Winning: Iraq And The Grand Delusion


August 22, 2013: The Iraqi government is coming to regret its 2011 decision to force out all U.S. troops by the end of that year. This was done partly because it was politically popular and partly because it pleased Iran (which had a lot of senior Iraqi officials on the payroll). The Iraqis also believed that their security forces (650,000 soldiers and police) could maintain control of the country and the remaining Sunni Arab terrorists. By the end of 2011, there were fewer than a thousand Sunni terrorists (al Qaeda and diehard Sunni nationalists) active and the Iraqi security forces owned the streets. Terrorist violence was less than ten percent of what it had been four years earlier. Led by American intelligence and special operations forces over 15,000 Sunni terrorists had been killed or captured by the time the Americans left. The Iraqis felt that all they had to do was keep up the pressure and the Sunni terrorists would disappear.

It didn’t work out that way. The Shia majority was back in charge for the first time in 400 years and thought they really had things under control. They didn’t and the fault wasn’t American, it was all about the Shia majority not being able to provide effective leadership. The most visible manifestation of this failure is the subsequent growth of the Sunni Islamic terrorists. Two years after the Americans left, the number of Sunni terrorists had tripled, as had the number of terrorist-related deaths. The Iraqi government underestimated the continuing anger, and skill, of the Sunni Arab minority and how critical the American intelligence and special operations forces were. They also discovered that the rampant corruption made the security forces much less effective. Most soldiers and police could be bribed or intimidated into backing away from interfering with the terrorists. This was a case of willfully ignoring what was obvious. Many Iraqi generals had warned their government in 2011 that the American Special Forces and intelligence analysts could not be replaced by Iraqis because of the corruption and a lack of special equipment and skills. These American capabilities were rare even in the West and had proved to be crucial in finding and eliminating Sunni terrorists.

Getting the Americans back is really not an option, as most of the special intel and special operations units were sent off to Afghanistan and other areas where Americans were still fighting Islamic terrorists. Worse, the Iraqi ties to Iran proved to be a major problem. In the last few years Iran has been getting more aggressive towards the Sunni Arab states (especially oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE) and that has escalated into a shooting war in Syria. While some Iraqi Sunni terrorists have gone to join the fighting in Syria, many more young Sunni Arabs have been inspired to join the terrorist groups in Iraq. Government relations with the Iraqi Sunni Arab community keep getting worse and Iran is becoming more threat than ally.

Getting any American troops back will require a very public humiliation for the Iraqi government. That’s because in 2011, the U.S. and Iraq failed to reach an agreement on a Status of Forces treaty for U.S. troops. As a result, all American forces left by the end of the year. The stumbling point here was Iraqi insistence that there be no immunity (that Americans who commit crimes in Iraq be tried under U.S., not Iraqi law). Immunity was necessary because of the high level of corruption and partisan politics in Iraq. Immunity clauses are a normal part of many Status of Forces agreements (that govern behavior and use of American troops in foreign countries). In some countries, where the local judicial system is not corrupt, American troops are subject to local law for crimes against locals. But Iraq does, and long has had, major problems with corruption. It's also very fashionable for Iraqis to blame everything (including Saddam) on the United States. Blaming others for your flaws and not taking responsibility is a popular approach to life in this part of the world. It's also why there is so little economic, political, educational, and cultural progress in so many Moslem countries. When you have students demonstrating for the right to cheat (as happened recently in Bangladesh) and adults openly supporting government corruption, you have to protect your troops. American diplomats in Iraq have the usual diplomatic immunity, and about 200 U.S. military trainers remained behind, as part of the American embassy staff (and thus have immunity) after the troops left in 2011. U.S. troops won’t return without the Status of Forces agreement and that assumes the Americans can be persuaded to let their troops get involved in Iraq again. Worst of all, just bringing back American counter-terrorist forces will not solve the fundamental problem, corruption. This condition cripples the Arab world culturally, economically, and militarily. Even though a growing number of Arabs admit this is a major, if not the major problem, there’s not been a lot of progress in dealing with it.





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close