Iraq: Security and the Challenges of Lasting "Victory"
October 26, 2009
The Changing Challenge to Iraqi Security
There is no victory in Iraq as yet. The bombings on August 19th and October 25th are parts of a pattern that give us a grim warning that Iraq still faces major challenges at virtually every level. The problem is not just security and the continuing struggle against extremists and insurgent elements. It is a struggle for political accommodation that can bring lasting stability to Sunni and Shi’ite relations, and to relations between Arab, Kurd, and other minorities.
It is a struggle for effective governance, economic security and development, and to create something approaching a rule of law. It is also a struggle to find a workable approach to revitalizing Iraq’s petroleum sector, which is its only near term way of financing the Iraqi state, and creating the patterns of investment that can both develop the country and help unify it. It is a struggle to find security in dealing with neighbors like Iran, Syria, and Turkey, and to create a strategic partnership between Iraq and the United States that serves both countries without compromising Iraqi sovereignty.
The human costs of violence in Iraq are all too high, but they are symptoms and not the disease. There is still a serious enough AQI and other Sunni insurgent presence in areas like Ninewa and Mosul to pose major challenges. “Terrorist attacks” are not signs of desperation, but a well calculated strategy to attack Iraq at its weakest points: its sectarian and ethnic fracture lines, the gaps in its developing security forces, and divided and uncertain support for Prime minister Maliki and its central government. At the same time, they are ways to limit a foreign presence and investment, attack key government ministries and offices, do lasting damage to highly visible symbols like bridges, and attack Iraqi forces and local officials. They allow severely weakened insurgent movements to claim “victories” that attract global media attention, and raise funds. They demonstrate all too clearly that violent elements like AQI/ISI, FREs, Special Groups and other threats will continue to pose a challenge at some level even after the US withdraws its forces in 2011.
Violence has been sharply reduced in spite of such attacks – which to some extent exploit the fact that maintaining a security net to protect government and civil centers is almost impossible in a country as large and diverse as Iraq, and where society must be able to move with considerable freedom simply to function. It is a way for insurgents to wage asymmetric warfare with inferior forces and in spite of serious losses to both its leadership cadres and its forces in the field. Mass casualties and body counts can be inflicted sporadically with a few large bombing incidents – which can be timed and clustered to have maximum impact with minimum risk of failure -- and still capture the attention of both the Iraqi public and the world.
Each attack discredits the Maliki government in ways that bear little proportion to the overall strength of the insurgency, and tend to push it towards attacking “Ba’athists” in broader terms that at least indirectly include more Sunnis. They highlight the fact Iraq’s barrier defenses have been weakened and Iraqi forces are less effective than those maintained by the US, and trigger new rounds of mutual accusations and anger. No one can predict whether some especially gruesome incident will trigger wider sectarian and ethnic violence and reprisals. The end result is a war of political attrition that undermines the government both domestically and in terms of international support. Embassies and NGOs are frightened and may leave, investors and visitors do not come, neighboring nations question Iraq’s stability, and media coverage makes every new body count a symbol.
This strategy highlights the need for the US to pay the same close attention to Iraq that it pays to Afghanistan. The US needs to seek lasting victory in both cases, and the last thing it needs to do is lose two wars for the price of one. At a minimum, the US needs to tailor its withdrawal from Iraq in ways that give an Iraqi-US strategic partnership real meaning, and ensure the US takes every step necessary to develop fully effective Iraqi security forces, and give them the advisors and direct and indirect military support they need and request.
The US must not try to stay in Iraq as an occupier or halt its troop reductions; Iraq is on a highly nationalist path to sovereignty that the US must fully respect. At the same time, help with intelligence, airpower, “enabling” specialized US military capabilities and a wide range of other assistance can help Iraqi forces make the transition to full effectiveness and do more damage to the remaining insurgents. Being as visible as Iraq wants the US to be can deliver the message that the Iraqi government cannot be defeated and will have the time it needs to succeed. Letting the Iraqi government visibly lead the strategic partnership, but providing rapid reaction aid can be equally critical.
