Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Secretary Rice: “Success in Iraq requires the positive support of Iraq's neighbors.”

BBC reports a sharp change in US-Iraq strategy: US leaders have agreed to sit down with Syria and Iran in regional talks to address the situation in Iraq:

"The administration of President George W Bush has been under pressure in Congress and from the findings of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to include Syria and Iran in dialogue to stabilise Iraq.

"Ms Rice said: 'Success in Iraq requires the positive support of Iraq's neighbors. This is also one of the key findings of the Iraq Study Group.'

"Leon Panetta, a member of the [Iraq Study Group], said the announcement was an important step towards bringing stability to Iraq."

Bear in mind that the first round of talks will only be an "ice-breaker," involving "non-ministerial
level" representatives. Even still, the surprise announcement of the regional talks is a very heartening development to those seeking an end to the crisis in Iraq. Just a few months ago, whether the administration would enact any of the Iraq Study Group recommendations was a matter of concerned speculation. The recommendations calling for the US to engage Iraq's neighbors, which include Syria and Iran, seemed particularly likely to go unheeded. For the last three years, the US has been diplomatically estranged from Iran and Syria, never once engaging them in dialogue.

Luckily, the chorus of voices calling for diplomacy and other non-military solutions for Iraq is being heard in Washington. Let's hope our leaders continue to listen.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Economic Surge

"The United States needs to find fresh approaches that won't feed the sectarian dynamic and will address the needs of ordinary Iraqis...The surge we should be pushing is a political one, and even more critically, an economic one."

EPIC has been saying this for months. We’re glad to find that someone has been listening.

Fareed Zakaria's recent op-ed calls for a new course in Iraq: An economic surge, not a military one. He argues that it would help to undo the damage caused by the CPA's attempt at economic liberalization and free-market reorientation of the Iraqi economy (for more on this, check out Imperial Life in the Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran). Reopening state-run enterprises that the CPA previously shut down would provide income to poverty-stricken Iraqis:
"One of the less-remarked-upon blunders of the Coalition Provisional Authority was that—consumed by free-market ideology—it shut down all of Iraq's state-owned enterprises. This crippled the bulk of Iraq's non-oil economy, threw hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets and further alienated the Sunnis, who were the managerial class of the country."
It would also take able-bodied members of the currently disenfranchised Iraqi labor force off the streets and out of the very militias and insurgent groups the U.S. is battling.

If it sounds like a simple solution, that's because it is. All Congress has to do, writes Zakaria, is appropriate $100 million to get Iraqi state-run companies back in operation:

"It would cost $100 million to restart all of [the state run enterprises] and employ more than 150,000 Iraqis—$100 million. That's as much money as the American military will spend in Iraq in the next 12 hours."

Zakaria's lucid and parsimonious recommendation deserves everyone's attention. Despite the terrible headlines about violence in Iraq, it is important to remember that alternative solutions are being put on the table, and successful humanitarian efforts are already underway throughout the country. This is not a lost cause, and we owe it to the Iraqis and ourselves to not treat it as such. Keep checking back here for more discussion and analysis of non-military solutions for the Iraq crisis.

Go here for the article in full.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Where have all the journalists gone?

In an article in last weekend's WaPo Outlook, Pamela Constable, a foreign correspondent with an impressive track record, lamented a growing trend in U.S. journalism: Media outlets are systematically scaling back on quality foreign reporting and replacing it with captions and snapshots that only tell part of the story.

Constable describes it as "a false economy and a grave mistake." And from what I observe in the news, I wholeheartedly agree.

According to Constable’s tally, you can literally count on two hands the number of U.S. newspapers with foreign bureaus: The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, the Christian Science Monitor, USA Today and the McClatchy newspapers (owner of the Sacramento Bee, The Miami Herald and The Kansas City Star, just to name a few). To add insult to injury, the number of foreign reporters has diminished from 188 to 141 since 2002. Hardly a good showing.

Ironically enough, as U.S. media scales back its international coverage, America and Americans are becoming increasingly globally engaged. Thanks to the global war on terror and improvements in the quality and accessibility of technology, we have the opportunity to know more about the world now than ever before.

Too bad U.S. media isn’t contributing much on this front. Constable notes that this is partly due to the fact that mainstream news outlets are beginning to suffer as more and more people are turning to blogs, web sites, and other alternative sources for news and information.

But really, doesn’t it seem counterintuitive to scale back quality coverage in the face of waning profit margins? I understand that overseas bureaus are costly – Constable estimates a minimum $250,000 a year – but if media tycoons need to trim the fat, why would they start with one of their most important appendages?

The problem is that what we are being offered instead is hardly a viable substitute. Rather than sending reporters to work on the ground, investigate breaking news and produce critical, solid reporting, we are being given a photo here and a caption there, and even those are increasingly selective. It’s like, after eating filet mignon for your whole life, you're suddenly forced to survive on Big Macs. Constable is right to call this “flimsy” and “superficial,” not to mention completely unhealthy.

Here's the bottom line: International engagement is critical for our country and our countrymen, and media outlets should be first in leading the way. Cutting international coverage is not the way to recover losses and regain an audience. I just wonder how grim their profits will get before the news industry realizes it, too.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Ground Truth Project Update: What about Iraq’s youth?

Recently, the media has been looking toward the future of Iraq and asking an important question: What about Iraq’s youth? In the fall of 2006, the Ground Truth Project released an interview with Cpt. Jonathan Powers, founder of War Kid Relief, a group that helps keep kids off the streets and out of militias, criminal syndicates and insurgent groups. Since then, he has been praised for his achievement in reengaging Iraqi youth in positive activities. In late January, Jon’s work was highlighted in Newsweek and ABC News. In the Newsweek front cover story, The Next Jihadists: Iraq’s Lost Children, Jon warns:

“Already some of these kids are taking up arms—mostly against members of the opposite sect, whether Sunni or Shia, but often against American troops as well. Instead of training them to rebuild their country, they are being trained to use weapons to destroy it. If the pattern isn't changed, we will be fighting these same youths in the future for peace in the Middle East."

In a January 24, article in on ABC News, Powers defends Iraq's frequently-vilified youth, stressing that Iraqi kids are surrounded by violence with no way to escape:

"These aren't kids who are terrorists or extremists; these are kids who have nothing else to do. Because they can't get to school, there are no clubs for them to join, they're being brought into this community of jihad."

