The bottom line in the much anticipated Iraq Study Group report, which was released this morning, is a new emphasis on embedded special operations and combat teams within the Iraqi military, allowing a drawdown of troops in the region. Under this model, intelligence and logistical support would likely continue to come from the U.S., and, since Iraq has no air force, the U.S. would probably fill this gap as well.
The report, which notes that “the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating,” says that U.S. military operations in Iraq “should evolve” so that “by the first quarter of 2008 all combat brigades not necessary for force protection should be out of Iraq. At that time, U.S. combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces, in rapid-reaction and special operations teams, and in training, equipping, advising, force protection and search and rescue.”
The CIA irregulars played such a key role in Afghanistan and Robert Gates, who seems likely to be headed for confirmation as Secretary of Defense, is especially knowledgeable about irregular warfare and covert actions, almost ensuring the elevation of special operations within the overall military structure.
The study group’s report also addresses the question of oil, which will almost certainly play a large role in the unfolding diplomacy in the region, but especially in Iraq and Iran where American companies have long sought access. Improving relations with Iran, as the study group advocates, could open the way for trade with the U.S. and possibly access to pipelines transporting oil and especially natural gas from central Asia. In Iraq, much of the discussion has focused on economic, if not political division of the country, and potentially divvying up oil revenues to Shia, Sunni, and Kurd territories, with each group cutting its own deals with the big oil companies. But the study group’s recommendations run counter to this thinking, and it advocates a strong central government: “The United States should support as much as possible central control by governmental authorities in Baghdad, particularly on the question of oil revenues.” Overall, the study group proposes reorganizing the oil industry as a “commercial enterprise.”