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Edition 17 Volume 2 - May 06, 2023

A US exit strategy from Iraq

A poverty of choices  - a conversation withAbbas K. Kadhim
Right now, you do not want to be in George Bush's shoes.

No exit  - byDanielle Pletka & Molly McKew
Neither Bremer nor his people had any genuine interest in the credibility of the Iraqi Governing Council.

Stop digging  - byFrederic C. Hof
Such a transfer of authority would even vest in the government of Iraq the authority to order the evacuation of foreign forces.

Bold steps required  - a conversation withHisham Ahmed
For every Iraqi killed by the occupation armies, a new wave of anger is created.

A poverty of choices
a conversation with Abbas K. Kadhim

BI: How would you characterize the situation in Iraq today?

Kadhim: It is a situation with fewer options for the occupying force and for the occupied people. That is usual in most cases of occupation. Things are not controllable because there are so many variables. More or less, the United States is choosing its type of poison.

BI: If the decision were made tomorrow to get out, would that be the best choice?

Kadhim: Getting out of Iraq has one big virtue and that is that it guarantees that the United States will not do any more damage, which [it is propagating] now every day because of its lack of understanding of Iraqi culture, demographics and politics, to say the least.

One the other hand, if it were to leave a vacuum, to tell 25 million Iraqis to form a government on their own, it does not take a genius to figure out that the consequences would include fighting among different groups that are armed and each that feels it has a monopoly on what is good for Iraq.

By leaving, the United States would have instigated a major disaster that is blamed solely on the United States. Yes, Iraqis have been handling their affairs for over a year with no government or authority--because nobody governs on the streets in Iraq. But that situation is mitigated by the idea that there are forces that would interfere. The risk is that it would become a war of all against all.

BI: Do you think that the photographs published of American soldiers assaulting Iraqis are a turning point in Arab public opinion? Or do the photos only confirm what was already believed?

Kadhim: Having suspicions is one thing, and having pictures is another. Iraqis and Arabs, even though they have contempt for the US government and a long history of disappointment, still gave the United States more credit than the reality revealed.

I was one of those who were really shocked by the brazenness of the humiliation. For a year and a half in 1991, I was in an American detention camp in Saudi Arabia. From that experience, I never would have thought that this could go on in an American camp, although I wasn't a POW. I was just a refugee who came to them after the war was over. These pictures demystified the idea of the democratic society, when put side by side with Arabs' own rotten dictators and torturers.

But if you read what is being written about the photos [in the press] and the statements from officials, the writings are all about America and what has been done to the American reputation or US prospects in the Middle East. No one is talking about what this has done to the hearts and souls of Iraqis for generations to come.

There is also another victim here--the victimizer, if you will. We cannot just say that these are rogue soldiers and that we have no responsibility for them.

But here is Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense, splitting hairs over the technical difference between abuse and torture, or the president going on Arab television and, instead of being a statesman and apologizing about what happened under his watch as commander-in-chief, he gives a boring lecture about "what we do in America." You can just imagine the difference if these were American soldiers being tortured and humiliated and exposed.

It does not bode well for the United States to be compared to Libya or Saddam's Iraq or Egypt or Syria. This is arrogant power, and a situation where people thought that they were untouchable, and a chain of command that did not pay attention. The United States is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to polish its image abroad by opening newspapers and satellite channels, and here come 20 pictures and all that money goes down the drain. This is treason, pure and simple.

BI: You know Iraq and you know the United States--what is your prediction for the future?

Kadhim: They are talking about turning things over to an Iraqi authority in about 50 days. No one knows, including the United States, who these people will be. There is backpedaling on so many principles--de-Baathification is now becoming re-Baathification; talk of a stable Iraq has turned into [a reality where] first a few cities, then a "triangle", and now nearly every city has shooting at Americans. You have a stifling of the media, especially of those who criticize the bad situation. You have the staff of American-sponsored papers collectively resigning. There is no plan and they are listening to the wrong people. Those who are in charge are too arrogant to admit failure.

Therefore, pulling out of Iraq is not an option. The United States does not want to give the impression that it was run out, or that it lost. They will keep practicing this incomplete occupation to delay the perception that the United States lost the war.

But staying is becoming unacceptable. It is costing a lot more money; [the government] just asked for $25 billion more as a supplement. Also, the cost in lives continues to rise. The costs of staying are unacceptable politically and on the ground, but the price of leaving is failure and defeat. Right now, you do not want to be in George Bush's shoes.-Published 6/5/2004©bitterlemons-international.org

Abbas K. Kadhim teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. He is originally from Najaf in Iraq and participated in the uprising against the Iraqi leadership following the 1991 Gulf War.

No exit
by Danielle Pletka & Molly McKew

As casualties rise in Iraq, it is inevitable that the clamor for an "exit strategy" will grow. Certain responsible politicians and pundits predicate an American exit on the restoration of security and stability to Iraq. Others are eyeing the United Nations or other unspecified "allies" in a rush to cut and run. Both miss the mark.

