Iraq Study Group Report - Highlights and Observations  

Steven C. Welsh
January 9, 2007

Report highlights ~ Additional observations


Amid continuing violence in Iraq, debates over surges in troop levels, and reports that American military deaths have surpassed 3,000, President George W. Bush on Jan. 8, 2007, will begin the process of publicly announcing modifications to Iraq policy.


The unofficial Iraq Study Group (ISG) on Dec. 6, 2006, released in Washington, D.C., what was billed as a unanimous bipartisan Iraq Study Group Report on Iraqi nation-building and related U.S. involvement, including military deployments.  Its 79 recommendations the subject of debate, the report nevertheless could help establish perspective by framing issues and concerns, and describing the “landscape,” literally and figuratively, of post-invasion Iraq. 


Some highlights of the ISG Report


 Some of the ISG report’s themes, subjects and proposals follow:


Additional observations


The report openly accuses Iran of involvement with Iraqi sectarian violence but calls for the United States to at least attempt engagement with Iran and Syria as part of a broader “New Diplomatic Offensive” to include an “Iraq International Support Group.”


Calling the situation in Iraq “grave and deteriorating,” and that of Baghdad and several provinces “dire,” suggesting that “time is running out,” the ISG nevertheless argues that “[b]ecause events in Iraq have been set in motion by American decisions and actions, the United States has both a national and a moral interest in doing what it can to give Iraqis an opportunity to avert anarchy.”  The report otherwise refrains from addressing the decision to invade and instead purports to find a bipartisan way forward.  While it raises the prospects of U.S. troop withdrawal by early 2008, with the exception of embedded advisors and troops necessary for force protection, it also says that recommendations for such changes were “subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground.”  It embraces neither a firm timetable nor an open-ended commitment.  And it warns that if U.S. forces withdraw too soon they may simply have to return later, and that an unstable Iraq could serve as a base for international terrorism. 


As such, as a practical matter the report’s stance does not necessarily diverge significantly from the U.S. aspiration voiced in the past to “stand down” as Iraqi forces “stand up;” note that virtually all the current Iraqi violence could have been described by at least some as “unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground.”  But the report does emphasize a call to shift U.S. military priorities more rapidly to training, equipping and advising.


But only indirectly does the report imply one particular bottom-line reality in Iraq.  Insurgents and other violent actors are prolonging the foreign occupation, and the in-fighting is weakening Iraq and undermining Iraqi independence.  In short, the Iraqi in-fighting is a recipe for ongoing heavy foreign involvement.  With the invasion and regime-change long past, “re”-construction projects lagging, coalition partners otherwise might have preferred concentrating on development.  But the violence prompts a continued significant security role for coalition forces, and calls by some American leaders for at least a temporary ramping up of the U.S. presence.


Despite the fact that a seminal core problem facing Iraq is lawlessness, the term “rule of law” appears in only one paragraph in the content of the report, and only then when expressing the panel’s belief that the U.S. military, despite its extensive military justice system, lacks expertise regarding rule of law.  To its credit, however, the ISG, with nine of its 10 members holding law degrees, does note the importance of building a strong constitutional system, as well as the need for laws, such as a petroleum law, to provide a strong framework for stability.  It also cites the need to reform and “clean out” the Iraqi police forces and establish a strong, safe court system, with the assistance of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and its Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  However, the report could do more to note the help that allies can offer in such areas, such as the European Union (EU) and Canada, as exemplified by the EUJUST LEX project.


The report focuses strongly on the need for Iraqi institution-building and national reconciliation, multilateral international diplomacy and assistance, and Iraqi economic development, especially in the oil sector.  


Noting the interweaving complexities of security threats, national reconciliation, and political and economic development, the report notes the need for a workable, cooperative national political life unifying diverse forces, the disarmament of militias and their reintegration into peaceful society, the proper formation or reform of government institutions, greater access to basic services impacting quality of life, and for economic development, especially in the oil sector, to better provide for the needs of all Iraqi constituencies.


The report arguably does not “cut to the quick” of the Iraqi situation from a U.S. strategic standpoint, in that, other than noting that Iraq has the second-largest known oil reserves on earth and is situated at ethnic and cultural cross-roads, it does not address some of the other “cold-eyed” strategic realities or how they might motivate policymakers, rightly or wrongly.  The United States has achieved an enormous forward presence in the heart of the Middle East, with a potential legacy of de facto permanent bases with pre-positioned forces and equipment; a large number of battle-experienced persons, more familiar than before, for better or for worse,  with the region and conditions “on the ground;” the removal of whatever potential threat and “headaches” Saddam Hussein posed; and the sandwiching of rogue state Iran between two nations with a strong U.S. military presence.


At the same time, as touched upon by the report, the United States faces the tragedy of military and civilian casualties; the potential for a long-term strategic fiasco if there is an exit from Iraq that permits Iraq’s development into a failed state, terrorist haven akin to pre-Sept. 11 Afghanistan; significant financial costs that the report estimates could run as high as $2 trillion; and lingering political fallout over the nature of the decision to invade. 


As a practical matter, in addition to the long-term fundamental questions, leading concerns at present are the casualties and the violence, arguably followed by the desire for oil revenues to pick up to finance Iraqi development and the need for greater economic development generally, especially job creation and basic services.  But with respect to the casualties, while broad-brushed talk of national reconciliation and international engagement are very important, the casualties arguably also are impacted by operations, tactics, equipment and mismanagement, such as delays or even failures at providing a safe and effective means of detecting and removing bombs, and an apparent persistence at sending troops into harm’s way without adequate protection.


The ISG report mentions “improvised explosive devices” only twice.  Other than calling for more intelligence efforts on the bomb-makers, there is not much focus on tactics or frameworks for developing greater effectiveness.  And while the report touches on broad U.S. public management issues – such as budgeting and interagency cooperation with development projects, the formation of new bureaucratic positions and the perpetuation of an inspector general position, as well as the concept of forced assignments in Iraq for U.S. civil servants -- it is not necessarily “hard-hitting” or precise at addressing why the management of the Iraqi conflict, whether it be effective military equipment or economic development, has seemed to be so slow, plodding and ineffectual.


Meanwhile there has continued to be an ongoing stream of Department of Defense (DOD) casualty-related news releases reading “died of injuries suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his military vehicle” or “when an improvised explosive device detonated near their HMMWV.”  Reflecting upon the periodically shoddy logistics of past wars, one might reasonably begin to wonder whether the massive disease- and sanitation-related casualties of the Civil War, and questions over the availability of adequate footwear or winter clothing in some of the 20th Century theaters, have as their latter-day counterparts, decisions to send troops onto dangerous Iraqi streets in spruced-up SUV’s.


Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has criticized the report as disrespecting Iraqi sovereignty, reacting unfavorably, for example, to proposals for the renewed and expanded embedding of U.S. personnel in Iraqi security forces and the sharing of oil revenues among Iraqi constituencies.  President George W. Bush initially said that the report was worthy of serious study, but that he also would be receiving reports and input from, among others, the Department of Defense, the Department of State and the National Security Council.  Bush reportedly is scheduled to discuss modifications to Iraq policies in a speech the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007.