How Soon Is Safe?
April 20, 2009
The drop in the level of violence in Iraq, and the slow movement toward political accommodation, offer hope for a more stable and secure future there. Yet there are good reasons that senior U.S. officers and officials warn that the situation is still “fragile.” No one can be certain whether Iraq can achieve enough political stability and security to deal with its internal and external problems.
Arab-Kurdish tensions, Shi'ite vs. Sunni tensions, and a host of tensions within given factions and regions still divide the country. Al Qaeda in Iraq is not fully defeated. The Sadr militias still present a threat. Iran seeks to expand its influence, and Turkey will not tolerate a sanctuary for hostile Kurdish movements like the PKK. Arab support for Iraq remains weak, and many Arab states fear both Shi'ite dominance and what this could mean in terms of Iran's role not only in Iraq but in Syria and Lebanon. These problems are compounded by the international financial crisis, major cuts in outside grant aid, and a budget crisis caused by declines in oil export revenues which affect Iraqi stability in a number of ways. Money was the glue that held many Iraqi factions together; its absence may have severe consequences.
Politics and economics will be as important in determining Iraq’s success or failure as any aspect of security. At the same time, the fact that the United States now is steadily cutting its military role and presence and will leave in 2011 makes the creation of effective Iraqi Security Forces a critical factor in determining whether Iraq can emerge as a stable, secure, and successful state. These issues are addressed in detail in this major Burke Chair report on the continued development of the Iraqi Security Forces, their strengths and weaknesses, and the problems and prospects of future force development.