But retired U.S. Army Col. Paul Hughes, now an Iraq scholar at the U.S. Institute of Peace, told The Washington Times that Gen. Zebari’s concerns — and those of other senior Iraqi military officers he had talked with — were focused on the capacity of the Iraqi military to defend the country against potential external aggressors after the U.S. military leaves at the end of 2011.
“What he’s concerned about is the Iraqi military being able to defend the country’s borders against an invasion,” he said. “They live in a rough neighborhood.”
“The Strategic Framework Agreement contains no provision — [for] ongoing military cooperation beyond 2011,” he said.
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the Bush administration’s Iraq Study Group, told The Times that whatever might happen afterward, the 2011 departure date is fixed.
“I’ve never been a fan of deadlines,” the Indiana Democrat said. “They are not good policy … [but] the political pressure to create them is very strong.”
“How we get out makes a lot of difference,” he said. “We have strong national interests … and moral obligations … to try to leave the country in such a way that we give Iraq a chance for a better future.”
He noted that Iraq’s parliament had barely met at all since the election, that “key ministries cannot spend their budgets” and that the electricity grid is still not functioning properly, despite $5 billion the United States had plowed into it.
“The situation is worse than most Americans realize,” he concluded. “There is a very long way to go in Iraq.”