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Never Much For Butter, Broke Iraq May Not Be Able To Buy Many Guns, Either

The perils of basing your budget on oil revenue: the Iraqi government is practically hemorrhaging money thanks to falling oil prices, and that’s causing a drastic reduction in defense-related jobs and purchases, according to The Washington Post’s Ernesto Londono. The U.S. general in charge of mentoring Iraqi security forces observes that the shortfall will compel the Iraqis to make “hard choices” about what to buy and whom to hire. But we could see this coming a mile away:

The budget squeeze is also heightening concerns about the Shiite-led Iraqi government’s ability to continue paying U.S.-formed — and formerly U.S.-funded — Sunni paramilitary groups that are now working under its supervision. The government promised to shift 20 percent of the 94,000 men in those groups to security jobs, but because of the hiring freeze, fewer than 5,000 of them have made the transition.

In recent months, many Sunni guards have walked away from their checkpoints after working unpaid for months. U.S. officials fear that the dissolution of the groups could refuel the insurgency, widen the sectarian divide and destabilize the government.

Beyond the reconciliation issue, Londono reports that the Iraqis may face problems with preparedness to face external threats, as money dries up to supply the country’s tiny air force, navy and border guard. To go far out in the realm of speculation, watch to see if that becomes a pretext for the Iraqi military to request revisions to the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement holding a total U.S. troop departure by the end of 2011. Senior Iraqi military commanders have often said that they want the United States to leave when they’re able to take control. We can argue whether Iraq isn’t *already *seeing foreign-sponsored aggression against it, but the implicit premise in London’s reporting is that Iraq won’t be prepared for a major conventional conflict with one of its neighbors. How likely is that, though?

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