President-elect Barack Obama’s vow to end the war in Iraq within 16 months is looking highly improbable as analysts detail the difficult situation on the ground in the war-torn country.
In a new, exhaustive review titled “How Soon Is Safe? Iraqi Force Development and Conditions-Based U.S. Withdrawals,” military expert Anthony H. Cordesman starkly reports that there are still no coherent plans for the future in Iraq.
“No clear unclassified plan now exists to give Iraq all of the capabilities its forces need to assume the counterinsurgency mission,” says Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “No coherent plan exists to wean the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) off of dependence on U.S. forces and enablers to handle heavy combat, provide airpower and air mobility, artillery and armor, logistics and service support, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities -- much less develop the land, air, and naval forces it needs to deal with any major outside threat without U.S. support.”
During the campaign, Obama qualified his promise to end the Iraq war saying, “I would be a poor commander-in-chief if I didn’t take facts on the ground into account.”
Cordesman points out those facts are not looking good. In a careful, step-by-step evaluation based upon his numerous trips to Iraq, Cordesman reports a plethora of problems: There is a major shortage of qualified leaders in the Iraqi armed forces and the army (currently totaling 183,756 as of August 31, 2008) is still in the process of a major expansion. The bulk of the army still has combat capabilities more like a collection of smaller battalions that require U.S. support, rather than as a self-sufficient force that is ready to operate with full brigades and divisions. Expanding and readying Iraqi defense forces requires eliminating the current six-month delay in U.S. arms sales and deliveries as well as the one-year lag time in deploying the new gear. The ranks of the Iraqi police have grown to 88,000 locally hired officers or “shurta,” but most have received only a bare minimum of training. Another 160,000 recruits are still awaiting police training. The central government lacks an effective presence in many areas, and the court system is unable to support the police, provide defendants the procedural and substantive due process provided for by law, and provide suitable jails and detainment facilities. Police units remain critically short of equipment. Meanwhile, the army still lacks armor, and security forces remain dependant on Coalition support, particularly during combat operations. Readiness and force development problems are even more critical in Iraq’s fledgling air force and navy. With fewer than 4,000 personnel total, the two branches still have no clear procurement plans for combat systems. Iraq also has vast numbers of unemployed and underemployed young men; there is no viable business sector or free market, and virtually all job creation comes from government spending on security forces, civil service, and government-dominated industries. The large Sunni tribal group Sons of Iraq was supposed to transfer many of its 100,000 members to the national Iraqi Security Force, according to the Multi-National Security Transition Command. But progress has been extremely slow in this area. The balance of power between the central and provincial governments remains largely undecided.
All of the above, says Cordesman, comes as no surprise to Iraqi officials. He says that both the Iraqi minister of defense and the transition commands former leader Lt. Gen. James Dubik have said that Iraqi forces were unlikely to be able to take over the counterinsurgency mission before 2012.
Not to diminish the importance of the milestone Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) recently passed by the Iraq parliament, Cordesman laments, “Iraqi and U.S. leaders seem to have agreed on timelines for U.S. withdrawal without agreeing on a plan to ensure that Iraqi forces can and will be ready to operate without U.S. support and security guarantees.”
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