US adviser`s blunt memo on Iraq: Time `to go home`

U.S. Adviser’s Blunt Memo on Iraq: Time ‘to Go Home’
By MICHAEL R. GORDON, The New York Times
July 31, 2009
WASHINGTON — A senior American military adviser in Baghdad has concluded in an unusually blunt
memo that Iraqi forces suffer from entrenched deficiencies but are now able to protect the Iraqi
government, and that it is time “for the U.S. to declare victory and go home.”
The memo offers a look at tensions that emerged between Iraqi and American military officers at a
sensitive moment when American combat troops met a June 30 deadline to withdraw from Iraq’s cities,
the first step toward an advisory role. The Iraqi government’s forceful moves to assert authority have
concerned some American officers, though senior American officials insisted that cooperation had
Prepared by Col. Timothy R. Reese, an adviser to the Iraqi military’s Baghdad command, the
memorandum details Iraqi military weaknesses in scathing language, including corruption, poor
management and the inability to resist Shiite political pressure. Extending the American military presence
beyond August 2010, he argues, will do little to improve the Iraqis’ military performance while fueling
growing resentment of Americans.
“As the old saying goes, ‘Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,’ ” Colonel Reese wrote. “Since
the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now
smell bad to the Iraqi nose.”
Those conclusions are not shared by the senior American commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, and his
recommendation for an accelerated troop withdrawal is at odds with the timetable approved by President
A spokeswoman for General Odierno said that the memo did not reflect the official stance of the United
States military and was not intended for a broad audience, and that some of the problems the memo
referred to had been solved since its writing in early July.
Still, the memo opens a rare window into a debate among American military officers about how active the
American role should be in Iraq and for how long. While some in the military endorse Colonel Reese’s
assessment, other officers say that American forces need to stay in Iraq for the next couple of years as
the Iraqis struggle with heightened tensions between the Kurds and Arabs, insurgent attacks in and
around Mosul and checking authoritarian tendencies of the Iraqi government.
“We now have an Iraqi government that has gained its balance and thinks it knows how to ride the bike in
the race,” Colonel Reese wrote. “And in fact they probably do know how to ride, at least well enough for
the road they are on against their current competitors. Our hand on the back of the seat is holding them
back and causing resentment. We need to let go before we both tumble to the ground.”
Before deploying to Iraq, Colonel Reese served as the director of the Combat Studies Institute at Fort
Leavenworth, Kan., the Army’s premier intellectual center. He was an author of an official Army history of
the Iraq war — “On Point II” — that was sharply critical of the lapses in postwar planning.
As an adviser to the Baghdad Operations Command, which is led by an Iraqi general, Abud Qanbar,
Colonel Reese drew examples from Baghdad Province, which is less volatile than the area near Mosul in
northern Iraq, where the Sunni insurgency is strongest. But he noted that he had read military reports
from other regions and that he believed that there were similar dynamics nationwide.
Colonel Reese, who could not be reached for comment, submitted his paper to General Odierno’s
command, but copies have circulated among active-duty and retired military officers and been posted on
at least one military-oriented Web site.
Colonel Reese’s memo lists a number of problems that have emerged since the withdrawal of American
combat troops from Baghdad, completed June 30. They include, he wrote, a “sudden coolness” to
American advisers and the “forcible takeover” of a checkpoint in the Green Zone. Iraqi units, he added,
are much less willing to conduct joint operations with their American counterparts “to go after targets the
U.S. considers high value.”
The Iraqi Ground Forces Command, Colonel Reese wrote, has imposed “unilateral restrictions” on
American military operations that “violate the most basic aspects” of the Status of Forces Agreement that
governs American and Iraqi military relations.
“The Iraqi legal system in the Rusafa side of Baghdad has demonstrated a recent willingness to release
individuals originally detained by the U.S. for attacks on the U.S.,” he added.
A spokeswoman for General Odierno, Lt. Col. Josslyn Aberle, said of the memo: “The e-mail reflects one
person’s personal view at the time we were first implementing the Security Agreement post-30 June.
Since that time many of the initial issues have been resolved and our partnerships with Iraqi Security
Forces and G.O.I. partners now are even stronger than before 30 June.” G.O.I. is the abbreviation for the
government of Iraq.
Colonel Reese appears to have anonymously circulated a less detailed version of his memo on a blog
dubbed “The Enchanter’s Corner.” The author, listed on the site as “Tim the Enchanter,” is described as
an active-duty Army officer serving as an adviser in Iraq who is “passionate about political issues.” That
post on Iraq, along with one criticizing President Obama’s health care proposals, has been removed but
can be found in cached versions.
Under the plan developed by General Odierno, the vast majority of the approximately 130,000 American
forces in Iraq will remain through Iraq’s national elections, which are expected to be held next January.
After the elections and the formation of a new Iraqi government, there will be rapid reductions in American
forces. By the end of August 2010, the United States would have no more than 50,000 troops in Iraq,
which would include six brigades whose primary role would be to advise and train Iraqi troops.
Some experts, like Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former
adviser to General David H. Petraeus, have argued that this timetable may be too fast “Renewed violence
in Iraq is not inevitable, but it is a serious risk,” Mr. Biddle wrote in a recent paper. “The most effective
option for prevention is to go slow in drawing down the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Measures to
maximize U.S. leverage on important Iraqi leaders — especially Maliki,” he added, referring to Iraq’s
prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki “— can be helpful in steering Iraqis away from confrontation and
violence, but U.S. leverage is a function of U.S. presence.”
During a recent appearance at the United States Institute of Peace, a Washington-based research
organization, Mr. Maliki appeared to be contemplating a possible role for American forces after the
December 2011 deadline for the removal of all American troops under the Status of Forces Agreement.
But while General Odierno has drawn up detailed plans for a substantial advisory role, Colonel Reese
argued in favor of a more limited — and shorter — effort, and recommended that all American forces be
withdrawn by August 2010.
“If there ever was a window where the seeds of a professional military culture could have been implanted,
it is now long past,” he wrote. “U.S. combat forces will not be here long enough or with sufficient influence
to change it. The military culture of the Baathist-Soviet model under Saddam Hussein remains
entrenched and will not change. The senior leadership of the I.S.F. is incapable of change in the current
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