Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Iraq Wants Its Own Defense Policy, Not The One Fashioned By Washington

The U.S. has equipped and planned the future of the Iraqi security forces, but Baghdad is now exerting its own priorities over its military (Arab
The United States and some defense analysts have big plans for Iraq’s security forces. Washington would like to see Iraq have a large and modern military capable of defending itself against external threats with U.S. tanks, assault rifles, artillery, and fighters. They are especially concerned about Iran. Iraq however, has its own ideas, which may not match what the U.S. wants. Michael Knights in his June 2011 report, “The Iraqi Security Forces: Local Context and U.S. Assistance,” notes that Iraq’s history, politics, and economics will shape how it develops its military more than America’s priorities.

The United States set out a three-stage plan to develop Iraq’s security forces. The first was to put the Iraqis in charge of internal security. That started in 2006, and was completed in 2010. The second was to put the police in charge of internal security, a job that is now done in conjunction with the Iraqi Army. That was to happen by the end of 2011. The last part was to have Iraqis take charge of their external defense. The Iraqi military has plans to achieve that by 2020. 
Premier Maliki has tried to exert direct control over the Iraqi military, which complicates America's strategy for Iraq (Shatt al-Arab)
Those last two steps may take much longer than the Americans planned. Having the police take over control of the country may never happen as long as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is in power. That’s because the police are recruited locally,  and are therefore under the sway of municipal and provincial authorities. Maliki wants the central government, which he is the head of, to be in charge of security. He therefore prefers to use the Army instead. In the most important governorates, such as Baghdad, Basra, Diyala, Ninewa, and Anbar, the military is organized into operation commands that skip the traditional chain of authority, and are under the direct control of the prime minister. Some politicians have also been voicing concerns that Maliki has been attempting to directly control the military, especially now that he is the acting Defense and Interior Minister, by placing his followers within the ranks and bureaucracy. Not only that, but the Army is much more capable of carrying out anti-insurgent activities than the police. Being self-reliant in national defense may also be delayed. Although the Iraqi forces are in the process of buying modern tanks and artillery, this may not be completed by 2020. Also the ability to maintain and supply these sophisticated pieces of equipment may take even longer as those are major deficiencies in the Iraqi forces. These are all signs of Baghdad setting its own priorities rather than simply following what the Americans want. As U.S. influence continues to decline, and its troops are drawn down, Iraq’s politicians can be expected to do this more and more.
The Kurdish rebel group the PKK is based along the Iraq-Turkish border and invites annual military retaliation from Ankara. Baghdad has no means to stop these actions because of its weak border forces (IraqSlogger)
Other example of the growing autonomy by Iraqis over security involves strategies and tactics. For one, border enforcement is extremely weak. There is large amounts of smuggling, militants going back and forth between Syria and Iran and Iraq, and there are two Kurdish guerrilla organizations, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), which are based out of northern Iraq, but carry out operations against the Turkish and Iranian governments respectively. Every year their operations incite shelling and sometimes military incursions by those two countries. The PKK for example, just killed thirteen Turkish soldiers,  and both Turkey and Iran are firing artillery barrages along the border, and might have even encroached into Iraqi territory. Border control is almost non-existent in Kurdistan except at official trading points. This is actually nothing new. Saddam Hussein was forced to give up control of Kurdistan beginning in the 1970s. Another issue is internal defense. In terms of strategy, the Iraqi army is increasingly acting more like a conventional army with raids and arrests, instead of conducting population centric counterinsurgency operations as the Americans initiated during the Surge. Baghdad also shows no enthusiasm for integrating the Sons of Iraq to help maintain protection in the areas they operate in. This has all happened despite American efforts to build up a border guard, and to make the Iraqis a competent counterinsurgency force.
Iranian weapons are regularly captured in Iraq, but Washington and Baghdad have different ways of dealing with it (Arkenstone)
The biggest difference between Iraq and the Americans is over the southern border and relations with Iran. In southern Iraq, there is a constant flow of weapons and militiamen from Iran, which has gone on since the 1980s. Recently this has increased as Tehran and the Special Groups it backs have started a campaign to attack U.S. troops to give the impression that they were responsible for their withdrawal. The Iraqi government has done nothing about these operations since 2008, despite growing complaints by American officials that their soldiers are dying in larger numbers this year, and that Baghdad needs to do something about it. The U.S. defense plans for Iraq are also largely based upon deterring Iranian power. The problem with that is that the Shiite and Kurdish ruling parties in Iraq do not see Iran in those terms. Many have had friendly relations with Tehran since the time of Saddam, and do not want to return to an adversarial relationship. In fact, many think there is an unofficial non-aggression pact between the two. That means the Iraqi military cannot fully address any of these problems along the Iranian border. Not only that, but the security forces consider border problems a diplomatic affair, and leave any incident up to the Foreign Ministry and politicians. That means the military has no clear policy on how to deal with Iran, despite U.S. pressure to treat them as a threat.
Iraq's Kurdish parties and Iran both complained about Baghdad's plans to buy F-16 fighters from the United States showing the internal and external problems Iraq has outfitting its forces
Another part of the U.S. plan that is likely to become complicated is the drive to make Iraq capable of defending itself. This faces six problems. First, Iraq has uneven officers and Defense Ministry. Some of Iraq’s officers are veterans of the Iran-Iraq and Gulf Wars, while others are political appointees with no military training. The new officers also have no combat experience fighting other countries, just militants. They will require a large transition from internal to external defense operations. Second, different political parties have run the Defense Ministry, each of which has placed its followers in positions of authority. These officials are more interested in serving their leaders than defending the country. Third, there is also massive corruption within the Defense Ministry involving people buying commissions, and taking kickbacks in weapons procurement deals, sometimes for defective equipment. Fourth, politically, the Kurds have protested about some of the weapon systems the military wants to buy. Fifth, Iran may also use its influence to stop some military programs. In February for example, the deputy head of the security committee in Iraq’s parliament complained that Tehran was trying to block a proposed deal to purchase 18 F-16 fighters from the United States. Last, Iraq’s government has to be committed to spending the necessary money to purchase all of the new equipment needed. There is no guarantee this will happen. When protests started in early 2011 for instance, Maliki temporarily cancelled the F-16 deal, claiming he would use the money for social programs instead. Oil is the backbone of the Iraqi economy, and the current high prices caused by the unrest in the Middle East is bringing in record profits, but if those were to collapse, Baghdad may have to cut back its spending for the armed forces. This presents a daunting number of issues that Iraq has to overcome before it can be ready to defend itself. It has institutional barriers, political differences, outside interference, and possible financial limitations that it must all deal with.

