Iraq: The Realities of US "Withdrawal" of Combat Forces and the Challenges of Strategic Partnership
August 30, 2010
The US may be announcing the “withdrawal” of its combat forces – although six Advisory and Assistance brigade and ~ 50,000 men may remain up to the end of 2011. The fact is, however, that US the withdrawal is far from over, the Iraq War is not over, it is not “won,” and any form of stable end state in Iraq is probably impossible before 2020.
In fact, Iraq is at as critical a stage as at any time since 2003. Regardless of the reasons for going to war, everything now depends on a successful transition to an effective and unified Iraqi government, and Iraqi security forces that can bring both security and stability to the average Iraqi. The creation of such an “end state” will take a minimum of another five years, and probably ten.
These points become all too clear in a five part briefing developed by the Burke Chair as available at the following addresses on the CSIS web site:
- Iraq After US "Withdrawal:” Meeting the Challenges of 2010 and Beyond
- Iraq After US “Withdrawal:” Measuring the Course of the War
- Iraq After US “Withdrawal:” Economy, Demographics, Budget and Trade
- Iraq After US “Withdrawal:” Critical Impact on World Oil Supplies
- Iraq After US “Withdrawal:” Impact of Reductions in US Economic & Military Aid
The Past, Current, and Future State of Iraq
Each of these briefs provides summary data, maps, and charts that describe the current political, military, and economic condition in Iraq; the challenges the Iraqi government now faces in moving towards lasting stability and security, and the areas where continued US support and assistance will be need if it is to have a meaningful strategic partnership with Iraq.
They update and supplement the reporting in a CSIS book entitled “Iraq and the United States: Creating a Strategic Partnership,” which is available on the CSIS web site at:
http://csis.org/publication/iraq-and-united-states They show in detail that Iraq still faces a serious insurgency, and deep ethnic and sectarian tensions. In spite of its potential oil wealth, its economy is one of the poorest in the world in terms of real per capita income, and it is the second year of a budget crisis that has force it to devote most state funds to paying salaries and maintaining employment at the cost of both development and creating effective security forces
- Part I, Iraq After US “Withdrawal:” Meeting the Challenges of 2010, summarizes the key issues shaping sectarian and ethnic differences in Iraq, and affecting Iraqi ability to develop a new government. It is clear even from such summary analysis that Iraq is still years away from stability and will need sustained outside aid.
- Part II Iraq After US “Withdrawal:” Measuring the Course of the War, summarizes the course of the war to date, the progress made at the security level, and scale of the continuing internal threat. It shows the need to continuing US diplomatic effort, and a broad-based and well-resourced country team. This analysis does sharply understate one critical aspect of security, however, and that is the risk of threats, intimidation, and military action by Iran.
- Part III, Iraq After US “Withdrawal:” Economy, Demographics, Budget and Trade” summarizes the state of the Iraqi economy and budget. It shows that Iraq is anything but a wealthy oil state, and that its per capita income – at 159th in the world – is only about half the next lowest ranking Gulf state – Iran. It shows that Iraq has a major problem with budget deficits, and that its economy will take at least half a decade to recover from some 30 years of war and crisis.
Moreover, this brief warns that outside aid is phasing down to critically low levels at time Iraq lack the funds and capability to replace that aid or take transfer of many aid projects at a time when the bulk of a massive international aid effort has either been wasted or consumed in dealing with the insurgency.
- Part IV, Iraq After US “Withdrawal:” Critical Impact on World Oil Supplies,” shows Iraq’s ranking in global oil and gas reserves, the trends in its oil production and exports, the trends in its oil export revenues, and its critical over-dependence on these revenues to fund its budget and development. At the same time, it draws on estimates by the Energy Information Agency of the Department of Energy to show Iraq’s probable future increases in oil and gas production, and how these will affect world supply.
These EIA estimates warn that In spite of some exaggerated projections of how quickly Iraq can expand it oil exports, it will be years before Iraq can overcome the impact of over 30 years of war and crisis. It also shows that – political posturing aside – the US and the world will remain dependent on the stable – and increasing – flow of oil and gas exports through at least 2035.
- Part V, Iraq After US “Withdrawal:” Economic & Military Aid and US Withdrawals, traces the history of international and US aid to Iraq. This analysis is largely fiscal because USAID has not demonstrated a capability to measure the effectiveness of its aid programs, or the extent they have been successfully transferred to Iraq. It is clear, however, that current aid funding will drop precipitously at a time when Iraq faces a major economic and budget crisis, and that the PRT and other focused aid efforts effort have been useful in defusing sectarian and ethnic tensions, and improving governance and economic development.
Part V also examines the patterns in the development of the Iraqi Security Forces and US withdrawals from Iraq. The ISF has made major progress since 2008, but will need serious aid and assistance through at least CY2014 and probably for some years beyond. The transfer of the Iraqi police effort from Defense to State also raises serious question as to its future effectiveness – particularly if this effort is not fully funded and staffed as soon as possible.