With Jon’s help, we're able to look beyond the immediate visible threats coming out of Iraq and see the importance of investing in the future. Helping Iraq’s youth not only helps to stabilize Iraq, but also ensures that we will not be fighting the same battles in the future.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Iraqi Displacement Crisis Update

Erik Gustafson, the executive director here at EPIC, sat down last Friday to talk to Columbia University Radio's Lisa Desai about the dramatic policy shift that will allow 7,000 Iraqi refugees to come to the U.S. (listen to the broadcast). Prior to last week's announcement of the change, many U.S. officials were refusing to acknowledge that displacement was actually happening in Iraq. Now, by extending an invitation to 7,000 displaced Iraqis and pledging $18 million to assist millions fleeing the violence, the U.S. is certainly taking a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, as Iraq’s displacement crisis continues to grow at an alarming rate, much more will be needed. Given the role that the U.S. has played in helping to create the crisis, it is essential that the U.S. increase funding for the international relief operations of the UN Refugee Agency and other multilateral groups, covering at least 50% of their needed funds.

The good news is that the U.S. has the ability to fill the funding gaps facing these aid organizations. The US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) is calling on our leaders to provide $250 million for refugee assistance and resettlement. To put that figure into perspective, take a look at these projected U.S. spending figures for the current fiscal year:

Bullets: $851 million
Agricultural Subsidies: $16.623 billion

That means that the $250 million that USCRI is calling for is only 2.9% of what the U.S. will spend on bullets this year. And it is only 1.5% what the U.S. will spend on agricultural subsidies. It is clear that the Bush administration and Congress have the ability to mitigate the suffering of the displaced—the question is, how long will it take until they do more about it?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Will Embedded PRTs Be Effective?

I went to an event on Wednesday at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq and the role that the ten new PRTs will have in President Bush's accelerated plan for Iraqi self-reliance. The panel included Barbra Stephenson of the State Department, LTC Lynda Granfield who was head of the PRT in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and Robert Perito, Senior Program Officer at USIP.

In the past, the primary purpose of PRTs in Iraq was to develop the economy and to build capacity at provincial and local levels. Most would agree that they were not very successful due to primarily a lack of oversight. All future PRT's will continue with the original goals, while at the same time taking on three new responsibilities: bolstering Iraqi moderates, building Iraqi self-reliance, and assembling the foundation for reconciliation. There are ten PRTs currently in Iraq. Six will be added in Baghdad, three in Anbar, and one in Babel, making up the newly formed Embedded PRTs. Each of the ten new groups will have four core people who will be trained in how to assess conflict and develop a joint civil and military unit. Their goal will be to shift conflict dynamics, allowing room for moderates to flourish.

The most important difference between the origional PRT model and the Embedded PRTs is that instead of it being lead and comprised of primarily military personnel, the team leader will be a State Department official and the deputy team leader will be a senior military commander. Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) will work alongside PRTs providing "security, life support and operations." In a soon to be published USIP report, the operational concept, command and control, and funding for Embedded PRTs is clearly outlined.

The role Iraqis will have is an important question that was raised. LTC Lynda Granfield explained her experience in Afghanistan, and the importance local civilians, military and police played in the success of her PRT in Jalalabad. She explained that the fundamental role of the PRT was to establish a link between the central government and the Provence. The possibility of success was greater if the local population saw their police and neighbors working with the PRT in projects that were being established. The panel argued that it would be difficult to engage Iraqi citizens in certain projects because of the uncertainty as to whether or not they were working for a militia or were connected with the insurgency. It seems to me it will be difficult to achieve the goal of building Iraqi self-reliance if Iraqis are not engaged alongside the PRTs.

The challenges that made previous PRTs ineffective will face the new ones as well. Questions of corruption, a lack of resources from the central government, low salaries, low levels of education, and high unemployment still persist. The panel gave insight into what PRTs are meant to accomplish, but questions of how these will differ in effectiveness from the models already seen were not answered. The speakers discussed implementing a higher level of training for staff before deployment, instead of the "volunteering and on-the job training" that was the norm for the original Iraqi PRTs. Acquiring staff with a better skill-set and better training is a smarter approach, but the March deployment date is fast approaching and one month of training might not make the difference in the success of Embedded PRTs.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Quds Force?

In the now infamous Saturday Baghdad briefing, anonymous U.S. military men explained to the press that the Quds Force was responsible for the explosively formed penetrator or EFP attacks on US troops. One briefer went on to argue that the Quds Force reports directly to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and that as a result, "the activities that the IRGC Quds Force are conducting in Iraq, we assess, are coming from the highest levels of the Iranian government.” This accusation was reiterated by White House spokesman Tony Snow who said, "The Quds Force is, in fact, an official arm of the Iranian government and, as such, the government bears responsibility and accountability for its actions."

President Bush also brought up the Quds Force in his recent news conference, but he fell short of accusing the Iranian government:
"What we do know is that the Quds Force was instrumental in providing these deadly IEDs to networks inside of Iraq. We know that. And we also know that the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government. That's a known. What we don't know is whether or not the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds Force to do what they did."
So now the U.S. has a new enemy in Iraq, but just who are they? Newsweek has published a fairly extensive report on the Quds Force, demonstrating that the evidence against the group is fairly questionable and that some of the Iraqi politicians the US relies on the most, including President Talabani, have close ties with the Quds Force.

An excerpt:
...while the American military is blaming the Quds Force and IRGC for all sorts of misdeeds, the highest officials in the U.S.-backed Iraqi government appear to be buying weapons from them and asking for their help on security issues.

