The panel discussion "Exiting Iraq" took place at the 60th annual conference in November, 2006.
Panel I: Exiting Iraq
Jay Garner, Brian Katulis, David Satterfield, Qubad Talabany, Bing West
Bing West, GAMA Corporation
Our subject today being "Exiting Iraq," what I'd like our distinguished panelists to do is for each panelist to leave you with one idea about exiting Iraq. I'll begin by saying I don't see us exiting Iraq but I do see a major political deal to change the size of our forces and the nature of our forces sometime in the next four to six months. I say that because I'm just back from my tenth trip to Iraq – I was in 15 different units over ten different cities – and the nature of the war is fundamentally tactical. It is not fought with central cohesion. It's fought for the control of 13 different cities on a local level. If you're looking at a model for security in Iraq, it's closest in analogy to the Old West in the 1870s, when if you wanted to go from Tombstone to Dodgewood to Carson City, you needed a local tough guy in each of those cities who was gradually establishing control.
It's a low-level fight to the extent that the average American soldier may fire his rifle once at a target in three months. So we're not dealing with large combat. Out of that comes the making, I would propose, of the deal you're probably going to see between the Congress and the executive branch. Because the fighting is of low level, you could look at reducing our overall forces substantially if you gradually or maybe not so gradually increased our advisory effort enormously. Right now we have 140,000 troops in the country, of whom 40,000 are on the front lines and the other 100,000 are in forward operating bases – and not to make light of them, but the grunts on the ground sometimes refer to what they call the "fobbits," those who live in these huge bases and never get outside the gates. So is there an opportunity to reduce our forces? Yes, given the level of the war.
The other side of the equation though – 140,000 American soldiers, 3,000 advisors. My goodness gracious, less than two percent. If you're serious about building up the Iraqi forces there's something wrong with that equation. I think just coming back from Iraq that really throughout our ranks you sense they know that. They get it. So almost independent of the Congress and the executive branch, the military is most likely going to move in a major way – reducing the overall forces but really building up the advisors. Why? If you go to any Iraqi battalion or any police unit, the first thing the advisors there tell you is they can't stand without us. They're not ready yet and probably will not be for several more years. So if you hear one chorus from over there, it's to embed more Americans with the Iraqis – then you don't need as many Americans.
So I would suggest that what you're probably going to see between the Congress and the Executive branch is an agreement to reduce the overall level of our forces and to increase our advisory effort. It's going to be focused on these 13 separate cities, these different wars that are going on.
You can say, where does that leave the politics? It buys us time, but at that particular point I'll stop and say I was just dealing with the military side but we are very fortunate to have some experts on the political side. So I'll make my proposal about the exit and leave the politics to the experts on the politics.
My proposal is there will not be an exit. There will be a deal which means that when the next presidential candidates come forward in a year or so, whoever they are, they will all be working from the same deal that they cut sometime in 2007, which will take some of the poison out of our political system.
That's my reading of the tea leaves, but now I turn to the experts. I'd like to ask General Garner, who has more experience at the beginning of this than any of us, to start off. Then to follow with Mr. Katulis and then go to Mr. Talabany, and finally to have Ambassador Satterfield be the cleanup hitter and explain to all of us what we have agreed upon as a panel. So without further ado, I will start with General Garner.
General Jay Garner (Ret)
It's a real honor to be here with you and be able to talk about what is the favorite subject of many of us: what can be done in Iraq? Let me just continue from where Bing West was and talk about security. I want to talk to you very rapidly about three things. One is security, the other is economics, and the third one is the government. At the end of that I've got a couple of dogs and cats I'll throw in the back of that.
On security, the buzzword today is redeployment. I think we should talk about redeployment. What is redeployment?
What we have right now is a 100- certified Iraqi battalions – about 110, I think. I'm not sure what certified means but it does not mean that they're capable of operating by themselves. A few of them are maybe somewhere between five and ten. But I think right now the way we should handle this is to divide the contested areas – the 13 areas that Bing was talking about – divide those in battalion areas of operation. As an Iraqi battalion becomes capable of independent operations, then we should take that Iraqi battalion and give them that area of operations and pull either the US or British forces out of that. So you have overnight a change of faces on the street. You take that US or British force and you remove it to a containment area that is inside Iraq, fairly near where the Iraqi battalion is, and it becomes a 911 force for that Iraqi battalion for a specified period of time. Those Iraqi battalions have to be robustly advised at every level from company level and above.
What happens then is as the Iraqi force, which is robustly advised, begins to prove that it absolutely can handle stabilization and can handle the operations in its area, then you make the consideration if you want the second redeployment of that US battalion out of the country, either somewhere else in the Middle East or back home.
So what we have is a two-phase redeployment. First, take our troops off the street, put Iraqi faces on the street. Put our troops in safe havens or containment areas where they are a 911 force and can strike out of that in support of the Iraqi unit. You have a two-phased deployment plan. Once that's successful, you feel comfortable the Iraqis can handle it, you don't much need that 911 force anymore – then you can make another measured decision on whether to remove the US unit out of country or not.
So the timeline for redeployment really becomes a timeline based on the capability of the Iraqi military. I think that's the road we have to go down.
The second thing in security is we need to reequip the Iraqi army with US equipment. What we've given them, in my opinion, is mostly junk. If you give them US equipment, it does several things. Number one, it provides them with a sense of elitist partnership with the Army and Marine Corps units that they work with. It gives us control over the spare parts, so if things really go south over there we can shut down the army by holding back those spare parts.
The final thing in security I think we need to do is we need, in this nation, to develop a Manhattan Project that learns how to counter the IED problem. I realize we've got efforts going in the Department of Defense and all that, but I'm talking about a real national focus on what's killing and maiming our troops and what's killing and maiming Iraqi people. I think we put together that project, we take absolutely the best technical minds that we have in this nation, and we put them under a very stable, well-admired technical leader – I'd say someone cut from the same cloth as Bill Perry, the former Secretary of Defense – that can solve this problem for us or at least get us some counters for this problem.
Finally on the advisory effort, the advisors have to be combat-experienced, best of breed, handpicked. They are the people who are going to make this work or not work. That is going to be the measure of our success.
Let me turn to government. I'm not a proponent of my definition of partition or Balkanization. I don't want to see at this point in time the break-up of the nation. But I am a proponent for very strong regional governments, along the lines of Shi'a, Sunni, Kurd – much like you see in northern Iraq today. The strength of Iraq, I believe, is in the regions. The strength of Iraq is not in the national government but inside those regions. What you have today, you don't have any identifiable Iraqi leader that's acceptable to everybody. You do have identifiable leaders inside those regions which are accepted by the people of those regions.
I think we should have a referendum to determine which region the people want to live in and they should vote on whether they want to be Shi'a, Sunni or Kurd. You take Baghdad out of that set, it's a different problem. But you have that referendum among the remaining 17 provinces. Then once that's done you redraw boundaries. In other words, you have an Iraqi gerrymandering of the boundaries. If you're a Republican you really understand that it becomes a pretty easy thing to do.
You retain the federal government in Baghdad but in those regions they're responsible for security, for internal security. They have their own taxation system, they write a constitution. They develop their education programs. They can state a regional religion or regional language. In the federal government in Baghdad you have the same thing. You have a national taxation program, you have delineation of the currency for the nation. You send members to OPEC and the UN. You have minimum standards for health and education. You raise an army that handles the external security of the nation.
What this does is it creates a tribal, ethnic and religious comfort zone in each one of those regions for the people, so that the power of the government for the Iraqi people is felt by the government of the region. In other words, the "velvet fist" of government is felt at the regional level and not at the national level. I think that's already allowed for in the constitution, it's somewhat nebulous but it's already allowed for. But I think you need a strong constitutional amendment to really define that and then you need another constitutional amendment that takes a percentage of the oil revenues and provides that percentage to those regions based on their population. So they are all guaranteed a piece of the wealth of Iraq, which is oil. If that sounds somewhat familiar to you, it's a little bit like the Articles of Confederation in the 13 colonies.
Now let me go to the economy. Nothing is going to happen until we solve the economic problem there. What we really need is a Marshall Plan for Iraq. We've never been able to execute one. I'd start with employment of the youth, the 14- to 26-year-old age group. That's the absolute perfect recruiting age for terrorists. I would take a page out of Roosevelt's book in 1932 and create something like the Civilian Conservation Corps where we put the youth to work. We put them to work on things for their nation. We protect them while they're doing that. We pay them a salary, we send part of that home to their families.
The next thing I think we need to do is infuse money directly into the Iraqi people. I would pick a number – I don't know, $500 or $1,000 – to every family that produces an operational weapon or munitions that could be made into an IED.
On reconstruction projects, I think we ought to take those prime contracts for reconstruction projects and we should tell those contractors – those US and European contractors – that the only way we're going to let you implement this contract is on a 51/49 split. You get 51 percent of the work and you bring in Iraqi subcontractors for the other 49 percent of the work. That might not be accomplished as well as you'd like it but what we will be doing is infusing more money into their economy and we'll be building entrepreneurship and building a middle class by doing that.
