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Debate Likely to Intensify Over Troop Levels and US-Iraq Security Pact
02/14/2008 12:20 PM ET
Travis Sharp is the Military Policy Analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
Travis Sharp is the Military Policy Analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
In the early months of 2008, the Washington debate over what to do next in Iraq has revolved around two important issues: post-“surge” troop levels and a long-term security pact between the United States and Iraq. Both issues have significant political implications, especially in the middle of a closely contested election year, because the decisions made by President Bush during the months ahead will determine the decisions confronted by the next president immediately upon entering office in early 2009.

On the issue of troop levels, the White House has made it known that it wants to “pause” troop withdrawals this summer after completing the removal of five brigades sent to Iraq last year as part of the surge. The removal of these brigades will bring U.S. troop levels down to the pre-surge level of approximately 130,000. “I think that the notion of a brief period of consideration and evaluation probably does make sense,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said February 11 during a stop in southern Baghdad. “One of the keys is how long is that period and what happens next.”

The Bush administration continues to argue that it cannot make any definitive decision on troop levels until it receives a progress report from General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. “Any further troop reductions will be based upon commanders and conditions,” Bush reiterated on January 31.

Getting advice from military commanders is to be expected, but Bush seemingly wants to cede to General Petraeus what ultimately must be a political decision made by the Commander in Chief. This deference to military commanders strikes many political and military analysts as troubling not just because civilian control of the military is so deeply-rooted in the American political system, but also because the administration showed such willful disregard in the run-up to the invasion for military leaders like General Eric Shinseki, who told Congress that “something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” would be needed to invade and rebuild Iraq. Bush’s newfound deference to his commanders’ military advice seems inconsistent at best, disingenuous at worst.

General Petraeus possesses a level of trust with Congress and the American public that Bush hasn’t enjoyed since the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Bush may be using General Petraeus to put a glossy finish on the decision to halt troop reductions this summer, a decision that is sure to be unpopular with the 60% of the American public that continues to believe the Iraq war was a mistake and the 50% that wants U.S. troops out within one year. General Petraeus’s role in these political machinations shares eerie similarities with former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s role during Bush’s first term.

With final decisions over troop levels proceeding slowly, the more interesting political action in Washington during January and February has concerned negotiations over a long-term security pact between the United States and Iraq. What originally was supposed to shape up as the Iraq fight du jour for 2008, however, has quickly devolved into the theater of the absurd, as the administration has backpedaled on some of the language included in the “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship” signed by Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki in November 2007.

This Declaration was intended to lay the groundwork for the Iraqi and the U.S. governments to forge a long-term bilateral security pact – a draft of which is expected by July 31, 2008 – that will replace the current U.N. Chapter VII mandate under which U.S. and U.S.-led forces are responsible for contributing to the security of Iraq. The proposed agreement could take many forms and may include a package of agreements, ranging from a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to economic development packages to basing agreements to a formal defense treaty. Generally, SOFAs constitute agreements rather than treaties and need not be sent to the U.S. Senate for advice and consent.

The language included in the November Declaration was so much stronger than a typical SOFA, however, that it set off alarm bells in Washington. For example, the Declaration affirms that the United States will provide “security assurances and commitments to to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace.” The Declaration also stipulates that the United States will support Iraq “in defending its democratic system against internal and external threats.”

This language might be interpreted as requiring U.S. forces to combat any armed faction that the Iraqi government deems a threat without regard for whether or not the Iraqi government has made efforts to address the sources and causes of the threat, or whether or not the threatening party is pursuing a legitimate grievance against the Iraqi government. U.S. forces might conceivably be drawn into an internal political dispute over what exactly constitutes a security threat to Iraq. For example, Iraqi Kurds might argue that the United States is required to confront Turkey over its military actions against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. Or, Iraqi Shiites might assert that the United States is required to confront Sunni Arab governments that are accused of arming and abetting Sunni insurgents entering Iraq.

Alarmed by the potential repercussions of such an arrangement, two pieces of legislation were introduced in Congress in January: S.2426, cosponsored by Democratic presidential frontrunners Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and the companion H.R. 4959, introduced by Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro. Both bills would bar funding for any permanent agreement between the U.S. and Iraq unless it was approved by two-thirds of the Senate under Article II of the Constitution.

The White House should have anticipated that the November Declaration would raise hackles in Congress, but as George Washington Law School Professor Michael Matheson suggested in his February 8 testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “I suspect that was not properly vetted within the U.S. executive branch with those folks who would know about some of the issues we've been discussing – for example, the lawyers.” Matheson added that “From the moment I saw the language, I realized that the administration was going to have to back away from it...It was a political statement which was inappropriately drafted.”