Yet even if elements of the Quds Force are involved in weapons trafficking, it is unclear if they are being directed by Tehran or if they are freelancing. After the war in Bosnia in the '90s, some former Quds Force members were known to engage in smuggling, apparently without the knowledge of their central command.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

First Sweep

The New York Times has an article detailing the first sweep of Baghdad under Bush's security plan. The focus of the story is that the coalition forces have yet to have any significant encounters with Iraqi militias or insurgent groups, but this was to be expected considering comments by Sadr militiamen made in the last few weeks:
"'Our top leadership has told us to lay low and not confront the Americans.' one mid-level commander explained. Others in the organization said street fighters have been told not to wear their black uniforms and to hide their weapons, to make their checkpoints less visible. Reports from the growing number of neighborhoods controlled by the militias indicate fighters are obeying." [more]
The real news is that the Iraqi security forces seem to be nowhere near ready to uphold their end of the new security plan. According to the NYT only 200 Iraqi police officers and soldiers were involved in the sweep alongside 2,500 Americans. It seems that concerns with training and equipping Iraqi security forces were quite well-founded.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

US to Accept More Refugees

It seems that the Displacement Task Force I reported on last week will soon be quite busy. According to today's New York Times, the Bush administration and the United Nations will announce a plan later this week to bring thousands of Iraqi refugees to the U.S. over the next ten months. While this will hardly make a dent in resolving the crisis -there are approximately 2 million refugees- it is certainly a step in the right direction. Such measures are all the more urgent given that Syria, which previously had the only open border in the region, is no longer issuing three month visas to Iraqis.

UPDATE: The number of Iraqis let in has been set at 7,000 not including those Iraqis deemed to be at risk for having worked with the US government inside Iraqi and who may be given US residency under a separate program according to State Dept. spokesman Sean McCormack. Also seems amount of aid pledged to resettling refugees is $18 million. Will have full blog post in morning as more details become available.

Childhood as a War Casualty

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has recently featured some highly disturbing stories detailing the impact of the war on Iraqi children. The photo on the left is from one of these articles, which discusses Doctors Without Borders operations in Jordan through the story of Shams, an infant who at six month of age was blinded by a car bomb blast near her family's home in Baghdad. Her mother died in the explosion.

ast forward a year, and Shams and her father are now in a Jordanian hospital awaiting treatment from a plastic surgeon from Doctors Without Borders. While the surgery aims to lessen Shams' physical disfigurement caused by the car bomb, there is no possibility of restoring her vision. Her optic nerves have been destroyed to the point where she can no longer even perceive lightness or darkness.

This article, from last November, describes conditions in Iraq--lack of sanitation, good quality food, medicines, doctors, clean water, and not to mention the violence--that have put the country's children in a very precarious state. Unfortunately, since November, things have not improved and increasing levels of violence and dwindling funding are forcing the few remaining NGOs that administer aid to Iraqi children to leave the country. Under extreme physical, psychological and developmental stress, Iraqi children turn to drug use and prostitution, according to another article on the UN site:
"Sami Rubaie, 12, lives on the streets of Baghdad. He said he ran away from home because he could not stand the beatings he got from his father for not bringing home enough money from begging all day. He soon turned to glue sniffing. To support his habit, he recently joined a gang and now men have sex with him in exchange for glue and money.

“'I cry every time a man has sex with me and they usually hit me because I am crying. After I do it, my boss gives me a good quantity of glue and around US $3 dollars for food. I know what I’m doing is wrong but it’s better than living with daily beatings from my father for not bringing him enough money,' Sami said."
The Guardian has an article in which some experts speculate on the long-term psychological impact that the violence will have on Iraq's children:
"Lynne Jones, a child psychiatrist with the International Medical Corps who studied children under war in Bosnia, said: 'Children are often incredibly resilient. In a number of studies, trauma in children in war zones has tailed off quite rapidly once the violence dies down.' Their continued wellbeing depends on the kind of environment in which they live after that, and the values of their families or parents, she said.

... Dr Hassan told the Guardian of his fears for Iraq's current young generation. 'Do not make the mistake of blaming the occupation and the recent war for all of this,' he said. "For more than three decades, young Iraqis have been forced to learn how to kill. We must now learn instead about dialogue and compromise. Otherwise, we will continue to produce psychopathic personalities for whom violence is simply a means of negotiating daily life.'"
Such reports starkly emphasize the need to increase humanitarian aid in Iraq. In doing so, we can start to alleviate the suffering of child victims by increasing the resources and services available to them. With an increase in funding for organizations like the UNHCR and the IOM, US legislators will not end all the horrors in Iraq, but they can do something to help the most innocent victims of this war.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Recommended Reading-Iraqi Police

Bill at INDC Journal just posted a detailed firsthand assessment of the the Fallujah Police Transition Team Mission. He concludes:
"Like so many other aspects of Iraq, the outlook for the Fallujan police shows signs of both promise and despair. The political and cultural impediments to the formation of an effective police force are steep: Fallujah is not historically a city with a strong tradition of altruistic civil service, and the insurgents more casually wield violence, the most important currency in Iraq. American advisors are charged with teaching Fallujan cops Western standards of law enforcement, when in reality the IPs are fighting an insurgency, not crime. It's a bit ironic that restrictive rules of engagement and Western standards of policing are compelled on the American mission by a watchful western media and political leadership, when our own standards would undoubtedly evaporate in the face of the violence that the Fallujans are facing."
A great read and full of amazing pictures as well. For more on the readiness of Iraq's security forces go here and here.

Shia-Sunni Grouping Call for Return of Displaced

An interesting story in the Al-Mada:
"During a recent meeting held in the city, the Sadrist current, Sunni Endowment and the Islamic Party called for Sunni mosques to reopen and Sunni displaced families to return to Basra. The groups pledged that security would be provided to Sunni interests. A joint Sunni-Shia committee was formed to follow-up on these promises, said Sheikh Adnan al-Silani, who is in charge of tribal affairs and public gatherings for the Sadr office in Basra. The two sides recently held a conference on Sunni-Shia brotherhood during which they pledged to end sectarian violence in the city."
A rift has been growing between the two secs on account of the level of violence but there was not always such a divide. The Shia and Sunni have a history of cooperation with many families and tribes actually being mixed. For more on the issue of sectarian identity, read this excerpt from an interview we conducted with Professor Eric Davis.

Monday, February 12, 2007

General Pace on the Iran-Iraq Link

Another update to the story below but the post is quite unwieldy as it is and this is an important enough update to warrant its own post. VOA News reports that General Peter Pace, the top American military officer, is more reluctant to come to the conclusion that the Iranian government is supplying weapons to Iraqi militias. General Pace explains:
"We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran. What I would not say is that the Iranian government, per se (specifically), knows about this. It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it's clear that materials from Iran are involved, but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit."
Very interesting.

Also here is the transcript of an interview Diane Sawyer conducted with Iran's President Ahmadinejad. The interview focused on the issue of weapons smuggling though Ahmadinejad never once gave a proper reply.

