Senior Military Official: U.S. Should Withdraw From Iraq Next Year

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Thursday, July 30, 2009 at 11:17 am
U.S. Army Soldiers in Iraq (U.S. Army photo)

U.S. Army Soldiers in Iraq (U.S. Army photo)

A recent memo authored by a senior U.S. military official questions the basic rationale for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq until 2011 as the Obama administration has decided, arguing that U.S. troops have reached a point of “diminishing returns” in training the Iraqi security forces and risk jeopardizing both a future positive relationship with Baghdad by staying for another two and a half years and the safety of U.S. forces.

The short memo, written by Army Col. Timothy R. Reese, chief of the Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team for Multinational Division-Baghdad, argues that all U.S. troops “smell bad to the Iraqi nose,” and accordingly suffer under laborious operational restrictions placed upon them by the Status of Forces Agreement signed by the U.S. and Iraq in late 2008. In particular, since the June 30 pullback of U.S. forces from Iraqi towns and cities, Reese, a high-ranking liaison to Iraqi security forces, writes that the Iraqi forces have placed “unilateral restrictions on U.S. forces that violate the most basic aspects” of the accord, including a “forcible takeover” of an entry point within the so-called Green Zone. “The security of U.S. forces are at risk,” he writes.

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

As a result, Reese contends, “we should declare our intentions to withdraw all U.S. military forces from Iraq by August 2010,” a schedule that he says represents not “a strategic paradigm shift, but an acceleration of existing U.S. plans by some 15 months.” There are currently 130,000 troops in Iraq, a number scheduled to remain fairly static until early next year, after which the Obama administration and Reese’s senior theater commander, Gen. Raymond Odierno, intend to remove all combat brigades, leaving between 30,000 and 55,000 troops in Iraq as advisers until December 2011, as allowed in the SOFA.

Yet Reese argues in his memo — evidently written in mid-July — that the United States no longer possesses sufficient leverage to influence a host of Iraqi military and governmental problems, which the administration has cited to justify the presence of U.S. forces through 2011. But he contends that security has improved to the point where even an Iraqi military that he considers poor can keep the county from a much-feared internal collapse without the aid of U.S. forces. “Perhaps it is one of those infamous paradoxes of counterinsurgency that while the ISF [Iraqi security forces] is not good in any objective sense, it is good enough for Iraq in 2009,” Reese writes.

The Iraqi military that Reese advises comes in for a withering assessment. Although he writes that the U.S. can be “justifiably proud” that the Iraqi military has “defeated the organized insurgency,” any opportunity for bequeathing Iraq a professional military free from a “Baathist-Soviet model” is “now long past,” and U.S. forces cannot change the situation by 2011. Reese criticizes the Iraqi military for “endemic” laziness, corruption, nepotism, mistreatment of enlisted soldiers, and worse. The Iraqi Ministry of Defense and its Baghdad Operations Command are untrustworthy, incompetent and unable to “stand up to Shiite political parties,” despite “all the fawning praise we bestow” on both organizations.

Reese’s assessment of Iraqi government performance is even harsher. He writes that reconciliation of the ruling Shiites with former Sunni insurgents and rejectionists is “at a standstill, and probably going backwards,” nor is there movement to resolve Arab-Kurdish tensions in the north. Corruption and incompetence in the ministries is “the stuff of legend,” with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s much-touted anti-corruption measures a mere “campaign tool.” Essential services like electricity still are unable to meet the needs of Iraqis, and the government does not take “rational steps” to improve them. “The general lack of progress in essential services and good governance is now so broad that it ought to be clear that we no longer are moving the Iraqis ‘forward,’” Reese writes.

The memo, according to several people who have read it, has made its way in defense circles for at least a few days. On Tuesday, a blog called Snuffysmith posted the memo’s contents, which were independently obtained by The Washington Independent. According to GoogleCache, another blog on the conservative Townhall network, The Enchanters’ Corner, posted it on Monday, but the blog is currently blank. Its bio page lists its author as “Tim The Enchanter,” a member of the U.S. Army “on active duty for almost 30 years” who is currently serving “in Iraq as an advisor to the Iraqi security forces.” According to an official bio, Reese received his first Army commission in 1981. Several efforts to reach him were unsuccessful. (As this piece was going to press, the New York Times published a piece about the memo as well.)

Reese is known in the Army as a historian as well an armor officer. In 2008, he and a colleague published a well-regarded study of the Army’s experiences in Iraq following the fall of Baghdad until January 2005, titled “On Point II.” Col. Gian Gentile, who led a battalion in Baghdad before the surge, said that Reese’s work on “On Point II” demonstrated that he is a “credible source,” and called his memo a “powerful and important view” of the U.S.’s situation in Iraq.

Douglas Ollivant, a former chief of plans for Multinational Division-Baghdad who left the White House last month as Iraq director, said there was “a grain of truth to the picture he paints,” but said that Reese’s account “is exaggerated, and does not account for Iraqi political reality.” Among other points, Ollivant critiqued Reese for not addressing what accelerating withdrawal “would do to our equipment withdrawal plan” or the “transition to State [Department] control.”

