2006 December 28 Thursday
International Crisis Group Advice On Iraq

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has written a response to the Iraq Study Group in which the ICG calls for greater changes in US policy toward Iraq and the Middle East.

Slowly, incrementally, the realisation that a new strategy is needed for Iraq finally is dawning on U.S. policy-makers. It was about time. By underscoring the U.S. intervention’s disastrous political, security, and economic balance sheet, and by highlighting the need for both a new regional and Iraqi strategy, the Baker-Hamilton report represents an important and refreshing moment in the country’s domestic debate. Many of its key – and controversial – recommendations should be wholly supported, including engaging Iran and Syria, revitalising the Arab-Israeli peace process, reintegrating Baathists, instituting a far-reaching amnesty, delaying the Kirkuk referendum, negotiating the withdrawal of U.S. forces with Iraqis and engaging all parties in Iraq.

Engaging all parties in Iraq? Does that count every neighborhood militia? How about every criminal gang? The country is so fragmented that engaging all the factions isn't practical.

The ICG thinks a multinational group could get all the Iraqi factions to make an agreement that will bring peace to Iraq.

But the change the report advocates is not nearly radical enough, and its prescriptions are no match for its diagnosis. What is needed today is a clean break both in the way the U.S. and other international actors deal with the Iraqi government, and in the way the U.S. deals with the region: in essence, a new multinational effort to achieve a new political compact between all relevant Iraqi constituents.

The Shiites want an outcome where they are in charge. The Sunnis want an outcome where the Sunnis are not under the Shias and preferably one where the Shias are under the Sunnis. Given that the US is for democracy (amounts to majoritarian rule by Shias) the US is against the Sunnis getting satisfaction. How can such huge differences be reconciled? The stakes are too high in their minds.

The International Crisis Group says political leaders in Iraq are becoming warlords. That's true. Each ministry has its own guards who are involved in ethnic cleansing.

A new course of action must begin with an honest assessment of where things stand. Hollowed out and fatally weakened, the Iraqi state today is prey to armed militias, sectarian forces and a political class that, by putting short term personal benefit ahead of long term national interests, is complicit in Iraq’s tragic destruction. Not unlike the groups they combat, the forces that dominate the current government thrive on identity politics, communal polarisation, and a cycle of intensifying violence and counter-violence. Increasingly indifferent to the country’s interests, political leaders gradually are becoming warlords. What Iraq desperately needs are national leaders.

In spite of what Mick Jagger has sung, you can't always get what you need. National leaders? Iraq has one of the highest cousin marriage rates in the world. As a result loyalties heavily focus on the extended family (tribe) and one's sect of Islam. There's no room left over for feelings of loyalty toward a national government. The ICG and ISG do not explain how we can get the Iraqis to stop feeling the pull of tribal loyalties or how we are going to get them to adopt political beliefs that are incompatible with the political beliefs taught by Islam.

The International Crisis Group exaggerates the extent to which neighboring countries are driving Iraq into chaos. I think the Iraqis do not need any help to make that happen.

As it approaches its fifth year, the conflict also has become both a magnet for deeper regional interference and a source of greater regional instability. Instead of working together toward an outcome they all could live with – a weak but united Iraq that does not present a threat to its neighbours – regional actors are taking measures in anticipation of the outcome they most fear: Iraq’s descent into all-out chaos and fragmentation. By increasing support for some Iraqi actors against others, their actions have all the wisdom of a self-fulfilling prophecy: steps that will accelerate the very process they claim to wish to avoid.

The countries that are supporting the Sunnis do not want a united Iraq if that means democratically united under Shia rule. Are the Sunni countries more worried about Iraq's fragmentation or Iraq's unification under Shia rule?

The ICG correctly points out one problem with the Bush Administration's approach: Support for the Iraqi government really amounts to support for a few factions that have control of pieces of the national government. Many other factions (militias, gangs, political parties) aren't on the inside and so support for the current members of government amounts to support for some factions against other factions.

Two consequences follow. The first is that, contrary to the Baker-Hamilton report’s suggestion, the Iraqi government and security forces cannot be treated as privileged allies to be bolstered; they are simply one among many parties to the conflict. The report characterises the government as a “government of national unity” that is “broadly representative of the Iraqi people”: it is nothing of the sort. It also calls for expanding forces that are complicit in the current dirty war and for speeding up the transfer of responsibility to a government that has done nothing to stop it. The only logical conclusion from the report’s own lucid analysis is that the government is not a partner in an effort to stem the violence, nor will strengthening it contribute to Iraq’s stability. This is not a military challenge in which one side needs to be strengthened and another defeated. It is a political challenge in which new consensual understandings need to be reached. The solution is not to change the prime minister or cabinet composition, as some in Washington appear to be contemplating, but to address the entire power structure that was established since the 2003 invasion, and to alter the political environment that determines the cabinet’s actions.

Sadr's militia has splintered. His party did well in the last election and he has control of a few government ministries. Yet he doesn't control as many militia fighters as he used to since the militias have splintered. Though if a new election was held his party would probably gain Shia voters due to his image of protector of Shias from Sunnis.

Do these ICG people understand the implications of Iraq's tribal structure and sectarian splits? Might the US government officals ignore consanguineous (cousin) marriage in their public pronouncements about Iraq while carrying out policies which are based on an understanding of tribal society? Based on experience watching the Iraq debacle so far I find that unlikely.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 December 28 12:11 AM  Mideast Iraq Ethnic Conflict

John S Bolton said at December 28, 2006 3:00 AM:

Perhaps a partition into sovereignties, with each getting similar per capita resource revenue, no matter how gerrymandered the boundaries look, would work.
That is, supposing that stranded populations can be minimized to a level allowing for peace, by careful gerrymandering.
Let each sovereignty have an upper house of sheiks with power equal to the popular house, so that clans have representation, and some ability to sabotage legislation felt to be inimical to their interests.
The Iraq Study Group report gives several arguments why partition is rejected by US policy makers.
One is that boundaries cannot be drawn in clean manner[but in American congressional districts they can?]
Another is that our policy will be regarded as having been one of destroying a strong Arab state,
leaving it in weakling pieces.
Others involve objections by Turkey, etc.
I had said earlier that our government had not given arguments why the Iraqi national unity as such is good for us, but the report does something of that sort.

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