Since New Year ‘s Day, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) has controlled two critical cities in the Anbar province, Ramadi and Fallujah- a step in their larger campaign to control the region of western Iraq and eastern Syria. While the United States has provided the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) over $14 billion in arms since 2005, according to the US State Department the ISF continues to lack “the ability to target [the insurgency] effectively, thereby providing ISIL safe haven just miles from populated areas.” The insurgents’ widening foothold in Iraq threatens regional stability and provides al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups with the training grounds and infrastructure to launch attacks against US interests and allies. The US-Iraq strategic partnership to counter ISIL involves not only weapons sales, but entails a broader commitment to ensuring human rights and building democracy as part of a holistic Iraqi counterinsurgency effort.
In January 2014, Congress reaffirmed its commitment to assist Iraq’s counterinsurgency in the Anbar Province and approved the delivery of over two-dozen Apache helicopters to the ISF beginning in Summer 2014. According to Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the Apache deal, which consists of the lease of 6 Apaches and the sale of two-dozen more over the next three years, “supports the strategic interests of the United States by providing Iraq with a critical capability to protect itself from terrorist and conventional threats, to enhance the protection of key oil infrastructure and platforms, and to reinforce Iraqi sovereignty.”
However, the Apache deal is only one piece of the US-Iraqi security partnership which seeks to counter the spread of ISIL and build a rule of law abiding military. In his February 2014 testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett H. McGurk outlined a holistic long-term counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that “fuses political, security, and economic components with immediate focus on incorporating tribal fighters to protect the population in towns and villages through the provinces of Anbar.” Washington has recognized that counterinsurgency is not just a military fight, and the US partnership is aimed at encouraging the government of Iraq to engage the local populations and tribes, including Sunni minorities, to reject the insurgent’s ideology and presence in the region.
One critical component of the holistic counterinsurgency strategy is cultivating the nascent democracy in Iraq, and ensuring the Iraqi government and military abide by human rights practices and rule of law. Sunni minority populations continue to feel disenfranchised from the current government, and if civil unrest continues, there is concern that Nouri al-Maliki’s administration may crackdown on internal decent, particularly in the run up to the April 2014 election. According to Deputy Secretary McGurk, the US Apache deal will provide oversight of the Apaches, mitigate abuse, and avoid a situation similar to the 1980s when the United States provided Saddam Hussein’s military with training and weapon capabilities that were ultimately used against minority Kurd populations.
The United States’ continued management control of the leased Apaches and the ISF’s efforts to meet the following three benchmarks would assist in furthering the holistic US-Iraq counterinsurgency partnership: 1) in-flight transparency, requiring all Apache aircraft to be equipped with video and data collection technology, outfitted with anti-tampering devices; 2) transparent post-strike reviews for all missions conducted under the supervision of the United States, with increased scrutiny for cases involving civilian casualties; and 3) effective weapons storage and maintenance, including adherence to US warehousing standards and implementing standard reporting procedures for suspect activity to mitigate diversion, theft and potential repurposing of hardware.
President Obama continues to remain a “strong and effective partner with Iraq”-increasing the government’s capability to preserve stability in Iraq, assist the ISF counter ISIL, and deny safe-haven to jihadi groups. However, the US-Iraq partnership to counter the insurgency in Iraq goes beyond weapon sales, and includes responsible military action, supporting nascent democracy, and engaging with minority populations in the Anbar Province.
Photo by Todd Moris via Flickr