I think we ought to encourage the Iraqis to have an amendment to their constitution that takes a percentage of the oil revenues and shares it directly with every citizen of Iraq, much like we do in Alaska with our permanent fund. That way we'd be sharing the wealth of Iraq directly with the people of Iraq. We'd show that we have no economic design on Iraqi oil, which I think is an important message to the rest of the world. Then we have the people becoming protective of their own national resources.
Dogs and cats. We need to establish metrics so we know where we are. We have never known where we are over there. You can't establish good metrics for government but you can establish good metrics for how well you're doing in security and how well you're doing on the economic level.
I think we need a massive exchange program – I'm talking about an exchange program in the numbers of thousands – where we bring students over here for trade schools, for academic endeavors and for professional schools. Tomorrow's national leaders over there are today's youth and we ought to be having the maximum influence that we can on them right now.
I think we need to recognize and fold into our planning the strategic value of Kurdistan. We need to establish basing rights with them. I'd put at least two brigades up there and probably an air wing. It would give us a longstanding outpost in that part of the country, which I think is going to be important in future decades. You might look at that somewhat akin to the Philippines after the turn of the century, where it was a coaling station for the Navy so we could keep a presence in the Pacific.
The forces up there would be a quasi-protectorate against incursions by the Iranians or incursions or problems with the Turks, as they seem to always have. It could begin to solve the PKK problem that is one of the major problems in Turkey. If things really go bad, it could give us the basis for strategic reach into the Iranian Kurds in Iran.
I think if we make a measured, reasonable look at how to improve the army, how to do security, how to redeploy in an orderly way, then we have a chance to pull out of there and have a stable government and a stable economy. Thank you very much for your time.
Brian Katulis, Center for American Progress
I want to thank the Middle East Institute for inviting me to participate this morning. It's an honor to take part in this conference. I look out in the audience and see so many Middle East experts and folks who know Iraq really well and I look forward to the questions and answers, because I think we'll have a really fruitful dialogue.
I think it's clear we're at a pivotal moment for US policy in Iraq, with major changes on the horizon. Even before the results of last week's elections came in, it was clear that some important policy shifts were in the works. If you look at comments from top Bush Administration officials, including Ambassador Satterfield, in the weeks before the election the message that was being sent was that some major adjustments were coming.
Now that we have new leadership in Congress I think you'll see an important push for some key changes. American voters registered their discontent with the current Iraq policy in the polls last week. If you look at Newsweek's post-election poll, 85 percent of Americans said that their disapproval over the Bush Administration's handling of Iraq was the main reason why Democrats won these elections. So I think you'll see a more assertive Congress which will place greater demands on the executive branch for changes. One opportunity coming early in the new year will be the supplemental funding bill. Early reports indicate that a $160 billion supplemental funding bill will be submitted to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think the key at this moment, after a pretty bruising political season, is to take a step back and have a serious debate about the right kinds of changes to introduce shifts in policy that will help the United States advance its own interests and bring greater stability not only to Iraq but to the Middle East.
I'm going to focus my comments on three main points this morning. First, I'm going to make the case for a strategic redeployment. It's the name of a plan that Larry Korb and I put out at the Center for American Progress about 14 months ago. Second, I will argue that the political and diplomatic component of US policy is at this point perhaps the most important component in making the right shift in Iraq. Third, I'll highlight what I think is an urgent need to better integrate the security assistance and the political transition support that is being provided to Iraq.
First, on strategic redeployment. Last September the Center for American Progress released a plan that I wrote with Larry Korb, who's a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan Administration. You should have received a copy of it this morning; if not, it's on our website at americanprogress.org. We all know that the Iraq plans and ideas coming from the think tanks/peanut gallery are a dime a dozen these days, but I want to raise some key elements of the plan, in part because a lot of the components eventually became the main alternatives proposed in a consensus plan by progressives, including several congressional Democratic leaders like John Murtha, Carl Levin, Jack Reed and Joe Biden.
Strategic redeployment is an argument for striking the right balance. It's been criticized as "cut and walk" and many different things from its opponents, but the main emphasis we were arguing is that the United States needs to shift its efforts from a current strategy which is heavily focused and heavily invested in military solutions and place more emphasis on other elements of American power, including its diplomatic, political and economic power.
On the troop component, strategic redeployment has two main features. One is a plan for a phased and gradual drawdown of troops, as was discussed by Bing and Jay earlier. But in addition there is a drawdown combined with intensified diplomatic and political efforts. It's an integrated approach; you can't have one without the other.
On the military component, I'd stress two words: phased and gradual. I think we're in for a phased and gradual deployment over a multi-year period. That's what we argue in the strategic redeployment plan. A phased approach would enable the US to continue training the Iraqi forces and provide crucial support to Iraqis. But, importantly, sending notice that we're not going to stay there forever would send a signal to Iraqis and countries in the Middle East region that the United States does not intend to occupy Iraq indefinitely.
At its heart, we're arguing for a shift in the main military mission to one of training and support, which I think is actually underway. In many cases we've argued what a lot of the top commanders in the field have argued on the military front.
The three main arguments we had. One, this strategic redeployment needs to happen because of broader US strategic interests. We need to help restore the strength of US ground forces, which have been ground down by three and a half years of engagement in Iraq. We've argued that more US troops are needed to finish a job that's been left undone in Afghanistan and that instead of refereeing what is emerging as a major civil war in Iraq, US troops might be better placed in a place like Afghanistan.
Second on redeployment, we argue that it could help reduce the violence. When you listen to General Abizaid and many generals in the field, there's a pragmatic recognition that, to quote Abizaid, "We are an antibody in their culture." We need to reduce the footprint in a very big way.
The third argument for military redeployment was to send a signal to the Iraqi leaders that the open-ended commitment and the rhetoric of "stay the course" that was dominant in 2005 and 2006 may have actually served to foster a culture of dependency among Iraq's leaders, preventing them from making tough decisions to move forward. We've trained more than 300,000 Iraqi security forces. I would submit to you that the main problem today is motivation, allegiance and loyalty. These are political issues that need to be addressed.
This leads me to the second point I'd like to highlight. Even though the military and security component is a key element and people are still debating it, if you look at the Sunday talk shows, I would argue that the political and diplomatic part of US policy is at this point the most important.
On diplomacy, the strategic redeployment plan calls for President Bush to personally convene – to intervene and lead a diplomatic initiative in the region to get all of Iraq's neighbors to play a more active role in supporting stability in Iraq and eradicating terrorist networks. Specifically, we call for a peace conference in Iraq that brings together Iraq's top leaders and countries in the region in a stabilization initiative. We argue that the intensified diplomacy is necessary for two reasons. One, to help Iraq's leaders to peacefully settle internal disputes, and second, to marshal more constructive regional support for what's going on in Iraq.
On the internal disputes, General Casey has said, "Iraq is a political-military problem, with the political component written in big block letters. It's not about us, it's about the Iraqis who have to work this out." I think here in November 2006, it's fair to ask the question: will the current political transition process actually yield and benefit the results in terms of stability? It raises the question that perhaps Iraq's political transition is not tackling the fundamental issues that are at the heart of Iraq's multiple conflicts.
Just last week, Iraq's minister of health announced that close to 150,000 Iraqis had been killed in the last three and a half years and anywhere from two million to three million Iraqis had become internally displaced and refugees. We have four major internal conflicts. Eleven months after Iraq's elections, the government has been unable to bridge the internal differences. Here I just pose a question and suggest that there might be contingency planning needed for a Plan B. Perhaps the efforts by Prime Minister Maliki to shuffle the cabinet this week and other things may not succeed and we need to have some sort of Plan B on the political and diplomatic front.
At the surface level, I think a key problem in Iraq is that many of Iraq's leaders are still operating with a policy of hedging their bets, to achieve a temporary or localized degree of stability or putting their eggs in different baskets to achieve political power and authority for their own constituencies. For example, some but not all Shi'ite leaders are simultaneously part of this new national government and still involved in operating independent militias. Some Sunni leaders are in the government too and they continue to maintain ties with groups that espouse violence as a means for political change.
So I think it's easy for us in Washington to propose constitutional amendments but if you look at the political dynamics and what has happened in the last two and a half years or so, it may be very difficult for those actually to be implemented. The main point here is to think about what is our Plan B in the event that the political transition does not stem the violence as was promised.
We argue for more intensified diplomacy in the region. You've seen some important steps, led by Ambassador Satterfield and others, not noted unfortunately enough. The International Compact with Iraq, launched earlier this year, between the Iraqi government and the United Nations, which commits Iraq to a process for reforming its economy and establishing laws and building institutions in return for continued support from the international community. Again, as Congress considers the new supplemental funding request for about $160 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, it might ask the question: where are all of the financial commitments from other countries, particularly countries in the region? It was noted to me that Gulf Arab states will make close to $500 billion in oil profit this year alone. I think the United States would be well worth to ask, is there any kind of greater assistance that can be contributed to the effort?