The Iran-Iraq Link: US Shows its Hand

In a news briefing yesterday, US military officials laid out evidence to back up their controversial assertion that Iran is supplying weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq. The NYT reports:
"In a news briefing held under strict security, the officials spread out on two small tables an E.F.P. [explosively formed penetrators] and an array of mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades with visible serial numbers that the officials said link the weapons directly to Iranian arms factories. The officials also asserted, without providing direct evidence, that Iranian leaders had authorized smuggling those weapons into Iraq for use against the Americans. The officials said such an assertion was an inference based on general intelligence assessments."
Officials claim that these E.F.P.'s have been responsible for the deaths of 170 US servicemen since their debut in June 2004. That there are Iranian weapons in Iraq is nothing new, what I question is their assertion that the Iranian government is directly complicit in a large scale arms smuggling operation. That is the more damning of the accusations made by the administration and so far they have provided no evidence to support it. Are we expected to make this leap of faith based on the fact that Shiite militiamen were found with Iranian weapons? This is a very serious accusation and along with other brash actions on the US' part including the kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat and the arrest of five Iranian officials puts us on a collision course with Iran eerily similar to that which brought us into conflict with Iraq.

And what of the Sunni insurgents who have been responsible for the majority of coalition casualties? Why is the US not focusing on their funding and weapons sources? Perhaps because then this harsh light would be on our ally Saudi Arabia. According to the Iraq Study Group Report, "funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states."
"In one recent case, an Iraqi official said $25 million in Saudi money went to a top Iraqi Sunni cleric and was used to buy weapons, including Strela, a Russian shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile. The missiles were purchased from someone in Romania, apparently through the black market, he said." [more]
I am not saying that it is impossible that the Iranian government is involved in weapons smuggling, only that right now the evidence for it appears as flimsy as that used to accuse Saddam of having weapons of mass destruction. And we all know how that turned out.

addendum: Patrick Cockburn of the Independent writes:
"The statements from Washington give the impression that the US has been at war with Shia militias for the past three-and-a-half years while almost all the fighting has been with the Sunni insurgents. These are often led by highly trained former officers and men from Saddam Hussein's elite military and intelligence units. During the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988, the Iraqi leader, backed by the US and the Soviet Union, was able to obtain training in advanced weapons for his forces."
He goes on to say:
"The US stance on the military capabilities of Iraqis today is the exact opposite of its position in four years ago. Then President Bush and Tony Blair claimed that Iraqis were technically advanced enough to produce long-range missiles and to be close to producing a nuclear device. Washington is now saying that Iraqis are too backward to produce an effective roadside bomb and must seek Iranian help."
Another update: the power point presentation shown to journalists at the news briefing. Closest we can get to it as voice and video recording was forbidden.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Iraq's Deputy Health Minister Arrested

Some of you may have heard that Deputy Health Minister Hakem Abbas al-Zamili was arrested yesterday morning as part of a raid. That he was a criminal is no real surprise. As a senior member of al-Sadr's political party and by extension militia, al-Zamili was known for having flooded the Health Ministry’s payroll with militants, embezzled American money meant to pay for Iraq’s overworked medical system and used Health Ministry facilities and services for sectarian kidnapping and murder.

The surprise is that Prime Minister Maliki who relies on al-Sadr and his party for support, has yet to intervene on behalf of the Deputy Health Minister. You may remember last November when Maliki sided with al-Sadr and demanded that the US remove a blockade of Sadr City. It seems, at this moment anyway, that perhaps Maliki was earnest when he declared a crackdown on militia violence. Then again The Guardian is reporting that Maliki was with the Health Minister when he heard the news of the arrest. According to the Health Minister, Maliki condemned the raid as illegal and a violation of Iraq's sovereignty. Whether Maliki was putting on a show for the Health Minister's benefit is anybody's guess, but the fact that the DPM of Health remains in custody today is promising.

I should also take this opportunity to stress that the Health Ministry is one of several corrupt ministries responsible for wasting billions of US dollars. A seemingly simple solution to this would be to channel funds through the provincial directorates instead of these national ministries. Read more about this idea here.

Iraq Calendar On-line

I finally made a special page on EPIC's website for the Iraq Calendar to allow for daily updates. The Calendar lists all Iraq-related events in the DC area from hearings to think tank forums. If you like you can also subscribe to receive the bimonthly edition in your inbox. In addition to listing events this pdf includes a compilation of recent government and NGO reports as well as transcripts, audio and video of past events. Subscription form is available here.

A link to the on-line Calendar has been added to the "links" section in the right bar.

Event Highlight:
2/14 USIP: Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq
President Bush's "New Way Forward" in Iraq calls for doubling the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams. These new PRTs will be imbedded with Brigade Combat Teams. A panel of officials from State and Defense will address the following questions: How do the new PRTs differ from those previously established in Iraq? Have challenges that have delayed the PRT program in Iraq been overcome? How do civilian led PRTs in Iraq differ from those led by the military in Afghanistan? United States Institute of Peace, 1200 17th St NW, 1:30-3:30 pm

Oversight of Iraq Relief & Reconstruction Programs

Yesterday I sat in on a State/Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Iraq reconstruction oversight. Witnesses included Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General of Iraq Reconstruction; Donald Gambatesa, Inspector General of the USAID; and Howard J. Krongard, Inspector General for the State Department. The purpose of the hearing was to determine what after four years and $38 billion for Iraq relief and reconstruction, have we achieved?

First to testify was Stuart Bowen, of SIGIR. His testimony gave a relatively positive report on the success of reconstruction projects, but he said that Iraqis--and one must presume Americans as well--did not hear about the successes, only the failures. Here are some highlights of his statement before the committee:

"SIGIR investigations have produced five arrests and four convictions, with another 23 cases under prosecution at the Department of Justice...SIGIR advice and recommendations on policy have promoted economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in the conduct of the US reconstruction program in Iraq and have served as a deterrent to malfeasance...SIGIR audit have saved or recovered $50 million and have identified the potential to recover and additional $106 million. SIGIR investigators have recovered or seized $9.5 million in assets and are working on the recovery of an additional $15 million...SIGIR inspectors also found that engineering improvements to oil pipelines could increase oil exports and potentially increase the volume of Iraqi oil revenues by more than $1 billion annually if the pipeline can be effectively secured...To date, approximately 70 percent of the 80 projects inspected on sight by SIGIR complied with contract specifications."