Aiding Iraq Serves Vital American Strategic Interests
There are many in America, including members of Congress, who would like to forget the war, and reduced the US role in Iraq as soon as possible. This already has raised questions as to whether the US mission in Iraq, and State Department and Defense Department will get the support they need to create a real strategic partnership with Iraq. It is true that the US cannot impose such a partnership on Iraq, and much depends on the formation of a new Iraqi government that wants such a partnership, serves the needs of all Iraqis, and shows it can govern effectively.
The fact remains, however, that Iraq is a truly vital national security interest of the United States, and of all its friends and allies:
- Iraq can play a critical role in limiting Iranian influence, and Iran’s ability to threat and intimidate its Gulf neighbors. A stable, friendly Iraq can help separate Iran and Syria, provide Turkey with a key alternative to economic involvement with Iran, show the Southern Gulf states that Iran cannot dominate the Northern Gulf or expand to the south, and help secure friendly states like Egypt, Israel, and Jordan.
- A stable and secure Iraq will show that Sunni and Shi’ite can cooperate and defuse the threat of Sunni Islamic extremists and terrorists, as well as the kind of Shi’ite extremism supported by Iran. It can play a critical role in giving the Kurds the future they deserve and integrating the Kurds into region. If it receives continuing support from the US and the West, this will show that we are fighting extremism, not Arabs or Islam. It will play this role in a region of a far greater strategic interest for the US than Central and South Asia.
- While the US Department of Energy is far more realistic about the rate at which Iraq can expand its oil production than Iraq’s Oil Ministry and various oil companies, it still projects Iraq will expand its oil production from 2.4 million barrels per day in 2008 to 2.6 in 2015, 3.1 in 2020, 3.9 in 2025, 5.1 in 2030, and 6.1 in 2035. This expansion is critical in offsetting declines in the production of other major exporting states, and could be substantially quicker in a more stable Iraq – reaching 6.3 MMBD in 2030 and 7.6 MMBD in 2035.
- Iraq can play a key role in securing the entire Gulf, in cooperation with US forces and the forces of the Southern Gulf states. It plays a role in ensuring the stable flow of oil and gas exports throughout the region. Even using highly favorable projections of alternative fuels and liquids, the Department of Energy estimates that the Gulf will continue to increase its share of total world conventional and unconventional liquids production from 28% of all world production in 2008 to 31% in 2035. The Department estimates that this total could be as high as 35% by 2035.
It is all very well to talk about energy independence, and US politicians, academics, media, and think tanks have now been doing so for nearly four decades. The fact remains, however, that the latest Annual Energy Outlook (http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/) and International Energy Outlook (http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/) issued by the Department of Energy project that the US will not make any significant reduction in its strategic dependence on oil imports through 2035.
Moreover, these projections make no effort to measure the level of indirect imports that the US makes through its imports of manufactured goods from Europe and Asia – manufacturers in countries like China and Japan which are far more dependent on oil and gas imports from the Gulf and other exporting nations than the US.
The US need for a strategic partnership with Iraq is also driven by two other factors: First, it does not matter where the US gets its oil from on any given day. The US competes on a world market driven by total world supply and pays world prices. If a crisis occurs in the Gulf, the US will compete at the same increase in prices as every other importing nation, if world price rise on a longer-term basis, the US will pay for the same increase, and if supplies are cut by a major conflict, the US must share the oil left for import with other OECD states.
Second, the US is steadily more dependent on the health of the global economy and the global economy is steadily more dependent on the stable flow of oil and gas exports. Oil prices are not simply a matter of increases in gasoline or home heating costs. They affect every job in America.
The Key to Successful US Policy and Building a Strategic Partnership
The US now can only influence Iraq, not control it. Iraq is a fully sovereign state, its forces have taken effective control over virtually all security efforts, and the Iraqi people have deep reservations about the justification for US intervention in Iraq and over the way US aid and military operations have been handled since 2003. That said, there are many Iraqi officials and officers who have seen the US work with Iraq to end the insurgency, have seen the US rebuild Iraqi forces, and have seen successful aid programs.
The end of an active combat role by US forces also does not mean that the US cannot both aid Iraq and act to help protect it, if Iraq’s government makes such a request. US forces will not leave Iraq before the end of 2011. There are now less US troops in Iraq than in Afghanistan. The last combat unit is the 4th Stryker Brigade, of the 2nd Infantry Division. This is a Brigade Combat Team specifically trained for combat operations. Many of the 6,000 troops that will withdraw by August 31 are combat support troops.
The core of the remaining troops, however, will consist of six Advise and Assist Brigades (AABs) which have major combat capabilities. As ABC News reports, they are brigade combat teams that have been augmented with 50 additional officers and the units have received additional preparation to be trainers. They will be able to shift to combat operations immediately if the Iraqi government should request this and the US President approves.