That leads me to the final and third point and perhaps the answer to Bing's question in terms of some of the insights. Rather than getting into the details and laundry lists of certain policy things we might want to do, I'd suggest that there may be a big strategic question that we all need to ask. President Bush has said it is the combination of the security and a political process that will enable the United States to achieve our objective, which is an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, defend itself and be an ally in the war on terror. We've had a lot of discussions about security benchmarks, political transition benchmarks and economic benchmarks.
I would just raise the question of whether all of these benchmarks are fully integrated. Whether it is enough to simply look at Iraq as thirteen different battles in thirteen different cities, and raise the question that perhaps the United States may be pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into an effort to build an Iraqi national army, an Iraqi national police to support and defend a national government that to this day still lacks the political unity and support from its own leaders. There's a risk that the current US strategy in Iraq is investing billions in security forces who may already be using their weapons to fight several internal conflicts in Iraq; that despite several strong signs in the last six months, the political center may be collapsing; and again, maybe the US continues to spend these billions a month to develop national security forces that are aimed at defending a national government that exists only in name.
I would suggest that to you mostly as a question. What is our Plan B? What are our contingencies if this political transition process does not succeed? I think the plan that we offered, like many other think tanks and others, have good ideas. I hope we're in this position after the elections where we can come together as a country and really talk about these questions.
One main thing is that we need to look at these sectors, the political transition assistance and the security assistance, not as separate. We need integrated benchmarks and I think some work has been done there. But if Iraq's government at the national level lacks the political unity and will, should we continue to provide hundreds of millions of dollars training and equipping a force? What kinds of questions and consequences might result if the political transition fails?
In sum, I think we're in a very interesting period. The next six months will be a very thoughtful period, an opportunity for folks to move beyond the political rhetoric that we saw over the last 12 months or so, and really think about some complex issues. I think there are no easy answers and I think we've got a great panel this morning and folks in the current administration who are working really hard to try and address these issues. I hope we'll have a good dialogue later this morning. Thank you.
Qubad Talabany, Kurdistan Regional Government
It's a pleasure to be here this morning. I'll try to keep my remarks short because the Q&A is always more fun than the long, drawn-out speeches.
Now that the fog of the elections is over, we're back to the reality. We're hoping that Washington will return to some semblance of sanity. I hope we can move beyond the political rhetoric and actually start thinking about substantive steps and sound policies that will actually make progress on the ground.
I have to admit that the title of this panel agitates me a little bit, as it smacks of the defeatist mentality that has gradually been creeping into the political debate. Exiting from Iraq must come as a result of success in Iraq, rather than as a result of failure. Exiting as a result of failure will have major ramifications not just for US credibility in the region but for the lives of ordinary Iraqis, which includes the millions of Kurds who have worked very hard over the last 14 years to gain the advancements that they've made. It will have major ramifications for those throughout the Middle East who were hoping for more democratic reforms and ultimately the exit will leave a major political and security vacuum that will undoubtedly be filled by bad forces in the region.
If the defeatists convince the American public to withdraw their support for the fledgling democracy in Iraq, then we shall make a catastrophic mistake and hand Iraq to the terrorists. The mistake of an early withdrawal will have greater consequences to the world than the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and we all know what happened there. This is much bigger than Iraq now. This is not a time to validate whether it was right or wrong to go into this effort in the first place. The time for that important debate will come but now must not be it.
I'm not here to tell you that all is well and that we're satisfied with the current state of affairs – far from it. Much work needs to be done, but this work must be done by Iraqis primarily. The fight is ours to win or lose, and win we must.
We must remember however that all is not doom and gloom. Iraq is making some substantial progress. Throughout the last three years we drafted and ratified a democratic, permanent constitution. The political process, which has its ups and downs, is progressing all the time. Various leaders from Iraq's diverse backgrounds and different communities are meeting regularly, talking about the key issues that face our country. This may seem mundane to you all here because you expect the government to meet and talk about policies. But in the climate of Iraq, given Iraq's history, the fact that you're having leaders from the various communities face to face on a political table, trying to address these major issues, is a major accomplishment.
Certain parts of Iraq are reveling in a boom of economic development. There is an economic boom in Kurdistan, for example, where six million citizens are living in peace and relative prosperity. There was recently a trade show in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah where over 400 companies from all around the world attended to partake in the development of Iraq. The success in Kurdistan is due in large part to the support of the US government, and this goes way back to the 1990s where our good friend General Jay Garner led the efforts to provide the safe haven. But ultimately it continued throughout the mid-1990s when the United States came in and intervened to prevent – guess what? – an all-out civil war between the Kurdish political parties in the country. It was that involvement that has allowed the creation of a very developed and prosperous region in the Kurdistan region. I'm a little disappointed that the US doesn't make greater mention of this success because its role was very instrumental in this. I would hope that they would realize that we have a major part of the country that is stable, that is developing, and that is prospering.
We've talked a little bit about Iraq's army. It is getting stronger. It's far from ideal but its foundations are impressive. It's making some progress against the terrorists and against the insurgents. I think the concept of increasing the advisors will be an important factor and it will have a positive impact on the development of the Iraqi security forces. We can look at the example of the development of the Iraqi army compared to those of the Interior Ministry forces. There was such a much greater level of embedding of the US forces into the Iraqi army, which has helped professionalize the army. This level of embedding didn't exist in the Ministry of Interior forces, which is why I think we see a much less developed professional system there.
I think there are many ideas we should consider in order to ensure that exiting from Iraq occurs under the right reasons. We've heard benchmarks be thrown out as an idea. It's not an entirely new idea and I don't think it's an entirely American idea. Benchmarks make far greater sense in our opinion than timetables will, as only then will we have a true measure of whether we're heading in the right direction or not. This may come as a surprise to some of you but before the US government announced their benchmarks idea, the Iraqi government had actually discussed and agreed upon their version of the benchmarks dubbed "The Roadmap for Peace in Iraq." The Roadmap was in a sense a set of benchmarks that were designed to tackle the key components of the Iraqi prime minister's National Reconciliation Plan and that process is ongoing. The so-called Roadmap hopefully will have more success than the other famous roadmap that we've heard about over the last few years. It has a deadline. It won't solve all of our problems but it will go a long way to resolving some of the many key issues that are outstanding and are facing our very complex and traumatized society.
Iraq is just that: a traumatized country, traumatized by its horrific past and at times by its faltering present. Iraq has been held to political timetables that have been convenient to Washington for too long. It is not fair on Iraqis and in my opinion won't yield the right results. While we understand that the patience of the American public is dwindling, we warn that pushing things to move within the confines of an unworkable or unrealistic timetable will only lead to failure and aid our enemies. We must ensure that the foundations of what we are building begin to set. If we don't and we add greater load too soon, I'm afraid the whole project may come crashing down.
We've heard the decentralization concept thrown out as an idea. Again, it's not a new concept. Some call it partition. I'd prefer to call it federalism. This issue was discussed way back in 1992 in the first Iraqi opposition conference. Furthermore, as General Garner noted, it's already been enshrined in Iraq's constitution and the mechanisms for creating the federal regions have recently been passed by the Iraqi parliament. Federalism is not partition. It's in fact the unification of what people would consider an already partitioned society.
Whether Iraq has three, five or 20 federations is really a matter for Iraqis to discuss and agree upon. Its process must be an Iraqi process. I think it's ensuring that Iraqis adhere to this process is where the US should and could be helpful. I don't think it's wise for the US to determine or dictate the outcome of how many regions Iraq has but I think the US must ensure that the outcome is reached through a democratic and consultative process rather than by the imposition of one party or one group.
I think another option that requires careful consideration is reviewing the US footprint in the country, not necessarily as what some have dubbed redeployment – as in taking the forces out of the country – but more in a sense of how the US forces should be relocated in Iraq for the time being, to ensure greater effectiveness and to keep US forces from being unnecessarily in harm's way.
I don't think much can be done with the US forces that are currently engaging the enemy in the key battle fronts in Baghdad, Ramadi, etc., but those forces that are not engaged in those battles could be withdrawn to safer parts of the country, to special garrisons where they could react as a rapid reaction force or they could support ongoing operations in the country or assist the fledgling Iraqi security forces. The Kurdistan region again makes most sense in this case as the region is overwhelmingly pro-American and the citizens actually yearn for a greater American presence.
Such developments or redeployments should come again through consultations between the US commanders and the Iraqi commanders and the Iraqi leaders on the ground. Again, it shouldn't just be an imposition from one side. It should come as part of a consultative process.
