US Foreign Policy
Commentary

Moving Forward in Iraq: the US Civilian Mission and Security

in Program

 

By Peter Alsis – As the US
mission in Iraq
begins the transition to civilian leadership, security will continue to play a
central role in its success.  With combat
operations ended and all US forces due to withdraw by the end of 2011, the
mission will focus on strengthening Iraqi institutions and fostering a
strategic enduring partnership. Unable to fully rely on the nascent Iraqi
security forces, the US Department of State is reorganizing their
reconstruction efforts and plans to depend on private security
contractors.  With one year remaining
before State assumes full control of the mission, communication among DOD,
State and Congress has yet to fully address the implications of this policy.

The goal of the US
mission is to strengthen Iraq’s
government, industry and people. Previously, Provincial Reconstruction Teams
(PRTs) have been an important part in achieving  “stability and development” by directly engaging with Iraqi communities, addressing specific
needs, implementing civil society projects, and facilitating Iraqi run
projects.  Their assistance covers many
sectors of Iraqi society, including finance, industry, and agriculture. Once active
in 15 of Iraq’s
18 provinces, twenty-two PRTs are now being reduced to four “Enduring Presence
Posts”.

The
consolidation of the remaining Enduring Presence Posts (EPPs) may
present State with additional security risks. The four EPPs will be in Basra, Erbil, Kirkuk,
and Ninewa. With the exception of Basra, which
has both oil importance and strategic proximity to Iraq’s only port (Umm Qasr), the
posts fall along the Kurd-Arab fault line in the north. This alignment emphasizes
stabilization in a volatile region complicated by ethnic tension and disputed
resources.

Civilian engagement within the areas left out of this realignment
will likely depend on the US Embassy in Baghdad,
resulting in greater exposure and subsequent security risks. Nearly every major US
agency has several projects engaging Iraqi leaders in Baghdad – advising, training and offering
technical assistance on a wide variety of issues.  Unless State’s mission will rely on this
top-level assistance and not actual field work, the security of civilians operating
out of Baghdad
is compromised by such a large regional responsibility.

In the short term, it is unlikely
that the US
will be able to depend on Iraqi security forces to provide protection for US civilian
workers. The estimated 660,000 Iraqi Security Forces have made considerable progress and received praise from US
officials; however, among other concerns, their practical use has exposed
issues of desertion, sectarian rifts, and lack of leadership.  These issues should be resolved through
continued US funding and training, which State will takeover in October 2011.

Meanwhile,
to provide security, State plans to hire
7,000 private security contractors (PSCs), more than double the current total.  The DOD will provide air cover and logistical
support temporarily, but State has ordered its own hardware: twenty-four Black
Hawk helicopters, 50-60 MRAPs, high-tech surveillance systems, and fuel trucks,
among other requests. Initial reports indicate that PSC responsibilities will include forming
“quick reaction forces” to rescue civilians in trouble, approving and
accompanying every civilian convoy, disposing
of improvised explosive devices, recovering killed and wounded personnel, and
clearing travel routes.

Although security
contractors have been used throughout US history, their role in civilian deaths in Iraq
is increasingly contentious within the DC beltway as well in Iraqi
sentiments.  Iraqis have a particular
distrust for PSCs. Earlier this year – a week after the
Nisour Square
case was thrown out of US
court – Iraqi security forces confiscated weapons and ammunition from contractors allegedly operating illegally.  Since 2004, contractors have been required to
register with the Iraqi Minister of Interior and in 2009 Iraq assumed legal “primary jurisdiction” over U.S. contractors.  Given Iraqi sentiments, the jurisdiction Iraq can impose, and the
probability of PSCs engaging with would-be attackers, the potential for public
backlash will remain high. As a result, any expansion in numbers and
responsibilities must consider defining precise rules of engagement, and
establishing accountability and oversight.

Current regulations and oversight have been slow to
address concerns over the use of PSCs. The Commission of Wartime Contracting
(CWC) has highlighted many of the areas still needing attention. One area addressed in recent CWC testimony is the
establishment of the US Office of Contingency Operations
(USOCO).  The office would coordinate and manage all civilian
functions, track waste, and ensure that State and DOD are communicating. The
office could also help expedite the transfer of civilian support from DOD to
State under the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP).  This would
eliminate delays that could affect transparency and competition among remaining
State contracts.

Congress recently cut the Department of State’s Iraq budget, leading to cuts in Iraqi police
training and limiting the US
presence outside of Baghdad.
Secretary Gates recently expressed concern that the US
has “invested hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives in Iraq”
and “now that we’re at the end game – we’ll stint on the resources that are
needed to bring this to the kind of conclusion that we all want.” Although
Iraq’s
commitment to reconstruction continues to rise and DOD is expecting
considerable savings as troops withdraw, Congress could inevitably compromise State’s
mission if US civilians do not have adequate protection and Iraqi security
forces are not properly developed.

Iraqi politics, escalating violence, and US domestic politics are only a few of the unknown
variables that could impact the US
mission in Iraq.
For now, recognizing the limitations and resolving known barriers are critical
steps to avoid potential setbacks. This process, as the CWC emphasized, can
begin simply through initiating the type of dialogue that has yet to occur.

 

 

For more information on the transition to civilian-led operations
in Iraq
and US government civilian protection issues please visit the Stimson
Center’s Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense (BFAD) blog, the Will and
the Wallet
.

 

 

Department of Defense photo by Cherie A. Thurlby: UH-60 Black
Hawk helicopter over Baghdad,
Iraq, April 2007.

iraq

 

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