By Ivan Eland
In the run up to the November 7 elections, U.S. politicians from both parties are telling Iraqis that they are not doing enough to improve their own security. Democrats are disparaging Iraqi security efforts and criticizing the Bush administration for not pressuring Iraqis to do more. In response, the Bush administration is said to be creating a specific timetable of milestones for the Iraqi government to disarm militias, reduce sectarian violence, and increase stability and security in the country.
Such rhetoric makes for good domestic politics, but it demonstrates the height of imperial arrogance. The U.S. invasion and occupation has ripped wide open the already fractious social fabric of Iraq, already torn by three previous wars—the Iran-Iraq War, the first Gulf War, and the combat over the no-fly zones imposed on Iraqi territory between the Gulf War and the U.S. invasion. The unleashing of a sectarian civil war after the U.S. invasion was predictable and predicted, even by the U.S. intelligence community. In the wake of the incursion, the inept U.S. dissolution of the Iraqi army and the removal of Baathist party members from the Iraqi government severely weakened the prospect of any successful Iraqi effort to deter or quell such strife.
Criticizing the bravery and loyalty of new Iraqi security forces is a way to divert attention from the failures of the U.S. military strategy. The U.S. military, even after the debacle in Vietnam, disdained learning how to fight counterinsurgency warfare and continued to buy costly weapons for a war against a major conventional adversary that no longer exists. The U.S. military’s reflexive use of heavy firepower, especially air power, has caused excessive Iraqi casualties and turned the Iraqi people against the United States. Recently, increased violence in Baghdad in response to redoubled U.S. security operations shows that U.S. forces are part of the problem in Iraq, not the solution. Until it was too late, the United States underemphasized winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, the most crucial element of waging successful counterinsurgency warfare.
In short, U.S. politicians are essentially blaming Iraqis for not squelching the chaos and mayhem created by the United States. Yet, if the best military in world history cannot disarm militias and pacify Iraq, how does the U.S. government expect the inexperienced Iraqi security forces to do so?
The Iraqi central government’s authority is not extensive because Iraq is already effectively partitioned into decentralized fiefdoms policed by sectarian and ethnic militias. Furthermore, the shaky Iraqi government is dependent on the political support of the radical Shi’ite militias that it is supposed to be disarming. Even the U.S. military is afraid to make more enemies by disarming these militias, which aren’t yet launching widespread attacks against U.S. forces.
The United States is giving the Iraqi government a timetable of benchmarks to enhance security with the implicit threat that if they are not met, the United States will penalize the Iraqis or change its military strategy. Such threats will have little effect, because the Iraqi government is incapable of disarming the militias and otherwise improving security. So perhaps the Bush administration is setting up the Iraqis for failure so that an excuse can be found, after what looks to be an election debacle at home, to begin a slow withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
A slow withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, like “Vietnamization” during the later stages of the Vietnam War, will only delay the inevitable—policy failure—while getting many more U.S. service men and women killed in the meantime.
Instead, the U.S. should withdraw its forces rapidly to motivate the Shi’a and the Kurds running the government to share Iraqi’s oil wealth with the Sunnis, thus buying their agreement to peacefully accept the already partitioned Iraq. Militias would not be disarmed by the central government, but would police their own designated areas. In fact, the central government would remain only as a confederate shell or be dissolved entirely. Although not perfect, this scenario is Iraq’s last hope to avoid an escalating civil war and give Iraqis the hope of some peace and prosperity.
-Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.