I think the one area that we really need to focus more on is in accelerating Iraq's economic development. A decent political process or a strong military alone is not going to create peace and prosperity in Iraq but a sound economic development strategy will. We must not wait for Baghdad to resemble Zurich before we accelerate this plan. The US and Iraq should focus on expanding the successes throughout the country. We have the success of the north, we have the relative stability of certain parts of the south. There are even neighborhoods in Baghdad that are safe and there are people going about their daily lives. I think what we need to do is expand on those successes and ensure that – I think in military terms they call it the "inkblot effect," where you start to isolate the trouble spots. Instead of trying to immediately address those trouble spots you expand on the successes and isolate the troubled neighborhoods.
I think this way we can encourage the US to help us in spending our money a lot better. I don't think Iraq is necessarily in need of money. It's in need of assistance on how best to spend that money, spending it in a strategic way that ensures there is economic growth and increased prosperity for the people. Ultimately if we start to improve the lives of the Iraqi citizens, we can gain support from the Iraqi citizens in this war against the terrorists and the insurgents. The Iraqi government has rightfully been criticized for not delivering the basic services to its citizens. I think there has to be a greater focus on providing those basic services. If we do that, I think the citizens will be less inclined to acquiesce to the terrorists and the insurgents.
I think we should, as is already intended in the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, continue to attempt to enhance the capacity and transparency of the leaders at the local and provincial levels. Increasing the capacity of Iraq's governorate councils will take a major load off the shoulders of the central government in Baghdad and will ultimately go a long way to step around some of the bureaucracy that exists in Baghdad and also some of the incompetence that exists throughout some of the ministries in Baghdad.
To conclude, ladies and gentlemen, Iraq today stands at a crossroads and the United States, whether people like it or not, is with us at this juncture. Collectively we must make a decision: do we stand together and build on what we've accomplished so far or do we allow the defeatists and the nay-sayers to convince us to throw in the towel and give in to terror? It is imperative that the United States continues to stand with Iraq in this fight. There are many options in front of us, options that I hope the US government will consider, but prematurely exiting from Iraq will not solve our problems. It will, rather, exacerbate them.
The irony is that apart from a radical few, given the fact that there is a gradual polarization of Iraqi society and an increased ethnic or sectarian nature in the politics in Iraq, the majority of Iraqis – whether average citizens or members of the political blocs – view the Americans as honest brokers and therefore wish them to stay during this period of instability because the trust between the various communities isn't quite there yet. I think once and only once the situation begins to stabilize and Iraq reaches certain political, economic and security standards can we collectively begin discussing phased withdrawal plans of the US forces from Iraq. Thank you very much.
Ambassador David Satterfield, US Department of State
The challenge I was given by the chair was to try to bring all this to a successful conclusion. There is a degree of significant convergence between the presentations all the speakers have made and you'll hear that reflected in my own comments.
But I'd like to start with an element I think all of us have made, which is "Exiting Iraq" as the title for this discussion is really inappropriate. What I think would be a more appropriate topic for discussion and what indeed my co-panelists have talked about is how one transitions to a better means of achieving success, a recognition of the importance of success to the United States and to our basic interests and certainly the interests of Iraqis, and the consequences of failure in achieving those goals. Transitioning means recognizing strategic dynamics in the region, in Iraq, and adjusting and adapting to those dynamics. It does not mean a change in course with respect to the fundamental goals we have: a stable, peaceful, democratic Iraq, an ally in the war against terror, at peace at home and at peace in the region. It does mean a constant reexamination of the tactics and the strategies to get us to that point along with our Iraqi partners.
Because my year and a half in Iraq have permanently warped my State Department view of power points, I now can speak only in terms of metrics, benchmarks, drilling down, staying on frequency. I'm going to make a presentation which outlines from a bit higher level how we see the critical dynamics in Iraq, looking at the key lines of operation for us, the Coalition, for Iraqis, as well as for the region and international community, and who the key pillars of actors are to help achieve success based on those lines of operation.
The key areas – and they are all interlinked; none can be moved forward in independence from the others; they all reinforce and enable each other or they detract from each other – are certainly security, governance and political process, and economics. You've heard many of the panelists make reference to those same three key lines of operation.
On security, there are really three challenges now being fought out in Iraq, three wars if you will. One against a Sunni insurgency, which began with a dominant Saddamist/Baathist/irredentist motivating, financing and directive element. The second, Iraq as part of the global war on terror, the phenomenon of Al Qaeda in Iraq – Zarqawi and his successors. A third war – indeed, a third war which now has become dominant over those other two, the strategic challenge to Iraq's future – sectarian violence, sectarian conflict and the associated phenomenon of the rise of armed militias, armed gangs, death squads outside governmental control.
Al Qaeda, the Sunni Baathists – their insurgency and their campaign of terror are certainly lethal. Lethal above all to Iraqis, as the toll from this past weekend shows; lethal to the Coalition – indeed, we take the majority of our US force casualties in Anbar province from attacks launched by that Sunni insurgency, not from sectarian violence and not from Al Qaeda's terror campaign.
But the insurgency is not today the strategic threat to Iraq. It is confined by geography and it is confined by population. The real strategic threat to Iraq is sectarian violence and the rise of militias who have a sectarian color or identity. No Iraq can survive, no goals of success can move forward if the process of growing sectarian separation, violence, forced displacement of populations, the growth of armed groups – whether they have a formal party identification, a formal sectarian identification, or a de facto color that identifies them with Sunni or Shi'a groups – that Iraq can't survive. We cannot achieve success in that Iraq. This threat must be addressed and it must be addressed now.
It must be addressed by three groups of actors: the United States and the Coalition, the Iraqi government above all – and by Iraqi government, let me refer more broadly to all the centers of political power in Iraq, whether in the government or outside-- and by the international and regional communities. All have a part to play and none can be absent from the scene.
As we look at the security problem, as we look at the phenomenon of sectarian violence and the growth of militias, the responsibility for addressing that cannot reside in kinetic security measures alone. If George Casey were here today he would tell you, as he has so often, that even the very best security plan, the best and most carefully executed Iraqi and Coalition operations, cannot in and of themselves achieve lasting security for Baghdad or for Iraq as a whole. Those kinetic operations, those security plans are certainly an essential element. You can't remove it from any attempt to deal with this problem. But they are not the exclusive element of such a plan. There must be an active, vigorous political governance track as well that moves in parallel with security operations. As you confront – and they must be confronted – those engaged in killings and forcing the movement of populations there must also be a political process underway which reaches out to those engaged in violence on all sides and offers a way back. This is the historic experience of conflict resolution in the modern world and it will be, if it is successful, the experience of Iraq as well.
There must be a reconciliation process which is comprehensive and inclusive rather than exclusive. Such a process is well known to the international community. It must include elements of amnesty. For the Sunnis, the special element of reform and de-Baathification, so de-Baathification is no longer used as a political tool wielded to exclude individuals from participation in the state or the national life of the country. For all engaged in violence, Sunni or Shi'a, there must be a meaningful process, built upon a reconciliation deal, of disarmament, demobilization, reintegration into the life of the state for those who have been engaged in violence.
These are not new principles. They're well established as necessary. What is new is the need for urgency in Iraq to move all of these forward. If they are not advanced then the negative dynamic currently at play in Iraq will continue to dominate. That will be the strategic dynamic that prevails. Iraq is not static. There is not the opportunity to sit and wait. Waiting will produce further diminution in central government credibility, authority and relevancy. It will produce increased power by armed groups, including I might add groups that really don't have a real political color to them but which are essentially opportunistic and criminal in nature.
The experience of Lebanon from 1975 to 1990 has shown all too clearly to the world what the consequences are of this fragmentation and then re-fragmentation of a country. It is very hard to put the pieces back after this takes place. In Iraq itself one might look at Basra as the true nightmare model – not Anbar. Basra shows what happens when neighborhood by neighborhood power shifts to a complex mix of groups, many of whom have no real ideological or political identity but who are simply in it for local power, for graft, for domination.
The third element, economics: You can't have a meaningful restoration of a credible central government able to reach out particularly to areas affected by government – you can't have a meaningful reintegration process for those individuals who have engaged in violence – unless you have an economy which is prosperous enough, growing enough to provide employment opportunities and for the government to have the resources it needs to provide basic services for its populations, particularly in the areas where governance has been lacking.
Iraq has many resources. It has an extremely skilled entrepreneurial class. It has significant petroleum resources which are very much underdeveloped in a modern sense. But it needs help.
It needs help in several different ways. It needs help first and foremost inside, in better budget execution skills, in better capacity at a ministerial level for the national government and better provincial governance capacity – because growing provincial governance is important as well. It needs help from outside in terms of private sector development. It needs help from outside in terms of reducing its very significant crippling debt burden.
All of these elements – the need for security, the need for better governance, progress on political reconciliations, progress on growing the economy – all feed together. If you take any one of these elements out you don't get progress on the other two. You've got to have adequate parallel movement on all.
Where are they? Where are the Iraqis? You note I don't say "we" on this, because the thrust of this presentation is to get away from the concept of "we must", "the US must." This is very much a shared responsibility of the US and the Coalition, Iraqis in government and out, the international and regional community. What must be done here?
