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.

By |  September 11, 2008; 2:43 PM ET  | Category:  Counterinsurgency , Iraq
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The only thing that is important for the United States in Iraq is TO LEAVE. It's been nothing but a complete waste of time, money, and lives from the start.

Posted by: Charles Gittings | September 11, 2008 5:57 PM

The American soldier has always stood in harms way so others can live. We waited too long to help millions in Nazi Germany but we went. We left children starving in Somalia but we tried. We let down the Afghan fighters who ask for our help and we paid the price. Have we forgotten our allies in OUR war of independence? We needed help. Are we so vain to believe we do not need anyone now? We must help the starving, work to avoid genocide or our country will fall like Rome.

Posted by: J Ayers | September 12, 2008 3:36 AM

.i would like to summerise few point for mrshawn to understand the complex iraqi problem which could be easily missed on trevial visit rather than living the country & its history ;First-bremer didnot disband the iraqi army ,the iraqi army disband itself because this army built for one purpose & that is to protect its tyrant from its people,most of the officers are frome sadam tribe & this is how he mantained control on the contry & it dosnt have the loyalty to its country & people.2.this is not insurgency these are the same sadam apparatus who are fighting for lost previlege,prestige & power ,and bringig them back to power we will be back to sequare one ,bringing opression & genoside aparatus.solution:1-give them jobes they love money,if they come back to power it will be true genoside to the people in the south and the kurds,2-iraq needs time for its wounds to heal,since this policy of supporting and training the iraqi army,is working,taking gradual responsobility together with gradual withdrawl,and gradual rebuilding the country which is destroyed by sadam baathist apparatus,the troubled baghdad and sunny areas will prosper,by the way the south and kurdish areas are prospering.if you neeads any info about the political history of iraq from the time of noah it is my pleasure to provide you with that.

Posted by: bakir | September 12, 2008 8:43 AM

The plain simple fact of the matter is that we went in on a lie and were unable to fact the simple fact that when any country gets invaded, and let's us be honest here, we did invade Iraq, the natural reaction is to set up a resistance movement to drive the invaders out. branding as insugents, terrorists, thugs, and criminals people who just wanted thier country back, made a hash out of what was already a bad situation. No most of the people did not like Sadam Husein, but neither did they apreciate some bigger country stomping into their land and telling then, "You will have the kind of government we say, and it will be friendly to us, or else." This is what opened the door for Real terrorists, which as loathsome as Sadam Husien was, he did keep out of his country.
Putting godd old boys in authority over there didn't help either. Scince when was being in the same Frat. ever any kind of measure of an ability to handle any government posting, much less one governing a recently conquored forein nation. It might have helped if the US troop had had the proper attitude and not gone stomping around grabbing people for no apparent reason, just because they looked unhappy to see US soldiers. Also after yelping about Husein torturing his own people in Abugrape, it was hardly the best move to do the same thing, thus undercutting the argument over why we were there. Bombing Faluga into ruble after first taking over the one civilian hospital so those there would not be able to spread "propaganda" i.e. the truth, like they did during the fist attack on Faluga, just made US troops look like the same as what they just gotten rid of in 2003. It might have gone a long way, and saved several families getting shot at checkpoints, not the best way to win hearts and mind, if US soldiers had simply bothered to learn the Arabic for "Stop" before going.
But then again this palyed into the attitude that the United States is the biggest most powerful country in the world and we are going to make other countries do what we think they need to do in our best interst, because we can and there is nothing anyone else can do to stop us. Newsflash! We are not the only country that matters and we have to live on the planet with everyone else. A child in Elementary School can figure that out, why can't the current administration?
Answer: Take a look at who's in the current administraion; the same ones who thought belonging to the same Frat. as the boss was propper criteria for hiring people for the occupational authority.
In the end we are faced with some plain simple facts:
1. No government came rule with the consent of at least 51% of the governed. One way or another there will be and Iraqi government chosen by at least 51% of the Iraqi people.
2. That governement may not be friendly to the United States. But it would be shear folly and a collosal waste of Humanity and resources to try and stay there just to prop a government up that the people don't want simply because it will obey the United States in all things.
3. We do not have unlimited resources and Iraq does have the surplus and resourses, but are going to have to be forcded to use them. They will continue to operated their government on our dime for as long as the US government lets them.
4. Sooner or later we are goign to have to let the Iraqi people sort this out for themselves. it will not be pretty and many will get hurt. But staying there will just prolong the inevitable and cost even more lives and destuction than this sorting which will be painful, but quick.

Posted by: C Dragon5 | September 13, 2008 1:43 PM

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