For more on the SIGIR reports be sure to read these postings. Giving his statement next was Donald Gambatesa, Inspector General for USAID. His statement briefly mentioned the relative success of five USAID program areas: agriculture (96% success), basic education (40% success), civil society/local governance (date unavailable due to lack of monitoring), electrical power (68% success), and water/sanitation rehabilitation (88% success). Gambatesa echoed Bowen in saying that security conditions impeded the inspection of many project sites.

Gambatesa was followed by Howard J. Krongard, Inspector General for the State Department. His statement was more prescriptive than descriptive, as he suggested a way to "ameliorate the foregoing difficulties" of inspection and oversight (i.e. lack of security for inspector general personnel) by establishing a Middle East Regional Office "to provide oversight for crisis and post-conflict State Department programs in Iraq and elsewhere in the region."

Another interesting bit of the hearing came when Ranking Member Wolf suggested the creation of a "decider" position for all things reconstruction-related in Iraq, à la General MacArthur in post-WWII Japan.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) were a recurrent topic since they are a critical part of Bush's New Strategy in Iraq. Chairwoman Lowey asked the Inspector Generals about the feasibility and efficacy of sending largely civilian PRTs into Iraq. Bowen responded that security was a problem for all 9 (mostly military) PRTs in Iraq at the time of his last quarterly audit. Although several efficacy audits of PRT efforts are currently underway and therefore there is no hard data to draw from, Bowen made it a point to mention the crucial role PRTs play in training local officials in democratic practices.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Partitioning Iraq- Davis Interview Part 2

This is the second part of an excerpt from an interview I recently conducted with Dr. Eric Davis of Rutgers. The first part can be found here and a full interview which focuses exclusively on economic development will be published by the Education for Peace in Iraq Center in a week or so. If you haven't read the first part, I suggest you give it a quick look before reading on.
So I take it you would be totally against the soft-partitioning of Iraq?

Dr. Davis: That is a horrible idea. It is like saying let’s divide up the United States and put all the Italian-Americans in one part, all the Jewish-Americans another part, and all the Irish-Americans in third part. Then this huge percentage of the population comes out and says, “Wait a second. We’re Irish-Italian, we’re Jewish-Irish.” What do you do? Do you start cutting people down the middle? That is ridiculous. Why would we assume there would be less violence? I think this would lead to more violence. There is already violence between the Sadr organization and the Badr, and it was just seen in Amarah in the south a couple months ago. Once a central government is partitioned and weakened, the ability of a central, national army to come in and repress this violence is further compromised. Even if the partition was able to happen, it would add to the violence, not undermine it.

Matteo: As a result of the high level of violence many Iraqis are fleeing from their homes and settling in areas inside Iraq that are dominated by their respective sect. In other words, there seems to be a de facto partitioning occurring. How can we reverse this trend?

Dr. Davis: I think the capture of militia squad leaders and political criminals will have an effect like putting down crime in Chicago in the late 1920s and 1930s. Political stability will return and the economy will begin to function at some minimal level. At this point, many people will go back to their old neighborhoods because they had close ties with their neighbors and there will be no sectarian problems. It is really the militias that come into neighborhoods and start forcing people to leave. It is not the neighbors that go to a neighbor’s house and put a sign up. It is the militias that come and realize what sect lives in the neighborhood and what families that they want to get rid of. First they will deliver a letter to the door, and then they will knock on the door telling them in various stages to leave or be killed, and of course, the people will leave.

I don’t think we don’t know enough about this process. I think that not enough emphasis is being placed on the fact that in many of these neighborhoods, the former neighbors are protecting each other, not trying to benefit from the misfortune of one another.

A Day of Reckoning for Bremer

The failure of the CPA to provide oversight of reconstruction programs in Iraq under their 2003-2004 watch has once again boiled to the surface of national media attention. Case in point: this story from today's Washington Post.

Allegedly, goes the article, some American civilians and service members directed Iraqi reconstruction funds toward an American businessman in exchange for $3,200 watches, swanky cars, and top-of-the-line laptops.
"'This indictment alleges that the defendants flagrantly enriched themselves at the expense of the Iraqi people -- the very people they were there to help,' said Paul J. McNulty, U.S. deputy attorney general."
If you're finding it easy to get mad at these particular crooks, don't spend all your ire in one place. You'll need plenty of it to cover all the instances of corruption and unadulterated incompetence in Iraq that took place under CPA rule. Brace yourselves, this isn't pretty:

Exhibit A: SIGIR Quarterly Report, January 2005, details the massive scope of money mismanagement by CPA.

Exhibit B: The Special Inspector General of Iraq Reconstruction himself gives testimony before the House Committee of Government Oversight & Reform. He says that:
"The CPA’s internal controls for approximately $8.8 billion in DFI funds disbursed to Iraqi ministries through the national budget process failed to provide sufficient accountability for the use of those funds. As noted in the report, the CPA did not establish or implement sufficient managerial, financial, and contractual controls to ensure DFI funds were used in a transparent manner."
Exhibit C: Former CPA director Bremer, before the same committee this past Tuesday, offered this explanation for the unaccounted $12 billion:
"The [SIGIR] report implies that we should have gone much further, seeking to impose modern financial control systems on the disbursement of these Iraqi funds by Iraqi ministries themselves--and this in less than a year, on a failed state in the middle of a war. I know of no one who spent meaningful time in Baghdad working with the Iraqi ministries who thought this was possible under the conditions we faced."
Bremer goes on to say that US and IMF pre-war planners felt that Iraqi ministries were the proper channels for distribution of the Development Fund for Iraq money, despite the ministries' notorious reputations for corruption. Bremer curtails his mea culpa for CPA's fund-dispersment related shortcomings with his statements that planning that denied the reality of the situation in Iraq is what really brought about the squandering of these funds.
But then there is the ugly suspicion that tracking the money was of dubious importance to Bremer and the CPA. It was, after all, Iraqi money generated from oil revenues and therefore did not consist of American taxpayer dollars. This Washington Post summary of Bremer's testimony has the details.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Increase of Aid = Decrease of Violence

According to a number of recent articles, enthusiasm for President Bush's troops surge is not as widespread among the Army as many have been led to believe. Infantry soldiers who patrol the streets of Iraq daily and have the most at stake in this conflict consider the over-reliance on a troop surge to be a tragic mistake:
"Almost every foot soldier interviewed during a week of patrols on the streets and alleys of east Baghdad said that Bush's plan would halt the bloodshed only temporarily. The soldiers cited a variety of reasons, including incompetence or corruption among Iraqi troops, the complexities of Iraq's sectarian violence and the lack of Iraqi public support, a cornerstone of counterinsurgency warfare." [more]
Meanwhile, officers are decidedly more optimistic. The WaPo reports, "Higher-ranking officers with the task force said they see encouraging signs that cooperation with Iraqis will improve as the new security initiative in Baghdad begins."

