Monday, August 31, 2009

The Passing Of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim

August 26, 2009 saw the passing of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC). Hakim was a symbol of Iraqi politics immediately after the 2003-invasion. He was an opportunist and pragmatist who was willing to align himself with various groups to gain power. He was widely successful in the early years following the overthrow of Saddam, but then his star began to fade in 2007.

The SIIC has its roots in the Dawa Party and Tehran. In the 1950s, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr and Ayatollah Mohsen al-Hakim created the Dawa Party rallying Shiites to the cause of an Islamic state. Hakim eventually left Dawa, and in the 1980s fled to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War with his two sons, Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. In 1982 Tehran formed the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq to counter the Dawa Party, and assert more influence over the Iraqi opposition. The Hakims in turn, pledged allegiance to Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian Revolution. In 1983 Iran created the Badr Brigade, which was an official arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force. It fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq War, and recruited amongst Iraqi prisoners of war. After the Gulf War, Badr moved into southern Iraq and tried to unsuccessfully take over the Shiite uprising. These origins were always a major problem for the SIIC as many Iraqis resented the Hakims fleeing to Iran, their role in the Iran-Iraq War and the 1991 uprisings, and their pro-Khomeini stance.

Despite their Iranian origins, the Hakims were always pragmatic opportunists who would ally with any group that would give them a better chance at gaining power in Iraq. Beginning in the late-1980s they started quiet relations with the United States. In 1992 they joined the Iraqi National Congress, and its leader Ahmad Chalabi, was able to garner Washington’s support for the SIIC as the major Shiite party they would work with after the invasion. They also worked closely with the ruling Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), to plan for a post-Saddam Iraq. The three had forged ties when they all fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq War.

When the 2003 invasion of Iraq occurred, the SIIC was able to sweep into power and assume a larger position than they had support. First, they took over a series of cities like Kut, Khanaqin, Baquba, Basra, Najaf, and Karbala because of the vacuum left from Saddam’s overthrow. They also sank early attempts to include internal Iraqi leaders in any new government put together by the U.S. They quickly aligned themselves with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as well to gain legitimacy and standing, and supported his call for elections to determine a new government and constitution, knowing that would benefit themselves since Iraq had a Shiite majority. Abdul al-Aziz al-Hakim ended up joining the Iraqi Governing Council, and assumed the leadership of the SIIC, when his brother Ayatollah Mohammed al-Hakim was killed in a car bombing in August 2003.

Beginning in 2005 Hakim and the SIIC were able to put together a string of ringing victories after the U.S. handed back sovereignty to Iraq. The SIIC was the driving force behind the United Iraqi Alliance in the 2005 elections, which came away with the most votes. It also joined with the Kurds to push through a new constitution, and together the SIIC, PUK, and KDP were the ruling coalitions behind the Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Nouri al-Maliki governments. The SIIC also took over the Interior Ministry under Jaafari, got their Badr Brigade integrated into the security forces, and set up death squads to begin the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Baghdad. In August 2005 they began promoting federalism, and a nine-province southern Shiite autonomous region. In 2006, the U.S. came to rely upon the SIIC to counter the Sadrists, who were their greatest rivals. The two had been having a long-running battle across southern Iraq. The SIIC was able to gain these victories because they were better organized than their rivals, the Sunnis and Sadrists boycotted the first two elections in 2005, and both Washington and Tehran supported them.

In 2007, the SIIC’s fortunes began to change. First, their call for an autonomous region proved to create more problems than good since many Shiites rejected the idea. The SIIC also controlled most of the southern provinces, and did a poor job governing and providing services. Third, the Hakim’s base was the middle class and merchants, who began to flee the country during the sectarian war. Fourth, the SIIC was never able to shake their image as tools of Tehran. To counter this the party tried to remake itself, dropping “Revolutionary” from their name becoming the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, claimed that they supported Ayatollah Sistani rather than Ayatollah Ali Khamanei in Iran, and said they had disbanded their militia the Badr Brigade, which they then called a social and political group. They also tried to provide social services to gain support amongst the poor, a move led by Abdul Hakim’s son, Ammar al-Hakim, who was being groomed as the successor to his father.

In 2008 and 2009 things got worse. Prime Minister Maliki began distancing himself from the SIIC by creating his own popular base with the Tribal Support Councils. Maliki also came out against federalism in both northern and southern Iraq, and called for a strong central government. In turn, the SIIC, KDP, and PUK talked about having a no confidence vote against the Prime Minister in December 2008, but they couldn’t decide upon a successor and were hoping that Maliki would trip up, and ruin his image. In the 2009 provincial elections, Maliki ran his own State of Law List against the SIIC, who was soundly beaten across the south and Baghdad. Despite these setbacks, Hakim tried to mend fences with Maliki by lobbying him to join a new version of the United Iraqi Alliance to run in the 2010 parliamentary balloting. This failed to materialize, as the Prime Minister wanted to lead the new list, something Hakim and the other parties refused to agree upon.

By the time of Hakim’s death, the SIIC was a shell of its former self. After the sweeping victories in 2005, the Supreme Council is now fading, and desperately trying to remake itself once again to return to power. They now talk about national unity, but they are remembered for their Iranian roots and pro-federalist stance. The death of Hakim could also lead to a power struggle within the organization. While Hakim’s son, Ammar, was the anointed successor, there are a number of possible rivals in the old guard like the head of the Badr Organization Hadi al-Ameri, Finance Minister Bayan Jabr, and Vice President Adel Abd al-Mahdi. The SIIC may be at a crossroads, lacking popular support and strong leadership with Hakim’s passing.