The Kurdish Challenge
The US must also, however, look beyond the challenges of insurgent and terrorist violence, and give the civil side of its strategic partnership at least the same priority. Insurgent bombings must not be allowed to distract either the Iraqi government or the US from dealing with the fact that the most critical challenges to Iraqi security are Iraq's political divisions and ethnic and sectarian tensions. Visits to Iraq and a wide range of news reports show that finding a stable solution to Arab-Kurdish relations, and to solving the problems created by the disputed areas in the north are critical to Iraq's future. It is clear that tensions between Arabs and Kurds are rising, and that patience is wearing thin on both sides.
Arab-Kurdish tensions in Ninewa and Kirkuk, and throughout the disputed areas are symbols of an explosive situation that is going to require an extraordinary diplomatic effort by the US and UN. They will at least require years of careful attention by steadily declining US forces to do everything possible to minimize clashes that could escalate far beyond the intent of either side.
The Kurds will need a sustained US diplomatic and military effort to persuade them to be realistic, to look beyond history and geography, and see beyond the gains they made during the period immediately after 2003 because the Arab side at that time was so weak. They need to accept practical compromises and do so as quickly as possible, before a new legacy of tension and anger makes such compromise steadily more difficult.
Iraqi Arabs need a similar ongoing effort to persuade them to pay more attention to achieving national unity, rather than exploiting the Kurdish issue to score domestic political points in their own internal power struggles or focusing on Arab identity to the exclusion of national unity. They need to remember that the Kurds have legitimate reason to seek some degree of autonomy, to focus on the protections offered by the constitution, and to want Iraqi Security Forces to be structured in a way that gives the Kurds some guarantee of security and ensures that Kurdish officers have a fair share of command.
The Sectarian Challenge
At the same time, Sunni-Shi'ite tensions still pose serious challenges. Most Iraqi Arabs seem fed up with violence and extremism. They want peace, good government, development, and progress. Iraqi Arab politics, however, threaten to divide Iraqis along lines of sectarian and regional interest. The struggle to win the coming national election already has primacy, and it is clear that serious tensions exist between Prime Minister Maliki and other key elements of Iraq’s political structure.
Significant numbers of both Sunni and Shi’ite Arabs distrust what they see as Maliki's effort to expand his power and political support at the expense of Sunnis, and what they see as a form of de-Baathifcation that sharply favors Shi'ites while continuing to limit or push out Sunnis from both the government and ISF. Shi'ites made it clear that they fear the resurgence of both elements in both politics and the ISF.
These problems are compounded by the internal fragmentation of Sunni and Shi'ite politics at every level. There still are no Sunni political parties that have demonstrated that they can speak for Sunnis at the national level, and the past Shi'ite coalition is fragmenting along pro and anti-Maliki lines. This could lead to local violence, and trigger tensions within the Shi'ites and Sunnis that could suddenly flare up into major violence.
The US Response
The question then arises as to what, if anything, the US can do beyond the continuing political effort that the country team already has underway to halt such internal domestic conflicts before they begin. Iraq is now sovereign, and many forms of military intervention can do as much or more harm than good.
One answer – although it may be unpopular in Washington – lies in carefully targeted aid. The US should not phase out aid too quickly in the areas with ethnic and sectarian fault lines. Limited amounts of aid can be used to enhance dialog, try to bridge differences, and lever the kind of positive action that can bring various sides together. The Embassy needs the resources and flexibility to use such tools quickly and flexibly, and to enhance negotiations as well as to provide more conventional types of aid. The Administration and the Congress need to understand that the past mistakes in the aid effort, and current financial pressures, are not a rationale for cutting aid so quickly and so severely that it jeopardizes all that has been accomplished since the beginning of the surge.
