Thursday, January 04, 2007


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The Iraq Study Group Report: A Flawed Approach
By Thomas Riggins

Now that we can see that the much ballyhooed ISGR prepared by James Baker and Lee Hamilton has fallen still born from the press, we must ask ourselves why. Two reasons come to mind. First, and most obvious, is that Bush has repudiated the report and most of its recommendations since to acknowledge the report’s validity would be to admit that he mismanaged the war in Iraq and is an incompetent leader. While both these assessments are true, the president can hardly be expected to go along with them.

The second reason is internal to the report itself (and would be even more displeasing to Bush). The report is divided into two parts, an assessment followed by recommendations (“The Way Forward”). I will show, hopefully, that the ISGR report’s assessments are not correctly understood by the ISG itself. Since the ISG fails to appreciate the logical conclusions to be drawn from its own assessment of the situation in Iraq, its recommendations, and there are seventy nine of them, do not really follow. This means the report is deeply flawed. I will maintain that based on its own assessment the group should have concluded that the only proper action for the US is to follow one recommendation: Withdraw the troops immediately.

In the “Letter from the co-chairs”, which serves as a preface, we are told what the purpose of this report is. It is to protect American [i.e., transnational US monopoly capitalism’s] interests in the region. Or as the co-chairs put it “give Iraq an opportunity for a better future, combat terrorism, stabilize a critical region of the world, and protect America’s credibility, interests, and values.” The co-chairs also want to create a “broad sustained consensus” within the US as without this our policy in the Middle East “is doomed to failure.” In this article I will show that our policy is already doomed and the only “broad consensus” to be created is one for immediate withdrawal-- the slogan should be “Out Now!”

Before turning to the assessment, I want to make a few observations concerning the “Executive Summary” which functions as an introduction.

Here we are told that the report's main aim is to make recommendations that “will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly” [ "responsibly" is a weasel word which could be interpreted to mean we have to stay as long as we are needed] as well as to undertake new diplomatic moves in the region. We are also told that in Iraq: “Violence is increasing in scope and lethality.” However we are not given the right reasons for this increase-- i.e.,, the American occupation and the presence of US troops (more on this later).

On a positive note, the group thinks Iran and Syria should be dealt with by means of constructive (diplomatic) engagement. Something Bush presently rejects. The group also thinks that the US should actively push for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict along the lines of the two-state solution. This is also a good idea. But Bush’s open bias towards Israel (in keeping with long standing American policies) makes this unlikely.

The group also wants an increase of US combat troops "imbedded in and supporting Iraqi Army units." They want to do this because the "primary mission" of US troops should be to get the Iraqi army to be responsible for most of the fighting. Nevertheless, with respect to security, the US will have to help out the Iraqi government "for some time to come." Even so, we must state that we have no open-ended "commitment" to keep our forces in Iraq. That's to let the Iraqi government know if they don't follow our advice, they could be left in the lurch.

Obey or die!

Finally, the report maintains that all seventy nine recommendations should be carried out: "They should not be separated or carried out in isolation."

As we shall soon see, many of them are flawed as the premises they rest upon don't reflect reality on the ground. What is ironic is that the assessments made by the group itself undermine its own conclusions. Please note assessment A1 [my label] that "the Iraqi people have a democratic elected government that is broadly representative of Iraqi's population." This is a major error on the part of ISG because, on their own evidence, A! is manifestly false. A broadly representative democratically elected government would not only represent the best interests of all the Iraqi people [within the limits possible under the conditions of bourgeois democracy and a class society] but would work to unify and strengthen the nation as a whole and support the equal rights of all of its citizens. People would freely vote for candidates they thought would best bring about the above described reality. The majority would respect the rights of the minority. The truth is however that people voted along sectarian lines and the government operates in a manner that is thoroughly corrupt, unrepresentative, and non democratic.

A1 is false because; "The composition of the Iraqi government is basically sectarian, and key players within the government too often act in their sectarian interest "(ISGR. p. 12). The majority Shia population [circa 60% of the population] is grouped in the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shia groups. A1 is false because : "Within the the coalition as a whole, there is a reluctance to reach a political accommodation with the Sunnis or to disarm Shiite militias."

What's more, a major faction within the government wants to break up the unity of the country by creating an autonomous Shiite region in the south of the country. This is the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. It runs its own militia which attacks the Sunni civilian population (the Badr Brigade). Aziz al-Hakim was recently a guest of President Bush in the White House!

The Shia are not alone in maintaining militias and engaging in both sectarian and separatist actions. The Sunni Arabs and the Kurds both do likewise. Another blow to the validity of A! is the observation that "many of Iraq's most powerful and well positioned leaders are not working toward a united Iraq." A fine representative democracy this is!

What else does this democratic broadly representative government do? Not much. A1 is false because: "The Iraqi government is not effectively providing its people with basic services: electricity, drinking water, sewage, [security], health care, and education." If you are getting the impression that there is no such thing as "the Iraqi government" you are not far off the mark. There are a bunch of political factions and their militias hold up in the Green Zone playing at being a government, fighting each other, and both protected by, and resentful of the militia controlled by President Bush. Bush in fact has the largest militia in Iraq and he constitutes the de facto "government of Iraq."

Who is doing the fighting in Iraq? The Bush militia is the largest functioning force. It is aided by a small British militia loyal to Tony Blair. Then there is Al Qaeda, which the report says "is responsible for a small portion of the violence in Iraq." It gets a disproportionate amount of US media attention so that the American public will remain as confused as possible about what the fighting in Iraq is all about.[Its about getting the US occupation out.]