First and foremost, we need – all of us – the most careful and thoughtful approach to security possible, the most careful examination of how best to develop Iraqi forces who are truly just that – Iraqi forces, national forces, not partisan, not particularist, not sectarian in their identity. There are significant problems with the police forces. There is a need for major fundamental reform in the structure of those forces. The army is in much better shape but there too much more is needed. We need to have the best possible partnership between Iraqis and Coalition forces. I think all of you know Prime Minister Maliki has been urging greater command and control authorities be given to Iraqis, that a transition in terms of the relationship between the Coalition and Iraqi forces take place. We're very much committed to such a transition. It has in fact been underway for many months now. The process of transferring Iraqi provinces to Iraqi control, of moving at an organic level divisional control to Iraqis and then down through brigades and ultimately battalions, all of that is underway. But it has to be carefully examined in the context of how are these forces able to function as national forces, as effective forces, how best to bring them to the fight when the goal of the fight is achieving national goals, not partisan or sectarian goals. That transition has to move ahead.
On governance, we take very much to heart Qubad's comments that attempts from outside to force the process will inevitably produce a bad result. But there is a process underway in Iraq today. The presidency of Iraq has articulated a set of benchmarks on the political process which include amnesty, de-Baathification reform, a DDR process for militias, and on a timeline that would move from now to the beginning of next year. We hope that those benchmarks and that timeline can be held to, for the sake of Iraq. But the benchmarks exist and they're very valuable. Goals and objectives are useful to have, as they were in the national election process and the constitutional drafting and referendum processes.
But more benchmarks are needed. Benchmarks on economics will have to be laid out. If Iraq wants to gain the support of the region, if it wants to gain the support of the international community, from public and private sectors, it will have to commit itself formally to major structural reforms.
Iraq has moved forward a great distance on this front. This is a success which has often been understated. The International Compact for Iraq, a contract if you will between the Iraqi government, the international community represented by the World Bank and the UN, between the government of Iraq and its own people – because they are after all the net beneficiaries of this process – and a contract between Iraq and the world, is in the final stages of being drafted now. Indeed, we expect it to close any day now. That compact is the mother of all benchmarks on economic steps. It is an extraordinarily forward-looking, progressive document. It isn't rhetoric alone – many of the steps outlined in the compact have already been taken by the Iraqi government, already passed through the Council of Representatives and are in the process of being implemented. A major privatization law. A major reform of the way fuels are imported into Iraq to expand the role of the private sector. An excellent investment framework law. And we hope in the very near future, a national hydrocarbon law which is establishing the clear guidelines on revenue sharing, contracting authority, development authority between local and national responsibilities. We think that can be done as well.
But for economic development to take place, for that external support which is so much needed to be there, for the International Compact to be more than another piece of paper, then Iraq has to move on governance and on security. So you see, they all interlock. Iraq will not receive from the region the political validation it needs, it will not receive from the region the debt forgiveness it requires, and it frankly will not receive from the international community meaningful private sector investment which is most important, unless it shows demonstrable improvements in the security situation and improvements in governance, including the critical fight against corruption, which is literally robbing the Iraqi people of their inheritance.
What is our role? Now I do speak of the United States. The stakes of success, the stakes of failure in Iraq are very significant for all Americans, as they are significant for others. Our role here is to act as we can as a catalyst, to act in mobilizing support, in trying to change as we can the strategic dynamics which work against a peaceful, sovereign, democratic Iraq. To draw upon all those pillars of actors – Iraqis in and out of government, the regional community, the international community writ broadly; our own resources in country, civilian and military, and they are quite extraordinary – to try to help move Iraq forward to a success. That's our goal.
The ability to move toward that goal very much depends on how progress is made on the lines of operation that I described and the degree of support for those areas of progress by the different pillars of actors that I have presented. At the end of the day, we will not exit as a result of failure but we must constantly reexamine how best to transition, adapt and adjust, to see that failure is not the outcome but success is. Thank you very much.
Question & Answer:
West: It's too bad we don't have any interest from this audience on this subject. I have 32 questions. We're not going to get, I apologize, to all of them. But it is interesting that they divide into four major categories. I'm going to define the categories and then ask the panel, rather than trying to get to every individual question, to address these four. Then if we have a chance we'll stay until eight or nine tonight and get through all this.
The four categories that they fell into are kind of interesting. The first was that many of you wanted a more precise description of the nature of the war, which when I boil it down gets to: is this in essence a centralized or a decentralized war that we're fighting? I've got several questions about, aren't you looking at this too simplistically in terms of sectarianism without getting to the heart of the matter that this could to a large extent be tribal, the individual tribal leaders in the individual cities?
If you really look at the insurgency, the insurgency is a totally bottom-up phenomenon. We could not have a group sitting here discussing the insurgency from the insurgents' point of view. They'd all walk out because they'd say, wait, I'm from Ramadi, I'm from Qa'im, I'm from Mosul, etc. So they have an extremely decentralized way of looking at this.
That pertains to this question of amnesty that we're willing to offer. They may say, "We want to give you an amnesty. We control Ramadi, we control Qa'im, we control Mosul. You're the supplicant who's coming to us. So get rid of your police" – and you then get into the Iraqi concept of Wasta, where if I have it, you don't have it. Kind of like the mayor of Chicago in the 1940s – I'll determine the patronage in this city. We saw the example in Fallujah in 2004 when we cut this deal to have local control and like that, the toughest guys in town who represented Al Qaeda in Iraq – which is different than Al Qaeda. They're just the real hard guys and extremists in Iraq. They took over that town in a heartbeat.
So there is a first question here about the nature of the conflict. We tend to look at this top-down – Maliki is going to do something someday. We're going to have our generals and our diplomats and they're going to come up with a plan and that plan will be executed. But as I indicated at the beginning, you have the other models from the Old West – Tombstone, etc. – it really came the other way, and that's where the fighting is going on.
The first question then that came from the audience is: would you describe a little bit more the centralized versus decentralized concepts? We seem to be working on one concept, the insurgency on another.
The second question then picks right up from it. All of you kept saying, in essence, what happens if the central government continues to be feckless? What happens if all the hortatory, "we have to do this" of the ambassador have no effect on Prime Minister Maliki and the ministries who are not now supporting their own troops?
What happens if we're going back all the way to 680 AD at Karbala? That the inherent refusal of these two sides to compromise may be equivalent to – after our Civil War, it took a hundred years and occupation by our forces of the South for quite some time before the South changed its cultural attitudes. That this is such long-term, that if the central government does not step up to the plate in the next six months or so, what do we do?
The third question was all about Kurdistan. Holy smokes, there's about seven questions I gave to Qubad, all pertaining to: what's Kurdistan's role relative to the rest of Iraq? If the rest of Iraq starts to come apart, what happens to Kurdistan?
Then the final question really was related to the major option that was put on the table by Brian. If we say that this is not kinetic and we just go to the political/economic/diplomatic, where's our leverage to do that?
So if in the next 45 minutes we can get through the macro, then I have handed individual questions to everyone to get to the other micro. So does somebody want to address the nature of the war -- that the enemies appear to be – there are twenty-three different Shi'ite militias who are killing people in Baghdad, with no apparent centralized control, including Sadr. If you go out to Anbar, that's a tough neighborhood, where you fight your way down every street – there are all different groups. So the nature of the war, does it allow for central control or does it have to be fought city by city? That will be the first question. Any of the panelists want to start?
Satterfield: Let's take a look first at Anbar as a model. I suspect if we were able to look down deeply enough in Diala and Salahdin provinces, we would see the same phenomenon there.
It's quite correct that there are significant, very local, very tribal elements involved, pursuing a traditional, particularist agenda in any outbreak of violence anywhere in Iraq. You find it in the south as well as in Anbar and elsewhere. But the strategic picture in Anbar is something different and much more threatening and much more challenging than that. It is a progressive change over the past six or nine months from an insurgency which was essentially, to the extent it was centrally led – and it is a very decentralized phenomenon – motivated and organized primarily by Saddamist/Baathist elements in cooperation with the other end of the spectrum, Al Qaeda elements, to achieve a common goal, which was to fight the presence of the Iraqi government and the Coalition forces there, to something different – to an Al Qaeda-dominated insurgency. There is very little question anymore that the whip hand in Anbar is held by Al Qaeda, not the Baathists. That is an extremely threatening development because I don't have to spell out the consequences of any region of Iraq becoming an Al Qaeda-controlled, government-excluded free zone where Al Qaeda could develop its resources not just to expand its ability to challenge in Iraq but to challenge outside Iraq as well.
Is there a centralized Al Qaeda leadership? There certainly is a common set of themes to Al Qaeda in Iraq. We know that. There certainly is a very good overarching network of coordination and communication between disparate Al Qaeda local leaders. That does not mean that there is one head to this snake. When Zarqawi was killed, we said quite accurately that no one should expect a significant or dramatic diminution of violence after that. It was a significant step. This was a very vicious and evil guy. But there are other folks out there and were out there and will be out there. It is a constant battle, as the US military who have engaged in the campaign against Al Qaeda in Mosul over the past two years and elsewhere know. It is something that you have to hit and hit and hit over and over again. The campaign against Al Qaeda will not be won or lost in Iraq but it certainly has to be pursued vigorously in Iraq.
