fails post-war Iraq examination
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - In a sign of flagging confidence in the Bush administration's
performance in post-war Iraq, a task force from the influential Council on
Foreign Relations (CFR) has called for the occupation authority to give the
United Nations a much greater role in establishing Iraqi political
institutions, among other measures.
In a 25-page report, former UN ambassador Thomas Pickering and former defense
secretary James Schlesinger offered what they politely called "several
recommendations for mid-course adjustments" in the US-dominated occupation
which appeared, however, to amount to a vote of no-confidence in Washington's
course to date.
As a first step, it said, President George W Bush should give a major foreign
policy address to the nation to explain the importance of the mission, as well
as the costs and risks of US engagement there, subjects that senior US
officials have preferred to avoid to date.
The implicit and, at times, explicit criticism contained in the report is
particularly remarkable given the prominence of the two authors, who chair a
CFR task force in Iraq of 25 former senior US policy makers and regional
experts. Pickering, the highest-ranking US diplomat when he retired from the
foreign service in the mid-1990s, served as former president George H W Bush's
ambassador to the UN during the first Gulf War in 1991.
Schlesinger, who served in several cabinet positions under a number of
Republican presidents, was an outspoken supporter of the decision to go to war
in Iraq and has long been close to Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, who is
responsible for US military operations in Iraq and the Coalition Provisional
Authority (CPA) headed by the civilian administrator, L Paul Bremer.
The report faults the administration for "a series of false starts" and failing
to offer any clear "vision and strategy" for Iraq's political future, to more
aggressively engage Iraqi leaders at all levels, to speak with one voice about
how it will deal with Iraqi oil, and to encourage the active involvement of the
UN secretary general's special representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello, in
stabilizing the situation and building international support for
And, in advice which the administration is unlikely to want to hear at the
moment, it calls for Washington to make clear that it will be prepared to
sustain the some 200,000 US troops currently deployed in and around Iraq "for
as long as necessary".
That number not only amounts to more than twice the 75,000-troop estimate made
by the Pentagon before the war, which the CFR task force estimated would by
itself cost the US Treasury nearly US$17 billion a year, or more than the
entire US aid budget. It is also consistent with estimates made before the war
by the recently retired army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, estimates
that were ridiculed at the time as "way off the mark" by Deputy Defense
Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and dismissed by Rumsfeld himself.
"US officials must err on the side of caution," the report said, cautioning
that many of the 30,000 military and police forces which Washington is trying
to recruit from other countries will not be able to replace US troops "on a
The report comes amid rising concern here about the situation in Iraq well over
two months since US forces took control of Baghdad. Over the past several
weeks, US troops have been killed in guerrilla-type attacks at the rate of one
every other day across the "Sunni belt" of central Iraq, while the killings on
Tuesday of six British soldiers and the wounding of eight others in apparently
coordinated attacks in the southern part of the country shocked analysts who
had thought that occupation forces were making good progress in winning "hearts
and minds" in the Shi'ite-dominated region.
Moreover, apparent sabotage over the past week of key oil and gas pipelines has
created major new headaches - and uncertainties - for the CPA, which clearly
lacks the ability to patrol the more than 4,000 miles of pipelines that
traverse the country and which, as a result, is unable to restore reliable
power to key industries and municipal services that make life bearable in the
scorching summer heat.
"The persistence of attacks will make it all the more difficult for the US to
withdraw American forces from Iraq," the Wall Street Journal noted in a front
page article on Wednesday. The attack on the British, it said, could mean that
"dangers to coalition forces are spreading, not receding".
While Schlesinger's and Pickering's report deals with the military situation
only in passing, its main criticisms and recommendations have to do with the
occupation's major political figures. Washington has failed to provide any
vision of Iraq's future political order, according to the report, other than to
assert a series of negatives: that the Ba'ath Party won't be permitted to
return, that former exiles will not dominate a provisional administration, and
that the US will not permit Iran "to remake Iraq in Iran's image".
"The lack of a promising vision and a coherent strategy to shape Iraq's
political landscape has had serious implications for the success of US-led
efforts in Iraq," the report states, noting considerable uncertainty persists
with respect to the CPA's own structure and authority, all of which contributes
to greater confusion.
The CPA should stick to its latest plan to create an Iraqi interim
administration and convene a constitutional conference, but it also needs to
lay out a "step-by-step" transfer of authority to Iraqi institutions geared to
specific benchmarks to Iraqis themselves know better what to expect.
In addition, US officials should make "more concerted efforts to speak through
Iraqi leaders by broadening their interaction with leadership at the local,
regional and national levels". In a Washington Post column on Sunday,
ambassador Tim Carney, who spent 90 days with the CPA, complained that US
officials were far too isolated from the population.
Because of the critical importance of security, Washington should do more to
recruit international civilian police and police monitors, an effort in which
Bremer should fully engage Vieira de Mello, who first arrived in Iraq nearly a
month ago but has played virtually no role at all to date.
Washington also needs to recruit international and US experts in criminal
investigation amid reports suggesting that "powerful criminals [in Iraq] are
already in place and expanding their control".
The CPA should also create a civilian conservation corps for immediate
employment directed primarily at members of the military, which was summarily
dissolved by Bremer several weeks ago in a move which the report's authors said
raised "reasonable questions", particularly given the lack of plans to address
the joblessness and additional security threats that should have been foreseen.
Above all, Washington has failed to take advantage of Vieira de Mello's
possible role despite the fact that the administration lobbied hard for his
appointment. In addition to approaching other governments to take part in the
reconstruction effort, his active involvement could "change the general Iraqi
perception that post-conflict reconstruction is an exclusively American
His experience - he acted as the UN's representative, and hence de facto
governor, in East Timor until independence - would also be useful in
establishing a credible transition, according to the report in what could only
be interpreted as a slap at Bremer and the CPA.
Finally, in another implicit rebuke to Rumsfeld, who last year effectively
dismantled the army's Peacekeeping Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the
co-chairs called for the Pentagon to make a major investment in training for
what the report called peace-stabilization and post-conflict reconstruction.
Noting that Washington has intervened abroad six times in the past 12 years and
that the administration has done so twice in the past 18 months, the report
noted that "it is time that the United States stopped treating these exercises
as if they were extraordinary events".
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