Messages left for a spokesman for Gen. Odierno were not answered by press time.

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Comments

28 Comments

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“US Should Withdraw From Iraq Next Year” « Arabic Media Shack
Pingback posted July 30, 2009 @ 2:18 pm

[...] Should Withdraw From Iraq Next Year” Posted on July 30, 2009 by Rob From  Spencer_Ackerman at the Washington Independent: A recent memo authored by a senior U.S. military official questions [...]


helenashaw
Comment posted July 30, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

They need to get government contractors out of there too. Iraqis don't want them there…


Tim Newton
Comment posted July 31, 2009 @ 7:06 am

Obliviously Col. Reese is disgruntled officer who is looking for attention and the prospects of being a military analyst on cable news after his career in the Army. For those of you who actually read his report, I would take much of it with a grain of salt. Though the Iraqis may have their problems, his views are grossly exaggerated and are out of line. If we look back at our own history during and after the American Revolution, the United States struggled as a newly formed democracy which was full of corruption and poor management. Col Reese, as a military officer, should know better than to express his opinion on policy. He is in Iraq to protect democracy, not practice it.

CSM Newton
IRAQ


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Pingback posted July 31, 2009 @ 10:16 am

[...] July 2009, 9:16am · Leave a Comment As reported at the Washington Independent and NYTimes, an American Army officer in Baghdad has written a memo that recommends the US declare [...]


marieburns
Comment posted July 31, 2009 @ 10:17 am

I would note that the other contributors to the outfit that carries Reese, Townhall.com, include Michelle Malkin, Michael Reagan, Jonah Goldberg, Tom Tancredo & Oliver North. (North's current screed on the site berates the President for “consider[ing] 'racism' to be a more serious problem than Americans being recruited to commit acts of terror.”) I thank the colonels for their service.

The Constant Weader at http://www.RealityChex.com


Soldier_Cynic
Comment posted July 31, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

@CSM Newton, I know COL Reese, he is the senior advisor to the Baghdad Operations Center. He is not prone to exaggeration and speaks the ground truth about the situation in Baghdad. If he is frustrated it is from banging his head against the closed door to the BOC commander who does not want us here anymore. Save the ad hominem attacks for the politicans CSM.


Needlenose » Blog Archive » The End of the Delusion in Iraq
Pingback posted July 31, 2009 @ 7:44 pm

[...] important about the memo, revealed yesterday, from an army colonel advising American forces in Iraq that recommends an accelerated withdrawal of [...]


“The use of the military instrument of national power in its current form has accomplished all that can be expected.” « A New Chautauqua
Pingback posted August 1, 2009 @ 3:33 am

[...] important about the memo, revealed yesterday, from an army colonel advising American forces in Iraq that recommends an accelerated withdrawal of [...]


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CPT in Baghdad
Comment posted August 1, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

CSM Newton -

Don't you have more important SGM duties to worry about like making sure everyone is wearing reflector belts? COL Reese is right on the money with his assessment.


iraqiadvisor
Comment posted August 2, 2009 @ 2:22 am

About time a SR officer provides the command with the ground truth. Most commanders want to keep playing army, going after “terrorists” and pretending its still OIF I. The mission of the US Military in Iraq since 2004 has been to stand up viable and credible security forces that can support the democratically elected government of Iraq. The ISF with our assistance, set the conditions to enable elections that chose a government. The democratically elected government is telling us that the security forces that we trained are prepared to support them (The democratically elected government.). This is what we set out to do, the COL is dead on, it is time to declare victory and leave with honor. Small US Mil and State personnel will stay to train the ISF and work with the GOI, but the majority of the troops need to depart. I hope this memo is not the end of the COL's career but I bet this will slow it down.


knowbuddhau
Comment posted August 2, 2009 @ 4:42 am

NYT Punk’d—Twice in One Day

By Scott Horton

The dog days of the news season are just about to arrive, but the editors at the nation’s newspaper of record already seem to have gone on vacation. This morning’s issue leads with Michael Gordon breathlessly recounting a real scoop: a sensitive memo by a senior military advisor to the Baghdad command who advocates an immediate pull-out of U.S. forces from Iraq.

**** Just one problem—which the Times later had to adjust their account to reflect—the memo was nothing more than the private thoughts of a blogger, Col. Timothy R. Reese, which had already been posted to the rightwing TownHall website, where he is a regular contributor. Although it was pulled from the TownHall site, it was reposted at several other sites, including the invaluable Washington Independent.****

Reese’s analysis is pretty interesting; it reflects far more serious thought than his recent tirade against healthcare reform, for instance. http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/documents/2009… I agree that the memo is worth a mention and some discussion. What I don’t understand is the editorial judgment underlying making a rightwing blog post the lead news story of the day. Perhaps this should be balanced by giving tomorrow’s lead to a post at the Daily Kos…
http://harpers.org/archive/2009/07/hbc-90005458

Ackerman's treatment of Reese's credibility could use an update to reflect more accurately the nature of the report's origin.


