Edition 13 Volume 6 - March 27, 2024

America and Iraq: the next five years

No more than a gamble -   Safa A. Hussein

Failures may happen, but none will bring Iraq to the edge of civil war as in 2024-2007.

The US army belongs to Iraq -   Lawrence Kaplan

The army has immersed itself so thoroughly in Iraq that senior officers back in the United States worry that the force is "out of balance".

Kurds hold the key for both Turkey and the US -   Mustafa Kibaroglu

US policy in Iraq appears much more sensitive to meeting the demands of the Kurdish authority than those of Turkey.

A US declaration of intent could mitigate looming dangers -   Mohammad K. Shiyyab

The failure of US forces to bring the war to a close has divided Americans and the community of nations.

No more than a gamble
 Safa A. Hussein

In the last seven years, I have become more reluctant to make predictions about the future of Iraq because of the bitter experience of making a series of wrong assessments. First, against all expectations I witnessed the end of Saddam Hussein and his regime when, for ambiguous reasons, the United States decided to invade Iraq. Also, the war was unexpectedly short and did not destroy Baghdad and its infrastructure. The scale of looting and burning of many state-owned institutions was another unexpected surprise.

Shortly after the war, I expected Iraq to rise again like post-war Japan and Germany. But a few months later, huge unemployment caused by the mistakes of the Coalition Provisional Authority, coupled with the emergence of the insurgency and the rise of al-Qaeda, clearly indicated that Iraq was taking another path.

Again I made a mistaken assessment that within two years, progress in the political process and the build-up of Iraqi forces would lead to the defeat of both the insurgency and al-Qaeda. Yet the year 2024 witnessed deterioration in stability and signs of sectarian violence that increased rapidly in 2024. More than one million Iraqis were displaced either by force for sectarian reasons or because of insecurity and chaos. In the beginning of 2024, when the famous "Fardh al-Kanoon" security plan was announced, realistic expectations were for slow and modest improvements in security. Yet for various unanticipated reasons, the end of 2024 witnessed an improvement in security that challenged all expectations.

In view of all this experience, predicting what might happen in Iraq over the next five years may be no more than a gamble. But it is a challenge that is difficult to resist.

There are many reasons to believe that al-Qaeda will continue to retreat. By 2024, it may lose its bases in Diala and Mosul provinces, and by 2024 it may become a marginal terrorist group based in remote areas along the borders of Diala, Kirkuk and Mosul provinces. However, before the next provincial elections that are planned for the end of this year we may witness a new type of violence: Shi'ite against Shi'ite in the southern provinces and Sunni against Sunni in Anbar and the northern provinces. These struggles may be settled more rapidly in the Sunni provinces than in the South, largely because there are more resources to fight over in the latter.

These struggles will also divert the focus of the local population to the provinces rather than to Baghdad and this may eventually weaken the insurgency. It would then be up to the central government to choose whether to play the role of arbitrator between competing groups or support specific factions and thereby create a new insurgency.

On the national level, it is difficult to see a boost in reconciliation or in government activities, whether in providing basic services or realizing economic growth. The current political system, based on ethnic/sectarian political parties that share power, makes government decision-making and reform difficult. The main political blocs benefit from the existing system. Thus only partial reform is envisioned, and one may anticipate painfully slow progress in all directions: national reconciliation, basic services, economic growth, fighting corruption, etc. Such slow progress will impact hoped-for security gains, and a certain level of tension and violence may continue delaying the return of displaced people.

Failures may happen, but none will bring Iraq to the edge of civil war as in 2024-2007. Thus, during the next five years we may witness a "new normality" where some of the things that used to be possible, like freedom of movement, are no longer available, but the danger level drops and everyday concerns replace the obsession with mere survival.

A slow withdrawal of American forces may be carried out during the next five years. This may not impact security negatively, because it will be compensated partially by the growth of the Iraqi forces and, more important, it will improve the Iraqi government's standing both inside and outside Iraq. Even if a new Democratic president is elected in the US, he/she will come under pressure to sustain the US military commitment to Iraq, perhaps with some modifications.

