Will U.S. Military Advisers Be Enough To Secure Iraq?

President Obama says he'll send military advisers to Iraq, but not combat forces. NPR's Scott Simon talks to retired Army Col. Derek Harvey about whether that's enough to help regain stability.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Shiite militiamen paraded through Baghdad and other cities today, displaying heavy weaponry, including artillery. They say they will take on the Sunni militants, who've seized much of Iraq's north after many Iraqi soldiers have reportedly walked away from the battle. We're joined now by Derek Harvey, a former U.S. Army colonel, who served as an intelligence adviser to General David Petraeus during the 2003 Iraq war. Colonel Harvey, thanks very much for being with us.

DEREK HARVEY: I'm glad to be here, Scott.

SIMON: How do you appraise the Shiite militia as a military force?

HARVEY: Well, they are well organized and well led. And they've been trained and advised, for the last decade, by the Iranian Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah. And they are experienced in fighting the United States. They're skilled. They're sophisticated. And over the last two to three years, many of these groups, Asi Belhock (ph), Khatib Hezbollah and Sadr's militia have been in Syria fighting against the Sunnis there. And so I would regard them as a very competent, trained, and well-led element within the Iraqi dynamic.

SIMON: At the same time, could dueling militias send Iraq spiraling back into a civil war?

HARVEY: That is a high risk. And at this point in time, we see the mobilization of large numbers of Shia recruits being trucked in to ISF deployed areas and being integrated into these ISF units that have been undermanned for some time.

SIMON: Are there military options that you see?

HARVEY: I believe that the United States does have some good military options available to it. At this point in time, what the president has proposed is insufficient to achieve the objectives which I see as undermining ISIL's advances in Iraq and setting the stage for a political accommodation, so we can move on to forming the inclusive national government. There are a number of objectives here. And I would look back to 2007 and 2008, where the key to turning it around, at that point in time, was the reconciliation and integration efforts led by General David Petraeus, and bringing Sunni Arabs into the fold to fight against al-Qaida in Iraq and to be participatory in the political process. That was undermined then...

SIMON: The Sunni awakening, as it's often called.

HARVEY: Yes.

SIMON: Yeah. So you're talking about options, but not just military options. It sounds like you think there ought to be a comprehensive, political program at the same time.

HARVEY: The military approach needs to be directed at driving a wedge between the broader Sunni Arab community and targeting ISIL in order to do that. It takes political engagement. And we need a sufficient presence on the ground to enable us to target ISIL as well as to build the political outreach to the Sunni Arabs and move this political process forward.

SIMON: When you say sufficient presence on the ground, it sounds as if you don't believe - not only the 300 soldiers aren't enough, but the fact that their advisers and the president keeps repeating they won't be drawn into combat. It seems to be you're suggesting that the U.S. ought to commit a force that, in fact, might be drawn into combat, in that they would apply military force.

HARVEY: There's a requirement to significantly enhance our ability to target the extremists as well as to have presence to engage with the Sunni Arab community and other interested parties. And that takes the ability to travel, and provide security and identify the different elements in that hostile environment in Iraq today. That requires much more than 300 advisers.

SIMON: Former U.S. Army colonel Derek Harvey served as a military intelligence officer in Iraq and is now the director at the University of South Florida's Global Initiative on Civil Society and Conflict. Thanks so much for being with us.

HARVEY: Thank you very much, Scott.

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