The Perils of "Iraqization"

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Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has just distributed an email to his list of recipients (and which I haven't been able to find a URL for on the CSIS website) that makes several disturbing observations on the Iraqi conflict. Titled "The Bush Administration Quietly Changes Its Entire Strategy in Iraq," it merits being quoted extensively:

Virtually without fanfare, the Bush Administration has reprogrammed some $3.5 billion in aid funds to Iraq in ways which mark a fundamental shift in its strategy in Iraq, and a recognition that much of the US effort during the first year of occupation was a failure.

The Administration will send a proposal to Congress today to reprogram $3.46 billion from Iraqi water, power and other reconstruction projects to short term expenditures designed to provide better security, secure and boost oil exports, and provide immediate aid benefits of the kind that can support the elections scheduled for January.

Out of this total, $1.804 billion which has previously been allocated for longer term water, sewage and electricity projects will go to rush efforts to train and equip Iraqi police and other security forces. Another $180 million will go to planning elections and helping local governments in ways that will help secure their areas. Some $450 million will be reprogrammed to repair and expand Iraq's oil production; $380 million will go to rapid spending on economic and educational reforms; and $286 million will go to rush efforts to expand job training programs and compensate for unemployment.

Some $360 million will be set aside to cover the "budget cost" of forgiving 95 percent of Iraqi debt to the United States incurred during the Iraq War. The US evidently plans to forgive 95 percent of Iraq's prewar debts to the United States, which total around $4 billion.

Cordesman then goes on to explain the meaning of this and observes: "Part of this reprogramming is a recognition of the fact that the US aid effort to date has had individual successes, but been a dismal overall failure. The US has still spent less than $1 billion of the $18.4 billion programmed for FY2004, Much of that has been wasted due to sabotage, attacks, and bad planning; has been spent outside the country; or has been spent on foreign security forces."

The main problem is that the U.S. overestimated its capacities to "Iraqize" the conflict, a key objective of the Pentagon many months ago.

The effort to rush money into the Iraqi military and security forces recognizes that the US failed to make a serious effort to training Iraqi military and security forces to fight insurgents in any strength during the year following the fall of Saddam Hussein. It is a recognition that the Administration, CPA, and the military were wrong in assuming the insurgency would be defeated by the time the new Iraqi forces emerged….The US has shifted largely to holding actions and surgical strikes, while Iraqi forces are being created to takeover most missions from the US and British forces, and eventually replace them…

Cordesman argues the "new US approach essentially defers most key actions and military risks until after the US elections, while it raises growing issues about the timing of its longer-term goals. It essentially defers any decisive US military action unless it is forced on the US. Everything will consist of limited operations and strikes until the new Iraqi forces are 'ready.'"

He then writes:

The problem is that no one can agree on when the Iraqi forces will be ready and on exactly what they should be ready for….The White House and NSC have implied they will be ready to do this by the time of the [Iraqi] election, which they have said will still be in January….Some US officials and officers in Iraq are privately considerably more cautious than the White House. They feel that the Iraqi forces will only really come on-line in the strength required to take over large parts of the US and British mission at some point in the first quarter of 2005….Some US officers also seriously question whether the Iraqi forces will ever be heavy enough to do without US armored escorts and air support, and whether enough Iraqi forces will really be ready until mid-2005.

In the Monday issue of Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Allawi in fact said that in the coming month or two there would be an improvement in security because of improvement in the security forces, and went on to say that the Iraqi government would have 12 regiments deployed in all the country's governorates.

Cordesman is bleak overall, but concludes on a slightly more optimistically:

None of this implies that the US has "lost" Iraq, or that the revised US strategy cannot work. It does seem clear, however, that this reprogramming request does effectively mark an end to many of the plans of the neocons, a recognition that the CPA and US military failed to create an effective strategy for peacemaking during the first year of the US occupation, and a de facto recognition that everything now depends on the ability of the Iraq government to establish true legitimacy and on the Iraqi army and security forces to takeover much—if not most—of the fighting…

That's sobering, but the real question is whether the U.S. will have the staying power to remain in Iraq. For the moment it appears it will, but one does wonder what Plan B is if "Iraqization" proves as fleeting as "Vietnamization." If the Iraqis perceive that the U.S. is looking for an easy out, they may merely seek to precipitate that. Being seen as half in and half out is the worst possible scenario.

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