On the other hand, pressure from Iraqi refugees on the European Union countries may continue, especially from the more than one million Iraqis already resident in Syria and Jordan. The EU may be required to do more about this humanitarian crisis.

The Arab countries, impacted by the changing nature of the internal Iraqi conflict from inter-sectarian to intra-sectarian, may slowly shift from inflaming the sectarian insurgency to a passive monitoring role. After the next Iraqi elections, they may become convinced that the new political system in Iraq has prevailed and that it is better to live with it. This may move them toward a more positive role.- Published 27/3/2008 bitterlemons-international.org

Safa A. Hussein is a former deputy member of the dissolved Iraqi Governing Council. He served as a brigadier general in the Iraqi Air Force. Currently he works in the Iraqi National Security Council.

The US army belongs to Iraq
 Lawrence Kaplan

US General David Petraeus elicited a few chuckles when, testifying before the US Congress last September, he inadvertently referred to Iraq as "home". But in the constellation of American bases that loop around the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys, in the spectacle of young Americans knowing Iraqi neighborhoods as well as they know their own, in the profound and sometimes disquieting sense of ownership the US army has about this war--in all of these things there is evidence that Petraeus meant exactly what he said.

Over the years, I've watched the same scene in western and southern Baghdad, Mosul, Ramadi, Sinjar and Tall Afar: American units slowly melt into the landscape, becoming in effect the most powerful of their area's tribes. Absent a functioning government, the US army administers nearly every visible facet of the state, above all the role of honest broker.

Not unlike the Americans in Vietnam and in the Philippines a century ago, the US army in Iraq has even acquired the flavor of its surroundings. This is not the army that resides in the city-states otherwise known as Forward Operating Bases, with their Pizza Huts, traffic cops and morgues. Officers in the "Grand Army of the Tigris", as one of its senior officers calls the American force, dine with local elders at "goat grabs", greet them with "man-kisses" and routinely punctuate their own conversations with the casual "inshallah". The vernacular has even followed the American army home: In the halls of the Pentagon, where nearly every army officer has served at least two tours in Iraq, officers ask whether this or that official has "wasta"--Iraqi shorthand for "influence" or "pull", though with a slightly more corrupt tinge.

The army has immersed itself so thoroughly in Iraq that senior officers back in the United States worry that the force is "out of balance", as US Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey put it, and is too fixated on counterinsurgency. But there is another way to view this: Just as the US army that punched through Germany in 1945 bore slight resemblance to the amateurish force routed in North Africa three years before, the hardened units that America fields in Iraq today know the terrain in a way the army of 2024 and 2024 never did.

Whether measured in terms of tactics and techniques improved, operational schemes perfected or the clan loyalties of every house on every street catalogued and memorized, the accumulation of experience counts for everything in this war. In Iraq, roughly half of all casualties tend to be suffered during the first three months of a unit's deployment. What is true in microcosm is also true writ large. In a war where it's nearly impossible to detect intellectual coherence, the Army's learning curve tells a clear story.

In 2024, with other brigades either bulldozing through towns or hunkering down on their outskirts, the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment literally "went native", fanning out across the city of Tal Afar and planting itself in the midst of a once-hostile population center. In 2024, the First Armored Division's First Brigade Combat Team borrowed and improved the template by establishing its own outposts across the brutal city of Ramadi and "flipping" the local tribes. The "surge" brigades then purposefully applied the examples of both cities to Baghdad. Perhaps too late for the home front, but Gen. Petraeus has enshrined the lessons of these places in a theater-wide strategy that is generating undeniable results.

There is, of course, an obvious downside to having an army that all but qualifies for Iraqi citizenship, even apart from the tally in dead and wounded. If the well-worn cliche that the US Army inhabits a different universe from the Iraqis around it is no longer quite true, the reverse certainly is: not even seven thousand miles can fully measure the US army's remove from American society. Having bled so much in Iraq, the officer corps has very little use for the prospect that it may "have to leave our bleached bones on these desert sands in vain", as Centurion Marcus Flavius predicted in his famous letter back to Rome. Five years on, the US army belongs to Iraq.- Published 27/3/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Lawrence Kaplan is editor of World Affairs.