As for the US military, it needs to make use of every possible intelligence asset in order to be able to avoid clashes between elements of the ISF and other factions. The key, however, lies in military assistance. There is tremendous pressure to downsize such US efforts as part of US withdrawals, but there are still be good reasons to keep the military advisory and aid effort at higher levels than are currently planned, and to give these efforts more focus on healing Iraq’s internal divisions as distinguished from dealing with its security problems. Our visits made it clear that some of this effort is already underway, but added CERP and other military aid could be used to reduce these tensions and help keep ISF development on track in critical areas - as well as to help bridge over the impact of Iraq's current budget crisis and provide US advisers with leverage by incentivizing the ISF to use its own resources effectively.
Arab-Kurdish tensions must continue to be a central focus of both US diplomatic and military attention –although the US must work quietly through the country team in Iraq to persuade and not interfere or appear to try to dictate. The US is already making efforts to try to keep the ISF from becoming polarized along Arab-Kurd lines, but these efforts may need added assets, and the US may need to rethink past plans in supporting the expansion of the Iraqi Army.
The plan to create largely Kurdish 15th and 16th Divisions presents financial and political problems, but some form of this option, and other efforts to integrate the Pesh Merga as much as possible into the boarder structure of Iraqi security forces, are still highly desirable. Having largely Kurdish forces within the Iraqi Army still seems a good way to integrate a Pesh Merga that now totals nearly 190,000 men into a smaller force that is both national and offers the Kurds some degree of security. The US might also consider making it clear that the level of US military aid and assistance will vary with the degree to which Kurdish officers are not pushed out of senior command positions and Kurds are integrated into all of the elements of the ISF.
More broadly, US military advisory teams and aid provide a powerful tool in trying to prevent the ethnic and sectarian polarization of the ISF, and in making it both a national and professional entity. It may be tempting to downsize this effort too quickly, to eliminate or reduce aid too much, or to focus on securing withdrawal. But the US must resist this temptation. It should seek to maintain as strong a military aid effort as possible through 2011, and to institutionalize such an effort in 2012 and beyond. It is clear in talking to members of the ISF that most senior Iraqi officers want such aid and recognize that it is needed. It is also clear that Iraqi officers do see the need for a national, rather than polarized, ISF and that working with them can be a powerful force in developing Iraqi unity.
Planning for the Longer Term and Emerging Risks, Not Just For Withdrawal
Iran and Afghanistan are both warnings that elections can create more problems than they solve and that it is the quality of governance – how well governments actually serve their people – that is the true test of legitimacy. The delays in the Iraqi election law, and in showing the Iraqi people and the world that the coming national election will be both honest and on time – are as much a threat to Iraq as the insurgent attacks and bombings.
Both the country team and Washington need to react to the "threat" posed by a combination of Iraqi politics, remaining internal tensions, and a combination of economic and budgetary pressures interacting with internal rivalries and rising expectations. Rather than a worst-case revival of violence, the US may face an election whose results are as divisive as they are unifying, pressures to make the Prime Minister a "president" or strong man, or a government too divided to be effective.
There is also some risk that the election will coincide with a "perfect storm" in the form of a continuing budget crisis and limited oil export income, the phase out of significant grant aid, problems in the quality of government services and budget execution, and the natural desire of Iraqis to improve their lives after years of violence and poverty. The US must be ready for this. It must have contingency plans to help with delays in the election; any problems in conducting it and forming an effective government afterwards; and responding to the kinds of short-term aid and actions that support Iraqi efforts to move towards political accommodation.
If the election does move Iraq towards successful governance, unity, and development, the key to future US success will increasingly be diplomacy and civil programs, not the use of the US military or the ISF. It is critical, however, that we explicitly plan for other contingencies, and do not prematurely see the election as anything other than one more uncertain milestone in a process that will take a decade or so to complete. We need to preserve a sense of urgency in executing both our civil and military efforts well beyond 2011.
The key US mission is not “responsible withdrawal” or to put the Iraqis in the “lead” -- important as these elements of the US mission are. It is for the US country team to plan and execute a joint civil-military effort – or “campaign plan” -- to cover the period up to 2011 and beyond that determines how the US can best help create as strong and independent an Iraq as possible and one that makes Iraq a strategic partner that serves both its people and the broader need to bring security and stability to the Gulf.
