Iraq’s Acting National Security Advisor Worries About ‘Militarization’ Of Iraqi Society

Our guest blogger is Brian Katulis, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

irraq armyAt a conference I attended in Europe last week on the way forward in Iraq, Iraq’s acting national security adviser Safa Hussein raised three main concerns about the coming years in Iraq:

– Iraq’s national security architecture and where the Kurdish pesh merga fits;

– What Hussein called the “militarization” of Iraqi society; and

– Civilian control of Iraq’s intelligence agencies.

Most people are well aware of the long-standing Arab-Kurdish tensions that continue to trouble northern Iraq, especially within the belt of disputed territories that run south of the areas controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government — forces from Iraq’s central government and Kurdish forces have had standoffs in places such as Khanaqin, Altun Kopri, Bashiqa, Mosul Dam, and Makhmour, among other places.

But the broader challenge of the overall size of Iraq’s security forces is something the next Iraqi government may need to address. Iraq now has nearly 750,000 — three quarters of a million people — serving the military, police, and other security forces. And this could present some challenge for civilian oversight and control of security agencies.

In a presentation Safa Hussein delivered at the conference (where I also talked with Iraq’s former national security adviser — see yesterday’s post), he raised the question, “What are the right levels of the Iraqi army and other security forces in the country?” Hussein went on to raise concerns about how having too large of a security presence could stifle movement and access of commerce and limit economic activities.

Hussein also raised the question of who controls which intelligence agencies in Iraq — something that has received some public mention in previous years in articles such as this one — but has not received as much attention in U.S. policy circles in recent years as attention has shifted to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As the United States continues to redeploy its forces from Iraq, keeping an eye on these emerging security trends will be vital to advancing some degree of stability in the country.