As Mikevotes at Born at the Crest of the Empire notes, "If you're an infantry soldier seeing little point in your patrols, how do you respond to being sent out, being shot at, seeing comrades wounded and killed, day after day at the hands of officers who you don't think have a grasp on the reality."

The reality is that there is no military solution to this conflict. There needs to be something more. So it was with great relief that I read this in today's New York Times:

"As evidence of the importance of civilian reconstruction, military officers involved in the internal debate are citing a recent classified study, conducted by the Joint Warfare Analysis Center of the Defense Department, based in Dahlgren, Va., that suggests violence in Baghdad drops significantly when the quality of life improves for Iraqi citizens.

Relying on surveys and other data on those wounded and killed in the violence as compiled by the military, the study found that a 2 percent increase in job satisfaction among Iraqis in Baghdad correlated to a 30 percent decline in attacks on allied forces and a 17 percent decrease in civilian deaths from sectarian violence.

But its emphasis on the importance of reconstruction is being cited by senior military officers and Pentagon officials as more evidence that Congress and the government’s other civilian departments must devote more money and personnel to nonmilitary efforts at improving the economy, industry, agriculture, financial oversight of government spending and the rule of law."
That one line bears repeating:
"...violence in Baghdad drops significantly when the quality of life improves for Iraqi citizens." Simple. We keep seeing signs that the Bush Administration and DoD recognize the importance of economic development and yet in the end they seem to place all their faith (and dollars) in the potential for a military victory. With Gen. Petraeus at the helm, and with this recent report as a reference, we can only hope that this administration will finally address the economic dimension of this conflict. I have so much more to write about this, but I will save it for another post.

NIE Highlights

This past week the National Intelligence Counsel released its new National Intelligence Estimate entitled "Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead." A declassified version containing key findings was recently released to the public. Some of the highlights taken directly from the report:
"Despite real improvements, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)—particularly the Iraqi police—will be hard pressed in the next 12-18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with success. Sectarian divisions erode the dependability of many units, many are hampered by personnel and equipment shortfalls, and a number of Iraqi units have refused to serve outside of the areas where they were recruited."
To learn more about the readiness of Iraq's security forces I suggest you read these postings on training and equipping forces.
"Coalition capabilities, including force levels, resources, and operations, remain an essential stabilizing element in Iraq. If Coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly during the term of this Estimate, we judge that this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi Government, and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.

Iraq’s neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq’s internal sectarian dynamics."
Matteo has speculated several times on the involvement of Iran in Iraq, suggesting that Iran is not a major supplier of weapons to Iraqi militias, despite the US administration's claims to the contrary. Read more here.

full report is available here:

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

New Displacement Task Force

According to a press release put out yesterday, the State Department has established the Iraq Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Task Force. Its purpose is to coordinate refugee and IDP assistance to the region and refugees resettlement. It will also "devise strategies for Iraqis at risk because of their work with the U.S. Government." This comes on the heels of a recent Senate hearing on the refugee crisis during which two Iraqis employed by the coalition testified to how difficult it is to gain entry into the United States despite having risked their lives for the coalition effort.

According to the United Nations, about two million Iraqis, some eight per cent of the pre-war population, have fled the country to escape the war and mounting sectarian violence. Of those, only 466 have been allowed entry into the United States
. The task force will be headed by Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky.

Though this is certainly a welcome sign, the creation of this task force still cannot make up for the fact that President Bush has not said a word about the displacement crisis. We can only hope that this task force is not merely a token gesture and actually does something about the growing displacement crisis in Iraq.

Sectarian Identity in Iraq- Interview with Dr. Eric Davis- part 1

As promised here is an excerpt from my interview with Rutgers professor, Dr. Eric Davis. Dr. Davis is the author of Memories of State: Politics, History and Collective Identity in Modern Iraq and was part of a group of academics that advised Bush last summer. Sadly Bush did not heed much of his advice on economic development. The full interview which will be published by EPIC in mid-February focuses exclusively on the economic dimension of the conflict, while the following excerpts -which will be published only on here- focus more on his other expertise: sectarian identity. I will break this up into two posts.

Matteo: If our plan for victory right now is supporting the Maliki government, training the army and the police that are primarily Shia, and we achieve this victory -even with an economic angle- will Sunnis allow for this? Would they want this kind of victory?

Dr. Davis: That is why there has to be another strategy. I am not saying the strategy I am proposing will be a solution, but I think that you have to look at it from the point of the Malaki government. There is a lot of distrust. People do not realize that even under the Baath party, the first two original leaderships in 1961 and 1963 were Shia. They were not Sunnis, and the head of the intelligence network for the entire country in 1973 was a Shia. He saw that Saddam was trying to put his relatives in positions of power and tried a coup that was unsuccessful and was captured and executed. He was not doing it as a Shia, he did it because he saw what Saddam was trying to do, what Saddam did in 1979. After Saddam took power in 1979 he really turned the Baath party into what my colleague, Falah Hadijm Jabar calls the family party state. Baathism didn’t mean anything anymore; rather, the importance was placed on his tribes’ people and his family. He really promoted sectarian identities and corruption. Except for 1979, but especially after the Iran Iraq War started and even more so during the 90s, there have been sectarian leaders in Iraq, but sectarianism has not been characteristic of the populous at large.

