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Policy Analysis

Policy Focus 137

The Long Haul: Rebooting U.S. Security Cooperation in Iraq

Michael Knights

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January 2015

The challenge posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has created some strange dynamics, among them the shared interest of the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran in "degrading and defeating" the Sunni jihadist group. But this shared interest should not be viewed as an opportunity for fuller cooperation and warmer ties; rather, it presents a grave risk. Iran and its Shiite proxies have been seeking to exploit the chaos next door to effectively take over Iraq's government and security sector. A country of some 36 million inhabitants could thus fall under Iran's sway.

The United States and its Western partners must now work simultaneously to counter ISIS advances and ensure Iran doesn't gain the upper hand as a potential Iraqi partner. This mission, first of all, must be grounded in a long-term U.S. strategy and commitment to the health and recovery of the Iraqi state.

In this new Institute study, Michael Knights, a longtime expert on Iraq and Iran, discusses the ways in which the United States can establish itself as a trusted partner for the Iraqis. Taking well-considered steps now will help forestall an ISIS resurgence down the road -- and prevent Iran from widening its already vast regional influence.


Michael Knights is a Lafer fellow at The Washington Institute, specializing in the political and security affairs of Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and the Gulf Arab states. He has traveled into Iraq annually to support and meet with Iraqi and Kurdish ministries, local government leaders, and security forces; he has worked in every Iraqi province and most of the hundred districts of Iraq.

Dr. Knights received his PhD in Iraqi military history at the Department of War Studies, King's College, London. His analysis appears regularly in outlets including the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, the West Point Sentinel, Politico, and Jane's IHS; he also provides expert testimony at congressional hearings.

His recent publications on Iraq include: