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[casi] Guardian Correspondent on Iraq

Get real

Driven by a neo-conservative dream, the US is loath to relinquish control
in Iraq. But the price for Washington's stubbornness may be failure, writes
Brian Whitaker

Tuesday August 26, 2003,7792,1029595,00.html

Talk of impending failure in Iraq may sound like whinging when it comes
from those who opposed the war, but last week the unspeakable seven-letter
F-word was uttered by one of the bastions of US neo-conservative hawkery.
Under the headline "Do what it takes in Iraq", an editorial in the Weekly
Standard called for a huge commitment of more troops, more money and more
civilian workers to fend off disaster.

"Make no mistake," the magazine said. "The president's vision will, in the
coming months, either be launched successfully in Iraq, or it will die in
Iraq ... the future course of American foreign policy, American world
leadership, and American security is at stake. Failure in Iraq would be a
devastating blow to everything the United States hopes to accomplish."

Unfortunately for President Bush, this is true. He has left no face-saving
escape route for himself or his country.

The neo-conservative solution is to devote to Iraq whatever it takes and
for as long as it takes, for a whole generation if necessary. The Weekly
Standard wants an immediate allocation of $60bn (£38.4bn) for
reconstruction. If the Bush administration is serious, "then this is the
necessary down payment," it said, while the official Washington line has
been that reconstruction will be funded by Iraq's (still largely
non-existent) oil revenue.

Only total commitment on a scale not seen since the end of the second world
war can ensure US success in Iraq, the Weekly Standard insisted, but the
problem for George Bush is that he can't give that commitment, at least not
if he values his presidency.

Many US voters don't share the neo-conservatives' obsession with
redesigning the Middle East with Texas as a model, and they can quite
reasonably ask what they are getting for their money. For the $100bn or so
spent on the invasion, they have seen the welcome departure of Saddam
Hussein, but that was supposed to be the grand finale of the war, not the
overture. Instead, they are stuck with an open-ended military occupation
costing $4bn a month and which could drag on for years.

Despite the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad last week and the
continuing sabotage and killings, the US defence secretary, Donald
Rumsfeld, and Paul Bremer, the chief civilian administrator in Iraq, both
insist there is no need for extra troops.

A different view came recently from James Dobbins, who helped to manage the
reconstruction of Bosnia and Kosovo, and also served as a special envoy for
Bush in Afghanistan. Dobbins looked at the size of the stabilisation forces
previously sent to Bosnia and Kosovo - both considered successful
operations - and adjusted the figures to take account of Iraq's larger

Using the Bosnian model, he concluded that to be effective in Iraq the US
would need 258,000 troops on the ground. Using the Kosovo model, that
figure rose to 526,000. The current deployment in Iraq of some 170,000
troops, of which 148,000 are US forces, suggests a serious shortfall.

But the Bush administration can do little about it without getting egg on
its face. The three possible options are (a) send more US troops, (b)
create a multinational force under UN auspices or (c) reconstitute the
Iraqi army.

Although neo-conservative dogma favours the all-American option, the US
does not have troops to spare, and training more would take time and money.
Seeking to expand the army for a war that was supposedly won four months
ago also would be far too hazardous politically as a presidential election

Militarily, the UN route is a worse option, raising a host of issues about
the differences in language, capabilities and equipment of a multinational
force, as well as difficulties with command and logistics. The US resists
the UN option for ideological reasons.

That leaves the option of reconstituting the Iraqi army that was disbanded
as part of the sweeping US de-Baathification programme. Currently, most of
its 400,000 officers and men are being paid between $50 and $150 a month to
stay at home.

Recalling the Iraqi troops looks like a quick and easy solution, but the US
insists there is no point at present. Apart from questions of allegiance,
they don't have the required training, officials say. So the Iraqi army is
being rebuilt slowly from scratch. It is expected to number just 12,000 men
by the end of this year, and 40,000 by the end of next year.

For anyone interested in knowing more about the military options, Anthony
Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies explores
them in detail in his paper, What is next in Iraq.

When Rumsfeld and Bremer say there is no need for extra troops, what they
really mean is that it is preferable to tolerate the current level of
casualties and sabotage than it is to expand the security force. They are
also gambling on a gradual reduction in violence as those responsible for
attacks are rounded up or killed, and hidden supplies of explosives and
ammunition start to run out.

The danger, of course, is that it won't turn out like that. Most of the
trouble so far has come from Sunni Arabs around Baghdad but the Shia
communities - who form the majority - now look increasingly restive. And
then there are the foreign militants, an unknown quantity at present and
potentially a highly destabilising influence. Efforts to placate ordinary
Iraqis by repairing the country's infrastructure could also worsen the
security situation, by creating more soft targets in need of protection.

There is another danger to stability in Iraq that is less often mentioned.
It is Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority. The CPA is the temporary
civilian power, but it is not just paving the way for a new Iraqi
government. It is trying to reshape the country by implementing the
neo-conservatives' "clean break" philosophy.

"Clean break" is a truly revolutionary approach. There are no quick fixes.
If something doesn't work, you knock it down and start again. One example
of this is the extreme lengths that de-Baathification has gone to. Ghassan
Salamé, a UN political advisor in Iraq reported that 1,832 university
professors and 14,000 secondary school heads had been sacked, even though
most of them had only joined the Baath party in order to get a job.

According to the French magazine, Le Nouvel Observateur, it's much the same
with dentists. But if you've got toothache, you don't really care whether
the man with the drill is a Baathist or not.

Politics apart, there is certainly a lot that ought to change in Iraq:
rooting out corruption, making government accountable and transparent, etc,
etc, etc. But as a maximalist approach, "clean break" also maximises the
risk of failure. The neo-conservatives are wedded to it because of their
wider agenda - to create a western-orientated democracy in Iraq that can be
exported to Iran, Syria and other "problem" countries in the region.

But turning Iraq into a neo-conservative paradise - a process
euphemistically and patronisingly described as "nation-building" - cannot
be done in a hurry, and that is the heart of the CPA's problem. Bremer
keeps urging patience, but time is not on his side.

The main political divide in Iraq at present is not between Sunni and Shia,
or between Arabs and Kurds. It is between those who are willing to accept
the US occupation in good faith and those who aren't. Currently, the US
still has the benefit of the doubt, but the longer it seeks to retain
control, the more that will change.

US reluctance to cede control to Iraqis stems from a fear that the wrong
sort of people might get into power and blow the project off course. But
delays can blow it off course too. Iraqi members of the new governing
council - a largely cosmetic body despite its name - must consider their
own credibility with the electorate. There's a limit to how long they can
co-operate with the US and have nothing to show for it.

Not ceding control to Iraqis also creates another problem. It ensures that
all the many grievances and grumbles of ordinary people are directed
against the United States. Giving real power to the governing council would
redirect complaints and focus attention on possible solutions. A report,
Governing Iraq, issued yesterday by the International Crisis Group,
highlighted the CPA's problems.

"It is not realistic, on all available evidence to date," it said, "to
expect the CPA to be capable by itself of adequately caring for the
population's essential needs and successfully ruling Iraq. Nor is it
realistic to imagine that Iraqis will view the present interim governing
council as a credible, legitimate and empowered institution."

The report proposed restricting the CPA's activities to overseeing
security, law and order, and reconstruction. The governing council would
then take charge of day-to-day government through an appointed cabinet, and
would become accountable not to the CPA but to the UN.

That, of course, would be a bitter pill for Bush to swallow, and it would
signal the end of the neo-conservative daydream. But it might be the only
way to avoid the F-word.

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