Iraq: The Way Ahead


by Frederick W. Kagan

The United States of America now has the opportunity to achieve its fundamental objectives in Iraq through the establishment of a peaceful, stable, secular, democratic state and a reliable ally in the struggle against both Sunni and Shiite terrorism.

Such an accomplishment would allow the United States to begin to reorient its position in the Middle East from one that relies on antidemocratic states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia to one based on a strong democratic partner whose citizens have explicitly rejected al Qaeda and terrorism in general.

The growth of anti-Iranian sentiment in both Sunni and Shiite Arab communities in Iraq holds out the possibility that Iraq can become a bulwark against Iranian aims in the region, and that Iraq can, with American support, return to its role of balancing Iranian power without being the regional threat it had become under Saddam Hussein.

Coalition operations in 2007 have already dealt a devastating blow to al Qaeda, and that success – and the reaction of Iraqis to it – has opened the door to achieving positive and important objectives in Iraq and throughout the region.

Seizing this opportunity requires:

Winning the fight against terrorists and insurgents:

– Continuing to protect the Iraqi population and helping the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) control both ethnosectarian and terrorist violence
– Defeating al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgency in their last strongholds and preventing them from reestablishing themselves in areas that have been cleared
– Continuing to attack Iranian-backed Special Groups throughout Iraq, targeting their leaders and support bases and interdicting their lines of communication with Iran
– Continuing to fragment the Jaysh al Mahdi and prevent its reconstitution as an organized, cohesive fighting force

Mediating between hostile and disconnected groups:

– Sustaining local volunteers and working with them and the Iraqi government to reintegrate them into Iraqi society and political life
– Supporting the United Nations (UN) special envoy in negotiating a resolution of the Article 140 dispute between the Kurds and the Arabs
– Helping connect local, provincial, and national governments through Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), embedded PRTs, and the U.S. military command structure as the Iraqis develop their own governmental links
– Overseeing the release of detainees, particularly Sunni Arab detainees, and their reintegration into Iraqi society

Encouraging the growth of representative and inclusive democracy that is already underway:

– Supporting and helping to secure provincial elections in 2008 and Council of Representatives elections in 2009
– Assisting burgeoning grassroots movements in both the Sunni and Shiite Arab communities to develop representative political parties and compete in elections
– Deterring and containing efforts by malign actors to intimidate or kill candidates or otherwise distort the democratic process in the months leading up to elections

Continuing to build the capacity of the ISF to fight and sustain themselves in a nonpartisan and nonsectarian way:

– Supporting the increase in the ISF already underway
– Accelerating the provision of equipment to the ISF under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program or in other ways
– Continuing to partner coalition units with Iraqi units in combat as the best way to improve the fighting proficiency of those units
– Continuing to track sectarian activities by ISF units, particularly the National Police and the Iraqi Police, and pressing the government of Iraq to take appropriate actions to end such activities

Providing the resources necessary to accomplish these goals:

– Keeping at least fifteen brigades in Iraq through January 2009, with the possibility of brief surges in the fall and winter of 2008
– Extending and expanding the Commander’s Emergency Response Program funding
– Expanding the amount of reconstruction assistance money designated for Iraq, essential for generating leverage in areas where American force presence will be limited
– Addressing legal restrictions on the use of State Department funds to support local volunteers and establishing other meaningful demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration programs
– Continuing to identify and rapidly deploy civilian experts to assist the Iraqi government and its security forces in building the necessary capacity to function well and independently

The way ahead is clear.

We must help the Iraqis defeat Sunni and Shia extremists, terrorists, and insurgents. This task is well underway.

We must mediate disputes between Iraqi communities at the local, provincial, and national levels, in conjunction with the UN presence in Iraq and with Iraqi mechanisms to resolve disputes.

We must support those elements of Iraqi society and government whose interests most closely align with ours, particularly the Iraqi Army and grassroots movements in both Sunni and Shiite communities.

We must commit to the defense of Iraq against the interference or attack of its neighbors to encourage the rise of Iraqi nationalism and of anti-Iranian sentiment already growing in Iraq. We must help guide Iraq through the forthcoming elections, which will be a formative period of the nascent Iraqi state.

If current trends continue and if the United States plays its proper role, the elections of 2008 and 2009 can capture and capitalize on social, political, and economic attitudes that may drive Iraq toward a close relationship with the U.S. based on common interests, threats, and objectives.

Click here to read the full report.

About the author: A military historian who has taught at West Point, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) resident scholar Frederick Kagan specializes in defense issues and the American military. In particular he studies defense transformation, the defense budget, and defense strategy and warfare. He has also written about Russian and European military history.

Reprinted with kindly permission of The American Enterprise Institute.


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