●Ensuring that Iraq contributes to the security of the Middle East, rather than undermining it through state collapse, civil war or the establishment of a sectarian dictatorship;
●Ensuring that terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda or backed by Iran cannot establish sanctuaries;
●Promoting an Iraq that abides by its international responsibilities;
●Containing Iranian influences that are harmful to U.S. interests in Iraq and the region; and
●Signaling U.S. commitment to the region at a pivotal moment in history.
Securing these and other U.S. interests requires two basic conditions: First, Iraq must be able to control, police and defend its territory, airspace and waters. Second, Iraq must preserve and solidify the multi-ethnic and cross-sectarian political accommodation that was established in 2008 and 2009 but that has been eroding since the formation of the current government.
Neither condition is likely to be met in the coming years.
Despite enthusiastic rhetoric from Maliki and Defense Secretay Leon Panetta, Iraq is not able to defend its territory or airspace. Iraq has no military aircraft able to maintain its air sovereignty and will not for several years, Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, deputy commander of U.S. forces there, explained in a press conference on Dec. 7. He said that challenges facing Iraq include “external security threats, Iranian-backed militias, al-Qaeda, other violent extremist groups” and that “Iraqis must continue to put constant pressure on those groups.” He said persistent “security gaps” include “their air sovereignty, their air defense capability, the ability to protect the two oil platforms, and then the ability to do combined arms operations for an external defense, synchronizing their infantry with their armor, with their artillery, with their engineers.”
Iraqi security forces are unable to maintain their capabilities and equipment, much less meet new challenges. The only remaining U.S. training missions are for Iraqi police, and there are no agreements for training or supporting the military beyond year’s end. “How they deal with that gap” in defense capabilities, Helmick noted, “is really up to them.”