Winning the Peace in Iraq

Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, closes his WSJ analysis with this:

(…) Yet as things currently stand, all U.S. forces are supposed to depart Iraq by the end of 2011. This prospect fills all sensible Iraqis with dread. As Lt. Gen. Babakir Zebari, the chief of staff of the Iraqi Joint Forces, recently said: “If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the U.S. army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020.”

Mr. Zebari is a Kurd, part of a long-prosecuted minority, so he has particularly acute reasons for fear. Yet I’ve heard similar sentiments expressed by most Iraqis I’ve met, Sunnis and Shiites alike.

There is a pressing need for a new U.S.-Iraq agreement that will allow a considerable force (10,000 to 20,000 troops) to remain in Iraq for years to come. But that accord cannot be negotiated until a new Iraqi government is seated. That, in turn, will require more muscular diplomacy than the Obama administration has hitherto displayed. At least the ineffectual Christopher Hill is leaving as ambassador. His replacement, Jim Jeffreys, has actually served in Iraq. He will have to engage in Iraq’s political process in ways that Mr. Hill did not, and he will need the kind of high-level engagement from the Obama administration that Mr. Hill did not receive.

The worst combat is over, at least for the time being. But America must still fight for Iraq’s future if the sacrifices made by so many heroes, Iraqi and American alike, are not to be in vain.

Ken Pollack: The Status of Iraq

Pollack is one of the two or three best-informed Iraq analysts, so I recommend this Brookings “web chat“:

On July 11, Kenneth Pollack answered your questions on the current situation in Iraq, in a live web chat moderated by POLITICO senior editor David Mark

(…) 12:32 [Comment From Jennie: ] What do you make of this seeming inability to put together a new government since the elections last March? What would it take for Allawi and Maliki to get together?

12:32 Ken Pollack: This is the $64,000 question. Both Maliki and Allawi KNOW that the best outcome for both of them is a coalition of their two parties. But the problem is that they really don’t like each other, and both want to be the senior partner in the coalition. So far, no one has been able to get around that. I think the Administration is on the right track by trying to farm out some of the powers that the PM has accrued to other official positions—both to make people more comfortable that the next PM won’t emerge as a dictator, and to create additional positions that would be acceptable to the two of them and other important groups who will also want to have a key position of authority. My concern is that what the US, UN and Iraqis have been talking about—some new positions and legislature to give force to their authority—may not fix the situation, and might even make it worse. As PM, Maliki has demonstrated an ability to subvert and work around other such new positions that were created as counterbalances to his office. That suggests that he, or whoever is the next PM, might be able to do so again if that is all we do. In addition, especially with the new parliament, the PM will probably be able to manipulate the CoR fairly easily to get legislation repealed or merely ignored. It is why I’d like to see constitutional changes to shift the role of commander-in-chief and responsibility for the security services to the Presidency. That would create a real balance of power between the Presidency and the PM, and would create two positions that I think either Maliki or Allawi would be willing to take.

(…) 12:36 David Mark: Critics of the 2003 Iraq invasion contend that toppling the Baathist regime allowed Iran to expand its influence. Is there any way of telling how much sway the Iranian government or its agents will have over the Iraqi government once U.S. troops withdraw?

12:40 Ken Pollack: It is a big question mark, but at this point still a question mark (and pardon the pun on your name).

Iraqis mostly dislike Iran–and I mean really, really dislike Iran. If they felt strong enough to stand up to Iran, they absolutely would, and that is what we see from them whenever they are feeling strong. So the problem is when they are feeling weak. If they are scared of violence, and scared that no one else is going to help them deal with the violence, then the Shi’ah tend to fall back on Iran not because they like them, but as the only game in town.

Iran has suffered a number of huge defeats in recent years–the clearing of Basra in 2008, the provincial elections of 2009, the national elections this year–but they are still not out because the political situation is still so weak and fragile, and whoever the losers are among the Shiah go looking to the Iranians to try to recoup their losses.

So if Iraq emerges as a strong, functional country, I think Iranian influence will be present but very limited. The weaker Iraq is the more that Iran will be able to exploit cracks and fissures to make itself influential.