Recent White House comments on the Declaration have been more akin to a full-fledged retreat than subtle political spin. “The fact is, in every meeting that I've taken part in, it has been affirmed from the president on down that we do not want permanent bases in Iraq,” Secretary Gates told a Senate committee on February 6. “The status of forces agreement that is being discussed will not contain a commitment to defend Iraq...we certainly do not consider the declaration of principles a security commitment to the Iraqis.”

President Bush echoed his secretary’s remarks in response to a question about the Declaration on February 10, telling Fox News that “We won't have permanent bases...we'll work with the Senate and the House.”

Congressional sources in the Senate have communicated privately that despite the administration’s backpedaling on the Declaration’s language, the U.S.-Iraq pact is not an issue they are willing to let slip by. Watch for arguments to intensify when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker return to Washington next month to testify about the situation in Iraq, and as the July 31 deadline for submission of the Declaration draft approaches.

Travis Sharp is the Military Policy Analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C. He blogs about Iraq-related issues at

With New Tanks, Choppers, Planes, Iraq Could Project Force across Borders
08/06/2008 8:42 PM ET
US Marines M1-A1 on exercises, 2003. Iraq has requested 140 of the tanks.
Photo: US Navy.
US Marines M1-A1 on exercises, 2003. Iraq has requested 140 of the tanks.

During the last week of July, the Department of Defense notified Congress about the proposed sale of $10.9 billion in U.S. military equipment and support to Iraq through the Foreign Military Sales program. Besides the eye-catching price tag – which, at $10.9 billion, is greater than the value of all other U.S. arms sales to Iraq since 2005 combined – the equipment included in the proposed agreement represents a potential watershed in the development of Iraq’s military capabilities. The sale not only carries implications for the balance of power in the region, but also raises important questions about oversight, accountability, and transparency in a country riddled with internal violence.


The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) manages the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program. In its notification about the proposed sale to Iraq, the Agency reiterated that the ultimate goal was “to improve the security of a friendly country.” DSCA spokesman Charles Taylor told Bloomberg that Iraq will pay for the equipment with its own funds.

Congress must receive 30-day advance written notification of the intended sale of weapons, equipment, and services to another country if the total value is over $50 million. Congress may enact a joint resolution to stop an arms deal, but if no action is taken in 30 days, the deal is almost certain to go forward as planned. With Congress in recess throughout August, the sale will assuredly go through. Few members of Congress would oppose it anyway.

Under the proposal, Iraq would receive numerous defense articles and services, including:

  • 140 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks upgraded to the M1A1M configuration
  • 6 C-130J-30 Hercules transport aircraft
  • 160 M1117 Guardian armored security vehicles
  • 24 helicopters (either Bell Armed 407 or Boeing AH-6 Little Bird), with AGM-114M Hellfire missiles and launchers
  • 392 light armored vehicles
  • 26 M72 light anti-tank weapons
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers support for building facilities for Iraqi Security Forces

The DSCA claimed in its notification that the $10.9 billion weapons package “will not affect the basic military balance in the region.” However, a number of experts expressed skepticism about this claim, arguing that some equipment included in the package would start the process of transforming the Iraqi Army from a force focused on counterinsurgency and enforcing internal order to a force capable of counterbalancing other countries in the region.

Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, remarked that the proposed sale shows that Iraq needs “to gradually build up capability to deter any attacks from its neighbors.” The respected Defense Industry Daily newsletter said the DSCA’s claim that the sale will not affect the regional military balance is true only “if one factors in the American presence in Iraq. If the Americans are removed from the equation, however, this purchase crosses a Rubicon.”

The proposed sale foreshadows a time when U.S. forces will no longer be responsible for protecting Iraq from external threats. The 140 Abrams tanks and 392 light armored vehicles would equip between two and four mechanized brigades. In a defensive role, these tanks and vehicles “would present very formidable mobile opposition against even numerically superior foes,” noted Defense Industry Daily. “The Abrams’ battlefield performance against enemy T-72s and other Russian stock would have to give neighbors like Iran and Syria pause, if a North Vietnam-style armored invasion were ever contemplated.”

The six C-130J-30 Hercules transport aircraft and 24 helicopters are noteworthy upgrades for the Iraqi Air Force, which already is set to double in size by 2009. Adding six C-130s will triple Iraq’s inventory of the aircraft, which the DSCA said Iraq intends to use “for intra-theater support for its troops.” But, with a range of approximately 2,000 miles, C-130J-30s flying out of Iraq would be able to complete round-trip sorties to all the major cities in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Turkey, and Israel. This would expand the regional power projection capabilities of the Iraqi Air Force.

As for the helicopters, which will likely perform scout missions and close air support, the DSCA noted that they “will be used to develop new Iraqi Air Force (IAF) squadrons and/or wings.” While the Bell Armed 407 or Boeing AH-6 Little Bird are not out-and-out attack helicopters, the mounting of laser-guided Hellfire missiles with blast-fragmentation warheads would give the post-Saddam Iraqi Air Force airborne weaponry it “has not really had to this point,” noted Defense Industry Daily. DJ Elliott, an analyst at The Long War Journal, suggested that these helicopters may be destined for Iraqi Special Operations support.


The United States has rapidly increased its arms sales to Iraq over the last several years. With the $10.9 billion deal announced in July, the United States has completed approximately $20 billion in arms sales agreements with Iraq since 2005. This total includes $132 million in 2005, $2.3 billion in 2006, $4.5 billion in 2007, and $12.7 billion (thus far) in 2008. Since the United States averaged only $15.4 billion per year in global arms agreements from 1999 to 2006, Iraq is receiving an increasingly significant proportion of total U.S. worldwide sales.

Separate from these Foreign Military Sales, the United States also provided $17.9 billion in military-related aid since 2005 through the Iraq Security Forces Fund, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction’s latest July 2008 report.

The United States is already the unparalleled leader in arms sales agreements to the Middle East. As a March 2008 analysis by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation detailed, the United States was responsible for 56% of all arms sales agreements with Middle Eastern countries from 1999 to 2006. This was nearly five times greater than Russia's share, the second highest supplier, and over eighteen times greater than China's. Blocking Russia and China’s influence in Middle Eastern arms markets is considered an important foreign policy goal by many U.S. defense officials.

The recent surge of sales to Iraq has supplanted other Middle Eastern countries’ long-standing status as the preferred destination for U.S. weapons. Since 2005, the United States averaged $4.9 billion per year in arms sales with Iraq. This places Iraq far ahead of other U.S. allies like Egypt and Israel, which averaged $1.2 billion and $1.1 billion, respectively, in arms sales with the United States from 1999 to 2006.


The New York Times revealed in April 2008 that 22 high-ranking Iraqi officials secretly negotiated an $833 million arms agreement with Serbia. When the secret deal was exposed, Iraqis and Americans were quick to criticize both the process used and the quality of the equipment provided. However, Iraqi officials involved with the arrangement argued that the inadequacies of the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program justified seeking an alternative supplier. “The problem with FMS is that it didn’t deliver on time,” one senior Iraqi official said. “This was used by some in government to say, ‘Look, this is deliberate. The U.S. is trying to keep us unarmed so that we’ll always be in need of the Americans.’ ”

A chasm is growing between U.S. arms sales procedures – designed for accountability and standardization, not speed or flexibility – and Iraq’s purported need for better military equipment. As Ahmed Mahmoud, a lieutenant in the Iraqi Army, asked a New York Times reporter August 6, “In your opinion, do you think I could fight an army with those trucks?” One fifth of the vehicles in Mahmoud’s battalion were rotting and bomb-demolished, but they were still considered operational for bureaucratic reasons.

Of course, rapidly surging weapons into Iraq carries significant risks. A November 2007 audit by the Department of Defense Inspector General concluded that Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq (MNSTC-I) “was not able to demonstrate proper accountability for and management of the Iraq Security Forces Fund and could not always demonstrate that the delivery of services, equipment, and construction was properly made to the Iraq Security Forces.” The audit also revealed that in 2005, MNSTC-I could not verify that Iraqi Security Forces received 12,712 of 13,508 light weapons. This expanded upon previous Government Accountability Office reporting that the United States couldn’t account for 30% of the weapons provided to Iraq since 2004.

Providing Iraqi Security Forces with the equipment they need to achieve their objectives will help increase Iraqi soldiers’ confidence and effectiveness as the United States begins commencing troop withdrawals. However, Iraqi oversight of military equipment coming into the country must be bolstered. If weapons are channeled toward dangerous insurgents, and away from the legitimate development of Iraqi Security Forces, the security environment in Iraq could take another perilous turn for the worse.

Travis Sharp is the Military Policy Analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C. He blogs about Iraq-related issues at

Oversight is Key as Iraqi Military Acquires New High-Tech Weaponry
11/19/2008 2:51 PM ET
Lynx II surveillance system target screen. Iraq will obtain six Lynx II systems.
General Atomics.
Lynx II surveillance system target screen. Iraq will obtain six Lynx II systems.
While the election of Barack Obama heralds an impending change in U.S. policy toward Iraq, defense officials in Washington and Baghdad continue to focus on transforming the Iraqi military into a legitimate fighting force. Both the United States and Iraq seem to agree that no matter what President Obama’s new strategy looks like, bolstering the strength and effectiveness of the Iraqi Security Forces will play a key role in stabilizing Iraq in the wake of U.S. troop withdrawals.