The recent bombings should be a wake up call to both US policy makers in Washington, and Iraqi political and security leaders at every level, that here will be nothing but "critical" periods for the US military advisory effort between now and the end of 2011 -- and for some years beyond. The ISF transition to both domestic peacetime security and rule of law and to being able to defend the country against foreign threats will require as much help as we can possible give them. This also is not a task we can dodge by claiming premature success or shifting the burden to NATO or any other allies. Either the US side of the effort will succeed, or the Iraqi side will fail. Our sustained success in Iraq will hinge on how well the US replaces massive US forces with an effective and lasting US advisory effort and continuing military aid once US combat forces are withdrawn.
This makes it critical to avoid focusing too much on managing the withdrawal of US forces, and the tasks we face if everything goes according to plan. The US must have a good a set of contingency plans and options for dealing with serious crises -- particularly because our ability to intervene and US leverage will steadily diminish with time as our forces drop and Iraqi politics dominate events.
Looking at Individual Aspects of the US Aid Effort
Some additional suggestions are:
- Ensure the flow of CERP/quick reaction civil aid: Special attention is needed to continuing flexible, immediate aid. The cuts in major infrastructure and development aid should not deprive the PRTs, AI Brigades, and civil aid effort of pools of funds to make things work, incentivize Iraqis to do things on their own and provide a quick fix to capability development. It was not clear what the post FY2009 aid plan would really be and whether sustained funding would be provided to transition from military to civil programs through 2010 and beyond. An integrated aid plan and funding profile seems to be needed.
- Establish plans for multiyear aid funding. A successful US effort will need Congressional and public support for civil and military aid efforts that require continuity. The Country team needs to make it clear that such efforts are needed, make a case for why they are needed and that they will need steady updating. This does not have to mean an OMB approved set of numbers or a specific request to Congress. It does mean making it clear that some aid, seed money, leveraged military aid and help in equipment sales will be needed.
- Ensure Iraq does not try to sustain too large and too costly a mix of ISF forces, and sets goals that can create a supportable security force. I was impressed with MNSTC-I's understanding of the need to provide continuity of effort, and size force goals and levels to what Iraq could actually afford and support. A number of the Iraqi officers we talked to also understood this.
Other Iraqis, however, still seem to have overambitious goals. Moreover, the total size of the MoD and MoI security forces is now headed towards 800,000 in a country where this pool of men -- particularly literate and fairly skilled men, makes up a significant percentage of the labor force. Iraq needs forces large enough to consolidate victory and security first, but as MNSTC-I fades out and the AA Brigades come in, the US advisory team will need to carefully address how to reduce force quantity and sustain critical areas of force quality while eliminating key gaps in support and enablers.
- Do not downsize the PRT effort too quickly or end it too soon. The PRT effort is being radically restructured. However these changes seem more tailored towards force reductions than towards creating a clear plan for what the aid effort should be in the field, or how it should be shaped after the election in early 2010 and the US withdrawal in 2011. A clear long-term plan for manning and supporting the US advisory effort needs to be developed.
The Need for a Stronger Civilian Effort
To succeed, the State Department has to show that it can become as operational in dealing with the Iraqi government as the US military, and clearly take the lead as US forces phase out of Iraq. The country team is in the process of drafting plans to make this possible, but there is still the risk that there may be too much focus on the near term deadlines like withdrawal from the cities and the elections and too little focus on the coming years. The US needs to plan the future beyond the withdrawal from the cities and the election that will be required, or to the need to actively support immediate steps to reduce the economic and budget pressures on Iraq.
It needs a cohesive strategy and plan to handle the transition to building up effective governance once the national election takes place, or a cohesive effort to push Iraq towards the level of economic reform and progress necessary to bring about stability and development. The civilian side of US efforts must not focus on pursuing individual programs or efforts, sometimes in a stovepiped form. It must look beyond was creating immediate jobs, building up capability in particular areas, project aid, and monetary policy. It must pay equal attention to achieving the broader results necessary to ensure that Iraq could move towards successful government services and a more modern economy.
