Two Ways to Think About Iraq
By Shawn Brimley
Having spent a little time in Iraq last month (with my co-bloggers and colleagues Colin and John), I was extremely impressed with the security gains there, but came away very concerned about how sustainable they are absent more political progress.
I won't rehash all the arguments over why I feel this way (pieces in Foreign Policy, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times give a good overview of our trip and impressions), but I've come to believe that there are basically two different ways most analysts view the situation in Iraq.
First, there are those who feel that the most important variable in Iraq is the strength and cohesiveness of the Iraq's Security Forces. Over the last five years, the US military has labored to re-build Iraq's Army after Paul Bremer made the colossal error of disbanding it after the invasion. Billions and billions have been spent, and it appears as though the Iraqi Security Forces are finally beginning to stand on their own. Recent operations in Basra, Sadr City, and elsewhere have shown promising signs that Iraq may be able to largely take care of its internal security problems in the next few years. There is still a very long way to go, and U.S. support remains critical, as John pointed out. However, some analysts seem to believe that as long as the U.S. continues to support the Iraqi Security Forces, that the path to sustainable security in Iraq is basically assured. I disagree with this view.
Second, there are analysts (like myself) who feel that no amount of support to Iraq's security forces will lead to sustainable security absent more fundamental political accommodation in Iraq. The history of counterinsurgency -- and of war more broadly -- tells me that these conflicts are inherently and fundamentally about politics. More specifically, the recent history of the so-called "surge" in Iraq tells me that while more troops and a better counterinsurgency strategy were very important, just as critical to the reduction in violence were political decisions by Sunni tribal leaders to enter into a temporary alliance with U.S. forces against Al Qaeda in Iraq. This decision was made in 2006 (well before the so-called "surge") and General Petraeus and many military commanders deserve a lot of credit for recognizing what was happening and adapting on the fly. Today there are nearly 100,000 armed security volunteers called the "Sons of Iraq," or SOI. When we entered into this alliance with them, we promised to eventually integrate them into Iraq's uniformed security forces or help them find civilian employment. During my recent trip it was made clear to me by both US officials and Iraqis with knowledge of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's thinking, that the Iraqi government has absolutely no intention of helping us fulfill the promises we made.
I think supporting and training the Irarqi Security Forces is critically important, but it is an illusion to believe that they will be able to maintain security if we, yet again, turn our backs on tens of thousands of angry Sunni men by not fulfilling our promises to the "Sons of Iraq."
Regardless of where you stand on the war, it is very important to not discount the inherently political nature of the conflict. Sustainable security in Iraq requires political accommodation of a kind that we haven't seen and aren't likely to see from the Maliki government - this has me worried about the prospects for a resurgence in violence. This will likely be the number one issue facing General Ray Odierno when he takes command of U.S. forces in Iraq next week.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Charles Gittings | September 11, 2008 5:57 PM
Posted by: J Ayers | September 12, 2008 3:36 AM
Posted by: bakir | September 12, 2008 8:43 AM
Posted by: C Dragon5 | September 13, 2008 1:43 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.