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A Switch in TimeA New Strategy for America in Iraq
By Kenneth M. Pollack
Brookings Institution PressCopyright © 2006 Brookings Institution Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneExecutive Summary
The reconstruction of Iraq is not doomed to fail, but the Bush Administration does not yet have a strategy that is likely to succeed. The progress made so far is an insufficient basis for a durable solution to Iraq's problems. Many of the positive developments are fragile or superficial, and conceal deeper underlying problems that could easily re-emerge. U.S. policy often focuses on the wrong problems and employs the wrong solutions. The most basic flaw stems from April 2003 when the fall of Saddam Hussein created a security vacuum in Iraq that the United States has never properly fill ed . This security vacuum has given rise to two separate but related problems:
An insurgency, based principally in the Sunni tribal community of western Iraq; and,
A failed state, in which the governmental architecture has essentially collapsed and has not yet been effectively replaced by new, capable military and political institutions.
The United States has devoted considerable energy and resources to fighting the insurgency, but it has consistently employed the wrong strategy. However, more damaging has been the consistent failure to rebuild Iraq's failed state.Until the United States succeeds in helping the Iraqis build strong, new political and military institutions, a massive commitment of external military forces and economic assistance will continue to be necessary to forestall a civil war.
Time is already working against the United States. The many disappointments of reconstruction are increasingly eroding Iraqi popular support, prompting a growing number of Iraqis to cast their lot with insurgent or militia groups who offer them immediate relief, even if most Iraqis understand that this is an extremely dangerous path. Until now, the promise of a new government just around the corner has kept Iraqis from defecting in large numbers. But the installation in 2006 of Iraq's new "permanent" government-the fifth since Saddam's fall-means that it will be four years before Iraqis can shift their hopes to a new horizon. It is therefore essential that this government not disappoint Iraqis as its predecessors have.
The United States must therefore approach 2006 as a make-or-break year in Iraq. Either the new Iraqi government with U.S. backing starts to fix Iraq's problems or continued failure will propel Iraqis into the arms of the militias, likely generating a full-blown civil war. However, the situation is not yet hopeless because so many Iraqis still fear that turning away from reconstruction will mean civil war. If the U.S. and Iraqi governments can begin to produce positive results, they can still win the hearts and minds of most Iraqis.
Security and Military Operations
Security is the most important prerequisite for the reconstruction of Iraq. Although there is no guarantee that reconstruction will succeed with adequate security, it is guaranteed to fail without it. The key flaw in U.S. military strategy in Iraq has been its inability to provide basic safety for Iraqis. Providing that safety, not chasing insurgents, must be the new priority of U.S. policy.
Adopt a traditional counterinsurgency strategy. To improve the chances of providing adequate levels of security for reconstruction in Iraq, the United States should adopt a traditional counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy which will, by its very nature, address the dual needs of defeating the insurgency and building a viable state. The key requirement of COIN is to achieve a ratio of about 20 security personnel per thousand of the population. For the 22 million Iraqis living out side of Kurdistan, that would require about 450,000 security personnel-well beyond current U.S. and Iraqi capabilities. However, traditional counterinsurgency strategy initially focuses on creating such a favorable ratio only in those parts of the country that are both the most important and the most supportive of reconstruction. These locations become secured enclaves and, with economic resources pouring in, emerge as successful models of reconstruction. They then provide the base from which reconstruction can slowly expand across the country as more security forces become available. These areas are like an "oil stain" or "ink spot" that gradually spreads throughout the country, pacifying and rebuilding those areas that it touches.
Such a strategy in Iraq would begin by reducing the resources devoted to stamping out the insurgency in western Iraq. These would be shifted to securing the critical enclaves of Kurdistan, Baghdad, much of southeastern Iraq, and a number of other major urban centers, along with the oilfields and some other vital economic facilities. The concentrated security focus and development effort should ensure meaningful local economic and political progress. In turn, public opinion within the secured en claves would likely solidify in favor of reconstruction, while Iraqis outside the secured enclaves would see that the government can offer a better alternative than the militias and insurgents. The United States would train additional Iraqi forces within the permissive environment of the enclaves to allow them to build unit cohesion, trust, and command relationships.