12:41 [Comment From Marshall Lilly: ] President Obama has claimed in recent speeches that he’s fulfilling one of his campaign pledges by ending the combat mission in Iraq by August 2010, even though the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated and implemented by the Bush administration is what set this process in motion. Has President Obama’s Iraq policy differed in any major ways from the last two years of the Bush Administration, or has he largely followed the script his predecessor left for him?

Read more »

The Political Battle in Iraq

Former CIA and National Security Council maven Ken Pollack recently filed a Brookings report on the struggle to form a government [Pollack is Director, Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings Institution].

The report devotes the first 2,000 words to a description of the multi-party negotiations which are the consequence of proportional representation — the system of government forced upon Iraq by the UN “experts”. This is the same ivory tower design that has prevented strong Israeli governments. It has created a political nightmare for Iraq.

It is pointless to try to summarize Ken’s report. I will just highlight this excerpt from his conclusions:

The 2010 Iraqi elections have the potential to be the most important that the country has ever had and will ever have. Neither the people nor the politicians face the overwhelming pressures of civil war any longer. The political system is not mature, but neither is it newborn. The people have made clear that they want change, and they expected these elections to produce that change. Consequently, the precedents set in this election will endure for a long time to come. Moreover, Iraq’s political system remains fairly fluid, but it could harden very quickly—and especially if the wrong principles prevail in its wake. For all of these reasons, it seems likely that this election will define the Iraqi political system for decades to come.

It is for this reason that the United States, and all other countries whose vital interests are on the line in Iraq, must pay particular attention to the final outcome of this election. Whatever else they want, the Iraqi public has made clear that they want representative, transparent government; they want political leaders responsive to the needs of their constituents; they want effective, technocratic governance; they want greater secularism and less sectarianism; they want the rule of law. Consequently, there is a great danger in allowing the perception to take hold that the election was “stolen” in the politicking that followed it. Many Iraqis will become disillusioned, others will get angry. Whole communities might seek to distance themselves from the central government, or to support violence against the government again. Indeed, it continues to remain the case that the most likely alternative to continued progress toward democratization in Iraq (no matter how slow and fitful) is an eventual return to civil war.

In a similar vein, the outcome of this election will likely have a profound impact on American interests in Iraq. The extent to which Iraq remains on a democratizing path is likely to be a key consideration in the extent to which the United States remains supportive of Iraq. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which Iraq is veering toward greater authoritarianism and sectarianism and the United States remains wholly supportive. Similarly, the extent to which the outcome of the election, the post-election maneuvering, and then the new government’s ability to govern will determine whether Iraq avoids sliding back into civil war. This, in turn, creates another critical interest for the United States. Finally, the extent to which the United States can remain an active participant in Iraq’s political development, helping to keep it on the right path toward stability, prosperity and pluralism is also likely to be shaped, if not determined, by the outcome of these events. Again, the more democratic, representative and secular the new government, the more willing the United States will be to help it, and the more amenable to American advice and assistance the Iraqi government is likely to be. Conversely, the more authoritarian and sectarian the new government is, the less it will be open to American influence and the more it will attempt to block the United States and keep it out of Iraqi affairs.

Highly recommended.

Could water undermine the American game plan for Iraq? Does a bear…

Tom Ricks links Will Rogers on the Iraqi water crisis:

Basra continues to perplex me. Weird news over the weekend out of there, as police fired at or over (not clear) demonstrators upset by the lack of electricity.

Meanwhile, my CNAS colleague Will Rogers checks in with other resources and utilities news. He reminds me of something I read years ago in a history of Iraq, that life there has always been a struggle against the people who live just upstream of your irrigation canal and can cut off your water-a tool the British used effectively in putting down the 1920 Shiite uprising.  

By Will Rogers
Best Defense deputy chief, Iraqi natural resources bureau

In Iraq, a country where one in four citizens do not have access to safe drinking water – let alone enough water to irrigate their crops — water shortages could drown any hope of long-term, meaningful reconciliation between the Iraqi people and the government.

Many Iraqis have been pleading to Baghdad to devote more resources to shore up the country’s crumbling infrastructure and unsustainable water management policies in order to effectively tackle the chronic water challenges that have been exacerbated by four-years of drought. “If our government was good and strong, we would get our [water] rights,” one Iraqi told The New York Times recently.

