Before Leaving Iraq A Responsible Withdrawal salah al-nasrawi Iraqi writer and political analyst
Bush’s War To a large degree, the spring 2003 war to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime is considered George W. Bush’s war, despite the general realization that American neoconservative intellectual, political and oil elites played a major role in the war’s conception and execution. This belief is due in part to President Bush’s consistent support for the war and the departure of many leading neoconservative figures from the administration. Vice President Dick Cheney, the primary instigator of the war, has remained a part of the administration. More importantly, American institutions, including Congress, have been unable to take part in the management of the crisis caused by the war with all its political, security and moral dimensions. A careful analysis of Bush’s time in office shows a near-total absence of congressional oversight in the administration’s foreign policy. Congress failed in its constitutional foreign policy duties to check the executive branch’s power. This allowed the White House to monopolize the most crucial national security and foreign policy issues, including the war on terror and the occupation of Iraq. After the Democrats took power of both the House and the Senate in late 2006, congressional attempts to exert influence in the war were too little, too late. This happened for a number of reasons, perhaps the most important being the Democrats’ lack of interest in rescuing the Republican administration from trouble in order to exploit the situation in the 2008 elections and reclaim the White House. Another reason www.arabinsight.org 32 Arab Memo to the Next American President Congress refrained from intervention is the natural tendency of Congress to show support for the president and military during times of war, regardless of partisan affiliation, to avoid accusations of being unpatriotic. This is why Democrats have yet to pressure President Bush by delaying spending legislation for troops in Iraq, even though public opposition to the war is rising. Instead, both chambers held various hearings and organized special committees to investigate problems related to the occupation such as corruption scandals. Unfortunately, these efforts had a limited affect on the Bush administration’s power. An Example from History With the upcoming presidential election, the question on most minds is: “How will the next administration deal with the huge challenges left behind by President Bush?” This is especially true in light of the war in Iraq and the need to rebuild the domestic front that has been undermined while waiting for a seemingly impossible victory. Undisputedly, foreign policy is essential to American national security and should not be dictated by the executive branch alone. History shows that after the presidential election, the incoming presidents will implement their own foreign policy. After World War II, a new administration and Republican Congress fundamentally changed Japan’s occupation policy. The strategy of rebuilding the state was altered and proponents of the MacArthur-Roosevelt program were replaced with conservative diplomats and employees. This created “the reverse course” strategy, which abandoned the post-war policy of purging nationalists from the new Japanese regime and instead allowed thousands of nationalists to rejoin the army and civil service. A similar strategy was used in the de-Baathification policy in Iraq. Japan became a strong U.S. ally. The United States followed the same strategy in occupied Germany, supporting the Christian Democratic Union and its founder Konrad Adenauer for many years. As previous policies were strong influences in the strategies of consecutive administrations, the incoming administration will have to take into consideration current political and security issues such as Afghanistan, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iranian nuclear program, relations with Russia and China, international terrorism, and the food, energy, and global warming crises. These will all factor heavily into the foreign policy strategies adopted by the next president, regardless of their political affiliation. The war has lost nearly all support among the American public due to over 4,000 dead and 30,000 wounded U.S. troops, an economic burden exceeding $550 billion and the political and moral costs which the U.S. is paying internationally. www.arabinsight.org Before Leaving Iraq 33 Another issue that will compel the incoming administration to re-examine U.S. policy in Iraq is the dire status of the domestic front, which has been weakened by division over the war. The war has lost nearly all support among the American public due to over 4,000 dead and 30,000 wounded U.S. troops, the economic burden exceeding $550 billion, and perhaps most importantly, the political and moral costs which the United States is paying internationally. If change is inevitable, this raises crucial questions regarding Iraqi reactions to the new administration’s expected policies critical in the country. Misreading Positive Indicators Barack Obama has promised fundamental change in American policy. Obama, who opposed the war from its onset, advocates for the gradual withdrawal of American troops in the 16 months directly following inauguration, leaving only a small force behind to protect the embassy and fight terrorism. His opponent, John McCain, who was