The Iraq Study Group Report
Bill Long 12/7/06
In a Word...
The long-awaited report of the Iraq Study Group, formed in March 2006 to help the President out of the deep hole into which he has dug himself and America on the Iraq War, was released yesterday. I took the time to work through it today and, it seems to me, it all boils down to one word. That one word is "reconcilation." Reconciliation is the thing that Iraq doesn't have, Iraq seems to need, and we seem powerless to provide. Shi'a needs to be reconciled with Sunni, both need to be reconciled with Kurds, and even various groups within the Shi'a need it with each other. But, this isn't happening, as anyone with the remotest interest in the subject has picked up. As the report says: "Current US policy is not working, as the level of violence in Iraq is rising and the government is not advancing national reconcilation." Or, in the next paragraph: "Sustained increases in US troop levels would not solve the fundamental cause of violence in Iraq, which is the absence of national reconciliation" (p. 30).
It is funny, though not amusing, that reconciliation is the focus of so much of this report. Reconciliation is a theological word, and the only other document I know that made it a central principle was the Confession of 1967 of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The emphasis on reconciliation in the Church happened just before all hell broke loose in the Presbyterian Church. I wonder if the same will hold true in Iraq. Certainly the signs are all there. As the report says:
"Despite a massive effort, stability in Iraq remains elusive and the situation is deteriorating. The Iraqi government cannot now govern, sustain, and defend itself without the support of the United States. Iraqis have not been convinced that they must take responsibility for their own future. Iraq’s neighbors and much of the international community have not been persuaded to play an active and constructive role in supporting Iraq. The ability of the United States to shape outcomes is diminishing. Time is running out," (p. 27).
So, what is to be done? Rather than giving solutions, the rest of this essay introduces you to facts you probably don't know about Iraq and our effort there. If you want to know what the report says should be done, I can tell you it in one sentence (though it took the Group 79 Recommendations to get it all out): (1) talk with regional neighbors, including Syria and Iran, in a "New Diplomatic Offensive" and (2) Gradually cut down US troops, after first increasing the number of imbedded trainers, so that all non-training troops can be removed by mid-2008. But here are some interesting things:
Before the War began, Iraq was a country of 25 million, about 1/4 of whom lived in Baghdad or environs. Therefore, the "battle" for the heart and soul of Iraq is to be fought in the capital. Of the 18 provinces in Iraq, four of them, representing about 40% of the population (10 million people), are the most troubled: (1) Baghdad, (2) Anbar, (3) Diyala, (4) Salad ad Din. The Sunnis were formerly in power under Saddam Hussein, but the "de-Baathification" of the army wiped out several levels of competent people, meaning that almost the entire military infrastructure of Iraq needs to be rebuilt. We are trying to train 138,000 Iraqi troops and 188,000 police. We do not have a clear sense of what we want to do with the latter--surely we are not training them to be crossing guards, but we are not sure what level of competence they are to attain. In addition, the amount spent on equipment for Iraqi army for one year was $3 billion, which is the amount the US military in Iraq consumes in two weeks.
Many of the troops, as we have discovered, are loyal first of all to their ethnic groups. Indeed, a large portion of the 138,000 refuse to serve in areas other than their ethnic towns or states of origin. We have seemingly been completely unable to build a philosophy or commitment to a "nation" of Iraq in our post-war work.
Though the Shi'a have a majority of seats in the Iraqi government, there remain several Shi'a power brokers who either have no government responsibilities or who command their own militias. The most impressive, in terms of numbers (est. at 60,000) is that controlled by Moqtada al-Sadr. But the militias, death-squads, retailations squads, etc. comprise so many groups and individuals that the central government, with inadequately-trained troops, is no match for them. Because there is no commitment to "reconciliation," there appears to be few opportunities for the country to develop a unified approach to things.
Though these realities are things that we may not be able to control, one thing that we can change/control is the following astonishing fact.
An Astonishing Lack
Before closing its report, the ISG tells about the nature of the American diplomatic, and not military, presence in Iraq. One could call this presence the "eyes and ears" of America as it attempts to understand the dangerous world we have helped to create in post-War Iraq.
"All of our efforts in Iraq, military and civilian, are handicapped by American's lack of language and cultural understanding. Our embassy of 1,000 has 33 Arabic speakers, just six of whom are at the level of fluency," (p. 60).
SIX fluent Arabic speakers in the heart of Baghdad for us? Great. That surely leads to a sympathetic understanding of people and things. With that kind of presence, no wonder all we want to know are the "military assessments." Why not seek a cultural assessment? Because no one really knows the culture. This is confirmed a few pages later:
"We were told that there are fewer than 10 analysts on the job at the Defense Intelligence Agency who have more than two years’ experience in analyzing the insurgency. Capable analysts are rotated to new assignments, and on-the-job training begins anew," (p. 62).
We gave the President of the United States a blank check in the wake of 9/11 to pursue this War as he saw fit. Voices raised in opposition were squelched. People were attacked for being unpatriotic. Still the voices rose. Now, even the rock-ribbed Republicans and "pro-military" Democrats all agree that major change is needed, and it may already be too late. What a morass we are in. If I were George Bush now I would do exactly what he is doing--call in Tony Blair, the only English-speaking foreigner who supports him who has much more credibility than he does. Maybe Tony has some answers. He sure did in Queen.