Given all of these problems, Michael Knights presented three paths that Iraq could follow in developing its military. First, it could have a small military that was mostly for posturing against other countries, but not one really capable of defending itself against a serious attack. This would consist of 5-6 heavy brigades, and perhaps a dozen light infantry divisions. That path would largely depend upon diplomatic relations with Iraq’s neighbors to maintain security. Second, Iraq could build up its armed forces so that they could deter other countries. That would mean 3-4 armored and mechanized divisions with light divisions and heavy equipment. This would still be a small force that would also be affordable. Finally, Baghdad could embark upon a full-scale rearmament program to try to at least match Iraq’s previous standing as a military powerhouse in the region when Saddam Hussein was in power. That would require the government to appoint Iran its major rival, and fund 7 armored/mechanized divisions, 14 light infantry divisions, at least 10 internal security divisions, along with building up the federal police. This is the force that the Americans have envisioned for Iraq with tanks, artillery, air defense, offensive air power, logistics, etc. This is also the least likely to happen because of Iraq’s friendly relationship with Iran. That leaves something along the first two paths. Those can also be bolstered by a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq, or a security agreement between the two that would allow the Americans to come to the aid of Iraq if requested using the extensive bases that the U.S. maintains in other Middle Eastern countries. The problem with the former is that American troops are unpopular in Iraq, and growing more so day-by-day. There is an open question whether they will even get an extension to stay past the December 31, 2011 deadline for them to withdraw.
Iraq has ordered 140 M1A1 Abrams tanks from the U.S, but doesn't have the ability to maintain them, which will require U.S. service contracts (2Space)
Even though Washington and Baghdad have increasingly divergent views of what Iraq’s security forces should look like there is still ample room for cooperation. The United States is the largest supplier of military equipment to Iraq, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Buying U.S. arms requires training and maintenance, which means U.S. advisers and contractors. That allows the U.S. defense establishment at the minimum to give Iraq friendly advice on what to do on security.

After the 2003 invasion, the United States disbanded Iraq’s military. They then set about rebuilding it from scratch. That meant the Americans came up with all of the plans on how to develop the forces. Like too many things, this was based upon U.S. ideas rather than Iraqi ones. Now that the Americans are on their way out, and their influence is lessoning every day as a result, Baghdad is asserting its authority over its defense priorities as it should have from the beginning. That probably means many of the original U.S. ideas will be scrapped or modified. Iraq is likely to run into financial, political, and corruption problems buying all of the equipment it wants. As long as the current ruling parties are in power, the policy along the border will also be ambiguous at best. That means Iraq will end up with a brand new armed forces, but it will look and act a lot different than how Washington originally envisioned them.


Agence France Presse, “US shows evidence in Iraq rocket attacks it says leads to Iran,” 7/14/11

Craig, Tim, “With ‘big gun’, Iraqi soldiers see hope,” Washington Post, 6/19/11

Gompert, David, Kelly, Terrence, Watkins, Jessica, “Security in Iraq; A Framework for Analyzing Emerging Threats as U.S. Forces Leave,” RAND, 2/17/10

Al-Hasani, Mustafa, “Maliki’s allies are worried about the dominance of his party in the Iraqi military,” Shatt al-Arab, 7/14/11

International Crisis Group, “Loose Ends: Iraq’s Security Forces Between U.S. Drawdown And Withdrawal,” 10/26/10

Al-Jaff, Wissam, “Source: Iran presses on Iraq to replace US weapons deal with French,” AK News, 2/8/11

Knights, Michael, “The Iraqi Security Forces: Local Context and U.S. Assistance,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, June 2011

Press TV, “’Iraqi Kurds uneasy at US arms sales,’” 1/17/11

Rahim, Hemin Baban, “MP: Iraq Corruption “Tremendous,”” Rudaw, 7/16/11

Sabah, Bakhtiyar, “Iran setting up bases on Kurdistan border, says village chief,” AK News, 7/17/11

Saifaddin, Dilsahd, “PKK: Iranian troops on Iraqi soil,” AK News, 7/17/11

1 comment:

Maury said...

I don't think Iran is a threat to Iraq Joel. It's more likely that Iraq will become an unofficial member of the Iran/Syria/Hezbollah alliance. The Persian Empire is being slowly revived.

Given the terror attacks by Wahhabi fanatics on Shiites in the last 10 years, and the oppression foisted on its own Shiite population, Saudi Arabia has every reason to fear the Shia Crescent. If Iraq's oil ambitions are ever realized, KSA may even lose some of that unwavering security support Washington has showed for the last 60 years. Especially if their foot soldiers pull off another 9/11. KSA is exactly like Pakistan. Supporting terrorists on one hand, while claiming to be our friends on the other. That's patently obvious to everyone but the policy wonks in D.C.. Saudi Arabia has a boatload of karma heading its way. It's only a matter of when.

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