Withdrawal from Iraq

Assessing the Readiness of Iraqi Security Forces

Iraq and the United States face a critical transition through 2011 and beyond. The awkward reality is that an Iraqi-U.S. failure to properly manage the U.S. withdrawal and the creation of effective Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) is as serious a threat to Iraq's future stability and security as any internal or external threat. Realism is a key to future success.

The improvement in ISF capabilities is very real, and Iraqi forces are experiencing growing success in combat. But they are still very much a work in progress, and many Iraqi and U.S. politicians still seem unaware of how much remains to be done. U.S. forces play a critical role in developing the effectiveness of the ISF, providing stability in areas with deep sectarian and ethnic tensions and helping Iraq achieve political accommodation and more effective governance.

Through detailed analyses of Iraqi force capabilities, augmented by on-site interviews with U.S. and Iraqi military officials, the authors conclude that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq needs to be conditions-based, not tied to political timelines. Both Iraqi and U.S. leaders need to be careful about exaggerating Iraqi capabilities and the speed with which the United States can safely withdraw its forces and advisory teams. Conditions for success include realistic and fully resourced plans for the ISF's development; candid and accurate measures of ISF capabilities; and careful assessments of the overall level of security, stability, and political accommodation in Iraq.

After years of destructive conflict, Iraq now has the chance, however tenuous, to become a stable and prosperous country. The United States, say the authors, will be judged far more by the way it leaves and what it leaves behind than by the way it entered and how it fought the counterinsurgency campaign.

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy

Adam Mausner