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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Iraqi defense chief: US military needed in Iraq until 2016

    BAGHDAD — Some form of U.S. military presence will be needed in Iraq at least until 2016 to provide training, support and maintenance for the vast quantity of military equipment and weaponry that Iraq is buying from America, Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Ubaidi said.

    In addition, Iraq will also continue to need help with intelligence gathering after 2011, and the fledgling Iraqi air force will require U.S. assistance at least until 2020, the date by which Iraq aims to achieve the capability to defend its own airspace, al-Ubaidi said.

    The comments were made in an interview a week after President Barack Obama declared the end of American combat operations and reaffirmed America’s commitment to pull out all its troops by the end of 2011, under the terms of a security agreement reached by the Bush administration and the Iraqi government in 2008.

    “”Maybe endlessly,”” al-Ubaidi said when asked how long U.S. support may be necessary. “”As long as I have an army and I’m a Third World country, and I can’t pretend that I’m better than that … I will need assistance.””

    “”I don’t think any reasonable person would reject any kind of help from the U.S. and the European nations,”” he added. Iraq has an agreement with Britain to help train its navy and patrol its waters, which expires in November.

    Al-Ubaidi, who is regarded as a close ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, stopped short of calling for the continuation of U.S. bases in Iraq beyond the December 31, 2011, deadline for withdrawal of all troops. At this point, 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq to advise and assist Iraqi forces. The form of any future presence will be up to the next Iraqi government to decide, in negotiations with Washington, al-Ubaidi said.

    But it is becoming increasingly clear that many in Iraq’s defense establishment, as well as within the U.S. military, believe that Iraq’s security forces will need U.S. military assistance for many years to come, despite America’s commitment to pull out all troops by 2012.

    In an interview last month, the chief of staff of the Iraqi armed forces, General Babakir Zebari, predicted the need for U.S. forces to remain in Iraq until 2020, and said he would like to see America maintain “”three or four bases”” to help deter possible threats from Iraq’s neighbors. U.S. officials have also said Iraq’s army will need assistance beyond the 2011 deadline.

    Al-Ubaidi said he didn’t envisage a need for U.S. troops to help defend Iraq’s borders, even though Iraqi troops won’t be ready to do so until 2016. There are other means to defend a country, he said, such as through peace treaties with neighboring countries.

    But, he said, trainers and advisers will continue to be necessary, and they will need troops to protect them.

    Iraq has ordered or requested more than $13 billion worth of U.S. arms, as well as a shipment of 18 F-16s, which aren’t expected to arrive at least until 2013 even if the order receives swift congressional approval.

    “”It’s inevitable,”” he said. “”We have equipment such as tanks, aircraft, naval equipment, and it’s all coming from the United States. They won’t be fully ready until 2016, so how are we going to train on them? By mail? We will need the help of specialists and experts and trainers and those people are going to need life support and force protection.””

    Otherwise, he added, “”all the expenses I paid for … will be in vain.””

    The question of what kind of presence would be necessary is likely to come to the fore only after a new Iraqi government is in place. Negotiations dragged into a seventh month this week, and the competing political factions have yet to make any significant progress toward agreeing on who will be in charge.

    The issue of a continuing American presence is politically sensitive in both Baghdad and Washington. No Iraqi politician seeking to head the next government could currently risk calling for the American military, which led the 2003 invasion of their country, to stay on longer. The Sadrist faction loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose support could prove crucial to any future government, opposed the agreement that allowed U.S. troops to stay as long as 2011, and has said it will not back any government that permits them to stay any longer.

    Neighboring Iran campaigned hard to prevent the signature of the 2008 security agreement, and would likely exert renewed pressure on its Shiite allies in Baghdad to prevent any long-term American presence.

    Al-Maliki, who is hoping to retain his leadership post in the new government, matched Obama’s address to Americans last week with a televised speech of his own in which he welcomed the end of the combat mission and pledged that the agreement calling for the total withdrawal of all U.S. troops by 2012 would be implemented in full.

    But a request for continued American help after a new Iraqi government is formed might not prove so controversial, al-Ubaidi suggested.

    “”You’ll find in the Iraqi street and among the Iraqi politicians, who I know very well, the majority of them want safety and security,”” he said. “”And Iraq is in need of a friend and an ally, strong friends and strong allies.””

    Al-Ubaidi said he was sure Iraqi troops would be “”100 percent ready”” to provide internal security by 2011, though only “”65 percent”” ready to defend against external threats.

    But events in the week since Obama’s speech have called into question the Iraqi army’s readiness to handle domestic threats without U.S. support. On Sunday, American soldiers were drawn into battle against a group of insurgents who tried to storm the Iraqi army’s headquarters in eastern Baghdad.

    Meanwhile, concerns grew about the infiltration of Iraqi security forces by militants when two Americans were killed and nine injured Tuesday when an Iraqi soldier opened fire on them at a base in northern Iraq.

    A U.S. military statement Wednesday said initial investigations suggested the shooting was a “”deliberate act”” and not the result of an altercation.

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