Thursday, December 15, 2011


As the US formally end its combat mission in Iraq, the US Military can be proud of what it has accomplished. Iraq is a democracy with a cross-sectarian government. It's economy is growing slowly but surely. Iraqi journalists have unprecedented (but still insufficient) freedom. These successes are real and important.

 Although Prime Minister Maliki is showing concerning strands of authoritarianism, the Iraqi people are now the masters of their own futures. They must work to balance their government as a force that serves all their citizens equally. However, America can do little to solve domestic political disagreements in Iraq, these resolutions must come from Iraqis themselves.

In the immediate aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, coalition authorities made a number of extremely poor decisions. The over-zealous de-Baathfication campaign made hundreds of thousands of soldiers, teachers and other civil servants unemployed. The counter-terrorism focus of the US Military towards dealing with insurgents, also made opportunities for political reconciliation nearly impossible in a zero sum game. Alongside these failings and in the context of poor Iraqi government leadership, between the summer of 2003 and late 2006, many young Iraqi men joined opposing insurgent groups like Al Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI) and the Jaish al Mahdi. The violence that these organisations inflicted on the Iraqi people and on coalition forces was horrific and relentless. The violence destroyed any tangible opportunity for political reconciliation, literally driving communities apart and leading some to suggest that Iraq would become the Somalia of the Middle East.

In early 2007, the US responded with 'the surge'. This new strategy lead to a dramatic increase in US force deployments to Iraq and focused on the internalisation into US Military doctrine of a counter-insurgency strategy. This new approach allowed American forces to set up joint security stations in Iraqi population centers, in so providing a more consistent measure of security, a closer level of co-operation and trust and a greater opportunity to support civil reconstruction/society efforts. US Military operations were now focused on acheiving specific political goals as much as they were on capturing or killing insurgents. Coupled with this new approach, was an extremely aggressive US counter-terrorism strategy that inflicted unsustainable losses on irreconcilable terrorist leaders from groups like AQI. Further, the US Military enlisted tens of thousands of unemployed  (or previously insurgent employed) Iraqi men to form local security teams to provide a crucial, lasting and indigenous effort to rid their communities of terrorist groups. The cumulative effect of these strategic changes was massive. Violence declined by an extraordinary amount and as a measure of social stability returned, so did a measure of political stability. This fragile but valuable position is where Iraq finds itself today. The US should continue to provide meaningful support for Iraq's military and exert constant but respectful pressure on Iraq's government to adopt a more cross-sectarian approach to its governance of the country. Whatever one thinks of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, the US Military has shown resolve, intellect, flexibility and courage.

America's armed forces can be proud of what they have achieved and how they went about achieving it.

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