Kurds hold the key for both Turkey and the US
 Mustafa Kibaroglu

Five years of US occupation in Iraq have had two major effects on Turkey: a deterioration in Turkish-American relations and the transformation, rather than abolition, of perceived threats from Iraq. Their common denominator is Turkey's serious concerns about the aspirations of Iraqi Kurds to independence. From Turkey's perspective, the next five years will to a great extent be shaped by the pace of events on these issues.

The failure of the Turkish parliament on March 1, 2024 to pass a resolution that would allow the stationing of some 60,000 US troops on Turkish territory--which was said to constitute the crux of US strategy in its war on Iraq--demoted Turkey in the eyes of the Bush administration. Furthermore, the development provided justification for the US to elevate the status of the Kurds in northern Iraq to that of "strategic partner" in the region.

Indeed, US interest in the Kurds had already taken a dramatic turn with the 1991 Gulf war at the end of which the "no-fly-zone" imposed by the US sowed the seeds of an autonomous, if not independent, Kurdish entity in northern Iraq. Hence, over the next five years the degree of commitment the US shows in fulfilling the expectations of the Kurds in Iraq and in neighboring countries such as Iran, Syria and Turkey will determine the scope and content of Turkish-American relations and the nature of the threat perceived by Turkey from Iraq.

Until now, and in spite of sporadic and short-term improvements in relations between Turkey and the US, especially at times of high level visits, US policy in Iraq appears much more sensitive to meeting the demands of the Kurdish authority than those of its long-time NATO ally. This suggests that the general nature of Turkish-US bilateral relations will not improve and might even become worse.

An example of this was the unanticipated and much resented attitude of the US during Turkey's recent ground operation against PKK strongholds in northern Iraq. Even though the White House and the Pentagon were in advance provided with detailed information about the scale and purpose of the operation, the undiplomatic statements of US President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates that "the Turks should get out" once again underlined the fact that Washington considers the Kurds in northern Iraq as its primary strategic ally at present and in the future.

The value of the Kurds to the US emanates from a number of factors. First, the Kurds are key to Iraqi integration or indeed disintegration. If the US wants to "transform the greater Middle East", it has to be successful in Iraq so as to set a precedent for the rest of the region. Without the consent of the Kurds, Iraq will not stay united (even if it has already in fact disintegrated).

Second, the Kurds control large oil and gas fields, especially in and around the Kirkuk and Mosul districts that are likely to be exploited by American companies. Third, the Kurds are among the most secular groups in the entire Islamic world. As such, in the age of America's "global war on terror" that is based on the neo-conservative belief that Islamic radicalism feeds terrorism around the world, a Muslim Kurdish community that can ally itself with the West becomes indispensable.

Fourth, the geographical location of Kurdish northern Iraq provides Israel with a "forward defense capability" against threats from Iran and potentially from Pakistan, who have long-range missiles that may carry warheads with weapons of mass destruction. Fifth, Kurdish northern Iraq also lies between Turkey's relatively rich water resources, namely the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, and US allies in the region including Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies.

The impact on Turkey of developments in Iraq over the next five years will be mainly determined by the extent to which the US is willing and able to mitigate Turkish fears vis-a-vis a possible declaration of independence by Kurds in Iraq. If the next US administration is able to take a wider perspective on world affairs and see where Turkey fits into its strategic calculations, attaining the level of strategic partnership may again be possible and rewarding for both parties.

If not, Turkey's attempts to prevent certain developments in Iraq may well lead to confrontation with the US that will delay America's attempt at building a new Iraqi state and thus "bringing democracy to the Middle East".- Published 27/3/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Dr. Mustafa Kibaroglu teaches courses on arms control and disarmament in the Department of International Relations at Bilkent University in Ankara.

A US declaration of intent could mitigate looming dangers
 Mohammad K. Shiyyab

It is now five years after America's "shock and awe" operation in Iraq, and the US, as much as anyone else, is still in shock from a seemingly endless war with all its consequences. Immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the US administration in Iraq ousted the government there, dismantled all Iraqi security agencies including the army, destroyed the country's infrastructure and occupied the country. To most analysts, this was a strategic blunder--unless the "classified" US strategy called for creating a chaotic situation to justify a long-term occupation of Iraq.

