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Looking back, the Iraq Study Group report is worse than we thought - Daily News Egypt

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Looking back, the Iraq Study Group report is worse than we thought

Not everything dies when it should, and the report of the Iraq Study Group, released late last year, is a grim example. Even at the time it was issued, it was a remarkably vacuous and unrealistic report. Its key recommendations were hopelessly impractical and the detail report – while good on some aspects of historical …


Not everything dies when it should, and the report of the Iraq Study Group, released late last year, is a grim example. Even at the time it was issued, it was a remarkably vacuous and unrealistic report. Its key recommendations were hopelessly impractical and the detail report – while good on some aspects of historical diagnostics – ended in a long list of sometimes contradictory conceptual recommendations lacking any detail justification, details, and operational plans. It was at best a warning of what overblown committees seeking a lowest common denominator could not accomplish. Looking back, it emerges as even worse. Its key recommendations never made sense. For example, there was never any chance that development of the Iraqi Army could be rushed forward in ways that would permit rapid American force reductions, and recent months have made it all too clear that the Iraqi Army needs more time, more aid, and more American embeds and support. The existing schedule for creating an Iraqi Army already was far too fast. The months that have followed have shown it takes time, patience, and resources to build an effective military force. It takes political conciliation to allow it to operate in ways that serve the nation. Without internal Iraqi political conciliation, the army can end up either fracturing along sectarian and ethnic lines or becoming a Shia dominated force with a separate Kurdish force in the Kurdish area. The ISG’s recommendations to speed up development of the Iraq police force to serve the same purpose of enabling faster American withdrawals were truly absurd. Somehow, this was to be accomplished by completely reorganizing American and Multinational Force-Iraq police aid and training effort, taking it out of the hands of Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq (MNSTC-I ) and putting it back into the same civilian hands that had failed so badly earlier that the police effort had to be taken away from them and put into MNSTC-I hands in October 2005 – after more than two years of going nowhere. It is all too clear that effective development of the police is even more dependent on effective political conciliation than development of the army. It will take several years at a minimum to accomplish, and will immediately come up against the realities of the need for some form of effective local government and a functioning court and criminal justice system. It is equally clear that for the police to function, it must find some way to deal with local security forces, the militias, and the prospect of federalism. The ISG effectively failed to deal with two of these issues, and set an impossible deadline for abolishing the militias, with no explanation of how a weak and divided Iraqi government could do this, or what would happen when they were abolished long before the police could provide security. The ISG also never addressed the issue of Iraqi conciliation in any meaningful way, or the level of internal civil conflict. It did not explain how its implied time schedule could avoid pushing the country toward civil war nor did it suggest any practical ways to heal the fractures inside Iraqi society. It offered no useful plans for new incentives, and implied that a weak national government without strong Sunni participation, with a steadily more divided Shia majority, and a Kurdish faction interested in autonomy, could somehow be pressured into effective action by some form of United States-defined benchmarks and deadlines. “We’ll blame you as we leave, has since become something of a mantra for the US Congress. Then as now, however, it does not explain what the US should be prepared to do to meet its strategic interests in Iraq or the region. Nor does it deal with the fact that American failures to prepare for nation-building and stability operations are at least as much an explanation for why Iraq is broken as any Iraqi failures. As for its idea of a regional conference held under US auspices to solve Iraq, this was probably the most absurd recommendation of all. The US lacked the credibility to call such a conference, and it was never clear why such a proposal would bring neighboring powers with deeply diverse interests to display any unity to outside efforts – much less to work in uniting Iraq. When the Iraqi government did try to hold a similar such a conference under its own auspices, it produced a few gestures from already friendly states, no progress in aiding internal conciliation in Iraq, and no real progress in terms of changing the attitudes of outside powers. It is true that the Bush administration seems to have finally learned it needs to talk to Iran and Syria, rather than demonize them. It is all too clear, however, that such dialog may produce very limited results. Syria may be willing to deal. Alawites (who make up 16 percent of the population) are not Shias; Syria has a strong Sunni majority (74 percent). The Syrian Baath is largely secular and has every reason to fear Islamist extremists-Sunni and Shia. In practice, however, the US and Syria need time to deal with issues like Israel, the Golan Heights, and Lebanon-if they can deal with them at all. The best deal they can hope for on Iraq is a trade whereby Syria quietly cracks down on Sunni Iraq insurgent groups operating in Syria in return for the US backing off treating Syria as a pariah and ceasing to push hard on the Hariri assassination. If this happens, it will be quiet and bilateral, not something for a major conference. The ISG focus on Iran and Syria also ignored Turkey and the Sunni Gulf states. The US, Iraq, the Kurds, and Turkey have issues to resolve that already are extremely difficult and will play out over years. Iraq’s national unity is a key to avoiding a Kurdish-Turkish clash and Arab-Kurdish tensions are key conflict issues that the US must try to address. Both require focused US diplomacy and not regional meetings. There are good reasons for someone like King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to call the US occupation of Iraq illegitimate. Arab