Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Future US Presence in Iraq - and the Threats to Iraq Security

Several reports today reflect the US's growing dilemma in Iraq, where Mr. Obama has been touting his honoring of his promise to withdraw all US forces by the end of 2011.  The NY Times notes, however, that other US officials (including General Odierno) and Iraq officials are advocating a more extended US presence:
Even as that deadline was negotiated, he said, a longer-lasting, though significantly smaller, presence of American forces had always been considered to be likely.

At the moment, five months after national elections, there is still no Iraqi government to begin talking about what any post-2011 arrangement might entail. But many Iraqi officials deem it quietly necessary on a number of fronts: Iraq is buying more and more sophisticated American weapons, like tanks and warplanes, and will need Americans here for training and maintenance. At the same time, training is intensifying for the Iraq Army to learn not only how to battle internal insurgents, but also how to protect its national borders — a project that will take many years.

And many Americans, most notably Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., have long argued that it is not in America’s interest to withdraw completely — even if Mr. Obama rose to national prominence opposing the Iraq war and ran for president promising to end it.

The decision will bear directly on the payoff America could yet reap for all its spent blood — more than 4,000 American lives — and treasure, in the form of a democratic ally in a combustible region that would be a check on Iranian power and offer American access to Iraq’s vast oil reserves.

Why does this look so much like what the Brits did after World War I, under the Hashemite monarchy that they installed? The one that less than 40 years later was overthrown - violently - after decades of simmering resentment of the British presence and Britain's continuing influence in Iraqi affairs.

And by the way, one of the reasons why the Brits had to reduce their presence after the war was its huge expense, which they could no longer afford.  The US is now running into the same problem, evidently complicated by State Department mismanagement.  The feds cannot afford the huge price ticket of maintaining DoS program in Iraq (according to the WaPo).

Meanwhile, security problems continue to plague Iraq.  One of then is of the government's own making, as members of the Sunni Awakening (who were at least as responsible for the dampening down of violence as was the famous Petraeus "surge") are beginning to peel off and rejoin al-Qaeda groups in Iraq.  Reasons?  They've been abandoned by the hostile Shii-dominated government whose bacon they saved; they're not being paid, as promised, whereas al-Qaeda can offer them salaries; and because the government won't protect them, they fear for their lives.

Two long-term members of the Sons of Iraq revealed to the Guardian that they had been approached in recent weeks by local men whom they knew to be al-Qaida leaders and told they would be paid more to defect.

Both admitted to be entertaining the notion, largely because they feared what would happen if they did not.

Mohammed Hussein al-Jumaili, 25, from Dora, said: "My salary is very low – it is about $300 per month and sometimes they delay paying me for two months or more.

"Ten days ago, I was in a cafe with another person from my neighbourhood. He was working with us also. Two people came to me. I knew them. They were from my area. They said: 'You know the Sons of Iraq experiment has failed and they will be slaughtered one after the other.

'If you work with us, we will support you. We will give you a good salary and you can do whatever operation you want to do. You will get extra money for anything that you do that hits the Americans, or the Iraqi forces.' "

The second member, Sabah al-Nouri, 32, from west Baghdad, said he too had been approached by Sons of Iraq members who were acting as double agents.

"I am responsible for leading a group in al-Haswa district in Abu Ghraib," he said. "Two months ago, al-Qaida contacted me through people who worked with me. They gave me a good offer, a reward for each operation and a pledge to support me and protect me.

"They said they would give me a weapon, a licence to carry one. There were a lot of promises. They said I would have more authority than I have now. They said: 'We have not hurt you, why are you working against us?' "

As if these problems weren't enough, two more developments:
  • A pipeline carrying Iraqi crude oil from Kirkuk into Turkey was sabotaged inside southeastern Turkey, evidently by the Kurdish rebel PKK.  Almost all of Iraq's desperately needed revenue comes from oil.
  • Pirates are now preying upon American merchant ships in Iraqi waters at the head of the Persian Gulf, near Basra - in waters supposedly guarded by the US military.
  •  Pirates wielding AK-47 machine guns boarded and robbed at least two cargo ships, one of them American, that were anchored in Iraqi waters early Aug. 8. The daring criminal operation has exposed the security problems that still threaten Iraq and its economy.

    The ships were near the Umm Qasr port and the al-Basra and Khor al-Amaya oil terminals, which combined account for more than 95 percent of the country’s income. In this critical commerce hub, such robberies and criminal impunity could undermine the economy – and a successful terrorist attack could cripple the country and cause massive environmental damage.
Again, note the threat to Iraq's all-important oil.  No revenues, no reconstruction.  No security, no foreign investment.  This doesn't bode well.

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