e-News Special Edition- Iraq: The Hard Work Is Not Over

Iraq: The Hard Work Is Not Over

By U.S. Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (NJ-11)

The Iraqi government made headlines last week by declaring “final victory” over the forces of the Islamic State (ISIS) within its borders.  Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared in a nationally-televised address that his country had “been completely liberated.”

As Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which funds the Department of Defense and our own Intelligence Community, and provides significant financial support for the Iraq’s security forces, my immediate reaction was “not so fast.”

We’ve seen this scenario before: the Baghdad regime “wraps up” combat operations against a stubborn insurgency and declares itself the “winner” in a civil war which cost the United States considerable “blood and treasure” and could not have been won without U.S. support!  Indeed, the numbers are significant: over 4,400 Americans died and nearly 32,000 were wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Seizing on the opportunity to end U.S, involvement in the “bad war” in Iraq, the Obama Administration rather quickly withdrew the bulk of American forces from Iraq in 2011.  By taking our eye off the ball and standing by while the Iraqis themselves ignored new danger signs in their own backyard, the seeds of an Islamist-fueled rebellion were nourished.  In the intervening years, tens of thousands of Iraqis died and over three million were displaced - refugees in their own country. Nearly 90 Americans have died fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria since then and many more were wounded.  

Of course, Prime Minister Abadi’s government deserves credit for making substantial progress by killing, capturing and routing ISIS forces, which once occupied nearly one-third of his nation.  None of this progress, however, could have been possible without our military, especially our Special Forces, our intelligence-gathering, our surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and our military advisors providing “metal” in the Iraqi “spines” for many years. And, frankly, Iranian-led militia forces and advisors have and continue to play an active role on this same bloodied ground, often “deconflicting” their operations with ours.

It is true that ISIS no longer holds any significant territory in Iraq, but fighting continues, and there are estimates of hundreds of ISIS fighters remaining in the country.  

Prime Minister Abadi is correct: ISIS will remain the “eternal enemy” and even when these “mop up” maneuvers are completed, there will still be a security issues.  And who, might I ask, will pay for the rebuilding of Mosul, refugee resettlement and the restoration of the Iraqi economy, now that the “final victory” is won?

I traveled to Iraq twice this year and found that ISIS and its allies remain.  Furthermore, Iran now wields over-sized influence in Iraq with its intelligence operatives and military commanders in key leadership posts. 

In this context, Iraqi priorities should be clear.  They must:

  • Continue to professionalize its security forces to eliminate nepotism, minimize absenteeism and “ghost” soldiers;
  • Reform the way it fights by ensuring that weapons are only in its hands and not those of Iranian-backed militias, elements of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Saraya Al-Salam and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba;’ 
  • Strengthen the rule of law by fighting corruption and weak performance in service ministries;
  • Provide relief for millions of refugees and locally displaced people;
  • Recognize the Kurds’ desire for autonomy.

As far as Iraq’s “final victory” is concerned, they owe a great deal to the United States and our allies.  We owe even more to those who died, especially our own. 

In the future, that means operating as if the fight is not over.

Because it isn’t. 


Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) is the Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations.  He recently returned from Iraq.

(As submitted to the Newark Star-Ledger)


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