from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Iraqi Reality vs. Administration Predictions

June 11, 2014

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

Just days after the fall of Mosul, chaos is spreading in Iraq. The New York Times reports that:

Sunni militants extended their control over parts of northern and western Iraq on Wednesday as Iraqi government forces crumbled in disarray. The militants overran the city of Tikrit, seized facilities in the strategic oil refining town of Baiji, and threatened an important Shiite shrine in Samarra as they moved south toward Baghdad.

Three years ago, in June 2011, several administration witnesses testified about Iraq’s future to the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. The title of the hearing was "Preserving Progress: Transitioning Authority and Implementing the Strategic Framework in Iraq." The date was June 1st, six months before the withdrawal of the last American troops in Iraq. The Members of Congress, led by the Subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), wanted to know what would happen in Iraq after this withdrawal.

It’s worth recalling the picture painted by the witnesses as they defended administration plans to draw down the American presence quickly, in line with the President’s desire to get all American forces out of Iraq.

The two lead witnesses were Patricia M. Haslach, Iraq Transition Coordinator in the Department of State, and Colin Kahl, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Middle East.

Among the statements made by Patricia Haslach are these:

We have significant national interests in Iraq that require the continuation of strong U.S. support to ensure that we do not lose the fragile progress that has been achieved through tremendous sacrifice....We must recognize that the ripples of Iraq’s success also extend beyond Iraq and the United States. Iraq is poised to become a political and economic leader in the Middle East region. As the Middle East faces steep challenges and an unknown future, Iraq must take center stage as a beacon of democracy and an anchor of U.S. support for the region. Countries in the region and around the world look to our efforts in Iraq to assess the sincerity with which we approach the Arab world, and the people of the Middle East and North Africa look to Iraq as an example of what is possible in the region....The transition that we are executing in Iraq is vital to our national interest....The time is right for this transition. The security situation, while still a concern, continues to improve....This transition is one of the most important international endeavors that the United States is undertaking, and its success or failure will have global implications. We cannot fail.

Then came Colin Kahl:

I know members have concerns about the readiness of the Iraqi Government to provide security in Iraq as U.S. forces draw down between now and December 2011 in compliance with the U.S.-Iraq security agreement. Indeed, terrorist and militia attacks continue to pose a threat....Iraq still faces dangerous and determined enemies, but it is important to emphasize that these enemies do not have the support of the Iraqi people, and these attacks have not sparked a return to widespread insurgency or communal civil war. Moreover, despite these recent attacks, the underlying security situation remains strong....Since January 1, 2009, the Iraqi security forces have been in the lead on security operations--a role that they have more capably embraced with each passing month.

You know, it is our assessment that the Iraqi security forces will be--have pretty good capabilities in terms of internal defense....Iraq has gone now through a period of instability following the 2003 invasion, but it has come out of that and is now on the right trajectory....

So much for the right trajectory. Where are we now? Terrorist groups are gaining control of vast territories and the Iraqi Army is collapsing. The Wall Street Journal summed it up today:

The Administration’s policy of strategic neglect toward Iraq has created a situation where al Qaeda effectively controls territories stretching for hundreds of miles through Anbar Province and into Syria. It will likely become worse for Iraq as the Assad regime consolidates its gains in Syria and gives ISIS an incentive to seek its gains further east. It will also have consequences for the territorial integrity of Iraq, as the Kurds consider independence for their already autonomous and relatively prosperous region....

In withdrawing from Iraq in toto, Mr. Obama put his desire to have a talking point for his re-election campaign above America’s strategic interests. Now we and the world are facing this reality: A civil war in Iraq and the birth of a terrorist haven that has the confidence, and is fast acquiring the means, to raise a banner for a new generation of jihadists, both in Iraq and beyond.