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On May 17, 2004, Stratfor published a piece entitled "Iraq: New Strategies."
In a rare moment of advocacy, we argued that the war in Iraq had evolved to
a point where the United States was unlikely to be able to suppress the
We argued then that, "The United States must begin by recognizing that it
cannot possibly pacify Iraq with the force available or, for that matter,
with a larger military force. It can continue to patrol, it can continue to
question people, it can continue to take casualties. However, it can never
permanently defeat the guerrilla forces in the Sunni triangle using this
strategy. It certainly cannot displace the power and authority of the Shiite
leadership in the south. Urban warfare and counterinsurgency in the Iraqi
environment cannot be successful."
We did not and do not agree with the view that the invasion of Iraq was a
mistake. It had a clear strategic purpose that it achieved: reshaping the
behavior of surrounding regimes, particularly of the Saudis. This helped
disrupt the al Qaeda network sufficiently that it has been unable to mount
follow-on attacks in the United States and has shifted its attention to the
Islamic world, primarily to the Saudis. None of this would have happened
without the invasion of Iraq.
As frequently happens in warfare, the primary strategic purpose of the war
has been forgotten by the Bush administration. Mission creep, the nightmare
of all military planners, has taken place. The United States has shifted its
focus from coercing neighboring countries into collaborating with the United
States against al Qaeda, to building democracy in Iraq. As we put it in May:
"The United States must recall its original mission, which was to occupy
Iraq in order to prosecute the war against al Qaeda. If that mission is
remembered, and the mission creep of reshaping Iraq forgotten, some obvious
strategic solutions re-emerge. The first, and most important, is that the
United States has no national interest in the nature of Iraqi government or
society. Except for not supporting al Qaeda, Iraq's government does not
The withdrawal of U.S. forces west and south of the Euphrates and in an arc
north to the Turkish border and into Kurdistan would provide the United
States with the same leverage in the region, without the unsustainable cost
of the guerrilla war. The Saudis, Syrians and Iranians would still have U.S.
forces on their borders, this time not diluted by a hopeless pacification
Something like this will have to happen. After the January elections, there
will be a Shiite government in Baghdad. There will be, in all likelihood,
civil war between Sunnis and Shia. The United States cannot stop it and
cannot be trapped in the middle of it. It needs to withdraw.
Facing the Facts
The issue facing the Bush administration is simple. It can continue to fight
the war as it has, hoping that a miracle will bring successes in 2005 that
didn't happen in 2004. Alternatively, it can accept the reality that the
guerrilla force is now self-sustaining and sufficiently large not to flicker
out and face the fact that a U.S. conventional force of less than 150,000 is
not likely to suppress the guerrillas. More to the point, it can recognize
1. The United States cannot re-engineer Iraq because the guerrillas will
infiltrate every institution it creates.
2. That the United States by itself lacks the intelligence capabilities to
fight an effective counterinsurgency.
3. That exposing U.S. forces to security responsibilities in this
environment generates casualties without bringing the United States closer
to the goal.
4. That the strain on the U.S. force is undermining its ability to react to
opportunities and threats in the rest of the region.
And that, therefore, this phase of the Iraq campaign must be halted as soon
This does not mean strategic defeat -- unless the strategic goal is the
current inflated one of creating a democratic Iraq. Under the original
strategic goal of changing the behavior of other countries in the region,
the United States has already obtained strategic success. Indeed, to the
extent that the United States is being drained and exhausted in Iraq, the
strategic goal is actually being undermined.