one of the strongest backers of the war, has committed himself to continuing Bush’s present course in Iraq, vowing to keep American troops in the country until an undefined victory has been achieved. There have been a number of positive developments in Iraq that both candidates will be able to use for their own political gain. These positive developments will be explained in the following bullets: • The security situation isimproving in most of Iraq.Casualty rates have dropped amongst American troops to their lowest level since the invasion, while killings and sectarian violence have been declining as well. These improvements are due in part to the upgraded capacities of Iraqi troops, as seen by their actions against armed militias in Basra, Sadr City in Baghdad, Mosul and Amara. These advances give a relative boost to the government’s confidence – and the Iraqi people’s as well – in their ability to face security challenges. • Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki appears stronger when facing many challenges coming from both inside and outside the Shiite coalition to which he belongs, in particular is his insistence on attacking the hard-line Shiite militias, headed by the Mahdi Army. This is in addition to his success in persuading the other parties – especially the Sunni opposition – of the political process’s worth. While these attempts have not yet reached the level of achieving a complete and stable national reconciliation, they might succeed in paving the way for this in the foreseeable future. www.arabinsight.org 34 Arab Memo to the Next American President • Iraq is witnessing some positive macroeconomic indicators, most importantly rising oil revenues, which exceeded $150 billion for 2007 and 2008 combined. These revenues are the result of the government’s tightened grip on its export outlets and oil field development, and the rising price of oil worldwide. These encouraging developments on the political, security and fiscal fronts mean the Iraqi government has more leverage on its development and infrastructure reconstruction programs, which will help create jobs and in turn open the door for further security and political progress. These key positive developments could be employed by either Obama or McCain to back their proposed policies in Iraq. Obama can argue that Iraq has recovered and Americans should pull out and leave the country to fix itself. McCain, on the other hand, can use these indicators to argue that an early withdrawal would be disastrous because the American military presence in Iraq is largely responsible for the improved situation, and only a prolonged U.S. troop presence will ensure that the state reconstruction process is completed. Both candidates can use the improved situation in Iraq to back their respective policies. However, a misleading, politicized reading of this data could hurt Iraqi interests. It is important to point out that the Arab world, including Iraqis, are not relying on the election promises made by either candidate. There is a widespread belief that the next administration’s decision-making will set aside their promises, and examine the needs of American security and political strategies at the regional and global levels. Furthermore, they will need to reconcile issues that have a direct influence on the situation in Iraq such as Iran (the most influential country in Iraq after the United States) and Syria, since both countries will be anticipating the policies of the next administration. The incoming administration will be forced to adopt a policy towards Iranian ambitions in the region. Given the significant differences in the candidates’ stances towards Tehran, the policies will most likely differ. Iraq’s Confused Politics The political system designed by the Bush administration forces the Iraqis to rely heavily on the United States. This creates a tension between the Iraqi desire to be liberated from the occupation and their practical tendency towards dependency and the development of common interests with their occupier. There are three fundamental There have been a number of positive developments in Iraq that both candidates will be able to use for their own political gain. www.arabinsight.org Before Leaving Iraq 35 factors that explain this tension. The first is the close ties between the fate of the Iraqi ruling political elite and its loyalty to Washington. The second factor is the constitution put in place under Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The third factor is the decrease in resistance forces since January 2007 under General David Petraeus’ security plan. Currently, the proposed security agreement would continue to keep Iraq under American influence by placing it under American protection. The incoming administration’s policy in Iraq has to allow Iraqis the choice between continuing affairs in their country under American tutelage, or bringing American influence to an end and beginning their own path. However, the politically dominant Iraqi groups – whether in government or the opposition – are concerned with preserving the gains that have been made, and are seeking to expand them by remaining close with their American allies. This disregards the public’s interest and the true desires of Iraqis that are prevalent in the opinion towards the security agreement with the United States. Representatives of the three main groups, Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs and Kurds, who came to