When you read public opinion polls, the World Values Survey at the University of Michigan that was done in November 2005 and April 2006, the IRI poll that was done in June 2006, and the PIPA poll was done September 4th; you will still find that neither Iraqis nor Muslims subscribe to sectarian identities. They want strong government and they want militias suppressed. Even if a percentage of them are being dishonest because they are talking to a survey researcher, I think you see that the large percentage of people do not subscribe to sectarian identities. I believe the sectarian identities have to be seen in the context of a concept that is almost dropped out of both western social science, and out of the media, which is social class. The middle class is highly intermarried and you never see the upper class discussing sectarian issues. This is more a thing of the marginal segments of society that are fighting over resources and where certain sectarian entrepreneurs have promoted a kind of sectarian identity.

Given the fact that historically there is no tradition of sectarian politics or radical Islamism in Iraqi society, I do not think that these identities have a strong social base in Iraqi political culture. I think that if it can be addressed politically and socially, there could be more emphasis on a real national reconciliation. That oil revenues are not going to be distributed via the provinces is a very positive step forward with regard to the Sunnis. If they were, they would be taken over by the Hakim people, the SCIRI Badr people in the south and by the KDP in particular, and less recent the PUK in the north. I think that we are very lucky to have someone like Jalal Talabani as president. Not only is this a wonderful, symbolic good to have a Kurd as the president of an Arab country, but he is someone who has been pushing a national agenda even though he is Kurdish. I think there is some sectarianism. It would be as if someone were to say there is no racism or anti-Semitism, even though it still exists. But the question is whether or not it is the dominating political ideology.

In some parts of Baghdad and some of the provinces today it is. If you are a Shia or Sunni you are going to be very careful about where you go, what license plate is on your car, what your identity card looks like, and even what kind of music you have in your cell phone. All these things could give you away to somebody. They cannot tell visually who you are, but they can through these indicators and you might end up being tortured and killed. So, someone who is going to say sectarianism does not exist is not only being naïve, but irresponsible. On the other hand, the real question is whether or not these types of identities are long-term for the extent that they cannot be overcome. I believe that they are much more temporary, much more contextual and come out of a process. They come out of the 1990s when the incredible welfare state that the government set up between 1970 and the early 80s collapsed.

Along with the collapse of the education system into a kind of vacuum, came the emergence of sectarian entrepreneurs. These sectarian entrepreneurs took over the education function, which made it easier for Islamist organizations to use charitable works as a cover for their own political organizing. When Saddam saw that people were turning toward ethnicity and religion, he himself began to promote a kind of religious-sectarian identity that was completely hypocritical: amputating hands, taking away the rights that women had before, they could not travel without a male companion for example, and banning the sale of alcohol. An example of this is the Iraqi flag, which right before the Gulf War Saddam Hussein ended ‘Allahu Akbar’, ‘God is great,’ did not change at the UN mission until April 2002. What I am trying to point out is that this is all very superficial. What I think has to be done is to build up a level of trust, which means more dialogue. The Parliament is also very important. There are a lot of Iraqi Parliamentarians who insult one another, but it gives people the opportunity to interact in a way that they never had before and is forcing them to negotiate. They have to compromise, they have to talk to each other, and they have to put forward a platform. I do not think we realize the extent to which this has long-term positive consequences.
come back tomorrow for part 2

Monday, February 05, 2007

Humanitarian Risk of "Operation Imposing Law"

The devastating human toll that has taken place in Iraq can be seen in dramatic headlines and photographs throughout the media today. The bombing that killed 135 people in a crowded Baghdad market was only one of the horrifying events that took place this past weekend in Iraq. The human suffering that is created by war is inevitable, but the question of proportionality and the protection of innocent civilians must be a part of the discourse taking place in light of President Maliki's new military strategy, dubbed "Operation Imposing Law." A recent article in The Washington Times has more details on this plan to combat militants throughout the country, but the basic idea is that Maliki will take the fighting to the insurgent groups.

Maliki explains, "We have no choice but to use force and any place we receive fire will not be safe, even if it is a school, a mosque, a political party office or home." This comment, even though directed at terrorist cells and insurgent groups, will also indirectly apply to civilians if carried out. In the build-up to the Iraq War, the concept of "Just War" was bandied about by both pro and anti-war groups in defense of their respective positions, so the concept is certainly open to much interpretation, but in pursuing "Operation Imposing Law," Maliki is completely disregarding on of its core principles: it is never "just" to target civilians (noncombatants), or places that are traditionally seen as civilian areas, like schools for example.

Customarily, schools, religious sites, and residences are off limits to fighting. Granted Iraq's sectarian violence is anything but traditional, but should the Iraqi and Coalition forces endorse this unethical means of fighting? Shouldn't they be the example for upholding the principles of engagement outlined in the Just War tradition? This must be done to uphold the human rights of Iraqi noncombatants. In doing so, the Maliki government will also gain some accountability internationally, setting itself apart from insurgent groups who do not regard these traditionally accepted humanitarian norms.

Maliki did later make a statement ensuring the protection of innocent civilian's human rights, while at the same time going after those individuals responsible for the escalating violence. The Washington Times article goes on to state that Washington was happy with Maliki's address and his committment to a sustainable peace. Even so, conflict based on sectarian lines has ensued. It is playing out between political parties and in the streets of Baghdad. The voices that are drowned out by the continued fighting are Iraq's innocent civilians, who are suffering the consequences of war.

Addressing Iraqi Refugee Crisis

With the Bush administration's next step in Iraq looming, more people are beginning to question the US' refusal to accept responsibility for the millions of Iraqi civilians who are suffering from our previous missteps. In accordance with certain international legal norms, the United States has an obligation to address this urgent question. The reality of displaced persons, both within Iraqi borders and outside the country, is a real and pressing problem that is not being addressed by the Bush Administration and only beginning to receive attention from Congress.

For peace and reconstruction to be a success, Iraqis need to feel that they are safe in their homes and that their interests there are protected. According to Sabrina Tavernise in a January 28, 2007 article in the New York Times, the moderates are almost all gone and the middle class that were expected to be involved in building democracy have "given up and moved away." She explains that a year ago the hope of Iraqi brotherhood was a reality, but that now sectarianism and violence have overshadowed the optimism for unity and peace.

A recent editorial in the New York Times states, "the current price tag for the war is $8 billion a month, yet the State Department plans to spend only $20 million in the coming fiscal year to help shelter Iraqi refugees and to resettle them here." Since the start of the war, the United States has admitted only 466 Iraqi refugees and for the near future plans to admit only 50 Iraqi and Afghan refugees per year. The US certainly has greater capabilities to provide asylum to fleeing Iraqi civilians.

