Iraq: The Realities of U.S. "Withdrawal of Combat Forces" and the Challenges of Strategic Partnership
October 5, 2010
The U.S. has announced the end of the “combat phase” in Iraq, although it continues to fly air combat sorties over Iraq and will maintain six U.S. Advisory and Assistance Brigades with about 50,000 soldiers up to the end of 2011. The fact is, however, that 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, reports of a new Maliki government that includes the Sadrists and excludes the Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya shows that 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 the Burke Chair has updates as of early October 2010, and which is available at the following addresses on the CSIS web site:
- The U.S. Transition in Iraq: Waiting for a New Government
- The U.S. Transition in Iraq: Measuring the Course of the War
- The U.S. Transition in Iraq: Economy, Demographics, Budget and Trade
- The U.S. Transition in Iraq: Critical Impact on World Oil Supplies
- The U.S. Transition in Iraq: Impact of Reductions in U.S. Economic and 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. They also cover the challenges the Iraqi government now faces in moving towards lasting stability and security. In addition, the briefs note the areas where continued U.S. support and assistance will be need if it is to have a meaningful strategic partnership with Iraq.
These briefs update and supplement the reporting in a CSIS bookentitled “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. The briefs 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. The second year of a budget crisis has also forced the government to devote most state funds to paying salaries and maintaining employment at the cost of both development and effective security forces.
- Part I, The U.S. Transition in Iraq: Waiting for a New Government summarizes the key issues shaping sectarian and ethnic differences in Iraq, which affect Iraqi ability to develop an effective government. It is clear from a summary analysis that Iraq is still years away from stability and suffers from a continuing budget crisis. Iraq will need sustained outside aid from the U.S. for at least several more years.
- Part II, The U.S. Transition in Iraq: Measuring the Course of the War summarizes the war to date, the progress made at the security level, and scale of the continuing internal threat. It shows that the risk of a new round of ethnic and sectarian fighting remains serious and that the insurgency is far from over. It also shows the need for a continuing U.S. diplomatic effort, particularly 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, The U.S. Transition in Iraq: 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.
Part IV, The U.S. Transition in Iraq: 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 overdependence on these revenues to fund its budget and development. At the same time, the brief draws on estimates by the Energy Information Agency (EIA) 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 U.S. and the world will remain dependent on the stable and increasing flow of oil and gas exports through at least 2035.
Part V, The U.S. Transition in Iraq: Impact of Reductions in U.S. Economic & Military Aid traces the history of international and U.S. 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. This is despite the fact that the PRT and other focused aid efforts have been useful in defusing sectarian and ethnic tensions and improving governance and economic development.
Moreover, this brief warns that outside aid is phasing down to critically low levels at a time in which Iraq lack the funds and capability to replace that aid or take transfer of many aid project. The bulk of a massive international aid effort has either been wasted or consumed in dealing with the insurgency.
Finally, Part V examines the patterns in the development of the Iraqi Security Forces and U.S. withdrawals from Iraq. The ISF has made major progress since 2008 but will need serious aid and assistance through at least 2014 and probably for some years beyond. The transfer of the Iraqi police effort from the Defense Department to the State Department also raises serious questions 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 want to reduce the U.S. role in Iraq as soon as possible. This already has raised questions as to whether the U.S. mission in Iraq, the State Department and the Defense Department will get the support they need to create a real strategic partnership with Iraq. It is true that the U.S. 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 ability to threaten 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 U.S. 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 U.S. than Central and South Asia.
- While the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S.
The U.S. need for a strategic partnership with Iraq is also driven by two other factors: First, it does not matter where the U.S. gets its oil from on any given day. The U.S. competes on a world market driven by total world supply and pays world prices. If a crisis occurs in the Gulf, the U.S. will compete at the same increase in prices as every other importing nation. If world price rise on a longer-term basis, the U.S. will pay for the same increase, and if supplies are cut by a major conflict, the U.S. must share the oil left for import with other OECD states.
Second, the U.S. 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 U.S. Policy and Building a Strategic Partnership
The U.S. 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 U.S. intervention in Iraq and over the way U.S. aid and military operations have been handled since 2003. That said, there are many Iraqi officials and officers who have seen the U.S. work with Iraq to end the insurgency, have seen the U.S. rebuild Iraqi forces, and have seen successful aid programs.
The end of an active combat role by U.S. forces also does not mean that the U.S. cannot both aid Iraq and act to help protect it, if Iraq’s government makes such a request. U.S. forces will not leave Iraq before the end of 2011. There are now fewer U.S. troops in Iraq than in Afghanistan.
The core of the remaining troops consists 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 U.S. President approves.
The U.S. also cannot leave the Gulf. The President has not announced his future plans for USCENTCOM, but the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 forces can deter or defeat any conventional outside attack on Iraq if the U.S. and Iraq are truly committed to a strategic partnership. The U.S. 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 U.S. 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 will not only directly aid Iraq but will also help make Iraqi forces interoperable with key elements of U.S., Saudi, UAE, Kuwaiti, and other Southern Gulf forces.
This does, however, require a lasting U.S. commit to make a strategic partnership work, a strong U.S. presence in the Gulf after the U.S. withdraws its combat forces from Iraq, and a U.S. commitment to providing an advisory mission, Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programs, 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 State Department management than has take place in any country to date.
Moreover, a strategic partnership with the U.S. offers Iraq as much as it does the U.S. It will be at least half a decade before Iraq’s forces can defend Iraq from outside threats. U.S. arms transfers, aid, and security guarantees can offer Iraq security during that period. U.S. 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. U.S. training teams can continue to help Iraq build up all the elements of its security forces after U.S. withdrawal in 2012. U.S. 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 U.S. 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. It can also play a key role in showing Iraqis that there are strong economic reasons to avoid sectarian and ethnic tensions. A strong country team that combines a major embassy effort with consulates in Basra and Kirkuk and Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) can not only help in every aspect of development but can also provide a key diplomatic and civil effort to help Iraqis overcome their sectarian and ethnic tensions.
Defining exactly what level of U.S. 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 U.S. withdrawal or Congressional cutbacks in State Department and Defense Department 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:
Worse, the ongoing efforts within the State Department to develop effective reporting on Iraq for the future now risk losing their funding. 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:
This “quarterly” report covers both the civil and military side of events, but it is consistently months behind schedule and the latest version – due in early June, was finally released in September.
This reporting also looks backwards with almost no data on U.S. goals or plans for the future. It has recently been driven far more by a focus on U.S. troop withdrawals than a presentation of what the U.S. 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 U.S. will have in the region once U.S. combat forces leave Iraq. This has fueled a host of conspiracy theories in the Gulf that the U.S. 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 options are, and defuse hostile propaganda and conspiracy theories.
This case should present a clear plan for a long-term U.S. effort to work closely with the new Iraqi government to aid Iraq in both its civil and military development. 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.