camp Ashraf to the Iraqis on Jan. 1.

“(The detainees) should have been released by now … We have issued orders to all police stations to release them wherever they are,” said Mahmoud.

As they have had in so many instances before, the Iraqi government has yet another opportunity to demonstrate that they aren’t lap dogs for the Iranian Mullahs.  If it weren’t so sad and so worn by now, the same thing could be said of the U.S. “negotiations” with Iran which have been going on for 30 years.

The Obama administration’s talks with Iran—set to take place tomorrow in Geneva—are accompanied by an almost universally accepted misconception: that previous American administrations refused to negotiate with Iranian leaders. The truth, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said last October at the National Defense University, is that “every administration since 1979 has reached out to the Iranians in one way or another and all have failed.”

After the fall of the shah in February 1979, the Carter administration attempted to establish good relations with the revolutionary regime. We offered aid, arms and understanding. The Iranians demanded that the United States honor all arms deals with the shah, remain silent about human-rights abuses carried out by the new regime, and hand over Iranian “criminals” who had taken refuge in America. The talks ended with the seizure of the American Embassy in November.

The Reagan administration—driven by a desire to gain the release of the American hostages—famously sought a modus vivendi with Iran in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War during the mid-1980s. To that end, the U.S. sold weapons to Iran and provided military intelligence about Iraqi forces. High-level American officials such as Robert McFarlane met secretly with Iranian government representatives to discuss the future of the relationship. This effort ended when the Iran-Contra scandal erupted in late 1986.

The Clinton administration lifted sanctions that had been imposed by Messrs. Carter and Reagan. During the 1990s, Iranians (including the national wrestling team) entered the U.S. for the first time since the ’70s. The U.S. also hosted Iranian cultural events and unfroze Iranian bank accounts. President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright publicly apologized to Iran for purported past sins, including the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh’s government by the CIA and British intelligence in August 1953. But it all came to nothing when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed that we were their enemies in March 1999.

Most recently, the administration of George W. Bush—invariably and falsely described as being totally unwilling to talk to the mullahs—negotiated extensively with Tehran. There were scores of publicly reported meetings, and at least one very secret series of negotiations. These negotiations have rarely been described in the American press, even though they are the subject of a BBC documentary titled “Iran and the West.”

At the urging of British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, the U.S. negotiated extensively with Ali Larijani, then-secretary of Iran’s National Security Council. By September 2006, an agreement had seemingly been reached. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Nicholas Burns, her top Middle East aide, flew to New York to await the promised arrival of an Iranian delegation, for whom some 300 visas had been issued over the preceding weekend. Mr. Larijani was supposed to announce the suspension of Iranian nuclear enrichment. In exchange, we would lift sanctions. But Mr. Larijani and his delegation never arrived, as the BBC documentary reported.

My friend and fellow Marine father Michael Ledeen then goes on to describe the decades-long failure of sanctions against Iran.  It is must reading – especially for the current administration.  It remains to be seen whether Iraq fails as an independent state in light of the Iranian pressure from within and without.  It also remains to be seen what role the U.S. will play in regional stability.  Will we continue the same pattern of failed negotiations, or will we bring enough pressure to cause regime change – the only hope of avoiding war?

Iraq’s Ambivalence About The American Military

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 7 months ago

The New York Times has an informative analysis about the multiple personalities within Iraq concerning the continued presence of the U.S. military.

Iraqi military officials often refer to their American counterparts as “the friends,” a circumlocution full of Eastern subtlety that is often lost on the friends themselves. Add some more quotation marks, and it comes closer to the sense intended, “the ‘friends.’ ” Not sarcastic, exactly, but rather colored with mixed emotions, as in the sentence, “The ‘friends’ came by yesterday to complain again about payroll skimming.”

Americans find this hard to understand about the Iraq war, that their trillion-dollar enterprise in Iraq has made Iraqis and particularly the Iraqi military not only deeply dependent on America, but also deeply conflicted, even resentful about that dependency. After all, we saved them from defeat at the hands of a ruthless insurgency that a few years ago indeed could have destroyed them, and we spent 4,000 lives doing it, left probably 10 times that many young Americans crippled for life, and they’re not grateful?

