Recent Trends in the Iraq War

The war in Iraq may be winding down but it is scarcely over. Iraq is still the scene of major attacks on ongoing violence.  Equally important, Iraq is still far from political stability, faces major problems in political accommodation, and must both conduct a major election and develop far more effective patterns of governance. Iraq must take the lead in these efforts and shape its own destiny, but it has not had stable or effective governance for more than half a century, and only began to emerge from some four decades of external and internal conflict in 2009.

Iraq needs help in developing an economy that is now grossly overdependent on oil export revenues. Iraq has great potential, but decades of suffering have reduced Iraq to a global ranking of 162nd in per capita income while neighbors like Kuwait rank 6th in the world and Qatar ranks 2nd. Iraq is also under tremendous demographic pressure. Its population was only 6.8 million in 1960, but the total rose to 19.6 million in 1995, and is 28.9 million today. Even though the US Census Bureau projects a significant cut in the future rate of population growth, it still projects that Iraq will have 40.4 million people in 2025, and 56.3 million in 2050.

The current security situation in Iraq is summarized in a new report entitled “Recent Trends in the Iraq War” which is available on the CSIS web site at:

This reports shows that Iraq has made major progress in many areas, but still faces critical challenges. It will be at least five years before Iraq can develop the kind of economy it needs, achieve stable security and political accommodation, and create a fully effective mix of governance and rule of law. In practice, it is probably far more realistic to think of 2020 than 2015, or the completion of US troop withdrawals by the end of 2011.

The key to a successful US policy will be to establish an enduring strategic partnership that can help Iraq make progress. This must involve continuing US support in helping Iraq  deal with the underlying causes of ethnic and sectarian tension in Iraq,  in helping Iraq create an effective government and strong security forces, and in helping Iraq make the structural changes in its economy necessary to use its potential oil wealth to help all of its people.

The US can only establish a successful strategic partnership with Iraq if the US creates the right kind of proactive country team, rather than seeks to return to a largely passive “traditional embassy.” A successful strategic partnership requires the State Department to create strong consulates and replacements for key Provincial Reconstruction Teams. It requires the Department of Defense to create an equally strong and effective equivalent of the US Military Training Mission that has played a major role in helping nations like Saudi Arabia.

Above all, it requires the US to be ready to work with the newly elected government in Iraq to develop joint plans for a strategic partnership over at least the next five years, and Congressional understanding that this may involve significant aid until Iraq’s new petroleum production capacity comes on line.

Such US action is critical to creating a strategic bulwark to Iran and limit Iranian influence in Iraq. It is critical to creating a stable Iraq and one that achieves lasting political accommodation and democracy. It is critical to developing Iraq’s petroleum sector and to ensuring the successful flow of energy exports that is critical to the US and global economy. If the Obama Administration, the Congress and the American people are unprepared to face these realities, they not only will waste all of the sacrifices made since 2003, they will turn a major potential strategic asset into a critical strategic liability.

The full range of challenges Iraq faces, and the best way to establish a US strategic partnership with Iraq,  are explored in  great depth in a draft CSIS book entitled “IRAQ: CREATING A STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP,” which is available on the CSIS web site at:

This draft describes why the US must play an active role in helping Iraq long beyond the withdrawal of US forces by the end of 20l1. It outlines both the nature of the of civil aid that is required, and the need for a strong US military advisory team and continued US military assistance.

It is clear, however, that the situation in Iraq is in rapid flux, and any such analysis must be revised to reflect the results of both the Iraq election, and Iraq's success in creating an effective new government. As a result, this report will be revised before being completed and issued as a CSIS book in the spring. Accordingly, the authors would be most grateful for comments and corrections. Please provide them to Anthony H. Cordesman at, or to  Adam Mausner at