Ali Baban, Iraqi Minister of Planning and Development Co-operation, warned last July that Iraq’s intense drought conditions could push the frail state to a breaking point. “We have a real thirst in Iraq. Our agriculture is going to die, our cities are going to wilt, and no state can keep quiet in such a situation,” he cautioned. But with the government still in limbo after the recent March 7 election, it is unlikely that Baghdad will have the capability or capacity to address these water woes anytime soon.


Acute water shortages continue to shape internal security dynamics, forcing Iraqis to flee their native communities in search of better resources. Iraq’s Minster of Water, Dr. Abdul Latif Jamal Rashid, stated last year that more than 300,000 marshland residents were forced to flee their drought stricken communities in recent years. To make matters worse, in provinces where access to water is slightly better, the tattered infrastructure of pipes prevents much of that water from reaching Iraqis in their homes, forcing them to rely instead on water trucks from the International Committee of the Red Cross and other NGOs to supply fresh water.

Iraq was once a paradise, the wheat basket of the Middle East, with lush marshes and river ways that sustained a vibrant agricultural community and fresh-water fisheries. Even today, while agricultural production accounts for only 10 percent of Iraqi GDP, it has long been a hallmark of Iraq – producing wheat for world renowned German beers and the region’s most popular varietal rice, Anbar rice.

In recent years, many of Iraq’s crops have been left parched and its fragile agricultural industry in disarray – leaving Iraqi farmers in a veritable dustbowl. Barley and wheat production has declined up to 95 percent in provinces that rely on rain-fed irrigation, while total barley and wheat production declined by more than half last year. Meanwhile Iraq’s date industry – once the world’s leading exporter – is dwindling. At its height in the 1980s, Iraqi date farmers produced 600,000 tons of dates; in 2008, production dropped to 281,000 tons with production continuing to decline as drought worsens.

Regional politics and perennial drought throughout much of the Middle East have not helped Iraq navigate its water crisis either. Voluntary commitments from neighboring Iran, Turkey and Syria to increase water flow from upstream dams and reservoirs have been made over the last several years, but Iraq has not seen much increase in downstream water flow. The lack of credibility in the new government may also be hampering its ability to get its neighbors to execute on those commitments.

While much attention is understandably on Afghanistan, U.S. national security policymakers should be aware of the challenges that could shape the future security environment in Iraq – especially as the new government in Baghdad struggles to stand on its own. Water shortages alone won’t cause a resurgence of violence, but the issue could be the straw that breaks the back of a (weak) fledgling government. As the United States looks ahead for opportunities to ensure long-term stability in Iraq, access to water may well be critical to the new Iraqi government’s credibility and our ability to responsibly withdraw.

Could 2010 really be the year that Iraq begins to unravel? Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing is clear: the broad outlines of a post-occupation Iraq are beginning to take shape, and some of the acute challenges that have been marginalized in the post-war years could increasingly undermine Baghdad’s credibility and long-term stability. If left unaddressed, water shortages could very well leave Baghdad hanging out to dry — and us, too.

Will Rogers is a researcher with the Natural Security program at the Center for a New American Security, a non-partisan, non-profit national security think tank in Washington, DC. He is an author of, most recently, Sustaining Security: How Natural Resources Influence National Security and Broadening Horizons: Climate Change and the U.S. Armed Forces.

[From Could water undermine the American game plan for Iraq? Does a bear…]

Stabilizing Iraq’s economy: An interview with the DOD’s Paul Brinkley

From the latest issue of the McKinsey Quarterly, here is the beginning of the Brinkley interview:

When the US Department of Defense (DOD) sought to modernize its business practices, it turned to a Silicon Valley executive with a proven track record in streamlining operations. Paul Brinkley had been the chief information officer and a senior vice president at the technology company JDS Uniphase, as well as a licensed industrial engineer with four US patents to his name, when he joined the DOD in 2004. Brinkley promptly went to work improving the department’s processes and systems. But two years later, in a turn of events he did not anticipate, he was spending half of every month in Iraq.

