Small Wars Journal

The Other Side of the COIN

The Other Side of the COIN: Perils of Premature Evacuation from Iraq - Kenneth M. Pollack and Irena L. Sargsyan, Washington Quarterly.

The United States is leaving Iraq. Both the U.S. administration and the Iraqi government have made that clear. In 2008, the United States and Iraq signed a security agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay only until the end of 2011, and in February 2009, President Barack Obama announced that he intended to reduce U.S. forces in Iraq to just 50,000 and to end their combat mission by August 2010. But how the United States leaves is of tremendous importance for the region, the international community, and above all, for the future vital U.S. interests.

Iraq has made remarkable progress since the worst days of its civil war in 2006. Security has improved enormously, democratization has gained a foothold, and democratic pressures have forced Iraqi politicians to change their methods, if not necessarily their goals. Iraq's micro economies have begun to revive and foreign investment is beginning to pick up. But as countless policymakers and commentators have pointed out, these gains are fragile and reversible. All of the tensions that propelled the country into the maelstrom of civil war during the initial years of bungled reconstruction remain, as do the memories of the many horrific acts committed. As numerous scholars of civil war have noted, these lingering fears typically make the resumption of civil war uncomfortably likely in cases like Iraq, unless an external great power is —to serve as peacekeeper and mediator during the critical early years when the new, fragile state must build institutions capable of providing effective governance and public safety.

Indeed, candidate Obama correctly argued that when the United States prematurely turned away from Afghanistan to focus on Iraq in 2002--2003, the result was the near collapse of the new Afghan government and the resumption of widespread civil strife. Even if it is to focus on Afghanistan, if the United States turns away from Iraq prematurely, it would have dire consequences for Iraq, whose fragile government will be more likely to fail, and for the United States, because success in Iraq is vital to U.S. interests...

Much more at Washington Quarterly.