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Homepage > Publication Type > Media Releases > Loose Ends: Iraq’s Security Forces Between U.S. Drawdown and Withdrawal

Loose Ends: Iraq’s Security Forces Between U.S. Drawdown and Withdrawal

Baghdad/Washington/Brussels  |   26 Oct 2010

The main threat to Iraq’s political order today emanates not from an organised insurgency but from within the political system itself.

Loose Ends: Iraq’s Security Forces Between U.S. Drawdown and Withdrawal , the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the country’s new security challenges in the wake of the drawdown of U.S. forces – which now number roughly 50,000 – and in anticipation of their total withdrawal by the end of 2011. Iraq’s security forces undeniably have improved their performance and the safety of their citizens, but enduring problems urgently need to be rectified.

The security forces have recovered to a significant degree after the dangerous chaos following the U.S. invasion and wholesale dismantling of the security sector. They have taken the lead in important military operations and withstood successive tests: the withdrawal of close to 100,000 U.S. troops since January 2009, the March 2010 elections and the subsequent, ongoing political uncertainty and institutional deadlock. In terms of professionalism and logistics, much needs to be done, but the balance sheet is encouraging. Yet, current challenges have less to do with ability than with the fractured nature of society and the political class.

“Much is at stake in the endless negotiations over forming a new government, but perhaps nothing more important than the future of the nation’s security forces”, says Joost Hiltermann, Crisis Group’s Middle East Deputy Program Director. “In the seven years since the U.S.-led invasion, these have become more effective and professional and appear capable of taming what remains of the insurgency. But what they seem to possess in capacity they lack in cohesion”.

A symptom of the nation’s fractured polity and ethno-sectarian divides, the army, police and other security forces are still overly fragmented, their loyalties uncertain, their capacity to endure a prolonged and more intensive power struggle at the top unclear. Moreover, since 2008, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has asserted greater personal control over them, creating several institutions without parliamentary oversight or legal basis. The new legislature should set up a transparent framework that clearly defines the role and mandate of various security institutions and imposes accountability and oversight, while ensuring immunity from undue political interference. Likewise, agencies that lack a basis in law ought to be either dismantled or properly regulated and overseen.

With the full withdrawal of U.S. forces to take place by the end of 2011, and the resulting weakening of the U.S. role, the risk of further fragmentation of security forces likely will increase. “Iraq’s main deficits are of a non-technical nature”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director. “They relate to questions of political stability and the army’s loyalty, cohesion, politicisation and balkanisation. They can become acute not because of pressure from domestic insurgents or foreign invasion but from possible continued institutional stalemate and intensified ethno-sectarian polarisation. These are the issues that need to be addressed – by the new parliament, incoming government and international community”.

To listen to Joost Hiltermann, Crisis Group’s Middle East Deputy Program Director talk about the Iraqi military today, please click here for the podcast in English, and here for an Arabic version.

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