There are many different Shia and Sunni militias. The Sunnis are loosely confederated into "the insurgency" fighting the US occupation and the so called "Iraqi government." Two major Shia militias, which are both part of the "government" and fighting against it, are the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, a major anti-occupation Shia cleric and member of the "government" and the prime backer of the prime minister Nouri al-Maliki (who has no militia of his own and depends on Bush's and the Mahdi Army), and the Badr Brigade (mentioned above) associated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq run by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Bush's recent White House guest and friend of Iran.

The "broadly representative" Iraqi government is also conducive to wide spread criminal activity which "makes daily life unbearable for many Iraqis. Robberies, kidnappings, and murder are commonplace in much of the country." The country is rife with violence. So much for A1, now lets look at another assessment, A2 which states that : "Confronting this violence are the Multi-National Forces-- Iraq under U.S. command, working in concert with Iraq's security forces." We shall see that A2 is just as wrong as A1. The US and its allies are really the major source of the violence and there are no significantly functioning Iraqi security forces to work "in concert with."

That the Iraqi army is a joke follows from the ISG's own report. Here is what they say. There are supposed to be 10 Divisions operating by the end of 2006. The even numbered divisions are made up of soldiers who only agreed to serve in a particular region. These soldiers don't like to be redeployed and have refused to carry out assigned missions as a result.

It would be nice if the New York National Guard could refuse to be deployed outside of New York! We are also informed that there are serious questions whether army units will act for the good of the nation or only to further sectarian goals. This is a dysfunctional and untrustworthy army.

There are four other characteristics to be noted about this army, according to the report. The army lacks leadership, equipment, personnel, and logistics and support. There are no penalties for being AWOL, soldiers get one week off every month, and "unit readiness" often runs about 50 percent. That mean's only, with respect to numbers, five divisions not ten at any one time, but what it actually means is no really functioning army. This is why George Bush's militia has to do most of the work in Iraq.

Are the Iraqi police any better? They are an even bigger joke. "The state of the Iraqi police," the report says, "is substantially worse than that of the Iraqi army." The police don't know how to, nor do they have the authority to, "conduct criminal investigations." They are too powerless "to take on organized crime, insurgents, or militias." Even better, they "cannot control crime, and they routinely engage in sectarian violence, including the unnecessary detention, torture, and targeted execution of Sunni Arab civilians." In other words, there are no really functioning police in Iraq.

But here is some good news, from the New York Times of Thursday December 21, 2006. On the 20th of December Najaf became the first province in Iraq to be turned over to the Iraqi army by the US forces. Najaf is a Shia province so that turning it over to the basically Shia government and its army does not really pose a threat, especially since, as the Times says, "security in the sacred [Shia] city of Najaf was already under Iraqi control."

It is not comforting to read that during the handing over ceremony the Iraqi commando units as a "demonstration of their courage" pulled out live frogs from their pockets and bit their heads off! "They threw the squirming legs to the ground as the group's leader held aloft a live rabbit." Bug's belly was ripped open and they all "feasted on the still beating heart" and what ever else was in the gash. This tops Fear Factor as a demonstration of courage, but the army commandos should be informed that the insurgency is not made up of frogs and bunny rabbits.

Even the symbolism may be amiss. The same news report states that Saddam's old Sunni controlled Fedayeen militia, many of whom are now, no doubt, in the insurgency, had a similar ceremony using live snakes and wolves. Hmmm. Don't snakes eat frogs and wolves rabbits?

At any rate, the assessments of the ISGR paint a bleak picture of a dysfunctional and disintegrating society. They conclude, falsely I think, that "the fundamental cause of violence in Iraq" is not the US occupation and its brutality, but "the absence of national reconciliation." They do not see that the occupation, which is tilting towards the Shia, threatens the Sunni minority because the Shia have not renounced plans to monopolize the oil wealth which the Sunni's feel will leave them high and dry. The occupation forces also keep the Shia in power and because of this they do not feel the need to compromise with the Sunnis. This is the major reason for "the absence of national reconciliation" in my opinion.

The second half of the ISGR contains seventy nine recommendations to remedy the situation in Iraq and which will allow us to "achieve our goals", i.e., the goals of US imperialism. They are pragmatic suggestions for the most part, more diplomacy, cooperation with the international community, engagement with Iran and Syria, troop reduction as training of the Iraqi (non)army allows it to take over combat operations, etc.

It would take a separate article to analyze this section of the ISGR. My intention was only to show that, since the group's own assessment is to be understood much differently than they claim, these recommendations get off on a false footing. President Bush is pretty much ignoring the report in any event. His actions will no doubt plunge Iraq into a deeper crisis and further entangle the US military in a hopelessly lost cause.

The only recommendation I will comment on is number 63 which proposes that Iraq's oil sector br opened up to investment "by the international community and by international energy companies." This oil privatization, is I think, the whole hidden agenda behind Bush's attack on Iraq and the ISGR's attempt to give him a way out which he is too foolish to consider. I conclude, therefore, that the US should immediately begin to withdraw from Iraq, end its occupation and propose that the United Nations act as an intermediary to reconcile the opposing groups in Iraq so that a fair and just resolution of the differences between the Iraqi factions can be attained.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs can can be reached at

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