Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Political Reconciliation Is the Key to Solving Iraq's Security Problems

Congress tasked a group of retired senior U.S. military officers with evaluating the readiness of the Iraqi army to take sole control of their country's security. Not good news:

Iraq's army, despite measurable progress, will be unable to take over internal security from U.S. forces in the next 12 to 18 months and "cannot yet meaningfully contribute to denying terrorists safe haven," according to a report on the Iraqi security forces published today.

The report, prepared by a commission of retired senior U.S. military officers, describes the 25,000-member Iraqi national police force and the Interior Ministry, which controls it, as riddled with sectarianism and corruption. The ministry, it says, is "dysfunctional" and is "a ministry in name only." The commission recommended that the national police force be disbanded.

In my opinion, though, this is the most important point in the report -- in fact, it's the subtext that underlies every other war-related problem:
The report expresses concern about what it calls the massive U.S. military logistical "footprint" in Iraq and its effect on perceptions and problems. "The unintended message conveyed is one of 'permanence,' an occupying force, as it were," the report says. It recommends reconsideration of "efficiency, necessity . . . and cost" and calls for "significant reductions, consolidations and realignments" of U.S. forces.

In other words, the Bush administration's America-centric approach in Iraq is a political problem -- and that political problem has to be addressed first:
All of Iraq's 18 provinces should be transferred to government control, the report says -- only seven currently have that status -- and a formal status of forces agreement should be pursued with the Iraqi government. "We believe that all [U.S.] bases in Iraq should demonstrate evidence of Iraqi sovereignty," including flying the Iraqi flag, the report says. "There is a fine line," it says, "between assistance and dependence."

Although the administration has said repeatedly that security improvements will create "breathing space" for Iraqi sectarian and political forces to move toward national reconciliation, the commission turns that equation on its head, saying that long-term security advances are impossible without political progress.

Despite all that remains to be done on the military front, it says, "the single most important event that could immediately and favorably affect Iraq's direction and security is political reconciliation. . . . Sustained progress within the Iraqi Security Forces depends on such a political agreement." All progress, it concludes, "seems to flow from this most pressing requirement."

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