Important as terrorism and the insurgent threat is, the US must focus on the overall search for security and stability in Iraq, and the country team and US government must find the best way to help Iraq deal with the following issues:
- Regardless of oil prices, Iraq needs to do everything possible to increase oil production and exports as soon as possible. Iraqi politics and Iraqi needs will put constant pressure on the budget for at least the next decade, and Iraq has an urgent need for high levels of oil export revenue. Iraq must do far more to meet civilian needs, and at the same time it will have to fund the development of the ISF. There is only one possible source of money: rapid rehabilitation and expansion of the petroleum sector.
The US must focus on this need, rather than simply Iraq’s oil laws and oil politics. It is unclear that the US has a clear strategy for moving things forward and for doing everything possible to get foreign investment into Iraq as quickly as possible. The US must persuade Iraqis that this is in their best interest and must show outside companies that they would have proper security and legal support.
As for the Iraqis, it is unclear that they have a realistic picture of what it takes to make a venture attractive. They must provide the security necessary to reduce risks and help companies deal with the Iraqi people and local interests in ways that ensure suitable progress. The Iraqis we met tended to talk about the right to make market driven oil deals, but then revert to asking for US government pressure to make companies invest. They also focused on the size of the prize, rather than creating the real world conditions that lead to investment.
- Set defined goals and actions to get laws and practices in place. A slow process of reform may be more politically acceptable, but the question arises as to whether it will meet the needs Iraq faces during 2010-2012. Once again, Iraqis also seem to confuse desire and the size of the prize with real world prospects for major investment. There seems to be more urgency than either side currently is responding to.
Iraq may need aid to understand the real world margins, conditions, and incentives necessary to encourage investment and develop the private sector. Showing them models of how ventures actually work, and the present level of comparative Iraqi incentives and disincentives, and then regularly reporting on Iraqi progress might help bring these economic realities home.
- Emphasize agricultural reform, water, and related needs for power. Today’s Iraqi efforts involved, however, seemed fragmented and often shaped around project level efforts as ways of leading by example. Iraq's agricultural problems, however, are deep structural problems. They need large-scale action and reform, and detailed economic analysis and planning.
Given the scale of Iraq's agricultural problems, its labor needs, and its import problems, there seems to be a need for a clear analysis of what can be done in national agricultural reform and how best to move Iraq forward more quickly. The broader question, however, will be how to help Iraq develop a far more comprehensive and realistic understanding of what it can and cannot do.
The US must aid Iraq to develop and revitalize its agricultural sector as well as make it competitive with imports (and deal with Iranian dumping). Furthermore Iraq needs to learn how to honestly assess the impact of population growth relative to efficiency, and look at water and irrigation problems at both the national level and in terms of the probable increased use of water by upstream countries.
Iraq must not fall into the trap of focusing on limited gains rather than structural reform, and repeat the mistake aid efforts have made in so many other countries by focusing on agricultural potential (the bread basket fallacy) instead of real world possibilities. One option would be to have the World Bank make such an assessment. Another would be a sustained US aid project that funded such planning with a combination of Iraqi officials, agricultural experts, and farmers – supported by US, and outside expertise -- to ensure that Iraqis are vested in the effort.
- Revitalize the industrial sector as well. The State Owned Enterprises seem to be the best platform for both job creation and giving current state employment a meaningful degree of productivity. OSD has made a beginning here, but it is unclear that it will be sustained or move towards significant lasting success. Similarly, as privatization moves forward, and increases in scale, the advisory and planning effort that looks beyond the small and medium enterprise level is critical. The US can help Iraq develop a much clearer plan to encourage proper use of the SOEs and success for larger-scale SMEs, and to ensure that modernizing the SOEs has suitably high priority.
