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Volume 3,  Number 22               July 6 - 12, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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US fails post-war Iraq examination

By Jim Lobe

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WASHINGTON - In a sign of flagging confidence in the Bush administration's performance in post-war Iraq, a task force from the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has called for the occupation authority to give the United Nations a much greater role in establishing Iraqi political institutions, among other measures.

In a 25-page report, former UN ambassador Thomas Pickering and former defense secretary James Schlesinger offered what they politely called "several recommendations for mid-course adjustments" in the US-dominated occupation which appeared, however, to amount to a vote of no-confidence in Washington's course to date.

As a first step, it said, President George W Bush should give a major foreign policy address to the nation to explain the importance of the mission, as well as the costs and risks of US engagement there, subjects that senior US officials have preferred to avoid to date.

The implicit and, at times, explicit criticism contained in the report is particularly remarkable given the prominence of the two authors, who chair a CFR task force in Iraq of 25 former senior US policy makers and regional experts. Pickering, the highest-ranking US diplomat when he retired from the foreign service in the mid-1990s, served as former president George H W Bush's ambassador to the UN during the first Gulf War in 1991.

Schlesinger, who served in several cabinet positions under a number of Republican presidents, was an outspoken supporter of the decision to go to war in Iraq and has long been close to Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, who is responsible for US military operations in Iraq and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) headed by the civilian administrator, L Paul Bremer.

The report faults the administration for "a series of false starts" and failing to offer any clear "vision and strategy" for Iraq's political future, to more aggressively engage Iraqi leaders at all levels, to speak with one voice about how it will deal with Iraqi oil, and to encourage the active involvement of the UN secretary general's special representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello, in stabilizing the situation and building international support for reconstruction.

And, in advice which the administration is unlikely to want to hear at the moment, it calls for Washington to make clear that it will be prepared to sustain the some 200,000 US troops currently deployed in and around Iraq "for as long as necessary".

That number not only amounts to more than twice the 75,000-troop estimate made by the Pentagon before the war, which the CFR task force estimated would by itself cost the US Treasury nearly US$17 billion a year, or more than the entire US aid budget. It is also consistent with estimates made before the war by the recently retired army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, estimates that were ridiculed at the time as "way off the mark" by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and dismissed by Rumsfeld himself.

"US officials must err on the side of caution," the report said, cautioning that many of the 30,000 military and police forces which Washington is trying to recruit from other countries will not be able to replace US troops "on a one-to-one basis".

The report comes amid rising concern here about the situation in Iraq well over two months since US forces took control of Baghdad. Over the past several weeks, US troops have been killed in guerrilla-type attacks at the rate of one every other day across the "Sunni belt" of central Iraq, while the killings on Tuesday of six British soldiers and the wounding of eight others in apparently coordinated attacks in the southern part of the country shocked analysts who had thought that occupation forces were making good progress in winning "hearts and minds" in the Shi'ite-dominated region.

Moreover, apparent sabotage over the past week of key oil and gas pipelines has created major new headaches - and uncertainties - for the CPA, which clearly lacks the ability to patrol the more than 4,000 miles of pipelines that traverse the country and which, as a result, is unable to restore reliable power to key industries and municipal services that make life bearable in the scorching summer heat.

"The persistence of attacks will make it all the more difficult for the US to withdraw American forces from Iraq," the Wall Street Journal noted in a front page article on Wednesday. The attack on the British, it said, could mean that "dangers to coalition forces are spreading, not receding".

While Schlesinger's and Pickering's report deals with the military situation only in passing, its main criticisms and recommendations have to do with the occupation's major political figures. Washington has failed to provide any vision of Iraq's future political order, according to the report, other than to assert a series of negatives: that the Ba'ath Party won't be permitted to return, that former exiles will not dominate a provisional administration, and that the US will not permit Iran "to remake Iraq in Iran's image".

"The lack of a promising vision and a coherent strategy to shape Iraq's political landscape has had serious implications for the success of US-led efforts in Iraq," the report states, noting considerable uncertainty persists with respect to the CPA's own structure and authority, all of which contributes to greater confusion.

The CPA should stick to its latest plan to create an Iraqi interim administration and convene a constitutional conference, but it also needs to lay out a "step-by-step" transfer of authority to Iraqi institutions geared to specific benchmarks to Iraqis themselves know better what to expect.

In addition, US officials should make "more concerted efforts to speak through Iraqi leaders by broadening their interaction with leadership at the local, regional and national levels". In a Washington Post column on Sunday, ambassador Tim Carney, who spent 90 days with the CPA, complained that US officials were far too isolated from the population.

Because of the critical importance of security, Washington should do more to recruit international civilian police and police monitors, an effort in which Bremer should fully engage Vieira de Mello, who first arrived in Iraq nearly a month ago but has played virtually no role at all to date.

Washington also needs to recruit international and US experts in criminal investigation amid reports suggesting that "powerful criminals [in Iraq] are already in place and expanding their control".

The CPA should also create a civilian conservation corps for immediate employment directed primarily at members of the military, which was summarily dissolved by Bremer several weeks ago in a move which the report's authors said raised "reasonable questions", particularly given the lack of plans to address the joblessness and additional security threats that should have been foreseen.

Above all, Washington has failed to take advantage of Vieira de Mello's possible role despite the fact that the administration lobbied hard for his appointment. In addition to approaching other governments to take part in the reconstruction effort, his active involvement could "change the general Iraqi perception that post-conflict reconstruction is an exclusively American project".

His experience - he acted as the UN's representative, and hence de facto governor, in East Timor until independence - would also be useful in establishing a credible transition, according to the report in what could only be interpreted as a slap at Bremer and the CPA.

Finally, in another implicit rebuke to Rumsfeld, who last year effectively dismantled the army's Peacekeeping Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the co-chairs called for the Pentagon to make a major investment in training for what the report called peace-stabilization and post-conflict reconstruction.

Noting that Washington has intervened abroad six times in the past 12 years and that the administration has done so twice in the past 18 months, the report noted that "it is time that the United States stopped treating these exercises as if they were extraordinary events".

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June 27, 2003


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