Washington Post: Iraq Exit Strategies


Richard Moore

       "In April of last year, the Army and Joint Forces Command
        sponsored a war game called Unified Quest 2007 at the Army
        War College in Pennsylvania. It assumed the partition of an
        "Iraq-like" country, said one player, retired Army Col.
        Richard Sinnreich, with U.S. troops moving quickly out of
        the capital to redeploy in the far north and south. "We have
        obligations to the Kurds and the Kuwaitis, and they also
        offer the most stable and secure locations from which to
        continue," he said."

It is not exit strategies that are being discussed  here, but rather 
redeployment strategies. After having destroyed Iraq's infrastructures, and 
intentionally fomented civil conflict, the plan now is to partition Iraq along 
ethnic lines and leave the pieces to fend for themselves, while US troops retire
to their permanent bases in the desert.


Original source URL:

Exit Strategies

Would Iran Take Over Iraq? Would Al-Qaeda? The Debate About How and When to 
Leave Centers on What Might Happen After the U.S. Goes.

By Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 17, 2007; A01

If U.S. combat forces withdraw from Iraq in the near future, three developments 
would be likely to unfold. Majority Shiites would drive Sunnis out of ethnically
mixed areas west to Anbar province. Southern Iraq would erupt in civil war 
between Shiite groups. And the Kurdish north would solidify its borders and 
invite a U.S. troop presence there. In short, Iraq would effectively become 
three separate nations.

That was the conclusion reached in recent "war games" exercises conducted for 
the U.S. military by retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson. "I honestly don't think 
it will be apocalyptic," said Anderson, who has served in Iraq and now works for
a major defense contractor. But "it will be ugly."

In making the case for a continued U.S. troop presence, President Bush has 
offered far more dire forecasts, arguing that al-Qaeda or Iran -- or both -- 
would take over Iraq after a "precipitous withdrawal" of U.S. forces. Al-Qaeda, 
he said recently, would "be able to recruit better and raise more money from 
which to launch their objectives" of attacking the U.S. homeland. War opponents 
in Congress counter that Bush's talk about al-Qaeda is overblown fear-mongering 
and that nothing could be worse than the present situation.

Increasingly, the Washington debate over when U.S. forces should leave is 
centering on what would happen once they do. The U.S. military, aware of this 
political battlefield, has been quietly exploring scenarios of a reduced troop 
presence, performing role-playing exercises and studying historical parallels. 
Would the Iraqi government find its way, or would the country divide along 
sectarian lines? Would al-Qaeda take over? Would Iran? Would U.S. security 
improve or deteriorate? Does the answer depend on when, how and how many U.S. 
troops depart?

Some military officers contend that, regardless of whether Iraq breaks apart or 
outside actors seek to take over after a U.S. pullout, ever greater carnage is 
inevitable. "The water-cooler chat I hear most often . . . is that there is 
going to be an outbreak of violence when we leave that makes the [current] 
instability look like a church picnic," said an officer who has served in Iraq.

However, just as few envisioned the long Iraq war, now in its fifth year, or the
many setbacks along the way, there are no firm conclusions regarding the 
consequences of a reduction in U.S. troops. A senior administration official 
closely involved in Iraq policy imagines a vast internecine slaughter as Iraq 
descends into chaos but cautions that it is impossible to know the outcome. 
"We've got to be very modest about our predictive capabilities," the official 

Mistakes of the Past

In April of last year, the Army and Joint Forces Command sponsored a war game 
called Unified Quest 2007 at the Army War College in Pennsylvania. It assumed 
the partition of an "Iraq-like" country, said one player, retired Army Col. 
Richard Sinnreich, with U.S. troops moving quickly out of the capital to 
redeploy in the far north and south. "We have obligations to the Kurds and the 
Kuwaitis, and they also offer the most stable and secure locations from which to
continue," he said.

"Even then, the end-of-game assessment wasn't very favorable" to the United 
States, he said.

Anderson, the retired Marine, has conducted nearly a dozen Iraq-related war 
games for the military over the past two years, many premised on a U.S. combat 
pullout by a set date -- leaving only advisers and support units -- and 
concluded that partition would result. The games also predicted that Iran would 
intervene on one side of a Shiite civil war and would become bogged down in 
southern Iraq.

T.X. Hammes, another retired Marine colonel, said that an extended Iranian 
presence in Iraq could lead to increased intervention by Saudi Arabia and other 
Sunni states on the other side. "If that happens," Hammes said, "I worry that 
the Iranians come to the conclusion they have to do something to undercut . . . 
the Saudis." Their best strategy, he said, "would be to stimulate insurgency 
among the Shiites in Saudi Arabia."

In a secret war game conducted in December at an office building near the 
Pentagon, more than 20 participants from the military, the CIA, the State 
Department and the private sector spent three days examining what might unfold 
if the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group were implemented.

One question involved how Syria and Iran might respond to the U.S. diplomatic 
outreach proposed by the bipartisan group, headed by former secretary of state 
James A. Baker III and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.). The gamers 
concluded that Iran would be difficult to engage because its divided government 
is incapable of delivering on its promises. Role-players representing Syria did 
engage with the U.S. diplomats, but linked helping out in Baghdad to a lessening
of U.S. pressure in Lebanon.

The bottom line, one participant said, was "pretty much what we are seeing" 
since the Bush administration began intermittent talks with Damascus and Tehran:
not much progress or tangible results.

Amid political arguments in Washington over troop departures, U.S. military 
commanders on the ground stress the importance of developing a careful and 
thorough withdrawal plan. Whatever the politicians decide, "it needs to be 
well-thought-out and it cannot be a strategy that is based on 'Well, we need to 
leave,' " Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, a top U.S. commander in Iraq, said 
Friday from his base near Tikrit.

