Progress in Iraq called 'precarious as it is positive'

Pointed questions and all-too-familiar concerns marked a House subcommittee hearing on the United States' scheduled military withdrawal from Iraq. Eight years into the conflict, the core dilemmas that have plagued American policymakers appear unchanged at the Wednesday hearing.

"Our progress in Iraq is as precarious as it is positive," said House Foreign Affairs Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee Chairman Steve Chabot, R-Ohio. "I'm concerned" that the timetable for military withdrawal "is neither well-timed nor well-reasoned."

The United States committed to a complete military withdrawal from Iraq by January 1st, 2012, in a 2008 accord with the Iraqi government. Under the terms of the Strategic Framework Agreement, the United States will only be able to maintain a military presence in Iraq if the Iraqi government explicitly asks for military assistance. It seems likely that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will ask for the extension, despite opposition from other Iraqi political groups. Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates has also said the extension should be made.

Testifying experts stressed that the United States is expected to continue to influence Iraq by civilian means. The State Department is scheduled to take the lead role in supporting Iraq's security, political, and economic development in October 2011, and the U.S. Agency for International Development will continue its capacity-building efforts.

"We're not done," said Patricia Haslach, Iraq Transition Coordinator at the State Department. "We have no intention of leaving Iraq."

Both Haslach and the Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for the Middle East Colin Kahl contended that Iraqi security forces could provide Iraq with adequate internal security after U.S. troops leave. "The Iraqis simply no longer need such a large number of [American] security forces to keep violence in check," Kahl said, pointing to the currently low levels of sectarian and ethnic violence.

However, Kahl admitted that Iraq's internal security infrastructure still had "gaps" that U.S. expertise would need to fill, particularly in intelligence and logistics. The State Department's Police Development Program and the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq were among the ways to "basically extend U.S. military aid," Kahl said. He noted that Iraq's external defense programs had even "bigger gaps." How or if those gaps would be addressed was unclear.

Subcommittee ranking Member Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., had a different concern. "Most Americans and members of Congress think that we're basically done in Iraq," he said. "Is someone in the administration in charge of selling this [transition] to the American people?"

Haslach had contended that a "sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq" would become a "political and economic leader" in the Middle East, a "beacon of democracy," and "an anchor of U.S. support" in a troubled region. She added that a successful transition from military dominance to a "long-term partnership" between the Iraqi Government and the State Department had the potential to reshape U.S. foreign policy, tipping the scales in favor of diplomacy over force.

Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., repeatedly drew attention to the money spent in Iraq, hammering the witnesses with questions.

And alluding to the U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and Libya, and attempts to bolster the democratic reforms of the Arab Spring, Ackerman asked, "Is there any war in this region we can ever afford to finally leave?"

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.