Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 20:11 | SYDNEY
Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 20:11 | SYDNEY

Winning in Iraq?


Hugh White

10 February 2009 09:41

An excellent op-ed from Tom Switzer in The Australian yesterday does a nice job of exploring the Iraq sceptic’s response to the progress seen in Iraq since the surge. As one of those who, like Tom, argued the surge would be unlikely to succeed, I appreciate his thoughtful acknowledgment that we were wrong. But perhaps I’m not yet quite ready to be as gracious as he is:

  • It’s not clear to me what difference the surge itself – the insertion of another 30,000 troops — made to the situation. No doubt it was part of the picture, but many other factors have been at work to ease Iraq’s security situation and energise its political evolution, including important changes in the political calculations of the Sunni tribes in Anbar and elsewhere, and of the various Shia groups.
  • It’s not clear that the progress of recent months has done much to ensure Iraq’s progress towards stable, just and effective government. There are many more ways yet for Iraqi politics to go bad. So, welcome as the developments of the past few months have been, it’s too early to proclaim success.
  • Even if recent political progress is consolidated, I’m still far from sure America can withdraw forces from Iraq as swiftly as Obama has promised. Since 2003, there have always been two reasons why the US had to keep large forces in Iraq. The need to contain internal violence was only one. The other is the need to contain Iran. That remains a key US strategic objective, and it cannot be achieved with a few thousand troops confined to a handful of bases.

My hunch is that America’s Iraq story has a long way to go yet.