History is replete with bad withdrawal outcomes. Among the most horrific was the
British departure from Afghanistan in 1842, when 16,500 active troops and 
civilians left Kabul thinking they had safe passage to India. Two weeks later, 
only one European arrived alive in Jalalabad, near the Afghan-Indian border.

The Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan, which began in May 1988 after a 
decade of occupation, reveals other mistakes to avoid. Like the U.S. troops who 
arrived in Iraq in 2003, the Soviet force in Afghanistan was overwhelmingly 
conventional, heavy with tanks and other armored vehicles. Once Moscow made 
public its plans to leave, the political and security situations unraveled much 
faster than anticipated. "The Soviet Army actually had to fight out of certain 
areas," said Army Maj. Daniel Morgan, a two-tour veteran of the Iraq war who has
been studying the Soviet pullout at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., with an eye toward 
gleaning lessons for Iraq. "As a matter of fact, they had to airlift out of 
Kandahar, the fighting was so bad."

War supporters and opponents in Washington disagree on the lessons of the 
departure most deeply imprinted on the American psyche: the U.S. exit from 
Vietnam. "I saw it once before, a long time ago," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a 
Vietnam veteran and presidential candidate, said last week of an early Iraq 
withdrawal. "I saw a defeated military, and I saw how long it took a military 
that was defeated to recover."

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), also a White House hopeful, finds a different
message in the Vietnam retreat. Saying that Baghdad would become "Saigon 
revisited," he warned that "we will be lifting American personnel off the roofs 
of buildings in the Green Zone if we do not change policy, and pretty 

The Al-Qaeda Threat

What is perhaps most striking about the military's simulations is that its 
post-drawdown scenarios focus on civil war and regional intervention and 
upheaval rather than the establishment of an al-Qaeda sanctuary in Iraq.

For Bush, however, that is the primary risk of withdrawal. "It would mean 
surrendering the future of Iraq to al-Qaeda," he said in a news conference last 
week. "It would mean that we'd be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It 
would mean we'd allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to 
replace the one they lost in Afghanistan." If U.S. troops leave too soon, Bush 
said, they would probably "have to return at some later date to confront an 
enemy that is even more dangerous."

Withdrawal would also "confuse and frighten friends and allies in the region and
embolden Syria and especially Iran, which would then exert its influence 
throughout the Middle East," the president said.

Bush is not alone in his description of the al-Qaeda threat should the United 
States leave Iraq too soon. "There's not a doubt in my mind that Osama bin 
Laden's one goal is to take over the Kingdom of the Two Mosques [Saudi Arabia] 
and reestablish the caliphate" that ended with the Ottoman Empire, said a former
senior military official now at a Washington think tank. "It would be very easy 
for them to set up camps and run them in Anbar and Najaf" provinces in Iraq.

U.S. intelligence analysts, however, have a somewhat different view of 
al-Qaeda's presence in Iraq, noting that the local branch takes its inspiration 
but not its orders from bin Laden. Its enemies -- the overwhelming majority of 
whom are Iraqis -- reside in Baghdad and Shiite-majority areas of Iraq, not in 
Saudi Arabia or the United States. While intelligence officials have described 
the Sunni insurgent group calling itself al-Qaeda in Iraq as an "accelerant" for
violence, they have cited domestic sectarian divisions as the main impediment to

In a report released yesterday, Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic
and International Studies warned that al-Qaeda is "only one part" of a spectrum 
of Sunni extremist groups and is far from the largest or most active. Military 
officials have said in background briefings that al-Qaeda is responsible for 
about 15 percent of the attacks, Cordesman said, although the group is "highly 
effective" and probably does "the most damage in pushing Iraq towards civil 
war." But its activities "must be kept in careful perspective, and it does not 
dominate the Sunni insurgency," he said.

'Serious Consequences'

Moderate lawmakers such as Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) have concluded that a 
unified Iraqi government is not on the near horizon and have called for 
redeployment, change of mission and a phased drawdown of U.S. forces. Far from 
protecting U.S. interests, Lugar said in a recent speech, the continuation of 
Bush's policy poses "extreme risks for U.S. national security."

Critics of complete withdrawal often charge that "those advocating [it] just 
don't understand the serious consequences of doing so," said Wayne White, a 
former deputy director of Near East division of the State Department's 
Intelligence and Research Bureau. "Unfortunately, most of us old Middle East 
hands understand all too well some of the consequences."

White is among many Middle East experts who think that the United States should 
leave Iraq sooner rather than later, but differ on when, how and what would 
happen next. Most agree that either an al-Qaeda or Iranian takeover would be 
unlikely, and say that Washington should step up its regional diplomacy, putting
more pressure on regional actors such as Saudi Arabia to take responsibility for
what is happening in their back yards.

Many regional experts within and outside the administration note that while 
there is a range of truly awful possibilities, it is impossible to predict what 
will happen in Iraq -- with or without U.S. troops.

"Say the Shiites drive the Sunnis into Anbar," one expert said of Anderson's 
war-game scenario. "Well, what does that really mean? How many tens of thousands
of people are going to get killed before all the surviving Sunnis are in Anbar?"
He questioned whether that result would prove acceptable to a pro-withdrawal 
U.S. public.

White, speaking at a recent symposium on Iraq, addressed the possibility of 
unpalatable withdrawal consequences by paraphrasing Winston Churchill's famous 
statement about democracy. "I posit that withdrawal from Iraq is the worst 
possible option, except for all the others."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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