As far as modern military organizations are
concerned, US forces would have to be rated as quite
competent at what they are designed to accomplish:
killing people, destroying things and bringing chaos out
If that were the extent of expectations
about modern armed forces, nothing more would
need be said. But today's military forces are expected
to reverse the traditional process, particularly
those who, like the US in Iraq, created the problem.
To date, efforts by the United States to re-create a
stable, new order that incorporates the best traditions
and practices of the past, nourishes expectations for
the future, and meets the immediate needs of the
population, have lagged significantly.
meeting the immediate needs of the population, a survey
by the Iraqi Health Ministry, the United Nations and a
Norwegian non-profit agency found that malnutrition among
children under five has almost doubled - from 4.0% to
7.7% - since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. The
culprit is a combination of unsafe drinking water, lack
of reliable electricity or fuel stocks to boil water,
and crumbling or non-existent sewage systems.
Security - the absence thereof - for Iraqis, for humanitarian-aid
workers, for United Nations personnel, even for military
forces in central Iraq and a number of locations
elsewhere in the country - has created a
climate of fear both for the present and the future. The
US trumpeted its action as liberating the Iraqis from a
tyrant, which is true as far as it goes. But the tyrant,
for all the predictable and utter ruthlessness he
employed when "needed", managed to provide enough
services to keep a restive population under control.
So far, the US has neither duplicated the provision
of services nor provided a general sense of security.
Major aid agencies have been forced to withdraw
their staff because of the dangers. And despite the
intentions of Washington, official government humanitarian
aid and reconstruction have been limited by the
continuing violence. As two longtime aid workers observed
on November 23, "aid or reconstruction carried out
at gunpoint ... [is] virtually indistinguishable from
military and political action". Their summary:
"Reconstruction has not occurred. Civil society has not
In fact, 20 months after the
invasion, some among those who supported war are
beginning to call for troop reductions. The change of
heart comes not because the security situation has
improved but because it just might get better if the
aggravating presence of large numbers of foreign troops
is reduced. Fewer "occupiers" would remove a major
pretext for continued violence and could serve to induce
more Iraqis to abandon armed conflict for political
Indeed, with the announcement of
elections for the national assembly on January 30, a
definitive statement of US intentions in Iraq would be
well timed. It would complement other recent decisions
and announcements, including:
November 18: Agreement by the Paris Club (the 19 wealthiest creditor
nations) to write off 80% of Iraq's debt to
the club members (US$42 billion, roughly one-third of
Iraq's total debt of $120 billion) in three stages between
2004 and 2008.
November 23: Statement by Iraqi election officials
that 220 parties had applied to participate in the
elections. (Less well publicized was a November 18
report that 47 groups - Sunni, Shi'ite, Christian and
Turkoman - agreed not to participate because of the US
attack on Fallujah.)
November 24: The communique from the high-level
meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt of Iraq's neighbors,
the Group of Eight leading industrial countries, China,
the European Union, the Arab League, the Organization of
the Islamic Conference and the UN that called for a
concerted effort at pre-election nation-building that
would set the stage for a "united, federal, democratic
and pluralistic state".
These follow a
fatwa issued in October by Shi'ite Grand
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani that directs all Iraqis to vote
in the January ballot, a move that puts enormous
pressure on the interim Iraqi government to stay with
the electoral timetable, especially since the national
assembly will choose a new interim government from its
members. It will also draft a new constitution and
prepare for a final round of elections in December 2005
for a permanent government.
So what could the US
do to move toward resolving its dilemma? It should:
Publicly commit itself to total, unconditional
withdrawal with no residual bases.
Cut US Embassy staff in Baghdad to bring the level to
that of other US embassies in the region.
Concentrate redevelopment aid on small projects that
directly employ Iraqis so that more Iraqis feel they
have a future.
Respect existing cultural "authority" lines; they
may be imperfect, but correcting them is not the purview
of foreign occupiers.
Properly train and equip Iraqi security forces on
the premise that quality is more important than
Trust these quality Iraqi forces and let them
operate independently of US troops.
Keep the commitment to leave unconditionally and
The last, of course, is the most
important - and will be the hardest to do. But without
it, the US may well discover that its Iraq adventure,
instead of releasing Iraqis from "hatred or the other
legacies of violence or repression", has only
intensified and spread anti-American hatred throughout
Dan Smith is a military
affairs analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus, a retired
US Army colonel and a senior fellow on military affairs
at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.