Iraq: Hubertus Hoffmann on Plan B for the U.S. and stabilizing the region
The focus in the discussion about Iraq should now be on shaping a fresh Plan B: the exit scenario for the U.S., British troops, and other allies. Further, stabilizing this troubled country and the Middle East region as well.
Plan B is naturally also an exit out of current Plan A, the failure of the Grand Design planned and implemented by the Bush administration. Who is to blame? Not so much the President but his main Iraq decision makers and misplanners: Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense and Paul Bremer as his man in Baghdad. They had no master strategy, no credible and realistic Plan A for the day after the very successful combat operations ended. Instead, inspired by their quick military victory, they made several fundamental mistakes in nation-building and stabilizing Iraq, leaving U.S. service men and women in the mud for the last four years.
The Pentagon-promoted de-Ba’ath Policy left the country without bureaucrats who knew how to run it; the fundamentally wrong decision - against all advice - to dismantle the Iraqi Army instead of integrating it; the basic error of not sending enough troops to fill the power vacuum they created in this large country. Rumsfeld, Bremer, and their policy planners believed they could win in Iraq with a “shock and awe” strategy, not realizing that neighbouring Iran and Syria would infiltrate along with foreign terrorists. Their strategy was based on sand, not concrete: Iraq is an artificial construct of three different groups which do not belong together, but which was forced together and became independent from British administration in 1932. U.S. misplanners burdened the inexperienced new Iraqi government with a task of national unity. This is like demanding the U.S. President unite an artificial ‘America’ comprising the U.S. and Mexico; or asking Winston Churchill after WWI to run a ‘Euro-country’ made up of England, France, and Germany with a multinational cabinet. Clearly, mission impossible.
The worthy U.S. objective of giving Iraq freedom after the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and stability for the region can only be achieved with an inner musicality for the problems of Iraq, imagination, and the right means and strategy. The U.S. now needs a brand new Plan B with a fresh design including all lessons learned over the last four years.
Which elements could Plan B for Iraq include?
A new focus on strong federal governments of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds
The central fundamental error in U.S. planning was to open Pandora’s Box by eliminating the Saddam-Sunni dictatorship and trying to form a strong federal government in Baghdad with an impeached and overly frustrated Sunni minority and its two enemies the, Shiite majority and non-Arabic Kurds.
Instead, as promoted by Senator Biden, WSN, and others - a maximum regional autonomy for Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds and only a weak central government are needed. Like Bosnia Herzegovina in the Balkans designed in the Dayton Agreement of 1995, Iraq should be separated into three autonomous areas with local cantons responsible for their own security , economic growth, and prosperity. This will de-burden the less able central government in Baghdad and act as a catalyst for rapid build up of these autonomous areas. (see Three Strong Federal States Comprised of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis Are Needed Now in Iraq with a Division of Oil Income – or a Bloody Civil War Is Unavoidable)
Such regional responsibilities will also stop the driving out of Sunni by Shiite as the Dayton agreement stopped the driving out of Bosnians by the Serbs. The Shiite-dominated Baghdad government only supported the Sunni regions lukewarmly and did not send long-promised money. Only in an autonomous Sunni region will the Sunni find peace, isolate and fight al-Qaeda, and use their fair share of the oil income at their discretion. This is the only way to build a new Iraq.
Erbil in Kurdistan-Iraq should become a Ramstein-like U.S. Military Base and aircraft carrier in Iraq
The only region in Iraq where U.S. troops are welcomed, not perceived as occupation forces, and can be well protected against suicide bombers is Kurdistan-Iraq. This is by far the safest region of the country. (see Iraqi Kurdistan as Golden Key for Peace and the U.S. in Iraq)
The main U.S. military base should be built around the old airfield in Erbil with up to 50,000 troops stationed there. They would be effectively protected by five million Kurds who see them as liberators from Saddam, and who would enjoy a military guarantee against their aggressive neighbours Iran, Syria, Turkey and destabilizing Iraq.
Phased reduction of U.S. troops starting in 2008 - Provide a military backbone within Iraqi forces
The U.S. military strategy should be radically changed to focus on a strong U.S. backbone for the weak Iraqi troops. U.S. troops embedded in Iraqi units are still too weak and should be four times stronger. Each Iraqi batallion of approximately 600 fresh and inexperienced soldiers should get 40-50 experienced U.S. soldiers. Iraqi battalion commanders, as Lt Cols, should be supported by a U.S. Major as advisor. At the company level, the Iraqi Majors should have a U.S. Captain as advisor and each platoon several U.S. sergeants. The Achilles’ heel of the Iraqi army is the lack of experienced officers and sergeants, of cohesion and self-confidence. To counter this would need approximately 20,000 U.S. soldiers in action and a strong reserve. The U.S. should guarantee air support, helicopters, intelligence, engineer and medical support, with specialists in Iraq . The 20,000 U.S. advisors will be much more effective with their Iraqi allies than 20,000 U.S. troops in action. Embedded U.S. soldiers should work to glue mixed Shiite and Sunni units together. This new backbone strategy will need 2008 and 2009.
