Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Iraq: Nothing Won, Much to be Lost - and the US is not leaving

The headline of Anthony Shadid's NYT report screams it out: "Coordinated Attacks Strike 13 Towns and Cities in Iraq."
In one of the broadest assaults on Iraq’s security forces, insurgents unleashed a wave of roadside mines and a more than a dozen car bombings across Iraq on Wednesday, killing dozens, toppling a police station in the capital and sowing chaos and confusion among the soldiers and police officers who responded.

The withering two-hour assault in 13 towns and cities, from southernmost Basra to restive Mosul in the north, was as symbolic as it was deadly, coming a week before the United States declares the end of combat operations here. Wednesday was seemingly the insurgents’ reply: Despite suggestions otherwise, they proved their ability to launch coordinated attacks virtually anywhere in Iraq, capitalizing on the government’s dysfunction and perceptions of American vulnerability.

"Coordinated."  "13 Towns and Cities" - with at least 51 killed, many of them police officers.  At one scene, police and soldiers were actually brawling with each other - the police angry that the army can't keep terrorists from attacking them.

Mr. Obama and the mainstream media meanwhile celebrate the drawdown of US forces to under 50,000 and their supposed reassignment to advise-and-assist.  But they are still a potent force; they can still call for massive air support.  As Louise Roug notes, "assist" is the operative word here:
The troops will continue to train the Iraqi army and police and will also provide help with logistics, air support, and surveillance—operating the ubiquitous unmanned aerial vehicles for reconnaissance as part of the intelligence-gathering operation—as well as provide security for State Department, NATO, and U.N. personnel. And here is the thing that no officials have been keen to talk about: American troops will still participate in counterterrorism operations, because, despite years of training costing billions of dollars, the 660,000 Iraqi security forces still can't operate fully without help.
And they're going to be augmented by a sizable force of 6000-7000 private contractors who will be tasked with protecting the ramped-up State Department contingent (which will be stationed at the huge Baghdad embassy as well as consulates and other outposts in the other major cities - Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk, Erbil), as well as forming "quick reaction forces" to rescue US civilians (which undoubtedly means, more "collateral damage" from trigger-happy mercenaries who have been all too willing to shoot up civilians whom they deem "threats."  Also,
To move around Iraq without United States troops, the State Department plans to acquire 60 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, called MRAPs, from the Pentagon; expand its inventory of armored cars to 1,320; and create a mini-air fleet by buying three planes to add to its lone aircraft. Its helicopter fleet, which will be piloted by contractors, will grow to 29 choppers from 17.
A mini-army, indeed.  But as Gareth Porter reports, they likely will not be without help from the US military, because indications are rife that the US will renegotiate its status-of-forces with the Iraqi government (such as it may be; still no new government yet, and nothing on the horizon) to allow a substantial US military presence (5000 - 10,000) well beyond the end-of-2011 withdrawal date.  Mr. Obama is keeping quite about that until after the November elections.

The US's stakes in Iraq's never-ending drama are obviously high.  To pull out completely and then watch the country completely fall apart after wrecking it and then trying to band-aid it together would destroy whatever's left of US credibility as a global force for "good."   And, of course, there's that matter of strategic interests, as Anthony Cordesman has reminded us in his recent report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies:
  • While the US Department of Energy is far more realistic about the rate at which Iraq can expand its oil production than Iraq’s Oil Ministry and various oil companies, it still projects Iraq will expand its oil production from 2.4 million barrels per day in 2008 to 2.6 in 2015, 3.1 in 2020, 3.9 in 2025, 5.1 in 2030, and 6.1 in 2035. This expansion is critical in offsetting declines in the production of other major exporting states, and could be substantially quicker in a more stable Iraq – reaching 6.3 MMBD in 2030 and 7.6 MMBD in 2035.
  •  Iraq can play a key role in securing the entire Gulf, in cooperation with US forces and the forces of the Southern Gulf states. It plays a role in ensuring the stable flow of oil and gas exports throughout the region. Even using highly favorable projections of alternative fuels and liquids, the Department of Energy estimates that the Gulf will continue to increase its share of total world conventional and unconventional liquids production from 28% of all world production in 2008 to 31% in 2035. The Department estimates that this total could be as high as 35% by 2035. . . .
The energy aspects of the US need for a strategic partnership with Iraq, and strong overall posture in the Gulf, is driven by two other factors:
  • First, it does not matter where the US get its oil from on any given day. The US competes in a world market driven by total world supply and pays world prices. If a crisis occurs in the Gulf, the US will compete at the same increase in prices as every other importing nation, if world price rise on a longer-term basis, the US will pay for the same increase, and if supplies are cut by a major conflict, the US must share the oil left for import with other OECD states.
  • Second, the US is steadily more dependent on the overall health of the global economy and the global economy is steadily more dependent on the stable flow of oil and gas exports. Oil prices are not simply a matter of increases in gasoline or home heating costs. They affect every job in America.
If one combines these strategic priorities with the need to deter and defend again Iran’s overall threat in the region, and aid all of our other allies to build their security in the face of the threat from terrorism and extremism, it is clear that we are several decades away from any ability to ignore Iraq or the needs of other friendly states.
So, boys and girls, keep yourselves strapped in.  The ride's not over.

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