Make major infrastructure investments, and provide the better government planning and services that are a critical part of this effort. US aid will not be large enough to will fund suitable efforts in this area. The US may, however, be able to help the GoI in developing the plans needed in future years and make this part of the JCP. It should consider steps like creating a joint Iraqi-world Bank effort that could now take advantage of Iraq’s improved security to do the accurate survey work lacking in the past, look at Iraq’s real world options given its income and options for capital spending, and develop regularly updated studies that could be the basis for Iraqi government action and US and other outside aid. As is the case in so many aspects of Iraqi development, and steps that can bring lasting political accommodation, there needs to be a reliable basis for judging what is needed and possible.
Improve the overall quality and capacity of government services. This need will increase significantly once Iraq shifts from election politics to actual governance. The US needs to develop detailed plans and options for aiding
Iraq in these areas, and in the form of an integrated and properly prioritized approach versus a series of useful individual but only partly coordinated efforts.
- Help improve police performance and link it to broader improvements in the rule of law. Progress is now reaching the point where police performance increasingly needs to be directly linked to the presence of an effective court and detention system and enforcement of civil law. Plans are needed to cover the transition from stability operations to a true civilian rule of law that focus on the need to transition from the Iraqi Army to the Iraqi Police in providing day-to-day security and from CI/CT to a more normal rule of law. It was not clear, however, that there was an integrated plan to tie together the civil and military efforts and fund the proper rule of law effort from 2010 onwards. The Iraqi Army and paramilitary police forces will need US help and in advice in finding the best way to hand responsibilities over to the civil police and civil justice system.
There is useful effort going on in each of these areas. The challenge seems to be to make these efforts much more cohesive, go from concepts and projects to a clear overall strategy supported by workable plans that can be reshaped according to the realities of Iraqi politics, oil prices, etc. More broadly, there needs to be a consistent effort to move beyond both the past military focus on stability and security and the past problems in the US and international aid effort to a clear shift to a cohesive State Department-led effort that can take over from the military during 2010-2011 and sustain itself into the future.
- Reassess the role of the US in assisting the rule of law effort. The US needs to focus helping Iraqis improve how they do things their way instead of continuing to try to pressure them into doing it our way. The reality is that a HUMINT and confessions-based system of civil law has been effective in much of the Arab world where governments have not bypassed it or ignored the procedures necessary to protect human rights. Such systems can be improved through the use of "evidence-based" techniques, but it is far from clear that the US should seek to replace most of the existing system. Human rights complaints have correctly focus on the past abuse of the State security system and special security courts, rather than the normal process of civil justice, and the US needs to focus more on key reforms -- particularly in the civil areas where new laws and legal practices will be critical to successful Iraqi economic development and foreign investment.
Legal efforts to eliminate all corruption and the black economy, rather than restrict it to functional levels, will be pointless and impractical. The US needs to focus on essentials, and not on trying to create a mirror image that largely ignores our own problems in dealing with evidence based criminal justice and different forms of corruption. This does not mean that helping Iraq move towards evidence-based forensics and reducing corruption is not helpful, but again, the goal should be to improve and not change the system.
- Focus development on regional and sectoral economic efforts that serve all sectarian and ethnic groups. Iraq must avoid development efforts that focus on nationwide efforts that ignore the very real differences between given regions and sectors of the economy, and ignore the differences and inequalities in income between areas, sects, and ethnic groups. Planners need to look at the true scale of the employment problem, what is really happening in the petroleum sector, progress with SOEs and SMEs, progress in investment, problems with infrastructure and water, the nature of problems in agriculture, etc.
It is the human impact of Iraqi economics, not gross statistics, which will determine stability. It is progress by sector that will determine development. It is ensuring that budgets and development are spread throughout the various regions and across Iraqi fracture lines that will determine much of the progress towards political conciliation. It is time to eliminate the word "reconstruction" as a focus in development efforts. This never made much sense. The goal should always have been stability and development for Iraq’s young and growing population, not meeting the standards of Saddam’s 2003.
