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Friday, September 12, 2008

How to Exit Iraq

This is a fine piece from John Nagl, a recently retired Army lieutenant colonel and author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife , who, by the way, is one more example of a fine officer with a bright future who left the service prematurely. Nagl lambasts both presidential candidates for their simplistic view of Iraq.
This world, defined principally by more capable Iraqi security forces taking the lead with coalition support and an increasingly confident Iraqi
government, defies the simplistic
“all in” or “all out” way that Iraq is debated in Washington.
Nagl cites Basra as the prime example of what could happen if withdrawal is done hastily:
After the 2003 invasion, control over southern Iraq was handed over to British forces. Without adequate troops to protect the population, security in Basra deteriorated, the British withdrew and Shiite militias took control. In late March of this year, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki launched an offensive in Basra to clear the city of militias, but the Iraqi Army quickly got bogged down. American special operations forces and combat advisers reinforced Iraqi units, providing crucial air and fire support and detailed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. As a result, Iraqi security forces turned the tide and now control the city.

The lesson of Basra is clear: a rapid withdrawal risks a resurgence of violence, but a responsible drawdown and a reorientation of the mission away from combat and toward advising Iraqi forces stand a good chance of advancing our interests in Iraq at acceptable cost.
Nagl goes on to recommend two courses of action for the next president both revolving around the American blank check. First, link the Iraqi government's progress toward continued support. Second, the United States should not support the Iraqi government's chest thumping, in the form of the crackdown on the Sons of Iraq, who were the key to the Sunni awakening...

Nagl concludes with a telling paragraph:

Last, it is vital that the next president not send a signal that he hopes to establish an enduring Korea-style presence in Iraq. Most Iraqi leaders want continued American military support for several years, but do not want a permanent presence beyond the minimum advisory effort. If the next administration tries to lay the groundwork for an indefinite footprint, it will be forced to give in to all sorts of Iraqi demands.

As we toured Basra, our armored Humvees had Iraqi flags on the sides and American shipping labels on the windshields. This made it hard to see the streets, but easy to see the future — one in which Iraqis increasingly take the lead as American forces pull back.

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