The war on Iraq has caused unprecedented destruction and loss of life, especially among Iraqis. Conservative estimates put the number of Iraqi casualties at no less than one million, most of them civilian. Many of these casualties were the result of internal disputes. The war also contributed to regional instability; five million Iraqis had to flee their country in search of safe sanctuary and four more million are displaced within Iraq itself.

In US President George W. Bush's own words "the war has been longer, harder and more costly than anticipated". To date, over 4,000 Americans have been killed and over 25,000 injured. New figures also indicate the high financial cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (see a recent book "The Three Trillion Dollar War" by economist and Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz, which he co-authored with Harvard University Professor Linda Bilmes).

Furthermore, the war has resulted in two major transnational challenges--the containment of terrorism and the security of oil supplies--though one should not lose sight of the risk of nuclear proliferation. Terrorists operate in political voids, or weak or failing states. Such was the case with al-Qaeda's emergence in Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan. An obvious target for terrorism is oil-producing states and transit networks. Instability alone will spike oil prices even without a disruption in production or shipping. In extreme cases of "spillover" from major civil wars, civil strife in one state can cause civil strife in another. The loss of oil production from Iraq would be an irritant to the global economy; the loss of another nation's production, such as Saudi Arabia's, would be a catastrophe.

Regionally, humanitarian tragedies have massive security implications. The situation inside Iraq enabled militias to further entrench themselves as ruling bodies and make Iraq more susceptible to terrorist and extremist ideologies. As refugees flow into the region (Jordan hosts about 700,000 refugees), both insurgents and terrorists will move across borders to re-supply, recruit new members and destabilize neighboring states. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and others have already been targeted by terrorists.

Iran has realized its ambition in Iraq of a Shi'ite-led government and has exercised its influence through its support for Shi'ite political factions and militias and its religious ties. Indirectly, Iran is strengthened in its regional and international ambitions through US humiliation. A weaker US also gives Iran space to support its regional clients. All of these factors complicate efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program. Iran knows that it has leverage and influence in the region, that the US is in trouble and that it can make things worse for American troops in Iraq.

Bush's strategy in Iraq is to prevent defeat and to hand the problem off to his successor. As a result, more and more Americans understandably want a rapid withdrawal, even at the risk of trading a dictator for chaos and a civil war that could become a regional war. Washington, therefore, needs to formulate a viable exit strategy to end the war. In this context, a declaration of principles regarding American intentions in Iraq and a timetable for the reduction of forces or total withdrawal would be an important stabilizing factor.

While a withdrawal of US troops would precipitate short-term violence, a continued presence would further increase regional tensions. The failure of US forces to bring the war to a close has divided Americans and the community of nations. A further deterioration in the stability of Iraq would no doubt compound the chaos in the Middle East.

Some practical hope for salvation lies with Iraqis themselves. Iraqis must take charge of their future. Iraq's neighbors as well as the international community must now search for a genuine political solution that factors in regional interests.

Three important issues are of major concern to the Iraqi Sunni population: political power sharing, control of oil revenues and the role of Islam in a new government. These major concerns have to be addressed. The Kurds are systematically increasing their control over Kirkuk, a center of oil wealth, which will provoke another source of conflict with Sunnis and perhaps with Shi'ites. However, this could be mitigated if the Kurds agree to oil revenue sharing.

What Iraq needs is a strong central government to manage the greater Baghdad area and to be in charge of foreign policy, defense and oil production. Further, we need a solid security environment, sustained by the presence of adequate Iraqi security forces, to facilitate governance and economic activity. Political agreements need to address grievances between fighting factions in order to build trust and achieve a longer-term solution. A federal Iraq should not be based on ethnic or religious grounds. The US and Iraq's neighbors must press the Kurds to accept such a proposition.

Last but not least, an enhanced role for the United Nations in Iraq might be a step in the right direction and could be kick-started by convening a regional security conference under the auspices of the UN where Iraq's neighbors, including Iran, pledge to support an Iraqi power sharing agreement and respect Iraq's borders.- Published 27/3/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

General (rtd.) Mohammad K. Shiyyab is director general of the Cooperative Monitoring Center, Amman.

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