Monday, August 23, 2010

What Will Iraq Be Like For The Remaining U.S. Troops?

In the third week of August 2010 the last U.S. combat unit, the 4th Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division departed Iraq. That left around 52,000 American troops in the country, soon to be reduced to 50,000 by September 1. The remaining six Army brigades will be redesignated Advise and Assist units. There will also be 4,500 Special Operations forces, plus Air Force and Navy contingents. The name of the U.S. effort changed from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn as well, and the main aim is to train, assist, and supply the Iraqi security forces, collect intelligence, protect the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) and diplomatic staff, maintain the joint U.S.-Iraqi-peshmerga checkpoints in the disputed territories of northern Iraq, and work with the Iraqis on counterterrorism.

Some questioned whether this was simply a semantic, rather than a substantive change for the U.S. Obviously, all American soldiers carry weapons and can defend themselves, and some U.S. units will continue to conduct offensive raids in conjunction with the Iraqis. At the same time, Iran and the Shiite militias it supports are hoping to claim responsibility for the American withdrawal, and are stepping up their attacks. One of those led to the first fatality since the 4th Stryker Brigade departed. On August 22, an American soldier was killed at the Basra Operating Base by rocket fire. Shiite militants were also likely responsible for two mortar shells hitting the Green Zone and a roadside bomb striking a PRT in Dhi Qar the day before, and seven separate rocket attacks upon the Green Zone and the Basra Operating Base the previous week. Sunni insurgents were active as well, lobbing a thermal bomb at a U.S. patrol in Kirkuk on August 20. 

What then can the remaining troops expect to face in Iraq? On the one hand, they will work on reconstruction projects, and expanding the capabilities of the Iraqi military. On the other hand, they will continue to come under attack by anti-American forces. There will be very few acts of actual combat outside of those units that conduct raids with Iraqis. Otherwise, most will move back and forth between bases, go out in the field to visit Iraqis, and occasionally come under indirect fire. That was actually what was happening for quite some time before the 4th Stryker Brigade left for Kuwait, but will become more the routine as there are fewer U.S. troops with a more limited range of operations left in Iraq.


Aswat al-Iraq, “2 mortars land near green zone,” 8/21/10
- “Bomb hits US PRT in Nasseriya,” 8/21/10
- “U.S. patrol came under attack by thermal bomb in Kirkuk,” 8/20/10

Baker, Peter, “As Mission Shifts in Iraq, Risks Linger for Obama,” New York Times, 8/21/10

Chulov, Martin, “First US soldier killed in Iraq since withdrawal of combat troops,” Guardian, 8/22/10

Fadel, Leila, “As U.S. scales back role in Iraq, attacks and political deadlock persist,” Washington Post, 8/22/10

Gordon, Michael, “Civilians to Take U.S. Lead as Military Leaves Iraq,” New York Times, 8/18/10

Londono, Ernesto, “Operation Iraqi Freedom ends as last combat soldiers leave Baghdad,” Washington Post, 8/19/10

New York Times, “Fatality in Iraq Is First After Deadline,” 8/22/10

Olive Group, “Weekly Security Update for 19th August 2010,” 8/19/10

Parker, Ned, “An Army convoy passes through a landscape littered with memories,” Los Angeles Times, 8/18/10

Ricks, Thomas, “U.S. ‘combat troops’ have not left Iraq,” Foreign Policy, 8/20/10


Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi said...

Thank you for posting this Joel. Incidentally, would you be interested in reading this article I wrote on a similar subject ( I would be grateful for feedback.

Joel Wing said...


I actually read your article before you mentioned it. A couple points.

1) Pipes' theory about revolutionary and status quo powers doesn't work in Iraq. Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey for example all support Allawi, while the U.S. and Iran back Maliki to be premier.

2) The Saudis have very little influence in Iraq. Initially they supported the insurgency and gave a cold shoulder to the governments in Baghdad. Recently they backed Allawi, but that may pay off. They simply can't accept the fact that Shiites are going to run Iraq.

3) Iran obviously has a lot of pull in Iraq, but the election has shown their limits. Despite a ton of pressure, they weren't able to get Maliki to run with the National Alliance before the vote, and since then they haven't gotten those two to reconcile either.

4) Iraqi politicians are caught up in their own personal power struggle right now, which trumps whatever pressure the US, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or Syria may be applying right now.