Anthony Cordesman of CSIS reports major progress in Iraq, asserting as a real possibility that Iraq can "emerge as a secure and stable state." Cordesman estimates that this will require U.S. committment through 2016. No one can spend some 10 days visiting the battlefields in Iraq without seeing major progress in every area. A combination of the surge, improved win and hold tactics, the tribal uprising in Anbar and other provinces, the Sadr ceasefire, and major advances in the use of IS&R have transformed the battle against Al Qaida in Iraq. If the US provides sustained support to the Iraqi government -- in security, governance, and development -- there is now a very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state.
Anthony Cordesman has been reporting on Iraq for the think tank Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) since the start of the war. His reports are very detailed analyses of the state of Iraq. Cordesman was deeply pessimistic about the future of Iraq and our ability to create a stable state through his early 2007 report - so much so that, for a long time, the anti-war cheerleading New York Times permanently linked to his reports on their Opinion Page. He is pessimistic no longer.
In the synopsis to his February 13, 2008, Cordesman writes:
The attached briefing provides detailed graphs and maps taken from material provided to me during my visit to Iraq. The briefing is an update on the situation throughout Iraq, and shows the trends over the past year. These graphs and maps measure major acts of violence, ethno-sectarian violence, and trends in IED and other forms of attack. . . . They show the war is far from over, but the violence has been sharply reduced, and perhaps to the minimum levels possible until Iraq improves its governance and development and moves much further towards political accommodation.
At the same time, this progress is dependent on major additional Iraqi government action well beyond the passing of the Iraqi FY2008 budget, the provincial powers act, and the laws easing de-Baathification. Major improvements are still required in the Iraqi government and in governance at the national, provincial, and local levels. Budgets need to be spent effectively and without corruption.
Counterinsurgency must be followed by creation of the rule of law. Major moves are still needed to establish political accommodation in an enduring form, and to conduct elections that have true political legitimacy at every level.The briefing describes these challenges in depth, and it is clear that Iraq can only succeed with years of additional US support in security, governance, and development. The progress in 2008 and 2009 cannot be decisive or irreversible. It will take strong US involvement throughout the life of the next Administration to succeed, and it may well take US aid through 2016. There is a strong case for limiting troop reductions beyond a force of 15 brigade equivalents to patient conditions-based steps that ensure there will be no need to rush back US forces or see Iraqi forces become vulnerable. There is an even stronger case for sustained aid in governance and development until the Iraqi central government learns how to spend effectively and do so with limits to waste, corruption, and ethno-sectarian bias.
Serious threats can still bring defeat or paralysis over the coming years, although this seems significantly less likely than during the fall of 2007:
- A central government failure to move funds to key provinces, improve services, fund development, and employ young men.
- A central government failure to reach out to the Sunni and Shi'ite Sons of Iraq and incorporate many into the Iraq security services.
- Potential Arab-Kurdish-minority divisions over Kurdish autonomy in the north, and creating some form of Kurdish federal zone.
- The risk of Shi'ite divisions and infighting in the south, particularly between the Hakim and Sadr factions, and Sunni-Shi'ite tensions over some form of Shi'ite federalism.
- Continued Iranian support of militias and divisions and growing Iranian influence in Basra and the south.
- The need for local legitimacy through provincial and local elections in 2008, and open lists and local representation in the COR election in 2009.
- Moving towards full development and sustained employment, and for a fair sharing of petroleum wealth a resources.
It may well be possible to help Iraq deal with all of these challenges and the others in the attached briefing, but this will require a US commitment at least through the term of the next President, far better long term planning of our aid efforts and funding, great care in further force reductions beyond 15 brigades, and much more careful attention to dealing with the above challenges rather than simply providing unfocused aid. It also will take significant aid funding in spite of Iraq's apparent "oil wealth."
No one can spend some 10 days visiting the battlefields in Iraq without seeing major progress in every area. A combination of the surge, improved win and hold tactics, the tribal uprising in Anbar and other provinces, the Sadr ceasefire, and major advances in the use of IS&R have transformed the battle against Al Qaida in Iraq. If the US provides sustained support to the Iraqi government -- in security, governance, and development -- there is now a very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state.