As Erik Schechter details in the latest issue of C4ISR Journal, the United States is in the process of selling Iraq six Lynx II radar units. With the Lynx II, Iraq will improve significantly its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations. After training is completed for Iraqi pilots and ground crews, the Lynx II will allow Iraqi aircraft, flying above the range of shoulder-launched missiles, to track insurgent personnel and vehicle movements. Iraq will be able to patrol its own borders to watch for foreign fighters, weapons, and equipment entering its territory. Furthermore, due to its high-resolution output, the Lynx II will give the Iraqi military the ability to closely monitor specific geographic locations such as large gatherings of Iraqis, key cities such as Basra or Kirkuk, and the Green Zone.

The Lynx II operates in two modes: one mode generates radar ground images, while the other mode detects moving targets. The Lynx II can deliver high-quality images, up to a resolution of 10 centimeters, via datalink. Once the Lynx II transmits information to a ground-based operations center, known as the Ground Exploitation Station, moving target data can be plotted on a digital map to provide situational awareness about the battlefield.

The United States itself plans to use the Lynx II system on its new Sky Warrior unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are slated to enter service as early as 2009 and are derived from the General Atomics-designed Predator UAV.

The Iraqi military, however, does not have the requisite technology and bandwidth to operate UAVs equipped with the Lynx II. As a result, the six radar units Iraq receives from the United States will be mounted on piloted twin-turboprop King Air 350ER planes – planes which Iraq bought from the United States in January 2007 for $132 million.

While Iraq’s Lynx II-equipped King Air planes will have roughly the same radar performance capability as similarly outfitted American UAVs, the Iraqi planes’ flight time will be significantly less: King Airs will only be capable of eight hours in the air, whereas UAVs can last about 30 hours. This means Iraqi King Airs will have to land and refuel more often and, with only six Lynx II units being provided, will not possess the type of around-the-clock surveillance capability provided by the U.S. fleet of UAVs.

Iraq Bulks Up

Baghdad’s acquisition of Lynx II radar systems adds an exclamation point to what has been a frenetic year of Iraqi military transformation. During the final week of July, the Department of Defense notified Congress about the proposed sale of $10.9 billion in U.S. military equipment and support to Iraq through the Foreign Military Sales program. The sale included 140 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks; 6 C-130J-30 Hercules transport aircraft; 160 M1117 Guardian armored security vehicles; and 24 helicopters (either Bell Armed 407 or Boeing AH-6 Little Bird) with AGM-114M Hellfire missiles and launchers. In early September, several news outlets reported that Iraq also is interested in buying 36 F-16 fighter jets from the United States.

According to Schechter’s reporting in C4ISR Journal, Iraq is not done yet. U.S. Air Force Col. Sean Frisbee, chief of staff of the Coalition Air Force Transition Team, told Schechter that the Iraq government recently submitted a letter of request to buy the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH-70), although that request is likely in jeopardy now that the Department of Defense scrapped the ARH program in October due to cost overruns. Iraq also is reported to be weighing whether or not to buy Hunter-class UAVs which, with a shorter range than Reapers or Predators and less demanding technology, could be integrated into the Iraqi military.

With the $10.9 billion arms and equipment deal announced in July, the United States has completed approximately $20 billion in Foreign Military Sales agreements with Iraq since 2005. According to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction’s July 2008 report, the United States also provided $17.9 billion in military-related aid – separate from Foreign Military Sales – since 2005 through the Iraq Security Forces Fund.

Oversight is Key

Providing Iraqi Security Forces with the equipment they need to achieve their objectives will help increase Iraqi soldiers’ confidence and effectiveness as the United States begins commencing troop withdrawals. Iraqi oversight of military equipment coming into the country, however, must be bolstered. If weapons are channeled toward dangerous insurgents and away from Iraqi Security Forces, Iraqi soldiers will lose legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people and the security environment in Iraq could take another perilous turn toward sectarian bloodletting.

The threat of insurgents capturing Lynx II radars is not realistic because insurgents would not have the manpower, equipment, or technology to steal and use the radars against U.S. and Iraqi forces. However, the transfer of these radar systems does provide the Iraqi military with a “dry run” opportunity to iron out its acquisition procedures in preparation for ongoing and future transfers of weapons that are much desired by insurgents – weapons like small arms, rocket propelled grenades, and light vehicles.

Deliveries of all types of weapons and equipment are sure to accelerate in the months ahead. Iraq must improve its acquisition processes now to stamp out corruption and make sure things are running as smoothly as possible. If Baghdad is unwilling to reform its procedures, the United States should not hesitate to slow or suspend weapons transfers until effective safeguards are put in place.

Travis Sharp is the Military Policy Analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C., where he works on issues related to Congress and national security.


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