- The Iraqi Security Forces will not be able to defend Iraq's sovereignty, maintain its independence from Iran, or ensure Iraq's internal stability without American assistance, including some ground forces in Iraq, for a number of years. The negotiation of a security agreement extending the presence of US forces in Iraq beyond the end of 2011 is thus an urgent national security priority for the United States and Iraq.
- The absence of a US strategic partnership with and military presence in Iraq will weaken the Iraqi military and could lead to the breakdown of internal security and political gains, which in turn could cause renewed communal conflict and the reemergence of militant Islamist groups. Conversely, Iraqi response to the sense of being abandoned by the United States could lead Baghdad to launch a rapid buildup of Iraq's military to respond to regional threats, which would further destabilize an already unstable Middle East and badly damage essential efforts by the Iraqi government to meet the desires of its people for domestic progress.
- Iran's use of proxy military groups poses the most immediate and serious threat to Iraqi security. Combined with Iran's conventional, particularly missile, threat, the current military balance pitting Iraq by itself against Iran gives Tehran military dominance at every level of escalation.
- To counterbalance Iran's military dominance, Iraqi military planners would need to design and field a military capable of protecting the Iraqi state with or without US assistance. An Iraqi military designed to deter, repel, and retaliate against the range of Iranian military options would therefore be an imposing force in the region. Such an Iraqi military would rival that of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, and even Syria, unsettling the current military balance and possibly sparking a regional arms race.
- The presence of US air power and ground troops in Iraq would assure Baghdad of its survival, and at less cost to Iraqi and regional security. The US military can provide Iraq with the ability to hold its own against Iranian proxy groups, to deter and defeat an Iranian conventional military attack or air attack, and to deter or retaliate against an Iranian missile campaign. Internally, the United States could continue to play an irreplaceable role in keeping the peace along the Arab-Kurd fault line in northern Iraq.
- A long-term strategic military partnership also benefits the United States. It would deter serious Iranian adventurism in Iraq and help Baghdad resist Iranian pressure to conform to Tehran's policies aimed at excluding the United States and its allies from a region of vital interest to the West.
- The United States must demonstrate that it is a reliable ally by negotiating the extension of some US military presence after 2011, maintaining its commitment to the long-term survivability of the unitary Iraqi state.
- Iraqi leaders must choose what kind of Iraq they want--an independent, fully sovereign state beholden to no one, or a weak state, riven with internal tensions, subject to the constant manipulation and domination of its Persian neighbors. The decision will mark a fundamental bifurcation in Iraq's future and must not be taken lightly.
Frederick W. Kagan is a resident scholar in defense and security policy studies and director of the Critical Threats Project at AEI.