timnewton
Comment posted August 2, 2009 @ 5:49 am

I will ignore you arrogant comment regarding the NCO Corps. Though some of the COL’s opinions may be true from his perspective, I have a different a view after my unit’s experiences with the Iraqi Army. Here is the underlying problem with the COL’s memo, he went public. I encourage you to visit and read some of the liberal media, bloggers, and columnist. He is now a hero to the liberal media and has given them propaganda to bash the former administration, current administration, military leaders, and our servicemen in the field. It is really sad to read what the bloggers are writing about our servicemen because of his sensitive memo. The Iraqi Security Forces may be able to handle the insurgency like the COL said in his memo, but he did not mention the threat from Iran. Let’s forget history and make the same mistake twice, South Vietnam was able to contain the Viet Cong after we left Vietnam, but not the NVA.


mttadvisor
Comment posted August 2, 2009 @ 6:01 am

I met Col Reese a week ago when I had a IA pay problem to solve. From a CPT who is directly living/working/eating with the IA, this assesment is spot on. The United States at some point needs to learn that throwing money at a problem isn't always the answer. Our MTT team is a “Sugar daddy” to the units that we are advising—not combat advisors. The IA don't want our help—they just want us to do their work for them. At some point the IA will be faced to take a test without the teacher giving them the answers. It is time for the Eagle to kick it's chicks out of the nest and force them to fly.


Eugenia
Comment posted August 2, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

Thank you Col. Reese for telling the truth – it's up to Iraq now and how much they want freedom.


johnhkennedy
Comment posted August 2, 2009 @ 3:28 pm

We need investigations of the WMD Lies that allowed US to Invade Iraq in the first place. Right on! Keep the pressure on our politicians to do the right thing.

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iraqiadvisor
Comment posted August 2, 2009 @ 3:42 pm

mttadvisor,

I experienced the exact same “Sugar daddy” role as you describe during my last few tours working with ISF. The Iraqis know that we are leaving and want to take us for all they can, not in a devious sort of way, they figure let us pick up the tab while we are still here.

I did notice that ISF units that did not have US advisors (or a “Sugar daddy”) were some of the most capable ISF units because they had to develop on their own. At first glace these units may seem incompetent b/c they can't perform US METL tasks or they look a bit rag-tag. However these units have developed Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems, and these solutions, are generally accepted by the Iraqi population.

As the US forces leave the major cities the insurgents are at a critical juncture, do they keep fighting the GOI/ISF or return to normal society? Most insurgents know that if they chose to fight the GOI/ISF they will not receive any support from the Iraqi people. The insurgency has largely transitioned into a political conflict and will be sorted out by the Iraqi people, some times by violence, but mostly via elections and the Iraqi civil process.

To my understanding, we set out to stand up a democracy in Iraq, however so much time past between us saying we wanted to stand up a democracy and go home, now that it is here the US military is confused as to what is supposed to be doing. Military careers are being made by fighting a counter insurgency in Iraq, keeping the status quo of targeting terrorist and insurgents while training some ISF is what is good for US military commanders, not the US government's long term objectives in Iraq.

I believe that the US advisory mission in Iraq, the various Training Teams (military, Police, border patrol, Operations, Etc.), have accomplished their missions in Iraq and should be commended, they assisted the ISF with the transition to Iraqi control. Now that the Iraqis are telling us they are prepared to go it alone it is time to bring the majority of the troops home.


CPT in Baghdad
Comment posted August 2, 2009 @ 6:09 pm

It was leaked to the media just like GEN Bolger's email two weeks ago was. COL Reese did not email that memo to the media. COL Reese is not just a hero to liberal bloggers, he is a hero among most of the Soldiers here in Baghdad for putting down the Kool Aid and speaking the truth. Hopefully the political and military leadership heeds COL Reese's advice and pull troops early before more troops are needlessly killed or wounded.


Soldier_Cynic
Comment posted August 3, 2009 @ 5:14 am

As a senior NCO, I did not see that as an arrogant comment regarding the NCO Corps, rather a biting assessment of how many CSM/SGM are seen by the force. I can confirm what CPT in Baghdad said, the memo was leaked. The method of its release does not change its essential truth; the Iraqis don't want us here. We are now trying to browbeat them into accepting our assistance like a dealer forcing the crack pipe into the user's mouth.


timnewton
Comment posted August 3, 2009 @ 6:25 am

Personally, I can give a rats ___ about reflective belts, there are more important issues which concern me more like recognizing the outstanding job our soldiers doing for the Iraqi people. Unfortunately, his memo has provided a negative view of our military in Iraq with quotes from liberal media that the United States military has “killed millions of Iraqis, raped, indiscriminately shoot Iraqis at checkpoints, and so on.” I rarely ever read or comment on blogs, but when I first read his memo I knew for sure that this would have a negative backlash to all the hard work our servicemen have done over the past 6 years. I want to ensure that the accomplishments of our servicemen are viewed in a positive way and when we eventually leave Iraq their accomplishments will not be lost.
As for the memo being leaked, he is the one who went public with it. “Colonel Reese appears to have anonymously circulated a less detailed version of his memo on a blog called “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.” New York Times


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Comment posted July 30, 2010 @ 12:07 pm

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