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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:


  • Future-looking
    looks to the present and future, not at the past decision to invade
  • Bipartisan
    purports to inspire, in U.S. politics, a bipartisan way forward, the forging of a U.S. national consensus, and synergy among U.S. governmental entities, including relevant executive branch interagency public management reforms and capacity-building
  • Grave and deteriorating
    calls the current situation in Iraq “grave and deteriorating,” and the situation in Baghdad and several provinces “dire;” suggests that “time is running out”
    • notes that there had been nearly 2,900 U.S. troops killed and 21,000 wounded, that the United States has spent roughly $400 billion for involvement in Iraq and that estimates of the eventual final cost run as high as $2 trillion (note that, since the report was released, U.S. military dead reportedly have surpassed 3,000 and the number of wounded also has risen)
    • notes that 3,000 Iraqi civilians are being killed every month, and that attacks against coalition and Iraqi security forces were up to 180 per month in October 2006, from 70 per month in January 2006
    • notes UN figures estimating 1.6 million displaced persons within Iraq and up to 1.7 million having fled the country (out of a population of roughly 27 million)
    • notes that Iraqi unemployment is estimated to be between 20 to 60 percent (the latter point perhaps also implying the lack of reliable economic measures to accompany the severe economic hardships) and is facing inflation in excess of 50 percent
    • states that Iraq lacks a banking system, or that Iraq’s bank system does not permit the transfer of moneys, apparently requiring payments to be made in cash (as is the case with the payment of compensation to soldiers, who apparently then have to go on leave to take the cash to their families, undermining force levels and military readiness)
  • U.S. Obligation to help
    “Because 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.”
  • Appraising diverse violence
    notes the complexity of the sources of violence as including sectarian militias vying for power, anti-government insurgents, limited numbers of foreign fighters, and al-Qaeda in Iraq; identifies sources of violence as including:
    • Sunni Arab insurgency responsible for most attacks on Americans
      • former elements of Saddam Hussein regime
      • disaffected Sunni Arab Iraqis, possibly fearful of Sunnis, in the minority, losing power for the first time since
      • common criminals
      • significant support in Sunni Arab community
    • al-Qaeda in Iraq
      • largely Iraqi, largely Sunni Arab
      • roughly 1,300 foreign fighters play a support role or carry out suicide operations
    • sectarian violence responsible for largest number of Iraqi civilian casualties and pose threat to long-term stability
      • Madhi Army, Shia militia led by Moqtada al-Sadr, as many as 60,000, with supporters in “Sadr City” Baghdad slum with 2.5 million inhabitants; several observers raised the prospect that al-Sadr aspired to follow a Hizbollah model, a political party controlling government services while also sustaining its own independent army
      • Badr Brigade, Shia militia led by Abdul Aziz-al-Hakim, affiliated with Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
    • criminals, organized crime additional source of violence
    • four of Iraq’s 18 provinces are highly insecure: Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala and Salah ad Din, 40 percent of Iraq’s 26 million population (Baghdad holds 6 million, roughly one-fourth of the national population; 2.5 million are in the “Sadr City” slum)
      • Baghdad violence is Sunni vs. Shiite
      • Anbar violence is largely due to Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda in Iraq
    • Kirkuk violence is between Arab-Kurd-Turkmen
    • violence in Basra and the south involves intra-Shia power struggles
  • Elections and constitution positives
    nevertheless notes the positive developments of Iraqi elections and drafting and adoption of a constitution
  • Goals and milestones
    agrees with U.S. goals of an Iraq that can defend, govern and sustain itself, and reinforces importance of achieving Iraqi government’s milestones, including enactment of key laws:
    • Provincial Election Law
    • Petroleum Law
    • De-Baathification Law
    • Militia Law
    • provincial elections
    • Iraqi security control over Army, provinces, culminating ultimately in Iraqi security self-reliance
    • control over inflation
  • Opposing immediate or timed withdrawal, or open-ended commitment
    says that U.S. withdrawal would result in circumstances worsening and a need to return to Iraq later, and cautions against immediate withdrawal or a timetable for withdrawal (but see below), but also warns against an open-ended commitment
  • U.S. force levels and mission, Iraqi security forces
    • notes that the Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq, under U.S. leadership, has trained approximately 326,000 Iraqi security services,
      • Iraqi Army 138,000, projected to have 118 battalions in 36 brigades under 10 divisions by the end of 2006), with Iraqi control over roughly one-third of Iraqi security forces and U.S. control over the rest
      • but notes that even-numbered Iraqi divisions signed up to serve a specific area and have refused or been reluctant to redeploy
      • questions Iraqi readiness 
    • calls for a greater shift in the U.S. military role towards training, equipping, supporting and advising, including extensive embedding of U.S. personnel with Iraqi forces, especially those with a counterterrorism mission
    • looks towards a possible withdrawal of U.S. combat brigades by the first quarter of 2008
    • adds the condition “subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground,” making the ISG position not necessarily much different that the current U.S. stance that as the Iraqi army “stands up” coalition forces will “stand down”
    • does not foresee the withdrawal of combat brigades necessary for force protection, nor the withdrawal of U.S. forces proposed to be extensively embedded in Iraqi forces
    • calls for a public disavowal of a desire for permanent bases in Iraq by the president
