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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Backgrounder: What Model Should Iraq Follow after U.S. Forces Withdraw?

Council on Foreign Relations

Author: Lionel Beehner, Staff Writer
June 25, 2007


Even as they disagree on how long American forces will remain in Iraq, U.S. officials and foreign policy experts suggest a number of scenarios for what Iraq might resemble after coalition forces eventually pull out. President Bush has proposed the so-called South Korean model, a long-term residual troop presence to prevent civil war from breaking out. Many have also likened the conflict to Vietnam, where the fall of Saigon did not unleash the massive “domino” effect many predicted. Others have offered Lebanon, which suffered from a long civil war before an uneasy truce was inked, as a more accurate template. Then there are those who say Iraq should become a federalized state, akin to post-1995 Bosnia. Experts disagree over the degree to which the conflict in Iraq could spread to neighboring countries.

The South Korea Model

Over fifty years after the Korean War, some thirty thousand U.S. troops remain stationed along the DMZ, which divides the peninsula between North Korea and South Korea (the number is expected to diminish to 24,500 next year). The U.S. forces are there to keep an uneasy peace between the two Koreas and prevent war from erupting again. The analogy to Korea is meant to portray the Iraq conflict as a long-term one that requires a residual “over-the-horizon” military presence, mainly to support indigenous forces and keep the peace. “The idea is more a model of a mutually-agreed arrangement, whereby we have a long and enduring presence, but one that is by consent of both parties and under certain conditions,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters in early June. He also said the Korean model stood in contrast to the aftermath of the Vietnam War, where “we just left lock, stock and barrel.”

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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