Yesterday, CNN reported on the disastrous consequences that a precipitate American withdrawal would create for Iraq. Today, the Los Angeles Times follows suit, describing the delicate process of training a national army from scratch, and the collapse that would ensue if America bugs out:
For almost three years, training the Iraqi army has been among the top priorities for the U.S. military. And for nearly that long, U.S. officials have considered it among their chief frustrations.
Now, with President Bush under steady pressure to begin pulling U.S. troops from Iraq, the administration once again is emphasizing the need to train Iraqi forces to take over the country's security.
But despite some signs of progress, both Iraqis and their American advisors at this training range are blunt about how much work remains: If a U.S. pullout comes anytime soon, most say, the Iraqi army will collase.
"Honestly put, I think Iraq would be challenged to remain a unified country," said Marine Lt. Col. William Redman, the senior advisor at the range.
"I've seen anarchy, and we're right on the brink of it right now. If we go in a year or two years, it's going to be a complete mess," said retired Army 1st Sgt. Jerry Massey, a 21-year veteran who trains Iraqis in how to spot and respond to threats. "We can't leave here for another five years, minimum."
Problems abound in the Iraqi security forces. The recruits have little experience, belonging mostly to the oppressed class under Saddam Hussein. Most of them assumed they would have postings near home, but the new efforts to secure Baghdad and Anbar have many of them far away from their tribes. The Iraqi government has not distributed pay efficiently, so many of them desert while on leave. The uptick in sectarian violence has tested the loyalties of many in the armed services.
The Iraqis have to overcome all of these problems in order to have a stable security force that can keep Iraq in one piece. They have made progress in most of these issues, but only stabilization will solve them all -- and they need training and discipline to being stabilization. The US employed the surge strategy to dial down the distractions and to give the Maliki government time to resolve some of the political issues while we focus on training.
And progress has been made. The army now has 10 divisions, with new recruits showing an enthusiasm even beyond the first few rounds of enlistments. The newer recruits are much less likely to desert. That's a big improvement over two years ago, when the Iraqi Army struggled to put two divisions in the field, and then struggled to perform once there. We have grown their army by a factor of five in two years, and we continue to add divisions and trained men to the force.
What's most interesting, though, is the sudden media interest in the consequences of withdrawal. That topic got very little coverage, or if it did get attention, it always came in the context of "it could hardly be worse than what we have now". Suddenly, CNN's analyst says that a withdrawal "would hurt America's image and hand al Qaeda and other terror groups a propaganda victory that the United States is only a paper tiger ... It would also play into their strategy, which is to create a mini-state somewhere in the Middle East where they can reorganize along the lines of what they did in Afghanistan in the late '90s." The LA Times includes this analysis from Iraqi Col. Abbas Fadhil:
If the United States were to leave, Iran would move in and devour Iraq, he said. "Without America? Fighting alone? Just Iraqi army fighting? That's not good," Fadhil said, his eyes widening at the thought. "We need time for training, for supplies. We need at least seven years." Even better, he said, 50 years.
Fifty years? Who does Fadhil think he is -- a German or a Japanese liberated by American troops? Does he think that Iraq has the same strategic implications as either of those two countries in the post-WWII world?
If he's smart, he does. Apparently, CNN and the Los Angeles Times have belatedly concluded as much.