The report by the Rand Corp. asserted that Iraq, even with U.S. help, would fail to eliminate the Al Qaida (AQI) terror network.
“Eradicating AQI may exceed ISF capabilities, even with U.S. help, but the AQI threat is more likely to grow weaker rather than stronger,” the report said.
Titled, “Withdrawing from Iraq: Alternative Schedules, Associated Risks, and Mitigating Strategies,” the report provided a bleak picture of Iraq’s capability to destroy the Al Qaida terror network. Rand said Al Qaida would remain viable in Iraq despite a decline in financing and recruitment.
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“AQI is hampered by a lack of popular support, by restricted movement, and by a dearth of financing,” the report said. “It is now largely confined to Mosul, the Tigris River Valley, and Diyala province. One of its principal causes, and a source of recruiting and fund-raising — the U.S. occupation — is ending.”
The report was released in late July 2009 amid a resurgence of Al Qaida in Iraq’s largest province, Anbar. Al Qaida, after a lull of nearly two years, was said to have renewed operations in such Sunni cities as Faluja and Samara.
Rand said AQI has been hampered by the sharp drop in the flow of foreign volunteers to Iraq. As a result, the report said Al Qaida has been increasingly relying on Iraqi women for suicide and other operations.
Syria has been deemed as the way station for at least 90 percent of Al Qaida volunteers to Iraq. The report said Syria has hosted a range of Sunni insurgency groups exiled from Iraq and seeking to destabilize the Baghdad government.
A U.S. combat troop withdrawal was expected to renew the ethnic war in Iraq, another report said.
The Institute of National Security Studies asserted that the 130,000 American troops have largely succeeded in preventing civil war in Iraq. In a report by U.S. Air Force Maj. Clint ZumBrunnen, the institute warned that any reconciliation effort by Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds must be backed by American force.
“The correlation between fragile stability in Iraq and the presence of U.S. combat forces is difficult to ignore, even if it is true that US forces do not control the country,” said the report by ZumBrunnen, a U.S. Air Force scholar.
The report dismissed U.S. claims of a military victory in the insurgency war in Iraq. Instead, ZumBrunnen asserted that the Sunni insurgency in Iraq abated when the United States provided massive financing to Sunni tribes in central and western Iraq.
“Any precipitous withdrawal of US combat power will greatly reduce U.S. leverage in Iraq and risk a return to the sectarian strife of 2006 simply because few of Iraq’s serious internal conflicts have been resolved,” the report said.
President Obama has pledged to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq by August 2010, leaving an estimated 50,000 advisers and support personnel.
But the report warned that Sunnis and Kurds, the biggest supporters of a U.S. military presence, would harden their positions toward the dominate Shi’ite community once the Americans begin to withdraw. For its part, the Shi’ite community has been split by a power struggle led by the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army, commanded by Moqtada Sadr.
Meanwhile, ZumBrunnen said, the United States has been led into a potential war in northern Iraq regarding the authority and size of the autonomous Kurdish region. The focus of the confrontation has been the oil-rich area of Kirkuk.
“Both sides are now edgier because there is less certainty that the U.S. will intervene to prevent one side or the other from exploiting an advantage,” the report said. “And since any grand bargain between Arabs and Kurds mediated by the United Nations will likely require a powerful military force for enforcement, knowledge that U.S. forces will withdraw completely by 2011 lessens the chance for a nonviolent solution to the dispute.
Accordingly, both the [Kurdish] peshmerga and the ISF [Iraqi security forces] continue to prepare for eventual conflict.”
The report said the United States must now focus on helping determine control over Iraq’s crude oil reserves, deemed the most explosive of ethnic disputes. Since October 2008, no progress has been reported in talks between the government and major ethnic groups.
“This is where the additional role U.S. combat forces fill in Iraq comes into play,” the report said. “Not only are these forces the guardians of a tense peace; they are also the instrument of power that lends credibility to other U.S. levers at the negotiating table.
Degrading their capability before any long term agreement exists on an issue so vital to Iraq’s future weakens U.S. ability to shepherd all sides into a compromise, and more ominously, invites a return to the sectarianism of 2006 and 2007.”
David Bedein can be reached at email@example.com