  • Non-voluntary civilian assignments to Iraq
    raises the prospect of U.S. civil servants being assigned to Iraq without volunteering
  • U.S. support tied to milestones
    envisions withholding U.S. military, political or economic support from the Iraqi government if milestones are not met
  • U.S. withdrawal as negotiating carrot
    suggests using the prospect of withdrawal as an inducement for sectarian parties to negotiate
  • Constructive engagement within Iraq, sectarian dialogue
    • calls for engagement of all factions in Iraq except the al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorist group
    • calls for U.S. efforts to engage with Shia leaders, the Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani and Moqtada al-Sadr, and insurgent and militia leaders
  • International multilateral diplomacy
    calls for a multilateral international “New Diplomatic Offensive” including a multilateral Iraq International Support Group aimed at strengthening Iraq sovereignty and development, Baghdad conferences for the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and effort on Arab-Israeli and Lebanon issues
  • Iran and Syria
    envisions the diplomatic “offensive” to include an effort at direct U.S. engagement of Iran and Syria, not to include the Iranian nuclear matter
  • Iran accused of fueling violence
    openly accuses Iran of providing arms, financial support and training to Shiite militias within Iraq and political support to Shiite parties and calls on Iran to stem the flow of arms and training to Iraqi violent factions
  • Iraqi national reconciliation
    • calls for progress on review of constitution and laws relating to federalism and power structures and oil-revenue sharing, calls for provincial elections
    • calls for reconciliation process to include the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of militia members
    • calls for far-reaching amnesty
    • questions de-Baathification
    • reinforces the milestones set out above
    • calls for non-politicized Non-governmental organization (NGO) registration
    • Kirkuk
      calls for a referendum on Kirkuk joining the Kurdish region to be put off, and the city’s fate to be settled by international arbitration (Kirkuk is an oil-rich multi-ethnic city adjacent to the Kurdish region, that could be subsumed into the Kurdish region)
  • Iraqi governmental institution-building
    • notes problems with corruption and infiltration by militias
    • paradoxically notes that some efforts to combat corruption have produced red tape obstructing needed work
    • calls for greater accountability, reform, and capacity-building
  • Police and criminal justice
    • notes corruption and infiltration of police by militias, inability to control crime, and security vulnerabilities of judicial system
    • calls for the Ministry of Interior to be reformed and reorganized, and for that Ministry to purge the Iraqi Police Service of bad elements and introduce best practices
    • calls for greater assistance and greater capacity building for police and criminal justice, and a bigger role for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
    • calls for DOJ to expand support for the creation and security of Iraqi courts
    • calls for the Iraqi National Police (25,000, with counterinsurgency training) and the Iraqi Border Police (28,000) to be transferred to the Ministry of Defense (MOD) and be assisted by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) as part of the Iraqi MOD
    • calls for the Facilities Protection Service (145,000), essentially in-house militias for various government agencies, to all be transferred to be under a reformed Ministry of the Interior
  • Oil
    • calls for an oil law on local and regional oil rights, and creating a legal and fiscal framework for investment
    • calls for the United States to disavow any desire to take over Iraqi oil
    • but conversely calls for foreign investment in Iraqi oil
    • notes decline in oil production
    • calls for enhanced security and building of infrastructure
    • calls for anti-corruption accountability, including web site posting of contracts, volumes and prices
    • calls for U.S.-World Bank support for best contracting practices and U.S. support for Ministry of Oil efforts to improve accounting
    • calls for end of domestic subsidies
  • Economic development
    • calls for increased U.S. aid, to $5 billion per year
    • bemoans lack of organization among U.S. agencies, and calls for public management reforms, such as:
      • the designation of an Iraq reconstruction czar, a senior advisor for economic construction in Iraq
      • the perpetuation of the inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (for as long as there are assistance programs to monitor)
      • greater authority over funding for the chief of mission in Iraq
    • highlights the importance of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program
    • calls for greater coordination and integration with other international aid efforts
  • U.S. intelligence
    • noted reports that fewer than 10 analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) with more than two years’ experience studying the Iraqi insurgency, and otherwise bemoaned limited intelligence efforts, such as relating to militias
    • calls for the director of national intelligence (DNI) and the secretary of defense to devote significantly greater resources to understanding threats and sources of violence inside Iraq
    • calls for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to help develop Iraqi intelligence, and to establish a counterterrorism intelligence center in Iraq for intelligence-led counterterrorism efforts
    • calls for greater foreign language and cultural knowledge by U.S. personnel
    • calls for more accurate data collection on violence
  • Involuntary civilian deployments into harm’s way
    raises the prospect of assigning U.S. civil servants to Iraq without their having volunteered for the duty
  • U.S. troops between Arabs and Israelis
    raises the prospect of Israel returning the Golan Heights and that of an international force including U.S. troop deploying along the border
  • Afghanistan
    makes generalized pronouncements on continued assistance to Afghanistan

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.


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