August 03, 2010

Significant Challenges in Iraq Remain Despite “End” Of U.S. Combat

Washington, D.C., August 3, 2010 - Despite the “end” of U.S. combat in Iraq – as announced by President Obama yesterday – significant challenges remain in the country including terrorism, economic development, broader security and governance. Since its founding in 2007, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has been a leading voice on U.S. policy toward Iraq and on how to care for Iraq war veterans. CNAS continues to develop and promote pragmatic analysis to help shape and elevate the national debate. 

CNAS Expert Commentary on Iraq:

John Nagl, President: “In Iraq, the United States is continuing a responsible transition of authority from its soldiers to Iraqi security forces. Violence has not disappeared and political progress remains agonizingly slow but the Iraqi Army and police are increasingly capable, requiring advisors and American airpower to support their boots on the ground. A similar effort to train and build the Afghan National Army and police forces began in earnest only last year. Those emerging Afghan forces will in time assume responsibility for their own security; getting to that point will be no easier in Afghanistan than it was in Iraq, but it can be done.”
Lieutenant General David Barno, USA (Ret.), Senior Advisor and Senior Fellow: "President Obama was right to highlight the unique milestone approaching in our long struggle in Iraq. As we change our mission there at the end of this month from combat operations to one of supporting and training Iraqi forces, we should remind ourselves that our success in Iraq holds both lessons and cautions for the very tough fight we face today in Afghanistan. Most notably, where population centered COIN worked in Iraq, it did so for underlying reasons that may well require a closer evaluation in Afghanistan. But at the end of the day, just as in Iraq, the enemy in Afghanistan must be defeated if we are to gain the leverage required to achieve our policy objectives and successfully transition to a mission training and supporting Afghans. That day is unlikely to arrive if the Taliban remain unbroken and continue to grow stronger every year.”

Patrick Cronin, Senior Advisor and Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program: “Iraq remains a high priority for the United States, but by ending America’s front-line combat mission there, the Obama Administration seeks a more sustainable and less direct role for the United States.  Moving forward, the United States must vigorously appraise the costs – which have been over 700 billion dollars in Iraq – and the benefits of military engagement and resist the urge to be a global enforcer unless our national security is directly threatened. The United States can ill afford to prosecute the Iraq and Afghan wars in perpetuity." (See Restraint: Recalibrating American Strategy, June 2010)
Tom Ricks, Senior Fellow: “The most important line in President Obama’s speech was, ‘The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq.’ But he should have explored that more, because I don’t think Americans understand how much longer we will be involved there. On the upside, at least he didn’t deliver this ‘mission accomplished’ speech on an aircraft carrier.”

Richard Fontaine, Senior Fellow: “The President spoke yesterday about the end of combat in Iraq, but in fact the mission there continues. The truth is that after seven years of extraordinary effort, we are not yet at the end. In September, the United States will still have 50,000 troops in the country, tens of thousands of contractors, 94 bases, and the world’s biggest embassy. Though the combat phase will have ended, American troops will continue to carry out counterterrorist operations. And though the Status of Forces agreement requires all U.S. forces to withdraw by the end of 2011, that pact is likely to be renegotiated.  Now is the time for us to convert our remaining influence into diplomatic capital. The administration should engage vigorously to urge a settlement to the ongoing political stalemate on terms that best suit the Iraqi people and American interests."

Andrew Exum, Fellow: “America’s decision to invade Iraq will be remembered as one of the costliest errors in U.S. history. I served in Iraq, in 2003, in between deployments to Afghanistan. The mess in which we find ourselves in Central Asia today is not unrelated to the decision to devote so many resources to an unnecessary war in the Persian Gulf at the expense of the war that began after the September 11 attacks. But despite earlier missteps, Presidents Bush and Obama have acted wisely since 2006 in responsibly bringing U.S. combat operations in Iraq to an end. The difficult challenge for the United States going forward will be to support Iraq’s nascent democratic processes while ensuring Iraq’s armed forces continue to develop into cohesive fighting organizations capable of protecting Iraq’s territory and institutions.”

Brian Burton, Bacevich Fellow: “President Obama’s speech does not mark an 'end' to conflict and instability in Iraq any more than his predecessor’s infamous ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech more than seven years ago. Many significant challenges remain, including the dispute between the Baghdad government and the Kurdistan Regional Government over who controls Kirkuk; the failure to pass a law delineating how the country’s oil revenues will be shared; and now the seemingly interminable problem of forming a new government after a close-run election. Iraq also still struggles to provide basic services like electricity to its people, and its oil infrastructure is so decrepit that it will be years before its economic potential is realized. But these are not military problems, nor are they problems for which the United States can impose solutions. For all of Iraq’s issues, a major deterioration in the security situation is not one of them. Keeping any number of troops there for a longer period of time is not going to solve Iraq’s governance crisis or provide better services.” (Published in The New York Times, August 2, 2010)

Will Rogers, Research Assistant: “Serious infrastructure challenges abound in Iraq, including that one in four Iraqis do not have access to safe drinking water. Other resource issues such as reliable access to electricity continue to undermine long-term development and exacerbate existing social and political grievances. With an ongoing political stalemate that has left the government in limbo and unable or unwilling to address these issues, much of the work could fall on the shoulders of the thousands of contractors, civilian corps and embassy staff left in the country – and they need to be prepared.”

CNAS Resources on Iraq:

After the Fire: Shaping the U.S. Relationship with Iraq, by John Nagl and Brian Burton
U.S. interests in preserving stability and security in the Middle East, countering transnational terrorism, and promoting responsible governance require a stable Iraq.  Iraq faces a number of internal challenges to its stability, and its political, security, and economic institutions remain fragile. To bolster regional security while balancing against Iran’s increasing power, America should cultivate Iraq as a long-term ally while developing strong bilateral and multilateral security and economic ties between Iraq and other U.S. partners in the Middle East.
Contracting in Conflicts, by Richard Fontaine and John Nagl
In Iraq today there are more contractors on the ground than there are U.S. soldiers, and that ratio will only increase with the military drawdown. This increased reliance on contractors for security and other functions in the country further drives the urgent need for comprehensive reform to contracting in conflicts.
Sustaining Security: How Natural Resources Influence National Security, by Christine Parthemore and Will Rogers
In the 21st century, the security of nations will depend increasingly on the security of natural resources, or “natural security.”  In Iraq, natural resources are increasingly linked to its internal stability and more broadly, to regional security – from the government’s ability to supply clean water to its people, to its ability to provide electricity for long-term development to managing its oil reserves.
The Burden: America’s Hard Choices in Post-Election Iraq, by Tom Ricks
In The Burden, Ricks notes that Iraq’s political struggles have serious potential to fuel sectarian violence and that a renewed civil war in Iraq would reverberate both regionally and globally.  Ricks argues that the Obama Administration should signal to Iraqi leaders that the United States is open to re-negotiating the Status of Forces Agreement, and explain to the American public the catastrophic effects of rushing to failure based on arbitrary deadlines.

Inside the Surge: One Commander’s Lessons in Counterinsurgency, by LTC Jim Crider, USA
Inside the Surge, authored by former CNAS Senior Military Fellow Lieutenant Colonel Jim Crider, USA, contains lessons learned during his 14-month combat tour and has been called “the first in-depth review offered by an American battalion commander about post-invasion operations in Iraq.”

The Gamble, by Tom Ricks
The Gamble documents the inside story of the Iraq war since late 2005. Using hundreds of hours of exclusive interviews with top officers in Iraq and extraordinary on-the-ground reporting, Ricks examines the events that took place as the military was forced to reckon with itself, the surge was launched, and a very different war began. Heralded as "counterintuitive and challenging, refreshing yet sobering," The Gamble has secured its place as one of the top books on the war in Iraq. 

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is an independent and nonpartisan research institution that develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense policies that promote and protect American interests and values. CNAS leads efforts to help inform and prepare the national security leaders of today and tomorrow.