The Use of Venture Analysis
One key tool that might help Iraq move forward in the petroleum, industrial, and agricultural sectors is to go beyond the conventional project focus of aid, and concern with Iraq’s financial stability, and help Iraq see its future in terms of business models that show it how to compete in a global economy.
This is not the place to examine the illusions that shape Iraq’s initial bid round in seeking foreign investment in its petroleum sector in detail. It is clear, however, that Iraq does not yet fully understand the mix of laws, security, profitability, and return on investment necessary to ensure that either Iraqi firms or foreign investors will act as quickly and decisively as possible to give Iraq the added petroleum income it so desperately needs. As is the case with so much of the Gulf, Iraq still fears neocolonialism and seeks to control all foreign investment, but it must not focus on the size of the prize but rather on the Iraqi actions necessary for Iraq to get the outside support it needs.
This is too sensitive an area for the US or any outside power to try to teach Iraq what it should do. It is also an area where Iraqi expertise is critical, and where enough Iraqis need to be involved in any analysis so it has credibility in Iraqi terms. One option would be the World Bank, but another would be to bring together Iraqi academic and business expertise with help from other Arab oil companies like ARAMCO, add a mix of experts from foreign oil companies to develop business models based on real world conditions that were transparent and to show Iraqis and outside investors alike what can and cannot work.
These same techniques can be applied separately to key aspects of Iraqi SOEs and options for developing private industries that go beyond the small and medium enterprise stage. As is suggested earlier, they could also be applied to key aspects of Iraqi agricultural development.
Focusing on the Strategic Agreement
No one can visit Iraq without seeing just how dedicated the country team is to building Iraq’s future at a time when many Americans are turning away from US investment in Iraq as if the task was simply how to leave. The recent bombings should be a wake up call to a broader range of US policymakers in the Administration and the Congress that the US will be judged far more by the way its leaves Iraq, and by what its leaves behind, than by the way it entered Iraq and fought the counterinsurgency campaign. The US goal should be to create an Iraq that is both fully independent and secure. This means creating a form of strategic partnership that can contain Iran without provoking it.
The US will need to sustain the kind of relations with Iraq that can help build a nation that is wealthy and secure enough to prevent further crises with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. It should fully understand that victory in Iraq means helping Iraqis create a nation that bridges over the sectarian tensions in the Arab world, rather than becomes another source of extremism or becomes a proxy to Iran or any other power. We need an Iraq that can reassure the Arab Sunni states, rather than lead to regional struggles between them and Iran in order to win influence over Iraq's Sunnis and Shi'ites.
Both the diplomatic and military sides of the US country team already put the proper focus on these issues and on making the Strategic Agreement a central part of US policy, rather than simply focusing on "responsible withdrawal." It is not clear, however, that there is the same understanding in Washington that the Strategic Agreement is not simply a cover for US withdrawal, but a way of shaping US relations with Iraq that can help develop a strong and independent nation in the Gulf.
A successful implementation of the Strategic Agreement is also vital to creating a new and critical source of increased oil exports, as well as providing the revenues to both improve the lives of Iraqis and provide the financial "glue" that can help unify them. It is vital to bringing stability to a part of the Gulf that has been a source of conflict and tension ever since 1979.
These are critical US national strategic objectives. Nothing the US can do to improve its own energy independence is likely to have a major macroeconomic effect on domestic US energy consumption before 2030, and the US will then be steadily more dependent on a global economy that is increasingly dependent on Gulf energy exports. Accordingly, we need to forge effective plans for a State Department-led, integrated civil-military effort. We also need the Administration and the Congress to focus on the successful implementation of the Strategic Agreement in ways that aid Iraq while clearly showing Iraqis that we recognize that Iraq is firmly in control of its own destiny. This may well mean a major US diplomatic, aid, and military assistance effort through 2020 and beyond. This will take continuing human and financial resources and high level policy attention. It definitely does not mean declaring victory and leaving Iraq behind.