Dr. Walid Phares
Iraq Withdrawal Can Only Work with Pressure on Iran
March 2, 2009
Now that President Obama and his aides have announced their plan for
U.S. withdrawal from Iraq by August 31, 2010, they must consider what
the forces engaged against the Coalition and Iraqi Government plan to do
in this time. For the Iranian and Syrian regimes, as well as al Qaeda
and other Jihadist groups, can affect the U.S. withdrawal plan.
Per senior U.S. officials, the Iraq war will unilaterally come to an end
on August 31, 2010 unless dramatic developments force another strategy.
As President Bush declared "mission accomplished” after the removal of
Saddam in 2003, President Obama has now declared the end of "all
counter-insurgency missions,” by 2010. After that date, from the 142,000
Marines and Army personnel, some 35,000 to 50,000 troops will remain and
would be ready to deploy in counter-terrorism missions. Under the
"Status of Forces Agreement” with the Iraqi government, all American
forces must be removed by December 31, 2011.
After August of next year the mission of U.S. (and possibly some
coalition) forces will be to:
1) Train, equip and advise Iraqi security forces.
2) Support civilian operations in Iraq aimed at reconstruction,
redevelopment and political reconciliation.
3) Conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions.
At first sight, the plan seems sound and answers a main requirement of
U.S. strategy: Maintaining political gains made by the Iraqi political
process and pursuing the fight against al Qaeda and other terror groups.
But the public and legislators should realize that for the next stage to
be successful, Iraq must be able to withstand any future pressures by
If the terrorist forces operating against the Coalition and the Iraqi
Government are to vanish as soon as the U.S. pulls out, the withdrawal
plan (any version of it) will be smooth and successful. It would be
merely a question of logistical management.
But any strategist must ask: what if the other side won’t cooperate?
What if al Qaeda and its Salafist ilk, as well as the Pasdaran, the Quds
force, Hezbollah, and the intelligence services of Tehran and Damascus
decide otherwise? What if they will continue the operations from now
till August 2010, and after that date, endlessly?
A logical U.S. response would be to focus on enabling Iraqis to fight
the counter insurgency war against the "foes” and grow their capacity
until withdrawal D-Day 18 months from now. By the magical date of August
31, 2010, Iraq’s own forces should be able to control their county. The
role of the U.S. expeditionary force should be to wage counter terrorism
missions in support of the Iraqi armed forces if the insurgency will
continue pass that date.
It is very hard to predict what all of our "foes” in Iraq will do. The
easiest guess is about al Qaeda and the other Jihadists. All their
literature and statements, as well as actions on the ground, show that
these forces will continue their attacks regardless of both American and
Iraqi planning. The Salafi combat groups, despite their containment by
the Sahwa campaign and by counter insurgency activities, have the Sunni
Triangle in sight for as long as the "will of Allah” prevails. Hence
their aggression against Iraq’s population and institutions is expected
to last as long as their ideology and ideologues would also last.
Just as important to the Jihadists are their strategic lines into Iraq.
The Jihadists are crossing the Syrian borders constantly and they are
backed by ideological and financial circles inside Iraq’s southern
neighbor, Saudi Arabia. Thus the success of the Obama plan will hinge on
the capacity of his Administration to stop the flow of Jihadism from
Syria and Saudi Arabia.
A more complex prediction is about Iran’s plan for a post U.S.
withdrawal. Many in Washington today are excited to report that realism
will prevail in Tehran as soon as the Obama Administration will "sit”
with the Mullahs’ regime and "talk” — some even say "listen.” In short,
somehow the group coined recently as the "Iran Lobby in the U.S.” is
arguing that withdrawal plans will get no opposition from Iran.
Everything will go smoothly and Iraq will be able to control its eastern
border, pro-Iranian groups notwithstanding.
I believe otherwise. Iran’s leadership will sit down, talk, and
sometimes listen — but it will at the same time continue its actions on
the ground until it fulfills its own "mission.” What is that mission? To
penetrate, influence and seize 60% of Iraq from Baghdad to Basra as U.S.
forces are withdrawing and certainly after the pull out. They will use
all the power elements at their disposal: special groups, the Mahdi
Army, assassinations, infiltration in Government, etc. Ironically, the
pro-Iranian action against U.S. presence will intensify further after
August 2010 to hasten the final withdrawal of counter insurgency forces
left behind. So in a sense the success of the Obama plan will hinge on
the American ability to deter Iran — and its ally Syria — from surging
against Iraq’s Democracy while the U.S. is organizing its departure.
Is the 2010 plan doomed? Not at all: It is actually a challenging one
and could be successful but is conditioned by the greater context.
Withdrawing the bulk of U.S. forces from Iraq after five years of
deployment is long overdue, especially if the troops will be used on
other fronts. Vice President Biden recently said the Iranians may be
surprised where many of these forces would be used. The Obama plan can
work if his Administration will move quickly to deter both Tehran and
Damascus from filling the void in Iraq. This is the secret equation
hovering over all three plans the President has to choose from. If
asked, I would advise the shortest stay for the bulk of U.S. forces in
Iraq so that they can be engaged in other spots, not only in
course of action would be to diminish the force in Iraq while
encouraging Iran and Syria — directly or indirectly — to "assume
responsibilities” on Iraqi land. This would be known by historians as
suicide. In the end, all is in the hands of President Obama. If he has a
global plan to restlessly wage campaigns against Jihadi powers and
forces around the world while winning a war of ideas, the 2010 plan for
Iraq will be a stunning move. But if all efforts of the Administration
are to pull out from the confrontation with the Jihadists, following the
advice of the failed academia of the past, the announced plan will be no
more than the beginning of the retreat. I truly hope the vision in the
oval office will meet the harsh realities of today’s world.
About Dr. Walid Phares
Dr. Walid Phares is the Director of Future Terrorism
Project at the Foundation for the
Democracies in Washington, a visiting scholar at the European Foundation
for Democracy and the author of the War of Ideas. Dr. Phares was one of the
architects of UNSCR 1559. He is also a Professor of Middle East
Studies at Florida Atlantic University and a contributing expert to FOX News.
Dr. Phares teaches Global Strategies at the National Defense
University. Professor Phares’
is the author of two critical books on the Islamofascist threat to Western
Civilization, "Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against the West”
and "The War of Ideas: Jihadism