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[casi] Cordesman: What is Next in Iraq?

What is Next in Iraq?

Military Developments, Military Requirements and Armed Nation Building
By Anthony H. Cordesman

It now sees likely that the United States will face some form of low
intensity conflict in Iraq for at least 6-12 more months. No one can
predict when or how such fighting will develop or how it will end. It is
clear, however, that several issues badly need to be addressed.

Who Is The Enemy?

There is an ongoing debate among U.S. government and outside experts over
who the enemy is, and the relative strength and role of Saddam/Ba’ath
loyalists, postwar Iraqi nationalists, Iraqi Sunni groups, outside Arab
volunteers, and outside organized Islamic extremists groups – some of
which have at least loose ties to Al Qaida.

The problem is that all of these groups are involved to some degree, and it
is almost impossible to make an accurate count or assessment of the
strength, role, and trends in any one element. Intelligence analysts are
speculating on the basis of their favorite threat; conspiracy theories
abound; and the media seem ready to print or air virtually any halfway
convincing story.

The White House also is clearly trying to put a political spin on the issue
of defining the enemy for both domestic and foreign political reasons by
labeling the opposition as “terrorists” and linking it as much
as possible to Afghanistan, outside Islamic extremists and Al Qaida.
“Terrorism” is a hot button word that condemns the attackers,
ties them to 9/11, avoids any mention of nationalism and the problems in
nation building, avoids the issue of why the United States wasn’t
better prepared to deal with the problem right after the war, and
presumably wins more international support. Anti-terrorism is popular;
Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia are not.

In balance, the U.S. forces and analysts most involved (a) admit on
background that they have no real numbers and the situation is constantly
evolving, (b) see some kind of lose regional coordination but cannot
identify its scale and structure with any detail, (c) see the Iraqi threat
as still more pro-Saddam and Ba'athist than Islamic but note there is no
clear separation between the groups, (d) see a loose structure of
cooperation between diverse groups that do not share a common agenda other
than anger or hatred of the United States and secular change, (e) see
growing numbers of young Sunni Iraqis entering the opposition as part of a
postwar reaction to the U.S. failures in nation building, (f) do see
outside volunteers and speculate that 50-200 Al Ansar have returned, and
(g) see the numbers of serious hostile cadres involved as a still very
small but admit no meaningful numbers are possible.

Key Areas of Uncertainty

No consensus seems to be emerging over several very important issues:

Whether getting Saddam and the entire “deck of cards” would
make a major difference or simply push more power down to the emerging
hostile nationalists and domestic/Islamists. Best guess: A pause,
short-term decline in hostility and resurgence unless nation building takes
hold. How large the stocks of surplus weapons, bombs, explosives, etc. are,
and how important they are. The United States keeps finding large caches,
but the supply base may be so extensive that this is about as useful as the
drug seizures in the war on drugs. Best guess: 6-12 months before outside
supply becomes a serious issue and it may never be important if sabotage
and improvised explosive devises can paralyze nation building. The
seriousness of the anti-U.S./anti-coalition feeling among current and
potential Iraq Sunni activists and the extent to which failures in nation
building and U.S. tactical mistakes are broadening at least the short term
base of true hostiles. The feeling seems to be that cadres are growing but
not sharply, and the United States is having nation building and making
some progress. Analysts note that public opinion polls are often irrelevant
because it only takes a small percent of hostiles to sustain a low
intensity conflict and that the Iraqis are more “angry
neutrals” than favorable to the United States.
 The risk the struggle will broaden to include the Shiites in the south. No
consensus of any kind. Best guess: At least one chance in three of some
significant outbreaks from Shi’ite elements. Is Iraq becoming the
central focus of Islamic extremist movements? Opinion is divided, but
general view is a sharp "no." The fighting is stepping up in Afghanistan,
and most Islamist movements are national and do not change their focus over
time. Al Qaida is certainly deeply interested but has many other targets.
An Islamist target? Yes. A central focus? No. The importance of domestic
versus foreign Islamic elements: Once again, opinion is divided and
complicated by the fact so many Islamic elements talk about Iraq and make
grandiose statements. The balance of opinion seems to be that native Iraqi
Islamists are emerging in a strength equal to those of foreign elements,
that many foreign volunteers do not have clear ongoing ties to outside
organizations, and that Al Ansar and other organized groups have a limited
but real presence. The Need for More Troops

Much of the debate over the war in Iraq is turning to whether the United
States should send in more troops and/or seek to expand the role of the
U.N. and get more foreign troops. The present "sound bite" approach to this
issue in the media tends to report on one of three over-simplified and
unrealistic positions regarding these issues.

More U.S. Troops and a Larger Army: The first position calls for more U.S.
troops, and directly or indirectly, for a larger U.S. Army. The reasons for
this call are often driven more by the general overstretch of U.S. forces
than by an analysis of what is really needed in Iraq. There also is a
"finally the Army's time has come" character to some of the arguments --
rather ironic after the focus on airpower during the Afghan War and the
immediate aftermath of the fighting to overthrow Saddam's regime. The
problem with these arguments is that the entire U.S. force structure is
under severe pressure in spite of major increases in defense spending. More
U.S. Army forces take time and money to create and may not be ready in
time. Spending on the Army either means larger budget deficits or cuts in
the Marines, Navy and Air Force. The Air Force and Navy too have take a
40%+ cut in deployable active forces.

Going to the U.N.: The second position – the pro-U.N. argument --
often focuses more on the feeling the Bush Administration is ignoring the
international community, has alienated some of our allies, than on the
missions that must be performed. It often has an ideological character, and
argues for a U.N. role and "U.N. troops" without considering who will
really provide these troops and what their capabilities and costs will be.
The usual suspects are France, Germany, Turkey, and India. The problem with
these arguments is that this is not some kind of guard duty enforcing an
agreed peace but an active low-intensity conflict where forces need
training and experience and have to cooperate in ongoing counter-guerrilla
and counter-terrorist operations in at least the center of Iraq. War and
armed nation building do require manpower per se. They require focused and
coordinated efforts that cannot be run by a giant committee or carried out
by inexperienced troops.

Most foreign troops will also bring a political agenda with them, demands
for a role in nation building decisions, and add problems in terms of
logistic and transportation support, financial support, language skills,
and command and control. There already is a linguistic, support, and
command problem of major dimensions. Work by Brian Hartman of ABC News
shows there are 31 countries with troops there... or getting there soon.
They total up to about 24,000, but only Britain has a large, cohesive force
of some 11,000. Poland has 2,400, the Ukraine has 1,800, Spain has 1,300,
Italy 1,130, and the Netherlands has 1,100. The other 25 countries have 24
different languages, lack standardized communications, and generally
require U.S. logistic and transportation support.

We don't need more outside troops; we need Iraqis: The third position is
the official one. Secretary Rumsfeld has said the senior military
leadership (Joint Chiefs?) have advised him that more troops are not yet
needed and has said that the United States should expand the role of the
Iraqis in defending the nation building effort. The validity of these
arguments lies in the fact that 300,000 young men and women who lack proper
training, language skills, and area expertise are not twice as good as
150,000. In fact, simply throwing more warm bodies into the mix – all
of which require force protection and support -- and may complicate the
problem more than they are worth. Force quality is clearly more important
than force quantity, and alienating more of the Iraqi people is a risk the
United States cannot afford.

One key problem with these arguments is that they are not really driven by
whether we need more U.S. troops, but rather by whether we can afford to
send more troops. There really aren't that many skilled troops available.
The United States has another war in Afghanistan and must retain
contingency capability for other missions. It cannot develop more trained
troops in less than a year, and it may well be able to create a more
efficient Army force structure and free existing troops for the mission in
that time. the reserves are already overstretched, a growing political
problem, and often have readiness limitations. It would also be ideal for
the United States to be able to rely more on Iraqis.

Another key problem is that Iraqis take time to train, present serious
political problems, and are better suited to guard duty than really
defending and/or hunting down attackers.

The Mission: Offense, Not Defense, Wins

The real answer is that none of these positions are likely to be adequate.
The key missions the United States and its allies must succeed in are (a)
develop the offensive capability to win a low intensity conflict in central
Iraq, (b) carry out armed nation building in that area, and (c) prevent the
broadening of the war to include the Shi’ites and ethnic/sectarian
fighting in the north. The United States and its allies must also begin
immediately. They cannot wait to create new forces and cadres or bring in
troops from the outside.

The Key Mission is Expert Offense

The United States must seek to win as quickly as possible, and it cannot
win in Iraq by fighting on the defense. There is no conceivable way the
United States can protect everything or even enough by focusing on
defensive action. It must provide security for its own presence, allies and
international organizations, contractors, and friendly Iraqis. It must
protect the key links in infrastructure and the economy. Unless it can hunt
down and seize or kill the opposition, however, it will always see new
successful attacks and sabotage.