Sunnis see the current “surge strategy as empowering Arab Shias and Iraqi separatism at the expense of Sunnis and Iraq’s unity as an Arab nation. These views represent different values from the US, and underestimate just how hard the US is pushing for conciliation and unity. They do, however, need to be addressed and will be critical to the future US position in the Gulf – whether or not the US is forced to withdraw. Once again, a regional conference is perhaps the worst possible way to address such sensitive issues. As for talking to Iran, the US should make every effort to have an official dialogue. It isn’t going to change the regime, the US has a host of issues that it should try to address, and the history of the Cold War indicates it is better to talk to hostile regimes and try to prepare the way for limited cooperation and a better future. Iran has made it clear, however, that there is not going to be any grand bargain, easy progress on the nuclear issue, cutbacks in Iranian missile development and asymmetric forces in the Gulf, or progress on Israel and support for anti-Israeli extremists. American and Iranian envoys are to meet in Baghdad on May 28. However, Iran’s position on meeting with the US to talk about Iraq is also hardly reassuring. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in Mashhad on May 17 that Iran had only agreed to “face-to-face talks with the US so that it could, “remind the US of its responsibilities and duties regarding security, and to, “give them an ultimatum. The talks will only be about the responsibilities of the occupiers in Iraq…They think that the Islamic Republic has changed its firm, logical, and defendable policy in rejecting negotiation with the US. They are wrong. How is it possible to negotiate with the arrogant, bullying, expansionist, and colonialist government of the US. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said last Friday at the World Economic Forum in Jordan that the only way to deal with the Iraq issue was for the US to admit its role in the count
ry was illegitimate and withdraw from Iraq and the Gulf, leaving security to Iraq’s neighbors. “We believe that sooner or later they have to decide to withdraw their troops from Iraq because that is the cause for the continuation of terrorist activities. Mottaki went on to say that Iraqi instability and the US occupation of Iraq were the two fundamental problems plaguing Iran’s neighbors, and called for a “comprehensive solution to address both issues. This really meant pushing the US out of the region. These were not low-profile remarks. He spoke while sharing a panel with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistani Prime Minister Shawkat Aziz, Jordanian Prime Minister Maarouf Bakhit, Bahrain’s crown prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, and Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal, a former ambassador to the United States. Ali Larijani, who heads Iran’s National Security Council, said at the same meeting that the Bush administration was trying to bring Baathists back to power to create political conditions where it could leave Iraq: “Unfortunately, the Americans are under some pressure to leave faster [from] Iraq. They want some elements in Iraq to take control and they discovered the Baathists could do the job. Larijani went on to warn that efforts at conciliation would mean “disaster for the Iraqi people, for the Iranians, for the Kuwaitis, [and] for the region. Whatever the US might have done in talking to Iran when it seemed to have won in Iraq, and when Iran was under President Muhammad Khatami, it almost certainly cannot do now. Iran believes the US will be forced to leave Iraq and has created a weak Iraqi Shia dominated government that Iran can influence and use. The US has no incentives to offer Iran and no sticks. It does not even seem to have a clear plan for Iraqi stability and conciliation. One wishes the new US ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, luck, but there were good reasons why Iraqi Vice President Tareq Al-Hashemi told the Iranians at the conference in Jordan: “Our role is to put pressure on Iran but I must be realistic about that. I know who’s actually the troublemaker. Not only Iran and Syria and neighboring countries. Many countries in fact. The Iraqi issue is becoming a threat to global stability and regional stability so everyone should be very careful about what is going on… For the benefit of the national security of Iran, Iran should not be tempted to interfere in my country. They should think seriously about that. At the end of the day I would like the Iranians to end their interference. The crippling irrelevance and unrealism of the ISG does not mean that the Bush strategy is valid. It is, however, a broader warning to both the Congress and the administration. The US cannot fix an Iraq it did so much to help break through simple, quick, and glib solutions, particularly ones imposed from Washington. The US still has great influence, but it does not control Iraq’s internal politics and cannot do so by threatening to leave or by simply turning over the nation’s problems to Iraqi forces and some mythical international forum. The US has no good options in Iraq: it can either stay or leave. At best, it can today only try to find the least bad path of uncertainty and work out the best compromises over time. To do this, it must focus on its overall long-term strategic interests in the region, working with its friends and allies, and looking both at what can be done in Iraq and in the region as a whole. The current surge strategy may well fail, but there is no better option until it does. This means the US should work for both conciliation and security in Iraq as long as there is a credible – if limited – chance of success. The key is conciliation and its success or failure will be determined by Iraqis, not by outsiders. If the end result is to force major or total US military withdrawal, the US needs a clear plan as how to reposition its forces in the region. It also cannot simply abandon Iraq to chaos or to Iran. It must try to maintain political, economic aid, and security aid ties to Iraq if at all possible – doing what it can to prevent or ameliorate all out civil war and the breakup of the country. The Iraq Study Group never addressed these realities, any more than it realistically addressed any other aspect of US policy. Anthony H. Cordesmanis Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. This commentary is published by permission.

Topics: Wael Ghonim

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