Iraq: Looking at the exit signs, wondering what to do

A must read from Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey on what our Iraq withdrawal might look like on the ground. He notes that even after the 2011 deadline for the U.S. to leave Iraq, there will still will be a “residual force” of 50,000 American troops.  What will those troops be going?

“I’ve seen all kinds of options proposed,” said [General Daniel] Bolger—from “spread out in the countryside, sort of doing training out at ranges and facilities,” to deployments “just outside the cities, to assist with counterinsurgency-type training or tasks,” to moving troops “out to the borders” to help an Iraqi military that has been focused inward, killing rebellious locals, and start to deal with the problem of “a potential invasion from some unfriendly country.” Bolger said he’s “seen all those different versions.”

Then Chris drops some  precedent:

In fact, history gives a pretty good sense of what the challenges for the departing Americans are going to be, whether you look at Vietnam in the early 1970s, or the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan in the late 1980s, or the Israeli pullout from Lebanon in several ugly stages from 1982 to 2000. One of the first things that happens is that erstwhile allies of the departing force start to cut deals with—and pass on quantities of intelligence to—the powers that are likely to stay in place. In this case, Iran. If supply lines are long, as they certainly are in Iraq, they become increasingly vulnerable to attack and harassment, as enormous amounts of matériel and the last soldiers traveling with it are pulled out. (The classic horror story from history was the British retreat from Kabul in 1842, when 16,000 people set out for Jalalabad and only one man made it.)

In Iraq, says [military historian Martin]Van Creveld, by the time the Americans are down to the last few tens of thousands of troops, “it all depends on what the Iraqis themselves want.” They might do what the Afghan mujahedin did watching the Russians pull out of Afghanistan in 1988, he says. “They just stood back and jeered.” Or they might be busy fighting among themselves. There’s always some savage score-settling when occupiers withdraw, and in Iraq the unofficial, unsettled border between Kurdistan and the Arab southern parts of the country already is known as “the trigger line.”

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About michaelhastings

Journalist
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