Dr. Walid Phares
Iraqi Success Will Depend on the Next U.S. Strategy
July 10, 2009
In a briefing organized in Congress in July of 2007, I submitted a plan
to the U.S. House Caucus on Counter Terrorism called "Freedom lines"
suggesting a second phase in the American military campaign in Iraq.
This plan was suggested as of 2004. After having analyzed the long term
goals of al Qaeda and the Iranian regime in Iraq and discussed them with
CENTCOM officials and National Defense University professors, the
proposed plan projected a rapid training and expansion of the Iraqi
armed forces followed by a gradual redeployment of U.S. and Coalition
forces out of the cities and urban zones.
Today we see the first phase of withdrawal beginning to take place. It
is in this redeployment stage, where Iraqi forces will be taking over
from Americans and allies in all cities and most towns. Two crucial
questions arise immediately: Will Iraqi forces be able to control their
own urban zones? And as a corollary, what should be the next phase for
U.S. and Coalition forces on Iraqi soil?
According to the plan I have suggested the answer to the second question
can determine the success or failure of the first. Indeed, for Iraqi
forces to win the battle against their security challenges, it will
depend on what kind of strategic mission U.S. armed forces will be
tasked with in the next stage of their new deployment. Here is why:
The Enemy's Intentions
The two main forces the U.S. and the West are facing in the region, and
which are threatening the rise of democracy amongst local civil
societies have been and continue to be the Salafi Jihadists led by al
Qaeda on the one hand and the Ayatollahs' Pasdaran on the other hand.
These two threats -- regardless of how various U.S. administrations
perceive them or project them -- are the main challengers to Iraq's
national security. And thus their intentions towards Iraq's future will
determine the fate of the post redeployment stage.
What are al Qaeda's and Iran's plans with the completion of American
pull out from the cities? The combat Jihadists (often called "the
extremists" by the U.S. Administration) are clear in their intentions:
attack Iraqi forces, civil society and foreign presence mostly in Sunni
Arab areas and when possible across the country. There will be no change
in strategy for al Qaeda but an increase of activities in an effort to
crumble the government's presence in what the Salafi Jihadists would
want to transform into a future "Emirate."
The Iranian factor is more complex: Tehran's influence in Baghdad is
projected to increase. Behind the scenes, the pro-Khomeinist politicians
in Iraq will pressure the Shia-dominated government to lessen their
alliance with the United States and tighten their cooperation with the
"Islamic Republic of Iran." The real battle will be within the Shia
community of Iraq. The Pasdaran's tentacles will attempt to eliminate
the anti-Iranian cadres and consolidate the pro-Iranian groups,
including the armed ones. The far goal is undoubted: Spread Iranian
indirect control from border to border to connect with Syria's.
Iraqi Resistance to the Two Threats
Can Iraq's government and armed forces resist the post U.S. redeployment
assault by al Qaeda and the further infiltration by the Iranian regime?
The answer is yes, if.
If the country's national leadership stays united, closely allied to the
United States and aware of the two threats, it will be able to ride the
dangerous waves and reach stability by 2011 and beyond. But if the Iraqi
government – and its successor after the fall's elections – fail in
meeting the three above mentioned conditions, the threats will prevail.
Do Iraq's army and security forces have enough numbers, equipment and
training to respond to al Qaeda? Technically yes. If backed by their
government, they can withstand terror strikes as long as needed and deny
a repeat of Fallujah.
Violence will take place, and might even increase, but the measurement
is by the ability of the armed forces to deny the terrorists a
territorial control, not to stop the bombings. However, Iraq's ability
to maintain unity against al Qaeda is based on its ability to deny
further Iranian infiltration. And to do so, Iraqis need to be shielded
from penetration coming from the east and the west: Iran and Syria. This
is where U.S. role becomes critical.
New Redeployment: Deterrence or Neutrality?
If the U.S. forces leaving cities would regroup in large bases and await
calls from Baghdad's government to help when needed, they risk missing
the bigger of the threats: a strategic penetration by Iran from border
to border. Americans may be called to assist against al Qaeda while the
Pasdaran will be subtly occupying the country. In short we will be doing
the dirty job for the next dominant power: Iran. Hence, all depends on
the deals already cut: If the Obama administration has accepted the idea
of a future influence by Iran in Iraq, in return for a deal on regional
issues, then expect U.S. "neutrality" towards Iranian influence in urban
Iraq. But if Washington perceives Iran's role in Iraq as a threat, then
it should use its redeployment as deterrence against the Khomeinists.
Everything else will unfold quickly.
Redeploy Along the Borders
In military history, deployments have constituted half of most
victories. In my 2007 plan, I suggested a withdrawal from the center of
Iraq and a deployment along the borders with particular focus on the
frontiers with Iran and Syria. The thick presence along the two rivers
should be remodeled into thick massing along the borders to the east and
to the west, leaving most of the country to its armed forces. By
redeploying as two buffers facing Tehran and Damascus, significant
dividends will emerge: One, Iraqis will be able to pacify the center at
will without main concerns about trans-borders penetrations; two, the
Iranian regime will be deterred from a thrust into its neighbor; three,
the Syrian regime will lose the land bridge it hoped to access with
Iran; four both the Assad and Khamanei regimes will have to focus on
their growing domestic issues, instead of "meddling" in a post
Although such a strategic move should have been the next logic step in
U.S. plans in Iraq, Washington decision makers have been advised in an
opposite direction: "Engage" Iran and Syria and cut a deal with them as
to the future of Iraq. The next stage of U.S. redeployment, if directed
at deterring Iran can lead to Iraqi victory over terror. But if
deterring Tehran's regime is not on the agenda, Iraq will be challenged
by al Qaeda in its center and penetrated by Iran from both borders.