The editorial suggests that the administration allow around 70,000 Iraqi and Afghan refugees a year; start organizing dialogue with Iraq's neighbors on how to handle the escalation of Iraqi nationals living and migrating to their countries; and comply with the request from the UNHCR for $60 million for the protection and shelter of displaced Iraqis. The human suffering that has been taking place in Iraq cannot be lost in the debate over the troop surge or beginning a withdrawal. Whatever decision the Bush administration makes in the coming months, the problem of displaced Iraqis and the protection that they are entitled to will persist, and must be addressed.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Another Terrifying Day

A day in the life of Nabil, a student in Baghdad:
...I was at my grandma's house which happens to be next door to my house. Me and my cousin were at the back garden playing soccer and mocking each other. Suddenly we heard a very loud noise of mortar missile passing over us. I said "did you hear it?" and by the time he was saying "yes", a huge explosion took place. It was very close to us, we couldn't tell where it exactly fell as it was too close. We ran inside my grandma's house and waited there for several minutes.
Shortly after that, we heard screaming, shouting and people running in the street, we ran out to the street to see what happened.

At first, I couldn't see as there was a lot of dust and ashes in the air, then my vision cleared and I saw smoke clouds coming out from the roof of the house of my neighbor which is in front of my house. Instinctively I ran with the people to the inside of my neighbor's house to check for survivors. There were women all over the place shouting and screaming "help him, help him, he is at the roof", meanwhile mortar missiles were falling here and there very close to us. Me and several people ran to the roof of the house, and there was my neighbor lying on the floor with his legs got cut due to the explosion and he was severely bleeding and there was blood stains all over him. I was completely shocked, scared and terrified, I stood there and didn't know what to do. A man who was standing next to me shouted on me "come on!, grab him with me, lets take him to the hospital." I ran to him and carried my neighbor with him, we went down to the street carrying my neighbor where a kind man stopped his car and took us with him to the hospital.

Although I tied his cut off legs and squeezed on it trying to stop the bleeding, but by the time we arrived to the hospital, he was already gone, as he was bleeding severely.

In the hospital they didn't do anything to him, because he was already dead, they took him to the bodies refrigerator.shortly after his son (my neighbor's son) arrived to the hospital, he was shouting and crying "where is he? I wanna see him." We went to the bodies refrigerator, and it wasn't actually a refrigerator, bodies were lying on the floor, as there were too many bodies and there weren't enough rooms for them in the frig. The view of the bodies lying on the floor was very disgusting and sad, most of the bodies were victims of the mortar attacks.

Anyway, my neighbor relatives came to the hospital and brought a coffin for their dead relative, we took the body and headed back to my neighbor house, so that his wife and kids can see him for the last time before they bury him. I told them not to take him to his parents, because it would be very painful for his kids to see their father dead and his legs cut off. Anyway, his son insisted on taking him back home. We took him back to his house, and there was his wife and kids waiting for him and by that time they didn't know whether their father was dead or not. By the time they saw the coffin they started screaming, shouting and crying. I was very touched seeing the tears of his little kids crying with so much pain.

Shortly after that, his son said "lets take him to the cemetery, I want him to be buried before it gets dark". so they took him to the cemetery right away. they considered him as a martyr.(In islam the martyr should be buried right away, with his blood and with his clothes he was wearing when he died). Anyway, we went to the cemetery, and the handlers started to bury him. I was standing with my cousin, near them watching them, before they were done closing his grave, another round of mortar attacks took place very very close to the cemetery, people just started to run and left his grave not completely closed, Me and my cousin closed his grave and ran to the car and headed back home.

When me and my cousin went back, my neighbors told us that another mortar missile fell on my grandma's house but it didn't explode. Thank god it didn't explode because my grandma was alone in the house.

Thats what happened yesterday. God knows what more can happen."
Stories like this highlight the fact that much of the violence in Iraq is indiscriminate- Mortar shells land and kill innocent Iraqis randomly, without regard to their sectarian identity.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Iraq Strategy

This morning, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing to explore the U.S.'s remaining options in securing American interests in Iraq. Former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski testified. Their remarks, which include interesting analysis of America's diplomatic options vis-a-vis Iran and Syria, are available through the link posted above.

Iran's Involvement in Iraq

In light of recent blog postings on Iran's involvement in Iraq, I thought it may be a good idea to link to a backgrounder published yesterday on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations. It explores the answers to questions such as: What is Iran’s involvement in Iraq? Are there signs of intensified Iranian interference in Iraq? What are Iran’s motivations in Iraq? Are Iranians abetting the Iraqi insurgency?

The backgrounder makes no assumptions and is fairly thorough. Here is the link:

CFR also has an interview with Ken Pollack of the Brookings Instiution.
On the relationship between Iraq and Iran:
KP: ...We’ve seen the Iranians do some things that are unhelpful to the security of Iraq. But we’ve also seen the Iranians do some things that are actually very helpful to the security of Iraq. In particular, whenever they’ve had the opportunity, they have encouraged their allies inside Iraq to go along with reconstruction, to participate and not to fight the United States. And that’s extremely important. The Bush administration, on the other hand, seems to be regarding the Iranians as the source of many, if not all, of Iraq’s problems today. To me, it is dangerously reminiscent of how they talked about the Syrians in 2004 and 2005, when they ridiculously exaggerated Syria’s role in the Sunni insurgency. I’m afraid they are starting to do the same thing with Iran and the Shiite insurgency.

CFR: Why do you think they’re doing that?

KP: Just as in 2004 and 2005, when it was much easier to blame the problems of the Sunni insurgency on Syria, it’s much easier today to blame the problems of Shiite ethnic cleansing on the Iranians. The truth is that Iraq is a mess. It is in a state of low-level civil war. And all of these groups are largely self-motivated. But it’s much easier to blame it on the Iranians and use the traditional methods of state power—saber rattling, deploying carriers to the Gulf—as a way to try to deal with the problem.

I also do think there are some members of the Bush administration who have always favored war with Iran. They wanted to use military force against Iran back in 2004 and 2005 to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. They were basically shut down at that time. The administration decided to follow a diplomatic approach instead. And I fear the same group of people never gave up that aspiration, and they are now finding a back door to war with Iran.

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