Dispatches From the Moderate Left

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Iraq: Past, Present and Future - Part III (US, World)

Iraq: Past, Present and Future - Part I
Iraq: Past, Present and Future - Part II

In the final part of this series I'll look at the vexed question of what should be done with the occupying force presently in Iraq.

Currently there are about 135,000 US troops in Iraq and about 23,000 other coalition troops. Regardless of any optimistic expectations going into the invasion, no one really thinks they're going to be leaving any time soon. However, everyone who doesn't believe Bush plans to turn Iraq into a literal colony thinks that the troops will eventually leave, so the question of a withdrawal isn't if but when. The prospect of "withdrawal under fire" is also probably not a question of if but when.

A situation as explosive as the current one in Iraq, fuelled by internal and external forces, will not subside to a level of absolute peace any time in the next decade or (probably) more. Think of the number of countries which have had decades-long domestic insurgencies - Spain, Russia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal, UK/Ireland - there's simply no way Iraq isn't going to have a violent terrorist element in it for a very long time into the future. Domestic support for a large occupation force is very unlikely to last that long, so a large bulk of US forces will, almost certainly, be withdrawing "under fire" at some stage. Rumsfeld offered this remarkably frank evaluation a few weeks ago:
We're not going to win against the insurgency. The Iraqi people are going to win against the insurgency. That insurgency could go on for any number of years. Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years...Coalition forces, foreign forces are not going to repress that insurgency.

The two sides to the troop withdrawal debate aren't properly divided by whether or not US forces should leave while terrorists are attacking them in Iraq, they are divided in how long they should stay there in the interim. In recognising this fact, the "propaganda victory" argument so often put up by those opposing withdrawal loses much of its force. One day US forces are going to have to leave and in that time the insurgents and foreign fighters will have a piece of propaganda they can use - "look, they ran away from us." They key question to ask when thinking about withdrawal is not whether or not our enemies will rejoice, but whether we have established a functioning state in Iraq which is sovereign over the Iraqi people. It may not have a monopoly of force, but it must have something approaching that.

It is here, of course, that the question gets messy. It seems certain that the presence of foreign troops in Iraq is exacerbating the insurgency. Ackerman notes:

Because the U.S. presence helps the insurgency's recruitment efforts, the finish line keeps receding into the distance.

That's why, at several points over the past 18 months, the United States has revised its assessments of necessary Iraqi forces upward, in terms of both size and capability. In late 2003, American officials in Iraq estimated a need for 85,000 Iraqi police. The Pentagon increased that number by a third last September, to 135,000. Early occupation plans called for an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (icdc) to conduct internal anti-militant missions, sized at 25,000 troops. By November 2003, that number had risen to 40,000; after the icdc's poor performance in Falluja the following April, it was disbanded and reformed as the Iraqi National Guard, with its needed end-strength reassessed in September 2004 at nearly 62,000--more than twice its original estimate. Recently, officials announced plans to fold the National Guard into the new Iraqi Army; earlier this month, Allawi announced that he needed to raise the target number for that newly restructured army from 100,000 to 150,000 soldiers. In August 2004, officials quietly conducted a reappraisal of Iraq's security needs, after which, writes Globalsecurity.org analyst John Pike, "the objective end-strength of Iraqi forces appear[ed] to have more than doubled."

In the same article, Ackerman notes that very strong majorities of both Sunni (82%) and Shia (68%) want US forces out "in short order." The insurgency seems to be gaining strength. As I pointed out in my last post on the subject, both bombing events and civilian casualties from them are increasing (witness the massive fuel-truck attack a few days ago). And yet the latest polls show a possibly curious optimism among Iraqis:

(From the Brookings Institute fact sheet. See page 30 and later for other polls, they are uniformly more optimistic recently).

I think the explanation for all this is that local forces are increasingly taking on front line combat and policing duties. And I think this hints at a possible future path.

The US must withdraw, obviously. The timing of this isn't as important as two things - the quality and quantity of Iraqi troops and strong and unabiguous signalling to the Iraqi public of the withdrawal timetable. I think this last aspect is particularly important. Definite milestones should be announced and these milestones should be linked to troop withdrawals regardless of the security situation.

Look at what has happened so far. The message from the US leadership has constantly highlighted particular points as potential turning points in the insurgency - the formation of the provisional government, the handover of Iraqi sovereignty, elections, formation of the new government - but each event has been accompanied by a continuing security problem and no real reduction in US troop numbers. I think there's a vicious cycle here, with insurgents pointing out that none of the formal moves to greater Iraqi independence has actually led to a reduction in the most visible symbol of their lack of independence, the troops. This in turn has led to more violence which has ensured the troops haven't left.

