All U.S. troops are required to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 in accordance with a formal agreement between the two countries. The agreement further stipulates that the Iraqi government can request that troops remain after 2011 and the U.S. will consider that request subject to negotiations and further agreements. Currently there are 47,000 American troops remaining in Iraq. Recent comments by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other senior U.S. national security officials and several elected officials have clearly indicated that they would welcome such a request from the Iraqi government and would prefer that it came soon. American officials advocating a presence after 2011 cite three Iraqi areas of need where the U.S. could help; protection of Iraqi airspace, intelligence capabilities, and border security.
American officials contend that the Iraqi government cannot protect its airspace. They identify three threats; Turkish incursions to attack Kurdish rebel enclaves in Kurdistan, Israeli over flights to spy on Iran, and Iranian violations of Iraqi airspace. Turkey and Israel are U.S. allies and Iran is an Iraqi ally. Is it reasonable to think that U.S. warplanes patrolling Iraqi airspace would shoot down aircraft from any of these countries without creating significant problems for the U.S. and / or Iraq? The second reason, intelligence capabilities, is suspect going back to Saddam’s phantom WMD, the U.S. decision to disband the Iraqi army, and the fact that few American intelligence officers even speak the language. Finally, the justification regarding border security is made manifestly suspect by the gross failure of the U.S. government to secure its own southern border.
Staying in Iraq means that we would be spending blood and treasure to support a Maliki government that has concentrated power at the expense of a fragile democracy. Last year’s inconclusive election had Prime Minister Maliki and Ayad Allawi basically tied and only four months ago Maliki was able to form a government because Muktada Al Sader, the radical cleric and head of the Maudi army joined Maliki’s effort to form a government. Maliki is beholden to a “king maker” who the U.S. wanted to arrest and try several years ago. Al Sader vehemently objects to foreign forces in Iraq. Maliki has still not filled the positions of defense minister and interior minister in his cabinet so he holds these critical positions himself. Several months ago Iraq’s highest court, at Maliki’s request, ruled that only the Prime Minister (Maliki) or his cabinet, not members of Parliament, could propose legislation. The same court later added to his power grab by agreeing to let him take control of three formerly independent agencies that run the central bank, conduct elections, and investigate corruptions.
The question of remaining in Iraq after 2011 may be debated at the same time that the U.S. considers its debt and budget deficit crisis. Since invading and occupying Iraq in 2003 the U.S. has lost more than 4,400 service members and spent two TRILLION dollars (all borrowed to be repaid with interest). Recently, Iraq received a 25% increase in GDP while we Americans are paying almost four dollars for a gallon of gasoline. Iraq now pumps 2.7 million barrels of oil per day (up from 1.9 million when we invaded). As the price of a barrel of oil moved from $85 to $110 Iraq receives an additional $67,500,000 per DAY; and an additional $24.6 billion per year. There seems to be something out of balance here.
Going forward, Iraq seems like a bad bet to me. We should honor the current agreement and leave.
Major General (Ret.) Dennis Laich is the Director of the PATRIOTS Program (www.ODUPatriots.com) for veterans at Ohio Dominican University.
This entry is cross-posted at Generally Speaking.