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January 24, 2008

Have Iraqi Forces Grown A Tail?

A new agreement between Iraq and the US will curtail American military operations and confine our troops to primarily support and logistics efforts. NBC News reports that the long-simmering bilateral security agreement would keep American bases in operation but with substantially reduced troop levels. Iraqis want their own forces in lead roles for security operations:

The United States and Iraq will soon begin negotiating a power shift for U.S. forces, nearly five years after they invaded Iraq and installed a new government, Iraqi and U.S. officials told NBC News on Thursday.

Both countries are working on assembling negotiating teams to shape a new long-term bilateral strategic agreement redefining the fundamental role of U.S. troops, whose mission would shift from combat operations to logistics and support, the officials told NBC News’ Richard Engel. ...

But a senior member of the Iraqi negotiating team, which has been almost completely appointed, said they would seek to have U.S. troops — who for five years have conducted aggressive combat missions across the country against al-Qaida and other radical Muslim militias — largely confined to their bases.

U.S. troops would have only limited freedom of movement off base under Iraq’s position, leaving only when requested to provide intelligence, air support, equipment and other logistical support, the Iraqi negotiator said.

General David Petraeus apparently has signed off on this plan, telling NBC that the American role will begin changing. The move will come as a surprise to most, as analysts predicted a heavy American presence and lead for security efforts through the end of the year. This new plan does not have a specific announced timetable, but both Iraq and the US wants to adjust the partnership to account for the change in troop levels that will come as the surge rotations end.

Can Iraq handle it? NBC says that American military commanders have considered the Iraqi forces as "all teeth and no tail", meaning that they lack the equipment and reserve capacity needed to maintain control of the borders and internal security. An extended American presence can provide that, while reducing the aggressive nature of the US troops in Iraqi lives. With the Iraqi Army built to a more competent level, the two countries have better options than existed a year ago, when only a heavier American presence could tamp down the violence that raged throughout Iraq in 2006.

If the Iraqis succeed in transitioning to the lead role, it will represent a significant victory in the war on terror, and will transform the 2008 election. Instead of debating whether to bug out or keep fighting, the issue will be how best to consolidate the gains and maintain an effective presence in the region to continue to fight the terrorists. Those who declared defeat less than a year ago will have to answer for their lack of fortitude.


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