Sunday, November 12, 2006

FZ Iraq

Fareed Zakaria on the change that must come in Iraq (entire article here). All direct quotations below--emphasis mine.

But with planning, intelligence, execution and luck, it is possible that the American intervention in Iraq could have a gray ending—one that is unsatisfying to all, but that prevents the worst scenarios from unfolding, secures some real achievements and allows the United States to regain its energies and strategic compass for its broader leadership role in the world.

But in order for that to happen, we have to see Iraq as it is now. Not as it once was. Not as it could have been. Not as we hope it will become, but as it is today. There will be ample time to assign blame and debate "what if"s. The urgent task now is ahead of us.

We're winning," President Bush said last week, and then explained his reasoning: "My view is that the only way we lose in Iraq is if we leave before the job is done." That circular definition of success resembles so much of the administration's Iraq policy, one that seems almost determined not to look at the country itself. Iraq, in this view, is a state of mind. If we lose faith, we lose. But there is a real country out there. And it is one in which events are increasingly moving beyond our control.

In point of fact—and it is a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless—America is not winning in Iraq, which means that it is losing. Iraq has fallen apart both as a nation and as a state.

Virtually everything about Iraq today must now be seen through this sectarian prism. President Bush says that we are building an Iraqi Army and police force and that as their troops stand up, America's will be able to stand down. In fact, we are building a largely Kurdish and Shia force. As its ranks have swelled, Sunnis have felt more threatened, not less, and as a consequence have fought harder. Shia militias, many of whose members are now enlisted in the Army and especially the national police, feel empowered. They have routinely rounded up groups of Sunni men and slaughtered them in gruesome fashion. Even the country's much-lauded elections have not proved an unmitigated good in this context. Last December's vote empowered religious parties with their own militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, and, as a result, made it more difficult to disband them.

From the beginning of the war, the Bush administration has not wanted to think of Iraq in these sectarian terms, preferring instead to believe the country was the place it hoped it would be—united, secular, harmonious, freedom-loving. As a result, Washington massively underestimated the challenge it faced. By unseating Saddam Hussein and introducing democracy, the United States introduced Shia-majority rule to Iraq. It also disbanded the Army, with its largely Sunni officer corps, fired 50,000 mostly Sunni bureaucrats and shut down dozens of state-owned factories (many run by Sunnis). In effect, the United States destroyed both the old Iraqi nation and the old Iraqi state. And yet it had no plan, people or resources to fill the void left behind

With all the troops in the world, America could not forge a new national compact for Iraq. That is a task for the Iraqi leadership. The outlines of the deal that needs to be made are by now obvious. Iraq would end up a loose confederation, but would divide its oil revenue so that all three regions were invested in the new nation. A broad amnesty would be granted to all those who have waged war, which means mainly the Sunni insurgents, but also members of Shia death squads. Government and state-sector jobs, the largest share of employment in Iraq, would be distributed to all three communities, which would entail a reversal of the postinvasion purges that swept up, for example, schoolteachers who happened to be members of the Baath Party. Finally, and perhaps most urgently, the Shia militias must be disbanded or, if that becomes impossible, incorporated and tamed into national institutions. What is equally obvious is that such a deal does not seem to be at hand.

Next, Iraqis must forge a national compact. The government needs to make swift and high-profile efforts to bring the sectarian tensions to a close and defang the militias, particularly the Mahdi Army. The longer Iraqi leaders wait, the more difficult it will be for all sides to compromise. There are many paths to help Iraq return to normalcy; jobs need to be created, electricity supplied regularly, more oil produced and exported. But none of that is possible without a secure environment, which in turn cannot be achieved without a political solution to Iraq's sectarian strife.

There is one shift that the United States itself needs to make: we must talk to Iraq's neighbors about their common interest in security and stability in Iraq. None of these countries—not even Syria and Iran—would benefit from the breakup of Iraq, which could produce a flood of refugees and stir up their own restive minority populations. Our regional gambit might well lead to nothing. But not trying it, in the face of so few options, reflects a bizarrely insular and ideological obstinacy.

The core national-security interests of the United States in Iraq are now threefold: first, to prevent Anbar province from being taken over by Qaeda-style jihadist groups that would use it as a base for global terrorism; second, to ensure that the Kurdish region retains its autonomy; third, to prevent or at least contain massive sectarian violence in Iraq, as both a humanitarian and a security issue. Large-scale bloodletting could easily spill over Iraq's borders as traumatized and vengeful refugees flee to countries like Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Historically, such population movements have caused trouble for decades to come.

These interests are achievable with fewer forces. President Bush is fond of warning, "If we leave Iraq, they will follow us home." This makes no sense. Qaeda terrorists from Iraq could have made their way to America at any point in the last three years. In fact, Iraq's borders are more porous today than they have ever been. If a terrorist wanted to inflict harm on U.S. civilians, he could drive across Anbar into Syria, then hop a plane to New York or Washington, D.C. Does the president really believe that because we're in Iraq, terrorists have forgotten that we're also in America?

Prevent a bloodbath. This is the most difficult task. The United States will not be able to stop all sectarian fighting in Iraq. It cannot do so even today. Our goal must be to ensure that any such violence remains localized and limited, and that national institutions like the Army and police work to stop it rather than participate. That will require some ability to control movement along Iraq's roads and highways. It will also require monitoring the Army and police. The strategy of pairing Iraqi Army units with U.S. advisers has worked well thus far. Iraqi forces don't fight superbly in the presence of Americans, but they fight much better and more professionally. Most important, they tend not to commit major human-rights abuses when we are around.

Draw down troops and ramp up advisers. To preserve these interests, the United States should begin drawing down its troop levels, starting in January 2007. In one year, we should shrink from the current 144,000 to a total of 60,000 soldiers, some 44,000 of them stationed in four superbases outside Baghdad, Balad, Mosul and Nasi-riya. This would provide a rapid-reaction force that could intervene to secure any of the core interests of the United States when they are threatened. To preserve the basic security of Iraq and prevent anarchy, U.S. troops must also act as the spine of the new Iraqi Army and police force. American advisers should massively expand their current roles in both organizations, going from the current level of 4,000 Americans to at least 16,000, embedding an American platoon (30 to 40 men) in virtually every Iraqi fighting battalion (600 men).


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