For this counterinsurgency strategy to work, the United States will need to:
Make protecting the Iraqi people and civilian infrastructure its highest priority, training Iraqi security forces a close second, and hunting insurgents a distant third. The single most important mission of counterinsurgency forces is to provide basic safety for the population so that it no longer lives in fear.
Shift the strategic emphasis from offensive to defensive military operations, but go on the offensive in the political and economic realms. Military offensives should only be mounted as immediate counterattacks for insurgent actions or when intelligence has clearly identified a high-value target.
Focus on reducing the influence of militias and organized crime in central and southern Iraq, which cripples economic development and threatens civil war. The militias established themselves there because the United States never properly filled the post-Saddam security vacuum. The only way to reverse this trend is to fill the security vacuum by deploying significant Iraqi and Coalition forces into these regions.
Create a unified command structure fully integrating civilian and military operations. Only a fully-integrated approach is likely to produce success. The United States and the Iraqi government must create a hierarchy of joint committees to integrate military, political, and economic decision-making both horizontally and vertically. These committees should consist of all key players in re construction and governance. The Bush Administration's nascent plan to deploy Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Iraq falls far short of what is needed because it will not erect a national integrated hierarchy.
The United States' newly-proclaimed "clear, hold and build" strategy also fails to meet these criteria. In particular, it is being implemented in the wrong part of the country-western Iraq-thereby drawing off forces from central and southern Iraq where popular support for reconstruction is highest but is souring because of insecurity. Consequently, these critical parts of the country are falling under the control of vicious sectarian militias which could fragment the country and drive it into civil war.
Adopt more appropriate tactics. The change in U.S. strategy must be accompanied by changes at tactical level. Two examples of the many changes to tactical conduct that this report advocates are:
De-emphasize detainee counts. The military has replaced the Vietnam metric of the body count with a new and equally counterproductive metric in Iraq, the detainee count. To facilitate population control, conduct a nationwide census and create a biometric identification card system. A nationwide census would help identify insurgents and their supporters, and a biometric ID card would make it extremely difficult for insurgents to hide their identities, obviating their ability to mingle freely with the population.
Organizational and personnel changes. This report recommends a great many changes to the personnel, organizational and structural policies that the U.S. military has pursued in Iraq. One example is that all U.S. Army and Marine battalions should be "paired up," with one of the pair always in Iraq in the same area of responsibility (AOR) and the other at home, resting and training for the next rotation. The two would continue to swap for as long as the U.S. deployment lasts. Officers would be able regularly to exchange information and provide each other with lessons learned. The intelligence sections of the paired battalions would function as "rear" and "forward" elements. "Pairing up" is the best way to deal with the problems of turn over, loss of institutional memory, and the need for frequent rotations to deal with "burnout."
A better integrated reconstruction effort. Another important failing of the U.S. effort in Iraq has been the dearth of civilian personnel from key agencies: USAID, CIA, the Departments of State , Energy, Agriculture, and others. Very few of Iraq's 18 provinces have more than a half-dozen American civilian government personnel working in them. State and USAID must commit far greater numbers of personnel-particularly those with Arabic and knowledge of the Arab world-to the reconstruction of Iraq, even if this means reducing the manning of posts elsewhere. Far more personnel need to be assign ed to missions out side the Green Zone in Baghdad.
Training the Iraqi armed forces. The training of Iraqi security forces is progressing better than ever before, but there is still a long way to go before they will be able to shoulder the burden of providing security in Iraq alone. Political pressure to quickly produce more trained Iraqi units to replace U.S. soldiers is the overarching problem that has plagued U.S. efforts. The only way to generate Iraqi troops sufficiently capable of shouldering the burden of securing their country is to give them the time in both formal and informal training to develop.
At this point, roughly 40,000-60,000 Iraqi security force personnel appear capable of contributing in some meaningful way to COIN and stability operations in Iraq. Although far short of the number necessary to secure the country without U.S. military forces, this represents a considerable increase over the past year, and suggests that Iraqi forces should be able to pick up more of the security burden in coming years. However, before this can happen, the United States must address three key problems:
U.S. military personnel will need to place greater emphasis on the selection and training of Iraqi military officers, especially at tactical levels. The U.S. and Iraqi high commands need to make a greater effort to create integrated Iraqi security formations.
