Despite all the hard work by the U.S. military, our coalition allies, and civilian agency partners that led to successes at the tactical and operational level, we have failed at the strategic level in Iraq. As General David Petraeus stated before testifying to Congress in April 2008: “Iraqi leaders have failed to take advantage of a reduction in violence to make adequate progress toward resolving their political differences.” Part of the failure here was when the leverage was available to push the Iraqis towards societal reconciliation and the beginnings of societal/social reconstruction the Bush (43) Administration wasted the space, the COIN break if you will, by having AMB Crocker try to negotiate a SOFA agreement that the Iraqis wouldn’t and didn’t accept. At the same time negotiations were ongoing for provincial elections. As I’ve written before here at Best Defense and in other places too: the Iraqis rolled us on both sets of negotiations. They ran the clock out on us, forcing us into the security agreement as the U.N. occupation authority was running out and into blessing a hybrid electoral process for the provincial elections that was the worst possible combination — open list and proportional representation — if we wanted to overcome the problems with the 2005 elections. It also didn’t help that one of the State Department’s own election specialists did not understand the system that the Iraqi High Electoral Commission had put into place. I know he didn’t understand it because I had to explain how it was going to work to him at least five times and that was after he read the briefing paper I wrote on it for my brigade commander so that he would understand why it was a potential problem.
I appreciate that Crocker would like to do right by the Iraqis, I would like to do right by the Iraqis, but I just don’t see any way that they are going to allow significant numbers of American troops to stay. The major Iraqi factions don’t want a significant U.S. troop presence as it prevents them from settling their scores, which is what they really want to do. The Iranians that are direct patrons for Dawa and ISCI/Badr and indirect patrons to the Sadrists and the Kurds don’t want it and won’t allow it. They want us out of their near abroad as well. And how we’ve been positioning ourselves vis-a-vis the Arab Spring is making our other allies in the area very nervous too. I honestly hope I’m wrong about what is likely to happen in Iraq after U.S. forces draw down the rest of the way — but I think that the events of the last several years make that unlikely.
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