The US also will not leave the Gulf. The President has not announced his future plans for USCENTCOM, but the US now has two major bases in Kuwait, a 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain, a massive aid base in Qatar, and contingency facilities in Oman and the UAE. It maintains a major military advisory mission in Saudi Arabia. It prepositioned brigade sets in Kuwait and Qatar before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and it has deployed an average of more than one carrier battle group and more than a combat wing of US fighters in the region since the mid-1980s. It can rapidly deploy additional ground forces, air and missile capabilities, naval forces, and missile defenses.
These force can deter or defeat any conventional outside attack on Iraq if the US and Iraq are truly committed to a strategic partnership. The US can provide airpower, intelligence, and emergency resupply to Iraqi forces for the counterinsurgency mission and rapidly deploy Special Forces to directly aid Iraqi troops. It will provide as large or small a group of US military advisors as Iraq wants, and will help Iraq acquire the major combat systems it will need over the next half decade to deter and defeat foreign threats on its own. This not only will this directly aid Iraq, but help make Iraqi forces interoperable with key elements of US, Saudi, UAE, Kuwaiti, and other Southern Gulf forces.
This does, however, require a lasting US commit to make a strategic partnership work, a strong US presence in the Gulf after the US withdraws its combat forces from Iraq, and a US commitment to providing an advisory mission and FMS sales and aid until Iraq’s oil revenues are large enough for it to fund every aspect of its armed forces. It also requires hard decisions about funding a police training and advisory mission, and far more effective management than has take place in any country to date of the State Department role.
Moreover, a strategic partnership with the US offers Iraq as much as it does the US. It will be at least half a decade before Iraq’s forces can defend Iraq from outside threats. US arms transfers and aid, and US security guarantees, can offer Iraq security during that period. US air and naval power can operate from other areas in the Gulf to conduct devastating attacks on any major force that tries to cross the Iraqi border. US training teams can continue to help Iraq build up all the elements of its security forces after US withdrawal in 2012. US FMS programs offer Iraq a way of obtaining full support for military modernization without corruption and with the required levels of support and sustainability.
Limited amounts of US economic aid can help speed economic development and improve the capacity and quality of Iraqi government. A strong State Department aid team can help Iraq shift away from a State-driven economy to a more mixed and open economy, and play a key role in showing Iraqis that there are strong economic reasons to avoid sectarian and ethnic tensions. A strong country team that mixes a major Embassy effort with consulates in Basra and Kirkuk, and Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) not only can help in every aspect of development, but provide a key diplomatic and civil effort to help Iraqis overcome their sectarian and ethnic tensions.
Defining exactly what level of US support is needed, and Iraq will accept, must wait on the creation of a new Iraqi government and giving that new government the time it needs to make such decisions. It is already clear, however, that Iraq needs immediate aid in developing its security forces, capability for governance, and economy. A precipitous US withdrawal or Congressional cutbacks in State Department and Department of Defense aid and advisory plans will end any chance of an effective strategic partnership by default. It will empower Iran, extremism, and terrorists throughout the region, and threaten all of our friends and allies. Supporting those plans will provide a critical transition effort that will create a base to build a lasting strategic partnership, and help Iraq through a potential crisis in its budget, economy, and the development of the security forces it needs.
Understanding the Need for Strategic Partnership and the Challenges Iraq Faces: The Need for Clear Transition Plans and for Leadership and Transparency
So far, the Obama Administration has done little to communicate either the nature of these plans or their urgency. The State Department has almost ceased to report on Iraq and has never provided a meaningful report on either the effectiveness of its aid efforts to date or its plans for the future.
The most that is available on the civil side of aid are the quarterly reports of the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR) – reports that necessarily focus on the past rather than the future. (http://www.sigir.mil/publications/quarterlyreports/index.html.) Worse, the ongoing efforts within the State Department to develop effective reporting on Iraq for the future now risk losing their funding, and no clear plans seem to exist for any form of public reporting on the stability model the Department has in development.
The Department of Defense does issue a useful Quarterly Report called Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq (http://www.defense.gov/pubs/ ). This report covers both the civil and military side of events, but it is repeatedly months behind schedule and the latest version – due in early July, its now some two months late.
This reporting also looks backwards with almost no data on US goals or plans for the future. It has recently been driven far more by a focus on US troop withdrawals than a presentation of what the US should do to aid Iraqi forces after US combat forces are gone. These problems are further complicated by the fact that USCENTCOM has never communicated any meaningful vision of the future force posture the US will have in the region once US combat forces leave Iraq, and has fueled a host of conspiracy theories in the Gulf that the US will leave Iraq without an effective partner.
There is a critical need for the Obama Administration to report on developments in Iraq, and make the case for strategic partnership with the depth and transparency needed to persuade the Congress, American people, and media to act – as well as to show Iraqis what the option are, and defuse hostile propaganda and conspiracy theories.
This case should present a clear plan for a long-term US effort to aid Iraq in both its civil and military development, and to work closely with the new Iraqi government. It should provide clear critical for success, describe the necessary metrics, and be followed by regular reporting that provides the kind of transparency necessary to win the support of both the American and the Iraqi people.
So far the Administration has not met these needs in any respect.