The U.S. will have to make rebuilding Iraq's military support infrastructure a higher priority if the Iraqi armed forces are to take over full responsibility for securing the country. Building a New Iraqi Political System
The United States will need to help develop a new political system that will secure the trust of Iraqis by persuading them that there are effective, non-violent means to address their problems; that others will not use violence against them; that they will have equal opportunities; and that the state has institutions capable of addressing their needs.
The new Iraqi government's legitimacy will depend on whether it can improve the lives of its people through providing higher employment, more constant electricity, more readily available clean water and gasoline, and the security that underpins all of these necessities.
There are four major problems afflicting the Iraqi body politic:
Iraq is now a deeply divided society and those divisions are creating animosity, fueling the violence, and preventing the efficient functioning of the Iraqi government. Iraq's central government is now fully-constituted but essentially powerless.
Iraq's political parties have only tenuous connections to the Iraqi people and mostly limit their interaction with their nominal constituents. The United States, as the principal occupying power and the driving force behind reconstruction, lacks the personnel, capabilities, know-how, and even the necessary resources to rebuild the Iraqi nation.
Power sharing and national re conciliation. Like security, some form of national reconciliation compact, coupled with a new power-sharing arrangement, is a precondition for any progress in Iraq. The greatest obstacle to national reconciliation is the fact that many Sunni Arabs feel alienated from the political reconstruction process by the Shi'ah, the Americans, and, to a lesser extent, the Kurds. Regardless of these grievances, the Sunnis will still have to make some major concessions. In particular they will need to accept that their share of Iraq's resources will be strictly proportionate to their numbers. The Shi'ah and Kurds will need to reciprocate this and other Sunni concessions by:
Revising the de-Ba'thification program and establishing a formal truth and reconciliation process. Reintegrating Sunnis into the armed forces and civil service. Providing greater protection for minorities. Revising electoral laws to prevent sectarian chauvinists from running. Providing Sunni tribal shaykhs with resources if they stop attacking roads, power lines, oil pipelines, and Coalition forces in their territory, and prevent other groups from doing the same.
Another key goal for the United States is to rein in the Shi'ah. Since the fall of Saddam, there has been an alarming tendency by some Shi'i leaders to overreach. Some now talk about splitting off all of southeastern Iraq to form an autonomous region, much like Iraqi Kurdistan, keeping the revenues from the southern oil fields for themselves. They expect the Kurds will do the same in the north, leaving no oil revenues for the Sunnis. This would be a disastrous development for Iraq as it likely would spark civil wars both within the Shi'i community and between the Shi'ah and Sunni Arabs.
Since the fall of Baghdad, Kurdish political leaders have been the most willing to argue for actions that are in the best interests of Iraq, while jealously guarding Kurdistan's prerogatives. As long as they do not push a maximalist agenda of immediate secession, full ownership of all revenues from the northern oilfields, or an arbitrary solution to competing property claims in Kirkuk, the status quo on issues related to them should not preclude solutions to Iraq's other political problems. They will want something in return for concessions to the Sunni Arabs. The United States should offer them a more equitable slice of foreign aid so that they can demonstrate to their constituents that there are real benefits to remaining part of Iraq.
Decentralization. Iraq's ministries are crippled by corruption, undermanned, and remain tied to sclerotic bureaucratic practices inherited from the former regime. Accordingly, the United States and the new Iraqi government should begin moving toward a federal system in which the central government retains control of the armed forces, foreign policy, monetary policy and currency, national standards including regulation of the media, and regulation of the oil sector (but not oil income distribution). Most other powers should devolve to local governments. This report suggests a range of actions that could assist the process of decentralization, the most important of which are:
Funds from foreign aid and oil revenues should be provided directly to local governments.
Control of Iraq's police should be transferred from the Ministry of the Interior to local officials.
A new oil-revenue distribution system. The success or failure of political reconstruction in Iraq probably hinges on establishing a fixed and equitable system for the distribution of its oil revenues. Without such a plan, it is impossible to imagine real national reconciliation because all the parties will continue to fight over the spoils, distracting officials and technocrats from the job of running the co u n try, let alone rebuilding it. Moreover, a fixed distribution plan is necessary to ensure that all the revenues do not go into central government coffers as pure discretionary funding because this breeds rampant corruption and concentrates financial power in the hands of the federal government.
Excerpted from A Switch in Time by Kenneth M. Pollack Copyright © 2006 by Brookings Institution Press . Excerpted by permission.
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