power through the American formula for the Iraqi political system, cannot renounce the American influence without risking their own political future. Meanwhile, the Petraeus plan was able to pacify the resistance forces, especially among the Sunnis. This allowed Sunnis to enter into fierce political competition with the dominant Shiite and Kurdish powers in attempts to translate loyalty to the United States into further gains in the division of power and wealth. Perhaps the best gauge of the confusion and uncertainty of Iraqi political groups is their varying stances towards the security treaty with Washington. While these groups are supporting the proposed treaty because it secures their current political balance and keeps them in power, they are worried that the treaty will leave Iraq with limited sovereignty that is dependent on American protection. Problems Facing the Next President The incoming administration’s successful Iraq policy will have to rely on an objective, realistic understanding of the political and security situation, as well as the outcome of the political process. In order to avoid a misunderstanding of the Iraqi political status, it is important to lay out the following facts facing the next administration before proposing a solution: The next administration’s policy has to allow Iraqis the choice between continuing affairs in their country under American tutelage, or bringing American influence to an end and beginning their own path. www.arabinsight.org 36 Arab Memo to the Next American President Continuation and success in eliminating militias and armed groups cannot be guaranteed without building up the state on a foundation of national consensus and participation. 1. The current American administration has failed in rebuilding the Iraqi state and society for several reasons. These include its poor war planning, the occupation’s mismanagement, the imposition of unrealistic schemes, and resorting to haphazard experimentation to solve problems. Contrary to the missionary message touted by the occupation, the experience of the past five years is evidence that the rebuilding of countries under occupation, especially Japan and Germany, cannot be carbon copied for use in the Iraqi case. This is due to the absence of many conditions present in Japan and Germany that do not exist in Iraq (also social and cultural reasons), as well as occupation policies and the international and regional situation. Instead, Iraq’s experience showed occupation to be destructive to both the Iraqi state and society, in addition to diminishing its chances of surviving this national crisis. The relationship between the United States and Iraq is one of dependence, laid out by security, strategic, oil and cultural agreements which will solve neither the United States’ nor Iraq’s problems. These agreements worsen the problems by making Iraq a prolonged issue in American domestic politics, while also deepening Iraqis’ mistrust and hatred towards Americans. 2. The security gains that have been achieved are fragile and their continuation and success in eliminating militias and armed groups cannot be guaranteed without building up the state on a foundation of national consensus and participation. While the armed Sunni and Shiite groups are retreating and decreasing in visibility due to advances made by the Iraqi Army, supported by the American military, these groups are taking on different forms such as the Sunni “awakening” groups, militias loyal to the Mahdi Army, or the armed tribal groupings whose influence is increasing. Simultaneously, the Kurdish peshmerga forces have total control over the Kurdish north without any Iraqi Army or national policy presence, while the Badr Organization – loyal to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council that dominates the ruling coalition – is infiltrating the army and security forces. 3. The political process in its present form does not offer firm ground for national consensus, rather creates a fierce, cutthroat atmosphere encouraging further www.arabinsight.org Before Leaving Iraq 37 conflict. Despite claims made by the American and Iraqi government, so far there has been no genuine consensus building between the different Iraqi factions. Instead there has been a “cut and paste” process aiming at pacifying the groups. Now the country is more divided than ever before due to the separation walls erected around Baghdad neighborhoods and cities, which have turned each individual section into isolated islands ruled by armed sectarian groups. The only alternative that the current Iraqi government is working on is to enhance the sectarian quota formula for the division of wealth and power between the dominant groups, while marginalizing broader Iraqi nationalism politically and socially. 