Academic journal article Strategic Forum

Iraqi Security Forces after U.S. Troop Withdrawal: An Iraqi Perspective

Academic journal article Strategic Forum

Iraqi Security Forces after U.S. Troop Withdrawal: An Iraqi Perspective

Article excerpt

U.S. Assessments

Recent U.S. assessments of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have shown a slow but constant improvement in overall performance and combat capability, but have noted the continuing destructive effect of political influence on the forces. Major challenges remain, including corruption, weak rule of law, overlap in responsibilities, sectarianism, logistical deficiencies, and the lack of professionalism. Despite the overall improvement in the Iraqi forces, as recently as March 2009 the Department of Defense (DOD) reported that they are incapable of operating independently. (1)

This report highlights a number of challenges similar to those cited 2 years ago by General James Jones, the current National Security Advisor, when he oversaw an independent commission examining the ISF. Its findings suggested the main challenge to the ISF was political party meddling in its responsibilities, especially in the Ministry of Interior. This challenge of political interference was also mentioned by General Raymond Odierno in his latest comments on the U.S. withdrawal from Iraqi cities. He stated that his biggest fear:

has to do with the potential political drivers of instability that remain. We still have much work to do in terms of Arab-Kurd relations. We still have reconciliation to go through. We've made some good steps towards reconciliation, but they have to continue to address the area of reconciliation in Iraq. So I think it's these political issues that will be the most important as we move towards the national elections. And I think these could cause some instability, and that's what I worry about. What I hope is these will be solved through politics and diplomatic measures and not through violence. (2)

The DOD report makes a similar comment, concluding that in the last 2 years there has been much improvement in combat capability and training in the ISF, but that "national reconciliation and political accommodation continue to be hindered by the pursuit of ethno-sectarian agendas and disagreements over the distribution of power and resources at all levels." (3) The Jones report suggests that this political problem is an issue that only Iraqis can ultimately resolve. (4) The success of the provincial elections in January 2009 gave U.S. policymakers hope that Iraqis would now choose political means to settle their differences, rather than resorting to violence. The United States also assessed that since security for the elections was maintained by the ISF independently, they are now nationalistic enough to operate independently across the country. However, there is danger in assuming that these recent successes characterize a fundamental change in the trajectory of Iraqi political and security force behavior. The United States fails to notice that it is mainly the incumbent ethno-sectarian political parties who share U.S. optimism in the ISF ability to maintain security and in an Iraqi resolve to use the political process to resolve differences rather than violence. The incumbent ethno-sectarian parties share this optimism because they are now in the position to gain the most from a decrease of U.S. involvement in Iraq.

Iraqi Assessments

Independent Iraqi assessments of the future of the ISF mirror the three U.S. assessments. At the same time, however, Iraqis tend to see the ramifications of the assessments differently from U.S. conventional wisdom. Both agree there are generally three main challenges to ISF development: first, political party meddling in ISF responsibilities; second, the lack of professionalism and training; and third, logistics and organization. The United States appears to be adequately addressing the second and third challenges, but some Iraqis do not think it is doing enough to address the first and arguably most important challenge: halting political party meddling in ISF duties. Iraqi assessments suggest that without separating the ISF from the incumbent ethno-sectarian parties, the ISF will be a tool for creating instability in the country. …

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