The U.S. government has to define the desired end state of the peace enforcement operations. Well-defined criteria for sucess will be the yardstick for any progress and determine any political decision on possible force reductions. Based upon these progress milestones, the U.S. could trigger the following reductions step by step from the current 160,000 troops: reduce by 5,000 until March 2008, by 10,000 more until June, 15,000 further until September, and 20,000 more by December 2008 for a total reduction of 50,000 in 2008.
Even further force reductions could follow in 2008 and 2009 if and when stability and security have reached a certain level. These force reductions should not decrease the security and protection of American forces. All proposals for a massive and ad- hoc withdrawal of the U.S. troops would reduce stability and security in Iraq and harm the credibility of the U.S. in the Broader Middle East as "Provocative Weakness" (Fritz Kramer). Including all other measures in Plan B, the U.S. troop casualty rate could be dramatically reduced and Iraq could avoid a sectarian bloodbath.
Baghdad as a U.N. Federal neutral zone with real Safe Areas
The mixed capital Baghdad with around seven million inhabitants should become a special neutral federal zone like the District of Columbia where Washington is situated, split into smaller independent cantons of Sunnis and Shiites under U.N. administration like in Bosnia. Inside, 20-30 smaller Safe Areas with checkpoints and tight security could be created as already discussed in the White House in 2005. For this purpose, U.N. forces supported by private security companies should receive robust rules of engagement. This way the slaughter in the capital could be cooled down and minimized. The expulsion of the Sunnis will be stopped.
Oil Income under Swiss Accounting
The new Iraqi oil law was very late but heads in the right direction: splitting the main income of oil and gas between the three ethnical groups Sunni, Shiite, and Kurds according to their percentage of the population. But it is still Baghdad-controlled and thus by a Shiite-dominated government suspicious to the Sunni population. The income should therefore be neutrally accounted for with international guarantees by Switzerland. Best practice so far in Iraq is the perfect accounting by JP Morgan of the oil income in the past.
Counter Terrorist Actions
From their base in Erbil, U.S. Special Forces should operate with Iraqi security forces against al-Qaeda and other terrorists case by case within a new U.N. mandate. Most al-Qaeda branded terrorists are foreigners. Many come from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Algeria, and Indonesia. Most travel via a rat line from Syria, well protected in safe houses mainly by the Sunni population.
The Baghdad judiciary has failed to convict and convincingly punish the terrorists they have caught as an example; something needed to show authority in such an Arab country, instead of allowing lawlessness. Most Iraqis are not convinced that these foreign terrorists are not acting in the interests of the Iraqi people. This can be done, as shown by U.S. troops in the city of Ramadi in the Sunni Triangle. Within only one year, hundreds of al-Qaeda who had arrived in Ramadi two years earlier were expelled in a textbook co-operation with local Sheiks, who persuaded thousands of their tribesman to join the Iraqi police in a city of 400,000 terrified inhabitants. The locals, supported by U.S. Special Forces, guarantee the city’s security with seven thousand policemen, up from only 200 a year ago. They have 12 district councils and one city council, and have created 19,000 labouring jobs. The city council and the U.S. military broadcast daily progress reports from giant loudspeakers above 19 police stations. U.S. forces are now perceived as friendly forces within the city.
New Elite in Iraq
The old guard of politicians is burned out and has lost its credibility over the last 4 years. The international community should focus on a transfer of power to a fresh generation: men like Masrour Barzani, son of the Kurdish President and now intelligence chief, and the sons of the Sunni and Shiite sheiks as well. An Iraqi Elite program should look for the intelligent new generation.
Stop the brain drain: bring back the refugees
The two million refugees who have fled Iraq must be invited back starting 2009 after the civil war has cooled down. Iraq needs that elite more than ever and has lost many of the most intelligent people to a giant brain drain.
Real national reconciliation
Iraq needs a clear and strong Reconciliation Plan that includes an amnesty for former non-senior Ba’ath party members. This could include: establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission like in South Africa after Apartheid, a Special Minister for National Reconciliation with large budget and staff, and a yearly report to Parliament. Until now, the Baghdad government has failed even to organize reconciliation. It is only looking to integrate a few Sunnis into the cabinet; not nearly enough. It must now show hundreds of credible deeds of reconciliation of the Shiites towards the Sunnis.
The fundament of stability is a better present and future for the people, simple like day long water, electricity, and jobs. Even after four years there is little electricity in Bagdad. There has been too much focus on security first, over reconstruction. Both should be pursued in parallel. Militant and suicide attacks result from aggression and frustration, and thrive amongst people without water, light, or hope.
‘Tit for tat’ strategy towards Syria and Iran
To try and convince the dictators in Teheran and Damascus not to use the unstable situation in Iraq is naïve. They love it. Better to act tit for tat and equip opposition forces there with the same instruments of trouble making to destabilize their unstable dictatorships. This will force them to respect the Iraqi government as then it will be in their national interest not to support terrorists there. There is no strong and credible U.S. policy which clearly demonstrates to tiny, isolated Syria and to Iran, that interventions in Iraqi affairs can no longer be tolerated and will have a high price for their governments.
The action Plan B discribed above will cover the next five years from now on. To find true peace in Iraq, the international community and local peacemakers will need between 20-40 years. This is the lesson learned from other deeply rooted as well religious motivated conflicts like in Northern Ireland.
The glass of Iraq is not half empty but also half full: peace is possible with a Plan B for this suffering country, as well as an honourable exit for the U.S.