An eye-opening first visit to Iraq in 2006 convinced Brinkley that the DOD could do more to improve economic conditions for the Iraqi people, and that doing so would help stabilize the country. In June 2006, largely through Brinkley’s efforts, the DOD established the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), dedicated to revitalizing Iraq’s economy and creating jobs for Iraqis. TFBSO placed civilians with expertise in industrial operations and factory management on the ground in Iraq—skills previously absent from the American presence there.

Under Brinkley’s leadership, the task force began on-site assessments of idle Iraqi factories and worked with Iraqi businesspeople to reopen them—providing training for employees, upgrading equipment, and preparing the factories for large-scale private investment. The task force also engaged leaders from the United States and international corporations to support Iraqi industries, hosting more than 130 private investors and senior executives in Iraq and facilitating several joint ventures. In addition, TFBSO has deployed more than 400 US business leaders, engineers, accountants, and academics across Iraq’s provinces. For example, faculty and staff from American universities have worked on farms in central, northern, and western Iraq, helping Iraqi farmers increase production levels and learn modern farming techniques. To date, TFBSO has helped restart production at more than 60 Iraqi factories, facilitated contracts worth more than $1 billion between foreign private investors and Iraq’s state-owned enterprises, and helped provide jobs for 250,000 Iraqis.

In October 2009, Brinkley spoke with McKinsey director John Dowdy in Washington, DC, about his work in Iraq and what lies ahead. Excerpts from the interview follow.

The Quarterly: Before 2005, you had never even been to Iraq; now you are there every two weeks. What surprised you most when you went to Iraq for the first time?

Paul Brinkley: In my private-sector career, I had been to East Asia and India, but never the Middle East. My image of the Middle East had been formed by what we see on television and the mass media. I probably wasn’t atypical of an American businessperson in that I expected to see desert, camels, palm trees, oil. I never went into Iraq expecting to find a skilled workforce and an industrial economy. That was completely surprising to me.

I think the West has a notion of the Middle East and the Muslim world that is colored by the sensational events that dominate the media. Many Westerners have an impression of an entire people that is extremely unfavorable and not at all representative of that world. I wish every American could get to know the Iraqi people. They have the same hopes, dreams, and aspirations as people in every other country. They aspire to a good life, a job, advancement, an education for their kids. I think so much of what we’re exposed to in the media dehumanizes Iraqis and makes the problems in Iraq just seem insurmountable. American businesspeople think, “How could you possibly do business in a place where the people are so different?” But they’re not so different. That has been a lesson learned for me, and it’s a challenge we really need to confront in the West. How we currently view the Middle East definitely damages our ability to be effective there.

Please continue reading…

Iraq: the reality of "blood for oil" hits home

Vivienne Walt for TIME

Those who claim that the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 to get control of the country’s giant oil reserves will be left scratching their heads by the results of last weekend’s auction of Iraqi oil contracts…

“[The distribution of oil contracts] certainly answers the theory that the war was for the benefit of big U.S. oil interests,” says Alex Munton, Middle East oil analyst for the energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, whose clients include major U.S. companies. “That has not been demonstrated by what has happened this week.”

Please continue reading…

The Garbage in David Finkel's Superb Iraq Book

This recommendation from David Quigg made me put the Finkel book on my Amazon wish list:

The Good Soldiers is nearly unbearable. Relentlessly so. Commendably so. Whether you’re a combat veteran, a soldier’s mom, an Iraqi, the 43rd U.S. president, an ordinary American, or some pundit who likes to make bold, loud, baseless, unshakeable declarations about the glory or evil of war, reporter David Finkel’s intimate chronicle of the troop surge in Iraq could — and should — anguish you. I won’t even try to replicate the book’s impact. Instead, let’s just look at a telling passage about garbage in eastern Baghdad.

The passage about garbage interests me because it fits with the overall aim of this blog. It’s a look at one — just one — of the small details that add up to define a place.

In the passage about garbage, Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich is trying to work with an Iraqi to tackle the massive problem of trash in the streets. With restraint and diplomacy, Kauzlarich mentions that Americans, rather than putting their trash out on the street, arrange for trucks to come and haul it away. The Iraqi responds with a story, explaining why that won’t work in Iraq.

