The U.S. withdrew its troops at the end of 2011, wrapping up the first fiscal quarter of 2012, which began Oct. 1. Still, a Congressional Research Service report said the budget calls for $17.7 billion for the year, with a big jump in funding for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.
The State Department said the majority of the budget is allocated toward enabling a robust civilian presence after the departure of military forces, as well as for administrative costs.
“We’re going to be there just as long as we possibly can,” said Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. “What we are buying is influence and strategic advantage” in the Middle East.
According to Cordesman, the U.S. strategy is centered on stabilizing Iraq to allow more trade, impacting the entire economy and strengthening the Middle East and its global importance.
The Department and USAID received $6.2 billion of the Iraq budget for 2012, compared with $2.3 billion in 2011. In the absence of troops, the State Department is now responsible for paying for security and other measures that used to be costs under the Department of Defense budget.
But just because it’s budgeted doesn’t mean the government is going to spend the entire allotment, Cordesman said.
“The State Department figure originally included police training efforts, but almost all of that effort has been canceled,” he said.
Cordesman added that because budgets have to be submitted for approval well in advance, those submitting requests couldn’t be certain whether a strategic framework agreement will work out in the upcoming year. The framework outlines how the U.S. will try to continue supporting Iraq after troops are gone.
“There was a lot they wanted to establish with Iraq that didn’t happen,” he said. “There’s a very downsized American presence.”
The budget, however, doesn’t look like it is going to downsize in the near future. The President’s budget proposal for 2013 requests $4.8 billion in Iraq spending for the State and USAID, more than twice the amount given in 2011.
And although Cordesman said police training efforts were all but canceled, the department’s budget summary states more than one-third of the 2013 budget will be used to fund police training and military assistance programs.
The majority, $2.7 billion, will be used to operate the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and three consulates. But the department isn’t just responsible for administration costs now that the DOD has minimized its presence.
“Now the State Department has to provide all of the security, as well as pay for movement within Iraq,” including helicopter travel between consulates, which eats up a large portion of the budget, Cordesman said.
But the DOD isn’t out of the Iraq picture completely. It still plays a role in the overseas contingency operations – a fancy term for the country’s activities in the Middle East.
The DOD requested $2.9 billion for 2013 to pay for security assistance and to move equipment out of Iraq. The budget overview calls it the “finalizing transition in Iraq,” but doesn’t allude to when the U.S. may pull out completely.
Neta Crawford, a professor of political science at Boston University and co-director of the Costs of War project, agreed that our responsibilities to tie up the loose ends following the Iraq war are far from fulfilled.
She listed medical expenses, equipment repair and interest as significant costs, along with the continued presence of the U.S. military and State Department as well as payments to bolster the Iraqi military.
“It will be many, many years before we are done paying for the war in Iraq,” she said.