October 24, 2011

This Weekend’s News: Iraq

Most of the above of the fold headlines this weekend
reported on the Obama administration’s planned withdrawal of all U.S. forces
from Iraq by the end of the year. President Obama made his announcement on
Friday following weeks of speculation about how the administration would navigate
its relationship with the Maliki government, which would not grant immunity to
U.S. troops after 2011. The Washington
reported that a small contingent of less than 200 Marines would be
assigned to protect the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, “along
with a small number of other personnel to provide training related to new
military sales and other tasks
.” Beyond that, “About
16,000 U.S. diplomats and civilian contractors will remain posted in Iraq
according to The Washington Post,
including, The New York Times
reported, “4,000
to 5,000 private State Department security contractors, as well as a
significant C.I.A. presence
.” But it is not what was in the news that drew
my attention over the weekend; it is what wasn’t.

Indeed, with reports on the planned withdrawal from Iraq abound,
there was little mention about the role that non-security civilian contractors will
play as U.S. troops leave, let alone the litany of challenges that they and our
U.S. diplomats face. As I wrote in a blog post last August, “With
the U.S. military drawing down, our long-term commitment will undoubtedly rely
heavily on our civilian assets
. Tens of thousands of private contractors, a
large civilian corps and embassy staff will play an increasing important role,
perhaps helping the Iraqi government build capacity where it hasn’t otherwise been
able to.”

But what challenges have the Iraqi government been
heretofore unable to adequately respond to that may fall on the shoulders of remaining
U.S. personnel in the country?

Reliable access to safe water continues to be a perpetual
challenge. Reports in January
and June
remarked on the critical state of water insecurity that continues to plague
Iraq and other parts of the region. Indeed, while Iraq continues to make some
progress, its water
challenges remain severe
.  One must
wonder if a
recent report that Iran has resumed the flow of water from the al-Wind river into
Iraq’s eastern Diyala province
, which is said to be a vital source for
agricultural development and Iraqi livelihoods, is in part an attempt by Tehran
to sharpen its influence in Iraq. Already, U.S.
officials have worried publically about Iran’s influence in Iraq and support to
anti-government militants

Assured and reliable access to electricity remains a
particular thorn in the government’s side. The
Atlanta Journal Constitution
reported on Sunday that “Despite
years of promises of better government services, most of the country gets by on
a few hours of electricity a day

These are just some of the challenges that are worth
reflecting on as the U.S. military prepares its withdrawal from Iraq. The
challenges will remain there and our civilian contractors and diplomats may
have to help the Iraqi government build capacity in critical areas such as
water, sanitation and electrical generation if Baghdad is going to keep the
peace. This is not to suggest that these challenges alone will cause the
government to crumble. But looking ahead, they could contribute to instability
and present worse challenges to the 16,000 U.S. diplomats and civilian contractors
that will stay behind.

This Week’s Events

This morning at 9 AM, head to the Bipartisan Policy Center to
discuss Overhauling
Energy Subsidies: Confronting the New Fiscal Reality
. At 1 PM, the World
Resources Institute will host the WRI-UNEP
Launch: Building the Climate Change Regime
. At 6 PM, the American
Association for the Advancement of Science will explore the Lessons
Learned from Fukushima

On Tuesday at 9 AM, the Horinko Group will host an event on Sustaining
Our Nation's Water Resources – Answering the Call for Stewardship

On Wednesday at 3 PM, head to the Wilson Center for The
Environmental and Social Consequences of Glacial Decline: Why Flatlanders Need
to Care About High-Altitude Changes

On Thursday at 8:45 AM, Resources for the Future will host The
Next Round of Climate Economics & Policy Research
. At 9:30 AM, head to
Carnegie for The
Chinese Coal Industry in an Energy Security and Carbon-Constrained World

On Friday at 9AM, head back to Resources for the Future for
day two of The
Next Round of Climate Economics & Policy Research
. At 12:30 PM, SAIS
will explore The Role of the
Private Sector in Sustainable Agriculture