Kauzlarich suggests putting trash cans out on the street. The Iraqi responds with a story, explaining that the trash cans will certainly be too tall for the kids who take out the family trash.

Kauzlarich suggests putting out shorter trash cans. The Iraqi responds with a story about short water containers — containers that led to poisoning when people sometimes used them for water and sometimes used them for petroleum products.

{snipped out all the best bits here}

Please continue reading…

Obama's Secretary of Defense admits success…

in Iraq. Shhhh.

The president’s special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, was asked for his definition of success last month and here’s what he said.


AMB. RICHARD HOLBROOKE, SPECIAL ENVOY, PAKISTAN & AFGHANISTAN: I would say this about defining success in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the simplest sense, the Supreme Court test for another issue, we’ll know it when we see it.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that good enough?

GATES: Well, I think — I think we know it when we see it and we see it in Iraq. I think that success in Afghanistan looks a great deal like success in Iraq, in this respect, that the Afghan national security forces increasingly take the lead in protecting their own territory and going after the insurgents and protecting their own people.

Iraq: Good News Is No News

Charles Krauthammer examined the Iraqi elections back in February.

Preoccupied as it was poring over Tom Daschle’s tax returns, Washington hardly noticed a near-miracle abroad. Iraq held provincial elections. There was no Election Day violence. Security was handled by Iraqi forces with little U.S. involvement. A fabulous bazaar of 14,400 candidates representing 400 parties participated, yielding results highly favorable to both Iraq and the United States.

Iraq moved away from religious sectarianism toward more secular nationalism. “All the parties that had the words ‘Islamic’ or ‘Arab’ in their names lost,” noted Middle East expert Amir Taheri. “By contrast, all those that had the words ‘Iraq’ or ‘Iraqi’ gained.”

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki went from leader of a small Islamic party to leader of the “State of Law Party,” campaigning on security and secular nationalism. He won a smashing victory. His chief rival, a more sectarian and pro-Iranian Shiite religious party, was devastated. Another major Islamic party, the pro-Iranian Sadr faction, went from 11 percent of the vote to 3 percent, losing badly in its stronghold of Baghdad. The Islamic Fadhila party that had dominated Basra was almost wiped out.

The once-dominant Sunni party affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and the erstwhile insurgency was badly set back. New grass-roots tribal (“Awakening”) and secular Sunni leaders emerged.

All this barely pierced the consciousness of official Washington. After all, it fundamentally contradicts the general establishment/media narrative of Iraq as “fiasco.”

One leading conservative thinker had concluded as early as 2004 that democracy in Iraq was “a childish fantasy.” Another sneered that the 2005 election that brought Maliki to power was “not an election but a census” — meaning people voted robotically according to their ethnicity and religious identity. The implication being that these primitives have no conception of democracy, and that trying to build one there is a fool’s errand.

What was lacking in all this condescension is what the critics so pride themselves in having — namely, context. What did they expect in the first elections after 30 years of totalitarian rule that destroyed civil society and systematically annihilated any independent or indigenous leadership? The only communal or social ties remaining after Saddam Hussein were those of ethnicity and sect.

Please continue reading…

Admit It: The Surge Worked

Peter Beinart in the Washington Post:

It’s no longer a close call: President Bush was right about the surge. According to Michael O’Hanlon and Jason Campbell of the Brookings Institution, the number of Iraqi war dead was 500 in November of 2008, compared with 3,475 in November of 2006. That same month, 69 Americans died in Iraq; in November 2008, 12 did.

Violence in Anbar province is down more than 90 percent over the past two years, the New York Times reports. Returning to Iraq after long absences, respected journalists Anthony Shadid and Dexter Filkins say they barely recognize the place.

… Politically, Bush took the path of most resistance. He endured an avalanche of scorn, and now he has been vindicated. He was not only right; he was courageous.

It’s time for Democrats to say so. During the campaign they rarely did for fear of jeopardizing Barack Obama’s chances of winning the presidency.

Beinart, contributing editor for The New Republic, has some non-obvious reasons for wanting Democrats to face up to the truth — read the whole thing to find out.