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Iraq Strategy Draws Fire

Prepared by: Lionel Beehner
Updated: April 14, 2006

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U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has taken hits from critics, including a host of retired generals (NYT), for his postwar military strategies and refusal to boost troop levels to secure Iraq (WashPost). With a U.S. election year in full swing, some members of congress are calling for a troop drawdown. That is unlikely, given the tense political climate in Iraq. Four months after parliamentary elections, Iraqi leaders remain gridlocked on forming a government acceptable to all religious and ethnic parties. Sectarian violence has surged in this political vacuum, with ragtag local militias unable to provide adequate security, U.S. forces have been forced to step up their patrols (AP).

But the U.S. military is showing signs of shifting its tactics to meet Iraq's changing needs, as explained in this new CFR Background Q&A. For example, its "clear, hold, and build" strategy has shown some success in places like the northwestern city of Tal Afar. But as George Packer writes in the New Yorker, this policy requires large numbers of U.S. troops and a willingness to engage and develop relationships with local leaders. Another promising strategy, to embed U.S. soldiers with Iraqi forces, is also fraught with risks. Many experts say these strategies expose U.S. soldiers to a greater number of attacks in the short term but are important to stabilizing Iraq down the road.

Meanwhile, there are those in the U.S. Congress clamoring for a drawdown of U.S. troops, as explained in this CFR Background Q&A. Joel Rayburn, writing in Foreign Affairs, finds parallels with the domestic situation facing Britain and its occupation of Iraq more than seventy years ago. He says U.S. lawmakers would be wise to study the pitfalls of the British military departure from Iraq to avoid the mayhem that ensued. Also, for a troop reduction to take place, better "street intelligence" is needed first, retired U.S. General Anthony Zinni said at a recent CFR meeting. National security expert Barry Posen suggests an eighteen-month exit strategy that would provide leverage to force the feuding parties in Iraq to forge a compromise, while CFR Senior Fellow Stephen Biddle writes in the International Herald Tribune that the U.S. military should "threaten to throw American military power behind either side in today's civil war as needed to compel the other to compromise."

Speculation continues over what kind of footprint the U.S. military intends to have in Iraq in the long-term future. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking before Congress, rejects suggestions that the United States seeks permanent bases in Iraq (Guardian). Yet the White House continues to request hundreds of millions of dollars from Congress to construct bases there (LAT).

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