Irak - International engagement urgently needed          May 2007

The new ”security plan” launched mid February fails to acchieve results and Iraq is continuing its slide down into governmental crisis and disintegration. The USA has lost a great deal of its influence caused by military and political misjudgements and its unconditional support of the Iraqi government, by many accused of supporting sectarian violence. Facing the threath of millions of refugees and escalating regional insecurity, an international engagement is urgently needed and withing the framework of EU, Sweden should be active in this.
For the last years, the accelerating chaos in Iraq has clearly shown the need for a change in American policy. The ”Iraq Study Group” under chairmanship of former foreign secretary James Baker and long-time member of the House of Representatives Lee Hamilton, last december sharply critizised the lack of accomplishments made by the Bush administration and launched a number of measures for - if possible - creating a positive development.

Two of the most salient measures are an international and regional cooperation, among others with Syria and Iran, to contain the conflict and an Iraqi reconciliaton plan with the aim to stop a partition of the country along sectarian lines and to negotiate a withdrawal of US troops.
But not even the proposals of “ISG” are enough. Directly counterproductive is the Bush administration proposal that by November this year to hand over the responsibility of security to the Iraqi government and its stance towards Syria and especially Iran as states supporting terror who are to be subdued militarily.
This strategy hardly surprises anyone. The USA has since September 11 acted mostly in an unilateral way, even though the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Saddam regime with the outspoken aim of creating a liberal, democratic country which could initiate political and economic development of the whole Middle East, was a goal we all could have agreed upon.
The problem is that few of the neighbouring countries wanted this. For the ruling theocracy in Iran as well as the Assad-regime in Syria, a democratic Iraq with growing wealth would increase domestic demands for the same. The best guarantee for the survival of the regimes in Iran and Syria is therefore some degree of chaos in Iraq, enough to prevent the emergence of a democratic society and to keep the USA at bay by attacking their troops but not so much chaos to risk the disintegration of the country.
But the main causes of failure are the Bush administration’s lack of knowledge about the complex situation in Iraq which resulted in many bad decisions: initially a rather naive promotion of exile politicians, lacking all support among the people and more prone to furthering their own interests and later to adopt to the simple strategy of trying to win support among the majority, the Shias, unaware of the consequenses. Their demands led to the de-Baathification process and consequently firing of competent civil servants, the disbandment of the Iraqi army which turned many officers into anti-coalition fighters, and worst, a constitution declaring Iraq as beeing constituted by it’s peoples, not it’s citizens. All this was directly against the will of the Sunnis. Of course, the results were those sectarian antagonisms, struggle for political and economic power and violence we witness today.

The political clout of the USA is now strongly reduced in the region. A great deal of it’s influence was lost due to the growing strength of the insurgency and opinion at home against keeping troops in Iraq. USA:s moral credibility among Arab countries are at it’s bottom due to the uncritical support of Israels act of war in Lebanon last year and Gaza as well as USA:s trying to outmanouver the democratically elected Hamas coalition government in Palestine.
This also ment decreased influence for it’s allies and a more polarized region. Lebanon is once more at the brink of civil war and a more agressive and powerful Iran can lead to a possible alliance between USA, Israel and the “Sunni bloc” comprising Saudia Arabia and Jordan pitched against Iran and Syria which is a really worrying development. Already the Gulf States have increased arms orders.

The proposed measures of Baker-Hamilton are not enough according to the ”International Crisis Group” who is of the opinion that the Iraqi government is to be seen as one part among many and not as the sole guarantee for a stable development as the Bush administration hopes for.
Several reports point out that units in the Iraqi security forces as well as militia groups under control of the political parties in the government are responsible for much of the sectarian violence. Among others the kidnapping of about twenty servants at the Sunni controlled Ministry of Higher Education in December last year when the Iraqi police didn’t do anything to stop the perpetrators. More than 14 000 weapons handed out by the USA for arming the security forces are missing in the registers and have most probably ended up in the hands of Shia-extremists. According to the Brookings Institute, corruption reached the probable value of 4 billion USD every year.
All parties to the conflict have to be convinced that cooperation is the only realistic alternative to an escalating violence. As all successful conflict resolution shows, in the negotiations all parties have to be included and their demands respected, even insurgent groups with links to AlQaeda, in this case.
The USA will have to face critizism for once more, like after the first Gulf War, turning it’s back to it’s Shia allies. What they have so-far gained will have to be renegotiated. A new constitution is of utmost importance, especially section one article nine where armed militias are allowed to exist within the security forces, as well as clear statements that a sectarian division of the country never will be allowed. Oil revenues have to be shared in an equal way among all groups and provinces and the, for this year, planned referendum of the status of Kirkuk has to be postponed until tensions have calmed.

Prerequisites for a positive development do exist. Traditionally there has never existed any greater antagonism between Shia and Sunni and an overwhelming majority, 80%, is definitely against a sectarian division of the country and 90% wants a government of national unity. The emergence of a civil society with free press, an even more independent juridical system as well as a greater understanding and pressure from the US administration towards Iraqi politicians that they have to carry a bigger responsibility, are something creating possibilities.

picture right: A sectarian division of Baghdad will cause even more violence.
red areas: Shia
green areas:Sunni

There is also a dwindling support for the insurgency among Iraqis, as exemplified by open resistance among many Sunni tribes towards opression from AlQuaeda-linked groups. Recruitement to the Iraqi security forces has increased as ordinary people more and more realize the links between criminals and sectarian groups as well as a growing popular resentment towards militants due to their use of violence, even towards humanitarian organization and their employees. Most Iraqis would consider an immediate American troop withdrawal as a catastrophy, due to the security vacuum that would follow.

But even if the USA carries the main responsibility for the present situation, it is in the interest of all of us to curb the violence and instability of Iraq which threatens the whole Middle East-region. International action is needed and a formation of a “support group” could be a constructive sign. This group would consist of representatives from members of the UN Security Council and from surrounding countries and it’s main task would be to, on a consensual basis, formulate goal for the future status of Iraq, internal as well as position in the region. We see this process beginning to take shape but so far just on a bilateral basis between the USA and Iran. Anyhow, that is a good sign.

The European Union has to be more active in the international field, even though that regrettably seldom has happened so far. The EU has a good reputation among Iraqi leaders who would look positively upon closer co-operation, for instance a EU chairmanship and coordination of talks between the different parties inside and outside of Iraq. A greater engagement on the security side should follow these talks and international troops to replace US troops would be a clear proof that the whole international community is engaged. Here EU could play a vital role, even though a great deal of political courage by national politicians is needed here. The most important task for these troops would be to train, support and survey Iraqi security forces from sectarian and political influence.
The surrounding countries have much to gain from this scenario. Iran and Syria are both capable of making the process go havoc but it is necessary to find compromises the whole region can accept, but without giving up our long-term goals of free, liberal and democratic states. This can be done by initially stating that a future Iraq will not threaten the vital security interests of those countries. Hence the USA will have to immediately abolish plans and construction of major military bases inside Iraq and also verbally tone down threats mainly towards Iran.
Common ground can be found in a firm declaration that the Kurdish areas in Northern Iraq will be an integral, federal part of Iraq as well as real and constructive measures are taken to further the peace process of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hard as that can be for the USA.
Because a disintegration and total collapse of Iraq could mean not just an all-out civil war in the country but insecurity in the whole region, millions of refugees and a real risk of military intervention of the surrounding countries with grave consequences.

This gives us no choice but an immediate international engagement in Iraq.

Lennart Berggren
foreign news journalist, Linköping

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