Strategic Insights: Would a Post-2011 Residual U.S. Force in Iraq Have Changed Anything?

English: Major ethno-religious groups in Iraq ...

English: Major ethno-religious groups in Iraq Shiite Arabs Sunni Arabs Kurds Assyrians Yazidis Turkmen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

February 9, 2015 | Dr. W. Andrew Terrill

Currently, U.S. policy analysts and governmental leaders are examining the rise of the Islamic State (IS) organization, particularly its seizure of vast expanses of Iraqi territory in the summer of 2014. People legitimately ask what could have been done and would a residual U.S. force in Iraq have prevented the spread of IS from Syria to Iraq or at least its seizure of northern Iraq? Opponents of the decision to withdraw all U.S. forces often contend that a U.S. residual force could have prevented or mitigated the IS offensive in northern Iraq. Supporters of the decision to withdraw usually point out that the Iraqi government would not agree to a Status of Forces agreement (SOFA) that allowed U.S. forces to remain in that country without being subordinate to Iraqi domestic law. The second argument seems to accept the views of the critics, while suggesting that the withdrawal was required as part of an effort to respect Iraqi sovereignty. Both sides seem to agree that a residual force in Iraq was a good idea. They disagree on why it did not occur. Continue reading


The Fragile Process for Engaging Iran


An enlargeable relief map of Syria

An enlargeable relief map of Syria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)




The diplomatic fracas over inviting and disinviting Iran to the Syrian peace talks only makes sense if you factor in President Obama’s fragile consensus for engaging Iran over its nuclear program – while influential neocons keep pressing for confrontation. That mix has made for a messy process on Syria, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The handling of the issue of Iranian participation in the next round of multilateral discussions on the civil war in Syria has been something of an embarrassment — certainly for the United States, the United Nations, and the conglomeration known as the Syrian opposition.

The United States has seemed to be more interested in words rather than in substance in the demands it has been placing on Iran.

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Iraq Insurgents Kill at Least 100 After Declaring New Offensive


Mohammed Ameen/Reuters

MAHMUDIYA Residents gathered at the site of one of several car bomb attacks.

By YASIR GHAZI and ROD NORDLAND   Published: July 23,

BAGHDAD — Al Qaeda in Iraq carried out one of the most coordinated and baldly sectarian series of attacks in years on Monday, aiming for Shiite targets with car bombs, checkpoint ambushes, and assaults on a military base and police officers in their homes in an offensive that its leadership appeared to equate with the Sunni-led uprising in neighboring Syria.


The offensive by Al Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni extremist group, left at least 100 people dead, in what the Iraqi authorities described as an ambitiously staged sequence of 40 attacks that covered a broad area of the country. The attacks reinforced fears that the civil conflict in Syria, which has become increasingly sectarian in nature, now threatened to spill over the border.

The attacks followed a declaration by Al Qaeda in Iraq’s leader, Abu Bakir al-Baghdadi, drawing parallels between its hostility to the Shiite-led government in Iraq and the predominantly Sunni revolt against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whose Alawite sect is closely aligned to the Shiites.

Mr. Baghdadi, in a 33-minute speech posted Sunday on a Web site often used for messages by Al Qaeda, promised that a new offensive, which he called Breaking Down Walls, would begin soon. He described the impending campaign as part of a battle by Sunnis against Iraq’s Shiite leaders and people.

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Iraqi Rivalries Spell End for U.S. Troops

October 22, 2011

Author: Ned Parker, Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow


Ned Parker, Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow

President Barack Obama’s announcement Friday that the remaining thirty-nine thousand troops will leave Iraq at the end of the year was largely the result of Iraq’s internal politics and a failure of U.S. policy to mend the rifts among the country’s political players.

If the U.S. military were to keep three thousand to five thousand military “trainers” as planned, Iraq’s parliament would have had to grant the force immunity. Obama finally realized this was not going to happen, due to the country’s tense realities resulting from the March 2010 national election.

The 2010 election ended in a near draw between Nouri al-Maliki and chief rival Ayad Allawi‘s Iraqiya bloc. A political stalemate was broken through a U.S.-backed deal in which Maliki was to remain prime minister and the defense minister was to have been chosen from the Iraqiya bloc. In turn, Allawi was to have headed a new national security council body.

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Former civilian senior Intelligence/Policy adviser to Iraq’s Ministry of Interior, detainee screen/interrogator, talks about former Iraqi regime and terrorism

(Moderator note: comments for are now activated at the end of each post)

During a series of email and telephone exchanges Matthew Degn relayed to his vast array of experiences working with intelligence issues relating to the current and former situation in Iraq. Among his responsibilities during his years in Iraq Degn worked as a civilian interrogator attached to the U.S. Army in Iraq before working as a Senior Policy/Intelligence Adviser to Deputy General Kamal and other top intelligence officials with theIraq’s Ministry of Interior. Degn, currently working on a book about his experiences in Iraq (personal website here), continues to argue against those that feel there was no link between terrorism and Saddam Hussein‘s regime based on his involvement with hundreds of interrogations in Iraq and his involvement with many of the Iraqi Intelligence officials with the Ministry of Interior. Degn says that much of the public perception about Saddam Hussein’s regime and terrorism are incorrect. Continue reading

The Strategic Debate Over Afghanistan

May 11, 2009

By George Friedman

After U.S. airstrikes killed scores of civilians in western Afghanistan this past week, White House National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones said the United States would continue with the airstrikes and would not tie the hands of U.S. generals fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus has cautioned against using tactics that undermine strategic U.S. goals in Afghanistan — raising the question of what exactly are the U.S. strategic goals in Afghanistan. A debate inside the U.S. camp has emerged over this very question, the outcome of which is likely to determine the future of the region.

On one side are President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and a substantial amount of the U.S. Army leadership. On the other side are Petraeus — the architect of U.S. strategy in Iraq after 2006 — and his staff and supporters. An Army general — even one with four stars — is unlikely to overcome a president and a defense secretary; even the five-star Gen. Douglas MacArthur couldn’t pull that off. But the Afghan debate is important, and it provides us with a sense of future U.S. strategy in the region.

Petraeus and U.S. Strategy in Iraq

Petraeus took over effective command of coalition forces in Iraq in 2006. Two things framed his strategy. One was the Republican defeat in the 2006 midterm congressional elections, which many saw as a referendum on the Iraq war. The second was the report by the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group of elder statesmen (including Gates) that recommended some fundamental changes in how the war was fought. Continue reading