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Iraq Symposium: If We Fail

Regarding the consequences of failure in Iraq, along with Ralph Peters, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Kimberly Kagan and Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, ThreatsWatch recently participated in a FrontPage Magazine Symposium: If We Fail. Much was discussed and the general conclusion that the consequences of failure in Iraq would be most severe, there was some disagreement among the group regarding particulars.

As were others, Kimberly Kagan was particularly spot on.
If U.S. troops withdraw before the ISF is ready, terrorists and militias will slaughter those Iraqis who are now working so hard to defend their country. The Iraqi Security Forces, though improving dramatically, are unlikely to survive such a crisis – as their leadership is destroyed. The Iraqi Government, likewise, would not survive without an army. And the sectarian war that follows these collapses of government institutions and civil order will likely be far bloodier and more vigorous than the sectarian killings of 2006, because Iraqis will know that the U.S. will not defend them.

Should the Iraqi Security Forces collapse or sectarian violence escalate again, Iraq’s neighbors are likely to become involved in the struggle to stabilize Iraq: for security reasons as well as sectarian reasons. Iraq’s neighbors – Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait - do not share a common vision of what Iraq should be, and they have military capabilities that they can use to settle the issue in the absence of American troops. Broad sectarian conflict in Iraq is likely to have second-order effects in neighboring countries, where Sunni and Shia live tensely, and where many Iraqi refugees have settled. These are not worst-case scenarios; these are likely consequences of an American withdrawal based on the involvement of these states in the present conflict. The consequences of Iraq’s collapse after a premature withdrawal of U.S. troops will ripple throughout the region for years to come.

The U.S. has a chance to stabilize Iraq, develop the nascent Iraqi security forces, and improve the capacity of Iraq’s government. If the U.S. withdraws troops from Iraq before establishing these preconditions, it is likely to face a conflict in Iraq and the Middle East far larger and wider than we have yet seen – requiring a level of U.S. military involvement far beyond what Iraq now requires.

Considering developments and reports of decreased Iraqi civilian deaths and US troop casualties to their lowest levels in some time, the success on the ground continues to be undeniable. As such, readers may be interested to note that the FrontPage Magazine Symposium: If We Fail actually took place in the weeks prior to General Petraeus' September report to Congress, even though only now published by Dr. Glazov in October.