Wednesday, December 20, 2006

After Baker-Hamilton: What to do in Iraq

One of the most important contributions of the Iraq Study Group was that it cleared the way for a more honest debate on Iraq. The International Crisis Group has joined the debate with its recently released report, "After Baker-Hamilton: What to do in Iraq." ICG's premise is that while the ISG report is important it is insufficiently radical if Iraq’s collapse and an unprecedented regional war are to be avoided. Here are the report's main recommendations:

1. A new forceful multilateral approach that puts real pressure on all Iraqi parties. The Baker-Hamilton report is right to advocate a broad International Support Group; it should comprise the five permanent Security Council members and Iraq’s six neighbours. But its purpose must not be to support the Iraqi government. It must support Iraq, which means pressing the government, along with all other constituencies, to make necessary compromises. Contrary to the Baker-Hamilton report’s suggestion, the government and security forces should not be treated as privileged allies to be bolstered. They are but one among many parties to the conflict and not innocent of responsibility for much of the trouble. It also means agreeing on rules of conduct and red-lines for third-party involvement. Sustained multilateral diplomacy, not a one-off international conference is needed.

2. A conference of all Iraqi and international stakeholders to forge a new political compact. This is not a military challenge in which one side needs to be strengthened and another defeated. It is a political challenge in which new consensual understandings need to be reached. A new, more equitable and inclusive national compact needs to be agreed upon by all relevant actors, including militias and insurgent groups, on issues such as federalism, resource allocation, de-Baathification, the scope of the amnesty and the timetable for a U.S. withdrawal. This can only be done if the International Support Group brings all of them to the negotiating table, and if its members steer their deliberations, deploying a mixture of carrots and sticks to influence those on whom they have particular leverage.

3. A new U.S. regional strategy, including engagement with Syria and Iran, end of efforts at regime change, revitalisation of the Arab-Israeli peace process and altered strategic goals. Mere engagement of Iraq’s neighbours will not do; Washington must clearly redefine its objectives in the region to enlist regional, and particularly Iranian and Syrian help. The goal is not to bargain with them, but to seek compromise agreement on an end-state for Iraq and the region that is no one’s first choice, but with which all can live.

This is a very important report as it completely eviscerates any illusions that Washington may still have about Iraq after the Baker-Hamilton report. And it goes beyond the ISG's recommendation to engage Iraq's neighbors by explaining how the U.S. can realistically achieve this. For more on this I would direct you to my recent entry on "Dealing with Iran" which highlights a paper written by Flynt Levrett of the New America Foundation.

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