The Iraqi security forces were always America's ticket out of Iraq, so after many early disappointments, U.S. military leaders built the forces in their own image.
The ISF that the U.S. left behind in 2011 numbered nearly 350,000 soldiers and police, exercised in state-of-the-art training centers, and drew support from reformed civilian Ministries of Defense (army) and Interior (police). The Iraqi Special Operations Forces that conducted counterterrorism missions each night alongside their U.S. counterparts were considered the best in the Arab world. In a region long dominated by the struggle for power between secular military dictators and Islamist tyrants, the ISF were painstakingly designed over nearly a decade and at a cost to the United States of more than $25 billion to be a game-changer: a multiethnic, professional military force that provided time and space for the nascent institutions of democracy to take root.
So when the ISF crumbled before an onslaught by a few thousand Islamist militants who have advanced to the doorstep of Baghdad in the space of a week—with hundreds and perhaps thousands of the surrendering ISF troops summarily executed—U.S. hopes for a unified Iraq that anchors a more democratic Middle East have likely died with them.