The key to winning in this offensive mission is not numbers, but
intelligence, skilled cadres of expert troops, area and language
specialists, mixed with constant civic action, and political warfare to win
heats and minds. This is a totally different force from precision air
strikes but still a very expert and very disciplined one. Force quality
counts and not force quantity. In fact, the smaller and more surgical U.S.
offensive operations are, the better.

In hostile areas, the need is for more informed, well-trained and
disciplined, and restrained armed protection of nation building along with
civic action. Quality troops that have the skills and training to work
beside, and with, Iraqis are critical. Isolated force-protection oriented
cadres are often a liability.

In both aspects of these missions, coordination and speed of reaction will
be critical. The time will not be available for political coordination,
interoperability, and language problems.

Armed Nation Building Must be Done on a “Flood Forward” Basis

At best, an offensive victory is likely to take a minimum of 8-12 more
months to improve security in Iraq -- if the war does not broaden to
include the Shi’ites. In the interim, the United States must carry
out and defend armed nation building at least in central Iraq.

Losses are going to occur, and repairs and reconstruction will constantly
be at risk. No one can anticipate what will be destroyed, and popular
patience will be at a minimum.

Success will mean reshaping nation building to anticipate a constant flow
of sabotage, focused looting and attacks on soft targets. It will mean
throwing enough resources at the problem to overwhelm the pace of attacks.
It will mean forgetting about oil revenues, about securitizing, and
minimizing short-term costs.

In Iraq, “cost-effectiveness” will be a synonym for defeat, and
doing things on the cheap will be a recipe for constant vulnerability.
“Win through waste” has always been the secret American recipe
for victory; it will be in this case as well.

At the same time, the best way to both carry out nation building and
protection will be to involve as many Iraqis in planning and executing such
activities as possible. It will be to show the Iraqi people they are in
charge and they are responsible.

This does create an area where more foreign troops could be useful; without
requiring high levels of interoperability with U.S. forces. It will be at
least 3-6 months before enough Iraqi guards can assume most of the routine
protection mission. In the interim, a larger, and less expert, foreign
troop presence could often be useful.

“Stupid Mission Tricks”

There are some “stupid mission tricks” the United States and
its allies should avoid:

Trying to block infiltration is fine and necessary, but no one who knows
Iraq can talk seriously about securing its borders. Iraq’s borders
are too long, too diverse, and open to infiltration by anyone or any group
willing to move in as a civilian. Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi
Arabia, and Iran all have areas where it would take vast manpower to cover
the border as a whole, and in every case, terrorist cadres could come in as
civilians into a nation with arms over the entire area.  Don’t make
Islam the issue: One of the keys to dealing with religious extremism is to
be extremely careful not to attack Islam and confuse small elements of
extremists with a religion and a culture. Careless references to terrorism,
Islamists, etc. will compound the already serious problems the United
States faces in alienating the Islamic and Arab world.

 Don’t create problems with the Shi’ites: The present war is
likely to be lost or won on the basis of whether the Iraqi Shi’ites
join in. The outside Iraqi opposition cannot do this; and the United States
must be ready to deal with Iraqi clerics. The United States should be
careful not to move more of its own troops into sensitive areas without a
clear cause or see allied troops come in.

 Use both sticks and carrots in dealing with Iran: The United States needs
to find some modus vivendi that minimizes action from Iran. This is an area
where the British and Europe might well take the lead.

 Don’t tolerate quiet ethnic cleansing in the north: The United
States cannot afford to have the Kurds alienate more Sunnis and the

 Rush the Iraqis forward wherever possible: The good may be the enemy of
the acceptable. Winning hearts and minds means putting Iraqis in charge as
fast as possible even at the cost of political compromises and problems in
efficiency. Giving the Iraqis the Iraq they want and can build is the goal,
not meeting our objectives.

 Take a hardline on Syria but a focused one: The United States cannot
afford to get involved in Israel’s priorities; it has its own. It
should focus on blocking Syrian support of Iraqi and volunteer hostile
elements, and not allow itself to be diverted over issues like the
Hezbollah and Lebanon.

 Remember regional allies like Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait:
It is far too easy to forget the role local powers can play in limiting
infiltration, in providing intelligence and aid, and in helping to deal
with Iraq’s ethnic issues. This means hard bargaining with Turkey,
and trying to rebuild working relations with Saudi Arabia.

 Don’t overreact in terms of force protection and casualties: Hard
as it may be, accept the fact that some casualties are the price of keeping
the right profile, interacting with Iraqis, and moving nation building
forward. The primary mission is not force protection, and everyone has to
understand this.

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