This time-tabled withdrawal option strikes me as eminently sensible. I'm not sure I'd agree with the sort of really short time table the post I just linked was advocating, but the fundamental idea is sound. Sure, US troops have a moral obligation to stay and get the country in some semblance of order by training the Iraqis and directly helping with security, but their presence is exacerbating the problem and causing the finishing line to extend ever further. One of these days a risk is going to have to be taken, and it would be best if that happened before the insurgency becomes mainstream.


  • An interesting post, good stuff. Any thoughts on the US paying reparations for the damage they have inflicted on Iraq, past and present? Surely checks and balances need to be placed on the world's only superpower to prevent it from wreaking such havoc to other weak states in the future?

    An academic was on ABC radio last week discussing his research into every suidice attack since 1980. I wrote about it here: http://house-negro.blogspot.com/2005/07/strategic-logic-of-suicide-terrorism.html.

    His basic thesis is that suicide attacks are a response to military occupation by democratic states. They are strategic in motivation rather than theological (in objective terms anyway).

    By Blogger Iqbal Khaldun, at 11:02 PM  

  • Now if only we could stop members of the US government saying unbelievably stupid things in the media... http://www.local10.com/news/4739592/detail.html

    By Anonymous John, at 1:24 AM  

  • Perversely, the only feasible way for America to stablize Iraq for withdrawal is to put an Iraqi military leader in charge and place the country under martial law. Otherwise, religious factionalism will result in civil war.

    In short, we need another Saddam.

    By Blogger Charles Watkins, at 3:45 PM  

  • @Iqbal
    The US is paying serious amounts of cash and lives to rebuild the nation at the moment. Hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars. It's hardly an economical exercise for them. Btw there was one presidential candidate complaining that the US was "building firehouses in Iraq and closing them at home" and it wasn't the one which was elected.

    As for that research, that does sound about right.

    Yeah, tancredo is a known racist (well, he's not friendly to those who aren't anglo americans, anyway), he heads the Congress "coalition for LEGAL immigration" or something, and is very proud of the fights he's had with Rove over the issue (http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20050328&s=crowley032805).

    That's dangerous thinking there, and I think/hope you aren't right.

    By Blogger Jeremy, at 5:33 PM  

  • don't mean to blow my own trumpet, but I've put a lengthy article on my blog re what went wrong in Iraq after and how to fix it, as I see it

    By Blogger John Lee, at 9:50 PM  

  • Hi Jeremy,

    Actually most of the money going into the reconstruction of Iraq is coming from the Iraqi purse. For eg read this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1522983,00.html.

    Most of US taxpayers' money is going into subsidising big business 'reconstruction' of infrastructure focused on oil production. As always there is a trickle into other areas, but it is a trickle.

    The expense of the operation is always footed by the American taxpayer. Cf the US's trillion dollar 'aid' budget for foreign countries which principally takes the form of military aid.

    There are reasons for this. None of this is driven by charity or even pure ideology. It's the calculus of world domination in the modern world.



    PS: John, blog looks good. Will read your posts soon.

    By Blogger Iqbal Khaldun, at 12:48 AM  

  • thanks Iqbal

    revealing article the Guardian did there. higlights the problem with US conduct in Iraq - it's less deliberate exploitation than indifference and a lack of accountability

    here's a couple of illuminating articles on Iraq's economic 'reconstruction'

    they ran in a Lebanese newspaper; by contrast I haven't seen a peep in US or Australian papers about the economics of Iraq'w recovery. makes you ponder how self-censored the Anglo-Saxon press is on certain matters

    By Blogger John Lee, at 7:09 AM  

  • Yeah I'd very much disagree with Charles on that point. I think it's very demeaning to Iraqis to believe that such a highly educated and worldly population (even after 30 years of Saddam) is not able to build a democratic system like all of us Westerners.

    In fact everything I've seen directly from the majority Shia community, including the religious parties, favours democracy and doesn't want to go down the road of Iranian theocracy. The very rigorous and aggressive negotiations in parliament over the cabinet and the constitution has shown that they are capable of such democratic discourse, and continue to develop it.

    In terms of US aid Iqbal, I think its a bit of a generalisation to say that the majority of it is military. I've just done a post about responsible and productive aid programs in the wake of the Live8 concerts, and one of the best I've been able to find is an organsation called the Millenium Challenge Account.

    It uses 16 indicators for a nation's performance in institution building, human rights, democracy and economic reform to award aid on an incentives basis. If only more aid was distributed in this way, I think we'd be seeing a very different 3rd world.

    In regards to the troop issue, I agree with Jeremy. There will come a point where both the Iraqis and the Coalition are confident that Iraqi security forces can handle border control, counter-insurgency operations and general law and order. For me, thats about as specific as a timeline needs to get, but someone just needs to make that statement of the bleeding obvious in a slightly more in-depth, policy-minded way.

    By Blogger Freeworldnik, at 11:56 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home


Listed on BlogShares