Clinton Would Keep Troops in Iraq
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that she would keep some US troops in Iraq to fight al-Qaeda, curb Iranian influence, protect the Kurds and assist the Iraqi military.
The elements of this plan will not work or are unnecessary.
1. The Kurds don’t need protecting. Their Peshmerga military, 60,000 to 100,000 strong and well trained and armed, is the best indigenous fighting force in Iraq. There is almost no violence in the territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government, precisely because the Peshmerga are so good. There are almost no US troops up north because even now they are not needed.
2. There is no al-Qaeda in Iraq in the technical sense of the word, of fighters who have sworn fealty to Usama Bin Laden. There are a small number, probably less than a thousand, of foreign volunteers fighting in the country, mainly from other Arab states but also from Europe. They are mostly Salafi Jihadis (revivalist militants) and act as adjuncts to local Iraqi guerrilla cells, all of which are much bigger and more important. They are there to fight US occupation and would probably just go home if it ended. If peace was made with the Iraqi Sunnis, the Iraqis themselves would expel or slit the throats of the foreigners. If peace isn’t made with them, they’ll keep giving the foreign volunteers cars rigged up with bombs to go detonate. Either way, the US military cannot fight “al-Qaeda” in Iraq in isolation from the struggle against the Sunni Arabs. And, a small force such as she is proposing would be massacred in al-Anbar Province if there were still hostilities with the Sunni Arabs in general.
3. There are no Iranian units in Iraq. There are no Iranian prisoners to speak of in US custody in Iraq, even though 12,000 prisoners are being detained. The US did arrest a handful of Iranians deputed to the compound of Shiite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and to Irbil, the power base of Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani. These Iranians were there at Iraqi invitation. The US can only interfere here because it has a big force in the country. A small US military force could do nothing whatsoever about Iranian influence in Shiite Iraq, especially in the face of Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish desire for such cooperation. There will be millions of pilgrims coming back and forth, and they all can’t be monitored. The major Shiite party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is tightly linked with Tehran even while being among the main US allies. Small US units trying to take on Iranians in the Shiite south would risk being massacred by thousands of angry Iraqi Shiites.
4. Leaving small numbers of US troops in Iraq to assist the Iraqi military over the short term might be desirable and might be practicable, though I’ve been advised that it might not work. Over the medium to long term it would be most unwise because it would set up a strong risk of the US being pulled back into the civil war. What if you put a US company in with an Iraqi battalion, and the whole unit was ambushed by Sunni Arab guerrillas and many US troops killed? Either you let them get away with it, which is an invitation for them strike again at other US troops. Or you retaliate, which means putting more US units in for a retaliatory operation.
5. Small units of US troops are not going to agree to stay in Iraq because they will lack security. Only a big army in the country can provide that security. If US troops are captured, who will rescue them and how, if we have gotten most of the military out?
6. Some day Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is going to get up in the morning and give a fatwa or formal legal ruling that there must be no foreign troops stationed on Iraqi soil. When that happens, the US will not be able to stay in Iraq. It will be over with.
I have great respect for Senator Clinton and say all this only because I think her statements show she is getting bad and unrealistic advice on this matter, possibly from powerful lobbies, and fear that she may become attached to a set of policies that make no sense in the context of the really existing Iraq.