The Sunni Baathist part of the insurgency, how central is that? There too there is a general set of themes, guidance, facilitation, but disparate leaders. Perhaps a little more centralized than Al Qaeda but it now has the secondary role in this insurgency, not the primary one.
Now we come to sectarian violence. To what extent is sectarian violence organized? I think the better question there is: to what extent does Shi'a-Sunni sectarian violence represent a fundamental shift in the approach of Shi'a centers of power – whether Moqtada as-Sadr, SCIRI, the Da'wa parties, Fadila and those who may be outside – from looking at a certain minimalist convergence between Shi'a, Sunni and Kurdish goals for the country's future and moving towards a much more particularist Shi'a agenda? To what extent is sectarian violence the product of that strategic change? To what extent does it now have a self-sustaining momentum, that if you took away Al Qaeda attacks on Shi'a – if you simply removed that as an element, no more provocation – is there a self-generating Shi'a agenda now propelling Shi'a sectarian violence against Sunnis with a hegemonistic bent? Dominance in power is already there. This is something different. This is a move towards hegemony, including territorial hegemony, forced displacement of populations. Can that be turned around?
We certainly don't concede analytically the point that this has reached such a stage. But the question has to be held out there as part of an analytical framework. Then it really doesn't matter whether you can pinpoint the forty or fifty or four or five elements engaged in it. If it is a common agenda being pursued, Iraq has a real problem fighting it. It's one thing for the US to mobilize its military to fight an enemy. It's another thing to mobilize to fight a significant political agenda of the largest number of Iraqis. Very different situation.
West: Thank you. Other comments by other members? If not, then let's move to the second question, which is if this central government which so far many believe has been feckless continues to be feckless and not show the leadership to rise above sectarianism, what happens? Let's just put the elephant on the table. If three members of the group were saying we should have many more advisors to the security forces – and if you can understand why Prime Minister Maliki made a phone call and said, "Tell me you're going to keep me, please!", because the option would be eventually that some of these tough guys who begin to emerge might get fed up with their own government. So the issue on the table that all of you are interested in is what happens if the central government doesn't stand up to the plate and how long do we take before we say they're not standing up to the plate. Then what are the options besides chaos?
Garner: I think we've already beat that around a little bit. My personal opinion is that we're there now. That's more of a reason to go into what Qubad called federalism or what I call regionalization, because then you take the pressure off that federal government for a while and you give it time to mature and develop. Then you have the power of government that's felt by the people down in the regional areas.
We're there now. That's happening now. I think the thing to do is recognize that and try to leverage that to our advantage, than try to keep pushing it away and try to make something more powerful out of the federal government that really isn't from a mature standpoint capable of doing that right now.
West: Just to follow up, General, the ambassador said that in Anbar there's no doubt who has the whip hand and that's Al Qaeda in Iraq. So if you decentralized to Anbar being one of the three – not Anbar, but the Sunni triangle being one of the three centers, do you imagine a tough Sunni taking over? Or do you concede the Sunni area?
Garner: I think you have to let that play out. I think one of the problems right now – one of the reasons you have some cohesiveness up in the north now is number one, they've had fifteen years to work on that problem. But number two, they've coalesced together those three provinces into one entity. I think if you can coalesce the other provinces into lesser entities where you're dealing with just one or two, then you have more of a chance to address those problems. I think if the Sunnis as a whole want to address the problem in Anbar, there'd be some chance of success there.
Talabany: Just to add to that, Anbar is in the state it's in because it doesn't trust the central government. It sees this as a Shi'ite-led central government. This has given Al Qaeda the card to use against the citizens of Anbar and to some extent, by force or intimidation, it's proving to be successful. I think General Garner mentioned that in his talks. There isn't a leader that can be considered the leader for Iraq, an individual that everybody can trust that can run the country from a centralized role. I think we have to take into consideration the characteristics of the country, the reality of Iraq. Iraq was a country that was created without anyone really asking the citizens of that country whether they wanted to be part of that country.
So the problems that we're seeing in Iraq today are not today's problems. They are from hundreds of years ago. They go back to the question somebody sent in about whether we're going to return to 680 AD. Iraq has got centuries of problems that we're seeing manifested today, whether it's in the centralized or decentralized insurgency, whether it's a lack of effective governance. Unless we revert back to a centralized dictatorship, Iraq cannot be effectively governed from the center. I hope, as a Kurd, I hope to God we don't return to a centralized dictatorship, be it in the form of religion or the form of military power.
I think a lot of the violence that's going on in the peripheries of the country is really more to do with not getting services and some of the patronage issues that we're having with local leaders on the ground. I think if we can really start to focus on providing those services, not just focusing on Baghdad – we have such a focus on trying to fix the capital. It's critical, it's essential, we can't have the capital of the country in chaos. But the solution to Baghdad is really a security-related one. But the solution to stabilizing the majority of the country is a combination of the political, military and economic strategies.
Satterfield: We certainly believe that strengthening the role of provincial and perhaps regional governments as they evolve, beyond the Kurdish regional government, is extremely important for the future of Iraq. Our own experience shows us the value of local input into policy decisions, particularly when it comes to development questions.
But there is a role and will be a role for some time for central government in Iraq, for Baghdad. That role can't be diminished. The peace of the country internally depends upon a stable, peaceful Baghdad. Whether or not there is a national agenda for the country or a sectarian agenda for the country or a set of sectarian agendas for the country will be germane to every aspect of Iraq's future. No one should believe that even if Iraq were to choose to move its people in the direction of further regionalization, that that process would remove this issue of sectarian agendas from the table. It would not. Indeed, it could exacerbate it.
Contrary to many extraordinarily oversimplified presentations of the demographics and geopolitical nature of Iraq, there are intermixed communities throughout the country other than the Kurdish regional government. There are Shi'a populations in Sunni areas. There are Sunni and Kurdish populations in Shi'a areas. Baghdad is mixed between all of them. Separation is very different from federalism. Partition is very different from federalism. Any federal structure would have to have built into it respect for minority rights. Could that happen in an Iraq where sectarian agendas prevail? I would argue that it could not. You would only see an acceleration of sectarian violence.
So the role of the central government will remain important above all to setting a national agenda rather than a sectarian or particularist agenda for the country.
West: General Garner gave us the example of the Articles of Confederation. Do you want to address how you see the difference between confederation and federation in terms of different models of government?
Satterfield: I see very little in Iraq that reminds me of the United States in the 18th century. I truly believe that looking at models of our historic experience are of limited value. What is of much greater value is the last 1,300 years of Iraqi and regional experience with the concept of "the other" – "the other" being in Iraq's sense a doubly reinforcing one. "The other" being Shi'a-Sunni, and "the other" being the Sunni Arab identification of Shi'as, whether Arab or not, as Persians, as the enemy – as the Safavids, as many of my Sunni friends continue to call their Shi'a countrymen.
West: Not to keep you on the hot seat, because I know you have to go, but then how do you define enfranchising the Sunnis and allocating oil revenues?
Satterfield: The Iraqis themselves on that point have actually moved forward in a very progressive sense. There is large agreement on critical elements of a national hydrocarbon law. The agreement to date includes how revenues will be distributed. Where disagreement, as Qubad knows very well, continues is on the issue of where will final authority or veto authority rest in terms of contracting decisions. But the principle of revenue distribution nationally on the basis of populations is something that is broadly accepted, which is a good thing.
West: On the basis of populations or on the basis of geographic distribution?
West: Okay. So then it would be going to the different provinces based on population.
Satterfield: Population. Because any other criteria right now is too difficult and too arbitrary to try to put in place. It would be subject to enormous debate.
West: We thank you very much for taking all this time with us today.
Satterfield: Thank you.
West: I have to say, we're moving right along and covering a lot of ground. I'm not sure where we're going to come out at the end of this but it will keep on going. Brian, back to you on this same question.
Katulis: In my remarks I talked about the possible need for a Plan B. I actually think folks in the room should think about this, because if things don't succeed, if Prime Minister Maliki and his shuffle and all of these political agreements don't succeed, then I think we need to start thinking in terms of what can we do as the United States and the international community to support an emergency process. A process along the lines of a special conference that people have talked about, to address some of these issues, many of the issues that are underlying – the first question was about the conflict in Iraq and how decentralized it is.