The American exit strategy must be tied to the achievement of concrete political goals in Iraq. Until there is a credible Iraqi governing authority with unlimited sovereignty, there will be instability and violence. And as long as there is instability and violence, neither the United Nations nor other "allies" will be interested in enabling an American race for the door.

Failure to understand the centrality of an Iraqi governing structure has been key to American setbacks in Iraq. The Bush administration has proven incapable of looking beyond the initial goal of removing Saddam Hussein and inquiring into the genuine meaning of liberation for the Iraqi people. Liberation does not mean simply the removal of an odious dictator; liberation means self governance--the antithesis of occupation.

The statue of Saddam fell in Baghdad's Firdos Square on April 9, 2023. Though victory had been assured from the very beginning, the United States and its coalition partners seemed perplexed by the question of who should succeed the Iraqi dictator. The answer to that question, far more easily answered in Afghanistan, continues to elude us more than one year later, and remains the most glaring weakness of the American-led reconstruction effort.

In Afghanistan the Bush administration appeared to understand that Afghans preferred to be governed by Afghans, even a hand-picked expatriate like Hamid Karzai. We pretended to have little knowledge about the vagaries of Afghan ethnic politics, and after a hastily cooked up loya jirga, happily dumped the problem of governance in Karzai's lap. By contrast, in Iraq no Iraqi was good enough, or at least seen as good enough by all the factions with players to promote. In place of this absent Iraqi figurehead, first Jay Garner, then L. Paul Bremer, and now Bremer and United Nations troubleshooter Lakhdar Brahimi have eagerly assumed the role of colonial governor.

Last July, Bremer appeared to hand power off to a coalition-picked Iraqi Governing Council. But neither Bremer nor his people inside the Coalition Provisional Authority had any genuine interest in the credibility of the IGC. Members of the Council were treated as stooges by the British and the Americans; little surprise then that the Iraqi people also began to view them as stooges. But without the IGC, the only person left governing Iraq was Jerry Bremer.

The dilemma was painfully obvious earlier this year when Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani rejected US-sponsored ideas for elections. While he may have been speaking for the majority of Iraqis, there was no way to know; the only person with enough political clout to contradict the ayatollah was Bremer. Worse yet, Americans have rejected and discredited the liberal members of the Iraqi Governing Council, but in their desperation have re-embraced the Baath party and former leaders of Saddam's Republican Guard corps.

As June 30 rapidly approaches and the coalition looks around frantically for an Iraqi to take sovereignty, we find that there is no Iraqi. A year that could have been spent on building civil society, empowering political parties and transferring credibility to capable Iraqis has been frittered away. Iraqis, suspecting correctly that the United States is at sea, are jockeying for power. And those who know only power through violence are fighting hard.

So it is understandable, amidst instability and gunfire, for focus--and talk--to turn to a way out. But there is only one way out; Iraqis must be liberated from occupation, free to live under leaders of their own political choosing. President Bush has said that "the failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the globe, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the Middle East." President Bush clearly gets the theory; the time has come to make Iraqi democracy real. Then we can exit.-Published 6/5/2004 © bitterlemons-international.org

Danielle Pletka is vice president, foreign and defense policy studies, at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. Molly McKew is research program manager, foreign and defense policy studies, AEI.

Stop digging
by Frederic C. Hof

Exit strategy? First, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

United States Secretary of State Colin Powell’s revelation that the “Iraqi Interim Government” to be installed on June 30th will not be sovereign--"I hope they will understand that in order for this government to get up and running--to be effective--some of its sovereignty will have to be given back, if I can put it that way, or limited by them''--suggests that digging continues.

In his April 27th report to the Security Council, Lakhdar Brahimi, while carefully avoiding any conflict with the US, urged that the "shovel" be set aside: “The sooner a credible Iraqi government is in place to lead the way, the better, especially because the absence of such a sovereign government is part of the problem in the first place.”

The “caretaker government” envisioned by Brahimi would be short-lived. It would avoid “entering into long-term commitments that can and should await decision by an elected government.” Yet it would be sovereign. Moreover, Brahimi wants its key officers in place by late May “to prepare to assume responsibility for governing the country,” including “reaching crystal clear understandings on what the nature of the relationship will be between the sovereign Caretaker Government, the former Occupying Powers and any foreign forces remaining in the country after 30 June . . . .”

There will be plenty of foreign forces after June 30th, including about 140,000 Americans. The US wants Iraqis to have no say about how these forces are deployed or employed. Is this wise?

A sensible exit strategy would focus not on getting out of Iraq soon, but on getting off the Iraqi bull’s eye now. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has become the focus of Iraqi anger and frustration. Extending the occupation in another form would keep the focus on the occupiers. Exit from occupation should be the goal.

