Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Will Tehran push Baghdad to re-open the SOFA with the crusaders in 2011?

Last night I was reading a very thorough analysis of Iraqi politics by Judith Yaphe, who has forgotten more about Iraq than I will ever know. She made one point in particular that struck me: Regardless of who wins the election, Baghdad will not have a military capable of defending it against external threats by ...

Paul Keller/flickr
Paul Keller/flickr
Paul Keller/flickr

Last night I was reading a very thorough analysis of Iraqi politics by Judith Yaphe, who has forgotten more about Iraq than I will ever know. She made one point in particular that struck me:

Regardless of who wins the election, Baghdad will not have a military capable of defending it against external threats by the time the SOFA expires [at the end of 2011, when all U.S. military forces are supposed to be out of Iraq]. It will have no real control over its air space . . . .

Think of that. On Jan. 1, 2012, when, some say, there will be no more Status of Forces Agreement, there really will be very little to prevent Israeli aircraft from zipping right through Iraqi air space and onto targets in Iran. And if American forces are out, no one can blame the Americans for allowing it to happen . . . .  But if Iraq re-opens the SOFA and negotiates a substantial continued U.S. presence, the door for potential Israeli air strikes stays closed.

Last night I was reading a very thorough analysis of Iraqi politics by Judith Yaphe, who has forgotten more about Iraq than I will ever know. She made one point in particular that struck me:

Regardless of who wins the election, Baghdad will not have a military capable of defending it against external threats by the time the SOFA expires [at the end of 2011, when all U.S. military forces are supposed to be out of Iraq]. It will have no real control over its air space . . . .

Think of that. On Jan. 1, 2012, when, some say, there will be no more Status of Forces Agreement, there really will be very little to prevent Israeli aircraft from zipping right through Iraqi air space and onto targets in Iran. And if American forces are out, no one can blame the Americans for allowing it to happen . . . .  But if Iraq re-opens the SOFA and negotiates a substantial continued U.S. presence, the door for potential Israeli air strikes stays closed.

I can just see the commander of the Quds Force telling Iraqi officials, "Hey, you got to get President Obama to have them stay."  

I also was struck by Yaphe’s assessment of Iraq’s oil future. Bluntly put, OPEC would just as soon Iraq stay out of the market as a supplier. If and when Iraq comes on line, she implies, oil prices are gonna plummet. Hence, "Iraq is . . .  vulnerable to threats from neighbors seeking to thwart its export ambitions." So, it seems to me, Iran and Saudi Arabia both have an incentive to see continued turmoil in Iraq. Kuwait doesn’t even need an excuse to find ways to undercut Iraq. (But I would like to open a bar in Kuwait one day called "The 19th Province.")

Meanwhile, I see that Ms. Helene "Sugar Beach" Cooper and one of her posse have caught up, sort of, with my item from last week about Gen. Odierno asking for more combat troops in Iraq after the August deadline. She is a good soul so I am not gonna cavil about her taking a week to get it, sort of. But it isn’t a "contingency plan," it was a request. 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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