That is not, at bottom, how the Iraqis see it. They are grateful, many of them, but gratitude is a drink with a bitter aftertaste. They also chafe at the thousands of daily humiliations they endure from a mostly well-meaning but often clueless American military. An Iraqi politician who wishes to remain nameless (“I have to deal with the friends,” he explains) tells of traveling with the Iraqi Army’s chief of staff, a general in uniform, epaulets bristling with eagles, stars and swords. They were at the Baghdad airport, about to get on one of the few Iraqi military planes, when an American sergeant stopped him and refused to allow him to board. Despite the general’s remonstrations of rank and privilege, the sergeant made sure the plane took off without him.

“Once I had a meeting with the division commander in charge of Baghdad,” the politician went on. “A private meeting. In walks an American colonel and sits there with a translator, taking notes on our conversation. He apologized and said ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do anything about this.’ ”

This indirectly explains a lot about the current state of affairs, post June 30. Iraqis have enthusiastically embraced their newfound military sovereignty, even when, as is often the case, they’re not really ready for it. They can field troops who can fight, but they can’t fix their Humvees. They can mount their own operations against insurgents, but are reluctant to do so without air cover — which so far only the Americans can provide. They can marshal large numbers of soldiers — their army now is more numerous than America’s in Iraq — but they depend on the Americans to handle most of their logistics, since their own are plagued by corruption and mismanagement.

Under the new Status of Forces Agreement between the countries, not only did American troops leave all population centers after June 30, but they’ve also agreed not to get involved, in or out of the cities, unless invited to do so by the Iraqis. And the Iraqi inclination has been not to invite them, partly out of pride, partly out of concern for the political blowback from their own public when they do ask for help.

This was brought into sharp relief by the two ministry truck bombings on Aug. 19, which succeeded because fortifications had been prematurely removed from in front of those ministries. “It was Iraqi aspirations exceeding their ability to secure their country on their own,” says John Nagl, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and an author of influential works on counterinsurgency. “The Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces are improving steadily but they’re not yet able to handle these threats responsibly,” Mr. Nagl says.

He argues that the Iraqi and American militaries need to set up standing pre-arrangements by which the United States can intervene in an emergency on the ground; such arrangements are entirely possible under the terms of the forces agreement, even if they may cause political difficulties, especially in an election year.

I agree with Nagl concerning the current Iraqi inability to ensure its own security.  I have argued that we should withdraw even logistical and air support in order to catalyze that understanding within the Iraqi military and administration.  But unlike Nagl, I am not so sure that the existing SOFA supplies the necessary provisions for even force protection, much less kinetic engagements inside Iraqi cities.

I believe that modifications are necessary to both the formal SOFA and the manner in which it is being locally implemented by the ISF.  I’m unimpressed by the complaint of “thousands of daily humiliations” on the part of the Iraqis.  This sounds like exaggeration but it makes for good drama.  Continuing with the article:

The tension between Iraq’s desire to embrace its sovereignty and its continuing military shortcomings is likely to last many years, Mr. Nagl says, because the United States has done little so far to give the Iraqi military the ability to defend its country against external threats once Americans leave by the end of 2011.

The most glaring shortcoming is the almost complete lack of an air force, aside from a few transport and reconnaissance aircraft; there is not a single jet. The first T-6 jet trainer, a propeller- driven aircraft that simulates a jet, is on order for next December. Training pilots will take many years more. In a modern world, Mr. Nagl says, “You can’t defend the sovereignty of your country if you can’t defend your air space.”

Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of the American military’s training command, says that was inevitable in the rush to build large army and police ground forces to counter the insurgency.

General Helmick says he is unconcerned about the lack of an international defensive capability. “What do they need to defend themselves against?”

Nothing, so long as American troops are there in such numbers, but once they’re gone, Iraq will remain surrounded by potential enemies. Turkey has been regularly bombing Iraqi territory in the north, in an effort to wipe out Kurdish guerrillas who use the area as a sanctuary for attacks in Turkey. Iran is a friend now, but in the 1980s it fought a decade-long war involving many divisions of tanks, airstrikes and even chemical warfare.

Here I break with Nagl.  The U.S. has done much in terms of blood, sweat, tears and wealth to secure Iraq.  The Iraqis must secure their future by weeding out crime, corruption and malfeasance.  Their oil fields alone, if functioning properly and profits shared and wisely used, would have gone a long way towards rebuilding their infrastructure, including a military apparatus.

In any case, with respect to air support, Iraq may be a protectorate of the U.S. for a decade.  Over the course of that decade unless the SOFA is modified to allow more latitude of operations – including robust force protection – the ground troops must come home and air power supplied from locations where force protection isn’t problematic.


Should U.S. Troops Return to Iraqi Cities?

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