4. The situation in Iraq cannot be separated from the region and will remain intertwined with the situation in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf region in particular. Therefore any proposed solutions to the Iraqi crisis must work in a comprehensive regional framework taking into consideration the tensions of the region that are either a result of the war in Iraq, the fall of Saddam, or a cause of the war. The most obvious example is the growth of Sunni-Shiite tensions between and within the countries of the region and the escalating conflict between the United States, the West, and Israel against Iran. These crises have polarized the region between “moderate” pro-Western and hard-line anti-Western camps. This tense environment has only two possible outcomes: either a clash on the broader regional scale or a “grand deal.” In either case, Iraq is likely to end up losing. Sooner or later, the incoming American administration will realize that it cannot keep U.S. forces in Iraq indefinitely. Likewise, the Iraqi political players will grasp that they cannot remain forever submissive to the American administration. The incoming administration will need to seriously rethink other options that will create an honorable exit strategy, one that provides Iraqis with a chance for national reconstruction on the basis of genuine reconciliation, not a sectarian quota system. The experience of the past years has proven that the Americans and Iraqis cannot escape from this cycle alone. There have been several successful historical precedents of countries under foreign The incoming administration will need to seriously rethink other options that will create an honorable exit strategy, one that provides Iraqis with a chance for national reconstruction on the basis of genuine reconciliation, not a sectarian quota system. www.arabinsight.org 38 Arab Memo to the Next American President occupation that were able to leave behind their bitter experience with help from the international community. International Trusteeship as a Solution The international community’s involvement in a genuine and effective attempt to rescue Iraq is as much a political and legal duty as it is a moral responsibility. It is also necessary in order to avoid dangerous repercussions for the region and the world, especially in the worst case scenario of Iraq’s total collapse. I propose putting Iraq under an international trusteeship, which would offer a temporary legal and political exit from the Iraqi crisis, until the groundwork is laid to rebuild Iraq in a way guaranteeing equality among its religious and ethnic components. The reconstruction of the Iraqi state, society and national identity in a political, legitimate and consensual framework in the interests of all Iraqis is no longer possible to achieve under the current formula. The need for an international trusteeship in Iraq comes from the necessity of safeguarding its very survival and the protection of Iraqis’ lives, human rights and natural resources, all of which the occupation authorities and current administration have failed in doing. Additionally, international peace and security must be guaranteed in light of fears that the internal Iraqi conflict will turn into a broader regional free-for-all. Through both the Security Council resolution on the occupation of Iraq and the U.N. Charter, there is a legal foundation for imposing a temporary international trusteeship on Iraq. An international trusteeship can be imposed so occupied territories and failed states can be enabled to achieve self-determination, not according to the occupier or the forces in power. Unfortunately in Chapters 11, 12 and 13 of the U.N. Charter, the core of the necessary legal foundation for a trusteeship is spelled out. Under these rules member states like Iraq are exempt from falling under a U.N. mandate. Yet the Iraqi state is currently nonexistent on the ground, and a government that does not possess effective sovereignty in protecting its citizens’ lives, property and national wealth meets the conditions for applying a trusteeship as stated in the charter. The goal of the trusteeship is to provide security and stability, thereby pursuing national interests and beginning to rebuild under true independence and legitimacy. Iraq should be put under an international trusteeship, which would offer a temporary legal and political exit from the Iraq crisis until the groundwork is laid to rebuild Iraq in a way guaranteeing equality among its religious and ethnic components. www.arabinsight.org Before Leaving Iraq 39 Furthermore, Security Council resolutions related to the Iraqi war provide convenient rationalizations for the international community to become involved in Iraq. Resolution 1483 stipulates that the U.N. “should play a vital role in humanitarian relief, the reconstruction of Iraq, and the restoration and establishment of national and local institutions for representative governance.” Resolution 1546 also provides similar justifications to help Iraqis complete the political process. Most importantly, Iraq still falls under the Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter regarding the invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 Gulf War, which put Iraq under the effective power of the Security Council. The goal of the temporary trusteeship must be to achieve security and stability in a way that paves a road for a new political process, with the final goal of peacefully rebuilding the state and nation in Iraq and ending the foreign presence in all its forms. This goal cannot be reached through the powers currently dominating, whether the occupiers themselves or both the Iraqi government and the opposition groups, all of whom share responsibility for the appalling results of the war. Along with the international trusteeship, there must then be an international administration with a mandate to impose peace and security, followed by a political process based on political and social forces legitimately representing Iraq, rather than elites with questionable loyalties, sectarian and ethnic militias, or terrorist groups.
Published in : ArabInsight Fall 2008