Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh, who is visiting Washington, DC, said Friday that “We do understand that the Iraqi military is not going to get built out in the three years. We do need many more years. It might be 10 years.” Critics took him to be saying that the US military might be needed in Iraq for another decade.
If that was what Dabbagh meant, it is true and he was just being frank. But he wasn’t talking about a combat division remaining or anything.
It is the newfound efficiency and willingness to stand and fight of the Iraqi military, demonstrated since March in Basra, Amara and Sadr City, that makes a US withdrawal plausible. Yet the Basra and Sadr City campaigns depended heavily on US close air support, and in general the Iraqi military still requires US support for logistics.
So when will Iraq have its own air force, freeing it of dependence on the US in this regard?
Iraq is now in the midst of ordering $6 billion in arms from the US.
The Long War Journal reports specifics for the Iraqi Air Force, which is now rudimentary:
‘The Iraqi Air Force’s portion of these purchases adds a training squadron and an additional armed reconnaissance helicopter squadron. It also adds two light attack squadrons or the attack component of four composite armed reconnaissance squadrons. This doubles the fixed wing training elements and almost doubles the previously reported light attack and armed reconnaissance helicopter components.
• 20 T-6A Texan trainer aircraft.
• 36 AT-6B Texan II Light Attack Aircraft.
• 26 Bell 407 Armed Helicopters, each equipped with a M280 2.75-inch Launcher, a XM296 .50 Cal. Machine Gun, and a M299 Hellfire Guided Missile Launcher. ‘
These new weapons for the Iraqi Air Force will be delivered in 2013, and they are sophisticated and difficult to operate and maintain, so will require training and technical help from the US military.
Moreover, the new Iraqi military needs to develop “intelligence, battlefield medicine and logistics,” according to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin.
But note that US combat troops and most other military personnel could still leave within 16 months of Obama’s inauguration. A small contingent of US military personnel would need to be on the ground for training and technical help for some time. It is possible that air support could be supplied from outside Iraq if it were needed.
But such a role could quickly become a relatively minor one. Nor would it be an unusual situation in the region. There is a little-noted training mission in Saudi Arabia, for instance.
I’m not advocating anything here, just reporting what I see as the likely outcome. The only scenario I can think of that does not result in such a limited US military mission in Iraq for some years is one wherein the new Baghdad government were to fall. But that outcome could draw the US back in in an extensive combat role and so would not necessarily aid withdrawal.