I think at the very least you have four major tension points or major conflicts in Iraq. One, intra-Shi'ite fights in the south. There's splintering going on there. You've got a sectarian civil war, if you want to call it that, in the central part of the country. You have an Arab Sunni insurgency which is influenced by Al Qaeda in the west, yet it seems to me that from reports coming from the Pentagon we don't have the military assets there to actually do much about that. Finally you have Arab and Kurdish tensions that have been bubbling up at certain points and I think will come to a head in 2007. I think there's a serious question of will the current political transition process seal the deal on all of these issues or is there an urgent need – should Plan B be for some kind of peace conference? Should we start thinking about it in those terms, particularly when our best estimates are that 50,000 to 150,000 Iraqis have been killed and two million to three million have been displaced? There's signs of sectarian cleansing and lists on the Internet, some serious issues.
So what can we do actually as the international community to help settle some of these differences that are actually being played out through violence in the streets? Or should we just wish and hope and dream that the political transition will address these? I would submit that you need a Plan B and hope that folks are thinking about it.
West: I want to follow up on that, out of order to my other two questions, to all three panelists because I just received three more all saying the same thing. The odds seem to be pretty great that the Baker group is going to come forward with a couple of propositions. On the military side it's probably going to be the advisors. On the political side it's going to be this concept of drawing in Iran, drawing in Syria, having this kind of regional conference. Putting that on the table, I'd like to ask each of the panelists: what can this diplomatic path achieve and what's our leverage to have it do something that we can't do without them?
Katulis: I think it's something the experts in the room should talk about and really think about the security architecture of the Gulf region and not only about Iraq. I think this is a very big question. As we grapple with some complex internal security dynamics and deal tactically with how do you defeat the insurgency, what's the best way to actually get to a more sustainable security architecture in that region of the world, which will remain an energy lifeline at least for the next five or ten years, for all our talk about this. My main criticism is that in some ways we may be fostering a culture of dependency not only in Iraq but with actors in the region.
What can we do to actually bring these actors to the table? I think it requires presidential leadership. We have a lot of former diplomats and ambassadors in the room here. I think we've lost our sense of our ability to sit down across the table with some adversaries and people who don't necessary agree with us and also are maybe doing some bad things to us. But there's a way to actually gain some sort of leverage to advance our interests in greater stability in the region. From 2003 to 2006, when you look at Iraq and the Gulf region, you've seen increased instability. That is contrary to our interests. We can all wish and dream and hope that the political transition process in Iraq may bring us to that point of greater stability, but I have some skepticism given what has happened in 2006 and the lack of progress and how that might spill over.
So I think it comes down to presidential leadership and actually using some of the resources that may be in this room – the knowledge and the expertise – to work with actors in the region to urgently address some issues. All I'm saying is we may not be there yet but we may be there in the next three to four months and we'd better have a Plan B, unlike when we entered Iraq, when there was just Plan A and that was it.
West: Your answer to me, Brian, was – not to be unfair – but your answer was, I don't know but we have some bright people under the president who should know. My question to the other two panelists, then I'll come back and give you a chance, is very simple. This proposition that we're going to get everybody together – okay, we get them together. We bring in the people from Damascus, we bring in the people from Tehran. We say let bygones be bygones. Let's not all sing "Kumbayah" together but let's understand that we have these sectarian Shi'ite sects and what we're trying to do is keep them from killing people. That's the fundamental issue that the ambassador put on the table. What are the concrete things that we can say to Iran and Syria that make a difference that have not yet been said? Where's the leverage?
Garner: I think it's far beyond just Iran and Syria. You're dealing with six countries on the borders and you're dealing with the rest of the Middle East. I think absolutely there's incredible value in bringing everybody together and talking. My problem is, we don't talk to anybody anymore. It's not only the six countries that border Iraq – a huge problem there is the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Another problem is, what's happening in Lebanon? Are we going to rebuild Lebanon? Those are all things that we need to bring together and we need to talk together. We don't know where that will go but I can tell you it will go better than what we're doing right now.
West: That's an applause for a hope, as I understand it. It's not that we have any specifics here but we have the idea – get these people together and we're going to find common ground. As Secretary Baker indicated, he went to Syria 14 times and finally by the 15th time he had a breakthrough or something. It's the idea, for God's sake, let's at least start talking, talking, talking. How we get to the specific of getting down to those killers, we're still grappling with.
Garner: I think we've been in the hope mode for three and a half years without talking to anybody. It seems to me that the hope mode with talking to somebody might at least bring something.
West: I'm not arguing against it, I'm just looking for the specifics of it. Mr. Talabany?
Talabany: Whether speaking with our neighbors – our brothers, we like to call them – is going to yield results or not is really up in the air. I think it has to be given a go. I doubt that a large-scale international conference is the platform to achieve tangible results. I think the back-door discussions are going to yield much greater results.
I think when we look at our neighbors, we don't need them to help us. We just need them to stop interfering. Let's not ask too much of them. If we can come to an agreement with them to say, just stay out of it, that's all we need to try to really do. None of the neighbors has a vested interest in seeing Iraq fail. Whether it's for their own self-centered reasons or whether it's for economic reasons, Iran does not want Iraq to fail. I think Syria needs to think a little more strategically as far as Iraq is concerned. The Iranians are thinking very strategically and they have their Plan A, their Plan Bs, their Plan Cs, their Plan Ds. But the Syrians are a little less sophisticated on that front, if I can be so candid.
The Turks, I think we can look at the Turkish example. A lot of people talk about the Kurdish-Turkish tensions and the potential for a Turkish military invasion into Kurdistan. These are things that obviously concern a lot of us. But one thing that doesn't really get mentioned is that Turkish companies have been party to over $2 billion worth of investment projects in the Kurdistan region. This is something that is very significant and shows how a neighbor can actually benefit from Iraq in a positive sense. I think maybe this could be one of the carrots that can convince our neighbors to stop turning a blind eye to the terrorists, is to have them actually take part in the economic development in the country. That's not a policy position, that's an idea for the clever people in this room to discuss and think about.
Again, conferences are good, they're good for public perception. We can get a lot of feel-good fuzziness out of conferences. But substance-wise, I think we need to think seriously. We're not surrounded by Luxembourg, Belgium and these countries. We have a very tough neighborhood.
Katulis: The point I want to stress is that certainly it's a tough region in the world but let's take a step back and be adults. All countries have interests and all countries in the region have an interest in stability. When you look at Iran's strategy for Iraq, it is one of aggressive ambiguity. It plays its role in different ways to advance its influence. From the US policy perspective, this is an interesting shift that has occurred in the last three years. We used to have a policy of dual containment which had some merits and some drawbacks to it. We've moved to something different, where the security architecture has actually shifted dramatically in the Gulf region. Right now we have military exercises and things like this in the Gulf and some serious challenges.
All I'm saying is that conferences can be warm and fuzzy but what if you actually had a dialogue that addressed some of the core interests and security issues that all countries have, and forces them to actually say, you're playing a double game here. In some cases you're being passive-aggressive. In some cases you're funding folks who are trying to undermine the Iraqi government and that can come back to you. I don't know that the US, given the perceptions about the US right now in the region, would be the best person to think about that. All I'm saying is throwing the idea out. Here we are in 2006. Are we better off in 2006 than we were in 2003? Maybe. It's great that Saddam Hussein is gone. But the real question is, where can we be in 2015 or 2020? Is there a security architecture that we can start working towards? If we stay in this current mode of not talking to certain actors in the region, I don't know that we can advance our own interests let alone help the Iraqi government stabilize its own country. That's the main point.
West: We now go to Kurdistan. We have two panelists here who have a great expertise in that. The fundamental question is, whither goest Kurdistan, no matter what kind of scenarios you look at for the centralized government in Baghdad?
Talabany: It's ironic that the Kurds of Iraq, considered the separatists for so long, have actually been more Iraqi than the other Iraqis in the country. That is not necessarily a good thing because you would hope that others in the top political level would have played the so-called unifying roles that the Kurds have been playing since the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
I think what the Kurdish leadership and the Kurdistan regional government has continued to stress is that we won't break away from Iraq. But we cannot promise that Iraq won't break away from us. We've created government institutions. They are pretty much functioning effectively. There is an emergence of a civil society. There is a major economic boom in the Kurdistan region. We are making major successes. I wish sometimes our friends in the media would pick up on some of this, because technically Kurdistan is part of Iraq. It does have 6 million citizens living there, and it is a success story. I think sometimes our American government friends – and I'm sorry that Ambassador Satterfield isn't here – shy away from highlighting the successes of the Kurdistan region for fear of upsetting some of their friends in the neighborhood. But I think it's time to move beyond that and time to realize that while Kurdistan is a success story and it shows that if we can overcome the difficulties that we overcame in the mid-1990s to get to where we are today, that there is a prognosis that is good for Iraq. The stakes are a lot higher obviously but it's really now up to some of the other non-Kurdish leaders in Iraq to step up, to prove their worth, to try to contain their constituencies.