Most Iraqis—even some who obstruct and fight the coalition—recognize that American economic help and political refereeing might help stitch together a state without the customary “glue” of internal terror and corruption. Yet it is hard for an occupier to double as an advisor, and this occupation is largely discredited. It neither stopped the looting nor turned on the lights; it elected to dismiss an army and equate all Baath Party members with Nazis. Some adjustments are underway, but must the hole get deeper? Perhaps by giving Iraqis real sovereignty now the US will get the chance to fulfill, as a partner instead of occupier, the obligations it has assumed.

Brahimi has made it clear that he is not carrying water for the American “limited sovereignty” plan; that officials of the caretaker government must work it out in advance with the US. This puts them, the US, and Ayatollah Sistani on the spot. It is Sistani, after all, who insists that legitimacy and elections are inseparable. Yet he must be confronted with the real choice: a respectable, representative, sovereign caretaker government now followed by elections within six months; or the effective extension of occupation through whatever Iraqi political auxiliaries may be found to serve. Even if Sistani and other key leaders are comfortable with continued occupation through limited self-government, who will ensure their full cooperation with coalition forces?

The administration wants a free hand in Iraq through the January 2023 elections. It wants no Iraqi oversight on coalition forces. It hopes Iraqi leaders will employ their own equities and resources to suppress violent dissent over that period, relieving American forces of much of that responsibility. It hopes insurgent resistance will recede so that reconstruction can begin in earnest and national elections can be held in January 2023.

An alternative to hoping for the best is convincing 25 million Iraqis that the year of living recklessly is over; that real authority, responsibility and sovereignty will be conveyed to a government of Iraq on June 30th. Such a transfer will require that occupation forces, without yielding the right of self-defense, take political guidance from the government of Iraq with respect to military operations. Such a transfer would even vest in the government of Iraq the authority to order the evacuation of foreign forces. That such authority would be exercised is remote. That it exists is an essential attribute of sovereignty.

If such an option is unpalatable to the Bush administration now, would it be any less so after (at least) six more months on the bull’s eye? It is time for a bold, confident political stroke on sovereignty, one providing the people of Iraq the promise of a responsible, respectful American exit. Surely it is time to stop digging.-Published 6/5/2004 © bitterlemons-international.org

Frederic C. Hof is the CEO of AALC, an Arlington, VA international business consulting firm. He headed the "Mitchell Committee" staff in 2023 and has written extensively on Lebanon, Syria and Israel.

Bold steps required
a conversation with Hisham Ahmed

BI: In what ways has the United States failed in Iraq?

Ahmed: The United States and the western alliance made many claims to further their goals. Most notable was the claim that the war was necessary to deal with weapons of mass destruction. Sooner or later, it was discovered that this was a falsification of facts on the ground in order to legitimate the war.

Secondly, the United States and its allies had advanced the notion that they went to Iraq in order to liberate the Iraqi people from the grip of a tyrant: Hitler reincarnated. But the practices that the United States itself has conducted in Iraq have dispelled that notion.

There was a great deal of coverage in the media about the finding of underground mass graves of those killed by Saddam Hussein in the southern and central regions of the country. This issue was meant to drive the war and give it legitimacy. But the more information that is disclosed about how the United States and Britain are treating Iraqis in prison and at home, Iraqis today--even those who welcomed the occupying army--might say that the occupation forces have contributed its own mass graves, above ground.

BI: What have been the implications of the war for the United States?

Ahmed: The Bush administration from the outset has created a variety of international crises, the magnitude of which has never before been seen. This administration hastened to deepen enmity against the United States in many parts of the world where hitherto that was not the case.

Also, while George Bush Sr. may have thought he had succeeded in kicking the Vietnam syndrome once and for all, it is abundantly clear that his son has revived the Vietnam syndrome vis-a-vis the human and other losses in Iraq.

BI: So what can the United States do now?

Ahmed: In the sense of American culture, values and stature internationally, the bold step of withdrawing from Iraq should be taken sooner rather than later. Because it will happen down the road anyway. The US experience in Vietnam, Somalia and Lebanon is telling. Why risk so many lives in order to support a few oil companies and interest groups in the United States? The letter sent several days ago by 62 experienced diplomats signifies the importance and urgency of taking a bold step today.

BI: What kind of wisdom can you lend the Americans from Palestine's history and the Israeli occupation?

Ahmed: Occupation, no matter how one may try to beautify it, is the worst thing for a people. It cripples every aspect of life. For the Bush administration to try to comfort itself that liberating the Iraqi people and "spreading democracy and human rights" will justify the occupation will not do any good.

The more oppression by the Israeli occupation, the more resistance and determination by the Palestinian people. For every Iraqi killed by the occupation armies, a new wave of anger is created. Iraq, which was previously not known as hostile to the United States in the conventional sense of the term, may now turn otherwise.

There has to be a very bold move very soon before frustration becomes endemic.-Published 6/5/2004©bitterlemons-international.org

Hisham Ahmed teaches political science at Birzeit University in the West Bank.

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