The “Iraqis Must Now Provide Security” Fantasy

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There is much talk these days about “transferring responsibilities for security” in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking the locals to do “their share” and so on. Clearly, possible post-election policy shifts in the US are now objects of strategic maneuvering (press leaks, contradictory statements, shifting political alliances, etc.).  Certain hard facts may help observers grasp the military and political realities despite the fantastic fog created by very noisy political battles.

Consider some details from the latest comprehensive report of the Congressional Budget Office (“Estimated Funding for Operations in Iraq and the War on Terrorism” August 8, 2006) available at  For the years 2001 through 2006, the CBO says that US military operations in Iraq cost $ 254 billion and those in Afghanistan plus some homeland security expenditures took another $ 128 billion.  In addition, during the same years, diplomatic and foreign aid expenditures in Iraq totaled $ 22 billion and in Afghanistan, etc. another $ 12 billion.  Combining these, we can conclude that the costs of the Iraq war in the direct US government effort there (all sorts of indirect costs are not included in these calculations) amount to: $ 276 billion for Iraq and $ 140 billion chiefly for Afghanistan.

Keeping these orders of magnitude in mind, lets turn to the funds provided to “Indigenous Security Forces” across the same period, 2001-2006.  According to the CBO, in Iraq that sum totals $14 billion while in Afghanistan it is $ 3 billion.  For perspective, it is worth noting that New York City allocated about $20 billion for its police department across the same years.

Such a disparity yields some inescapable conclusions.  Given the admitted destruction, disorganization, and demoralization endemic to the military and police apparatuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, they would need massive funds to rebuild their capacities to cope with the consequences of invasion and occupation.  Given the decimation that invasion and occupation wrought on their already weak economic structures, they could not possibly raise such funds internally.  Given the political problems preventing the US’s “coalition” partners or NATO from supplying such funds, only one possible source remained.  It would have been necessary (although perhaps not sufficient) for the US to expend massive resources on and for “indigenous security forces.”  That is what the US government did not do.

What the Iraqi military and police failed to do with $14 billion of US money complemented what the US could not do with its $ 276 billion.  Moreover, the civil war now unleashed has deepened all the problems that already had overwhelmed the combined US-Iraq military and police controls.  Thus, the notion that a “solution for Iraq” might be provided by reducing US forces and expenditures and relying more on Iraq’s “indigenous security forces” with or without “help” from Iraq’s neighbors (themselves economically constrained and politically divided) is little short of bizarre.  It might be a solution for an American administration in political trouble at home — if the ensuing disasters and tragedies in Iraq and beyond do not get blamed on that administration.  But, for Iraq, what looms is yet more agony, death, and destruction, for which the US will get much blame.

Rick Wolff Rick Wolff is Professor of Economics at University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is the author of many books and articles, including (with Stephen Resnick) Class Theory and History: Capitalism and Communism in the U.S.S.R. (Routledge, 2002) and (with Stephen Resnick) New Departures in Marxian Theory (Routledge, 2006).   This article was adapted from an earlier version that Wolff published at

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