If there is a Plan B or a Plan C by the US side and there is a premature withdrawal, if the country does descend into chaos – and I would urge all of you not to really rule out that possibility. We do like to remain optimistic because it helps us to get to where we want to go. But you have to take into consideration every eventuality, including the eventual end of the state of Iraq. If the violence continues, if the government institutions do not really start delivering the basic services, if Al Qaeda continues to gain strength in Iraq, then obviously we're in for a very difficult period. In that tragic event, I think it's critical that consideration be given to the protection of the Kurdistan region. Here is a region that you protected for fifteen- years, allowed for it to develop and turn into what it has become today. It would be a travesty if that were allowed to fail with the rest of the country.
Garner: I think in Kurdistan you have a model but it took a lot of years to get that model to where it is right now. You can't expect rapid success in the rest of Iraq, which probably has more problems than the Kurdish region had. But I think a deeper look at Kurdistan is just what Qubad alluded to. If we fail in Iraq and all this goes south, then we need to have a strategic perspective for the northern provinces. They're democratic, they have a constitution. They have minority rights in their constitution. Many of their leaders are women. They're making their schools co-educational. They're immensely pro-US. It would give us a niche in that part of the world where we're among friends and we have some strategic significance there that helps us temper and have a better position to react from in that part of the world in the future. To let that collapse with the rest of Iraq would be incredibly short-sighted and have enormous future strategic negative results from it.
So I think what our Plan B should be, how do we maintain the support of Kurdistan in the future, as a democratic entity?
West: Are you suggesting, General, that we may need a statement by the Congress or by the president of a security guarantee for Kurdistan?
Garner: I don't know that you need to do that right now. I don't think it would hurt either. But I don't know that you want to fuel that right now. But that certainly ought to be talked within the internal mechanisms of government. We certainly ought to be considering that.
Katulis: I would just use this as an opportunity to go back to the political and diplomatic track. It's clear to me, and I think Qubad's in a very interesting position, given your generation and things like this, when you look at public opinion polls of where Kurds as a populace want to go, it is clear that there is a great deal of enthusiasm for independence at the popular level. So as a leader and an emerging leader there, this will be a challenge in the long run. How do you navigate that?
I think this makes the argument stronger for the need for more sustained diplomacy. We've got forest fire diplomacy. We sent General Ralston out to deal with the issue of Turkey and the shelling that's been happening over the last eight months or so from the Turkish and Iranian borders. What can we do to actually grease the wheels in a sense to make sure that if it seems like it's heading toward that, do we have processes in place as an international community? Maybe the answer is yes, there's enough there. But if there are these aspirations and if things don't go as well as we hope at the national Iraqi political level, how do we actually help engage countries in the region that may have some concerns about those aspirations?
Talabany: Yes, I think there is a growing sense from the population in the Kurdistan region to move towards independence. But it's really the job of the leadership there to try to come up with a situation that's best for the people of the Kurdistan region. So far we've been able to convince them that being part of a federal democratic Iraq, with all its resources, is in the immediate interests of our population. I think most of the leaders strongly believe that. That's why they're working towards a strong but federalized country in Iraq. I think if you look at things such as oil revenues, why should we only be limited to the wealth from the north when we could potentially benefit from the wealth of the entire country?
This is ultimately in a situation where we're getting the best-case scenario. But in the backs of all our minds – Americans, Iraqis, whether they're Kurds, Shi'a, Sunni – we have to take into consideration all eventualities. Ultimately we're responsible for the protection of our citizens, some 6 million-. That's going to be our priority at the end of the day.
West: General Garner used the words "in case things go south." Mr. Talabany just used the words "you have to look out for your own" if this doesn't work out. You had suggested a Plan B. General Garner was an advisor in Vietnam, as was I. I'd like to ask all of you a question: what would you advise United States officials not to do? By that I mean, including maybe the Plan B. Because in 1967, when I was in a combined action platoon where we had fifteen Marines and seven were killed in the village, and we were there for 485 days, it was very high morale both on the part of the Vietnamese and the Marines, even with the losses, because we believed we were going to win. By 1972-73, after the declaration by the Congress that we were no longer going to bomb against the North, even those who were the advisors with the Vietnamese – the Vietnamese were beginning to stand off more and more. Everyone psychologically had the beginning of the feeling that this isn't going to end well. The morale to the physical in war is twenty to one. It's more than that in Iraq. Iraq is a war of small assassinations that have a cumulative effect. It's not major battles but it's a question of which side thinks it's going to win.
Against that kind of a background of gradually how Vietnam once they thought they were going to lose, we had a real big problem, I'd like to ask all three panelists: what is it you would advise strongly that the United States government not do to give the wrong signal?
Garner: Are you talking in terms of advisors or overall?
West: Overall. Because the minute you say words like "heading south," we're all acknowledging, if you listen to the panel as a whole, I think no one was reflecting high optimism up here. The ambassador was putting forward the best case and the rest of us were sort of saying we've got to look at this thing. When you listen carefully to both the general and Mr. Talabany they were saying this idea of decentralized to the regions looks maybe more probable than the notion of the ambassador with the central government. But at least we're all kind of hedging here. So if people are in that kind of a mood, what is it that could be a misstep?
Garner: We're not saying one or the other. I think we're all saying you have both. You have a government as you have now but you also have a more stabilized, solidified, centralized government in the regions. That might be three regions or five regions, but that gives you the chance to have some cohesiveness in there for the comfort of the people, number one. Number two, it gives you a chance to have some recognized leaders by the people. But you don't jettison the current government that you have. You just let more power that's felt by the people be in their own regions, within their own ethnic, religious or tribal comfort zones.
If you want some things we shouldn't do, I think Brian wrote some pretty good stuff in here about what they shouldn't do.
West: Suppose you had something like – we had a policy under President Nixon. He came in and declared Vietnamization, which started us down a decent interval road, if you will. Should we have something like Iraqification or should we be very careful about sending out any huge new signals?
Garner: I wouldn't link those two events together at all in any way. To me there's not much similarity. There's one or two but I don't think it's useful to link those two together. I do believe that a robust advisory effort to help mature and bring forth the operational capability of the Iraqi army and Iraqi police forces is absolutely necessary. We're late on doing that. But I don't see a Vietnamization or whatever words you use for Iraq. I don't think we need to do that.
They are where they are. They are partitioned today. You can either keep saying they're not and we're going to continue to have this solid government in Baghdad or you can say, hell, they are and I'm going to use this to my advantage.
Talabany: I think what the US shouldn't do is assume that it's right all the time. I think they shouldn't look at Iraq in a way that they hoped Iraq would be before going into this effort. We all came into this effort with a certain set of assumptions and predetermined variables – all of us, Iraqis, Kurds. We had no idea how religious the country had become. We always knew that most Kurds saw themselves as Kurds first before being Iraqis but we didn't really have an idea of how strong the sectarianness of Iraq really is and how Shi'ites are feeling so much stronger and more comfortable in their Shi'ite identity than in their Iraqi identity, and similar tendencies are emerging among the Sunni communities.
So I think by having this kind of – wishful thinking is not a nice word, something a little less than that. The US should take into consideration the realities and the facts on the ground that have developed over the last three years and allow a political process to emerge. Again, it's allowing a process to emerge. It's not dictating a process, it's not imposing a process. It's allowing a process to emerge that reflects the characteristics of Iraq. We may end up with a very religious south. We may end up with a very aggressive west and northwest. If that's how people determine that they should live their lives, it's not for somebody in Washington or London or somewhere else to tell them otherwise. It's not ideal. We all hoped that Iraq would be this shining example of a secular democracy. But reality has hit home and that doesn't look likely to be the case certainly in the next ten to twenty years.
We just have to think realistically, not be scared of the ethnic and sectarian nature of Iraq but actually use the diversity of Iraq to come up with a situation, to come up with a system that can actually effectively govern this country that was really put together without the consent of its citizens all those years ago.
Katulis: I can only echo Qubad's comments here. I think our ability to control and shape events in Iraq has never been strong. I think General Garner may agree with that. It diminishes each day as the Iraqi government and Iraqi leaders have an interest in sovereignty and self-determination. So I think we need to move beyond ideas that seek to impose a political solution, some of the creative ideas that come out of Washington about, you should amend this part of the constitution or do this or that.
But I think what really needs to be done is to start thinking creatively about what are the certain stabilizing political and diplomatic efforts we can put into place in case – in case. Because Lord knows over the last three and a half years, I don't think we've had enough of those Plan Bs in place. I hope that this morning's discussion and discussions at lunch can help us move forward toward that.
West: Thank you very much. That brings us to a conclusion of this morning's panel. I would say that looking overall, what we saw was a convergence on two relatively new or old/new ideas. The first is shifting to many more advisors rather than American troops and the second was regional discussions to include those who are our adversaries. The third agreement was that Kurdistan right now needs nothing but as General Garner said, maybe we just want to have in our hip pocket or something a notion that if ever we had to, if things degenerated, to put forward a declaration of a security guarantee, we would do so. The fourth proposition was by Brian, that we look carefully and quietly to try and develop some options that I think he called Plan B, that we would hope could be done quietly inside our government.
I thank you all very much. I think we've had a lively discussion.