Abedin, Mahan, “The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI),” Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, October 2003

Dagher, Sam, “Rising player with a vision for Shiite Iraq,” Christian Science Monitor, 11/20/07

Elkhamri, Mounir, “Iran’s Contribution to the Civil War in Iraq,” Jamestown Foundation, January 2007

Felter, Joseph and Fishman, Brian, “Iranian Strategy in Iraq, Politics and ‘Other Means,’” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 10/13/08

Kemp, Geoffrey, “Iran and Iraq The Shia Connection, Soft Power, and the Nuclear Factor,” United States Institute of Peace, November 2005

International Crisis Group, “Shiite Politics In Iraq: The Role Of The Supreme Council,” 11/15/07

Packer, George, “War After The War,” New Yorker, 11/24/03

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Shiite Clerics’ Rivalry Deepens In Fragile Iraq,” Washington Post, 12/21/06
- “Shiite Contest Sharpens In Iraq,” Washington Post, 12/26/07

Ramzi, Kholoud, “daawa-siic conflict splits Shiite unity,” Niqash,” 11/27/08

Santora, Marc, “Shiite Power Broker Dies, in Blow to Iraqi Party,” New York Times, 8/26/09

Semple, Kirk, “Heavy battle between shiite militias reveals deep split in ruling coalition,” San Francisco Chronicle, 10/22/06

Serwer, Daniel and Parker, Sam, “Maliki’s Iraq between Two Elections,” United States Institute of Peace, May 2009

Visser, Reidar, “Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim Dies in Tehran,”, 8/26/09

Walt, Vivienne, “U.S. Ally: Shiite leader preached unity before attack,” San Francisco Chronicle, 8/30/03

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Life In Iraq Before and After The Invasion

One of the major points of contention over Iraq is whether the war has improved the standard of living for the average citizen. Obviously there is much more freedom now than under the previous dictatorial regime of Saddam, and Iraq is a fledgling democracy. Being able to vote however does not provide people with food, jobs or services. A comparison of aggregate statistics from before and after the 2003 invasion actually shows a mixed bag of results for Iraq.

In the 1970s Iraq was a developing country with an increasing standard of living. Health and education were both up. Iraq instituted a mandatory primary education system, and worked on adult literacy. People from around the Arab world went to Iraq to get a college education. Infant mortality and diseases also declined. This expansion was fueled by the growth in oil prices in the 1970s. In the 1980s Saddam decided to go to war with Iran, the first of many poor foreign policy decisions, which placed a tremendous burden upon Iraq's economy, and began a steady decline in the country. The invasion of Kuwait, the Gulf War, and the international sanctions in the 1990s had an even more devastating affect upon daily life. One U.N. study found that living standards dropped 2/3 from 1988 to 1995 as a result. By the time of the U.S. invasion in 2003 Iraq was in a sorry state. The looting that took place immediately after the overthrow of Saddam along with a slow reconstruction effort appeared to make things worse. In the last couple years however, parts of Iraq's economy and services have begun to recover and grow.

Per Capita Gross Domestic Product

The rising oil prices in the 1970s boosted Iraq's per capital Gross Domestic Product (GDP). By 1980 it had risen to $3,812. The Iran-Iraq led to a dramatic drop to around $250. The Gulf War and sanctions brought per capita GDP down to its lowest level at $180 by 1994, after which it steadily improved. By 2002 on the eve of the war per capita GDP was up to $770. The invasion brought it down again to $570, but then it started increasing again. By 2007 it was at $2,848, and in 2008 it was approximately $3,100. The numbers show that Iraq's economy was slowly improving even before 2003, and that in recent years it has gotten much better. The 2008 per capita GDP however, is still not at the level that it was in 1980, one of the high points in Iraq's development.

Per Capita GDP




approx. $3,700


approx $250










approx $3,100

Even with the improvements in the economy however, Iraq is nearly at the bottom compared to other countries in the region. When looking at purchasing power parity numbers for example, Iraq is second to last amongst 16 neighboring countries. Qatar was at the top with $58,004, Iraq was at $3,880, with only Yemen lower with $2,290.

Comparison Of Iraq's Purchasing Power Parity Figures With Other Countries In The Region





United Arab Emirates


Saudi Arabia




























Life Expectancy

Life expectancy in Iraq has declined since the U.S. invasion. In 1987 it was an average of 65 years. By 2006 it was down to 58.2 years. The violence in Iraq may have played a role in that, but the general poor quality of services was another major factor in this change. Again, when compared to other countries in the region, Iraq is at the bottom in this category. Iraq is also the 3rd least healthy country in the Arab world. Iraqis have a 19.4% chance of not surviving past 40 years old. Only Sudan at 26.1% and Djibouti at 28.6% were worse off.

Life Expectance In Iraq Compared To Region 2006-2008


Life Expectancy

United Arab Emirates

78.3 years


77.3 years


73.6 years

Saudi Arabia

72.2 years


71.9 years


71.4 years


70.2 years


61.5 years


58.2 years

Infant Deaths

Care for young children was another area that improved during the 1970s and 1980s, and has since recovered to those levels. In the 1970s there were 80 deaths per 1,000 live births. That dropped to an average of 40 deaths per 1,000 births by the 1980s. In 1984 for example, there were 30 deaths per 1,000 births. Deaths of children under five also declined during this period going from 120 deaths per 1,000 children in the late 1970s to 50 deaths per 1,000 children in 1984. The sanctions imposed in the 1990s however led to Iraq's health system falling apart. In 1990, the year of the Kuwait invasion, there were 50 deaths per 1,000 live births, which then doubled to 101 deaths per 1,000 live births by 1999. Fatalities for young children also increased from 62 deaths for children under 5 per 1,000 to 122 per 1,000 in 1999. These two areas have improved since 2003 up to what they were during the 1980s. In 2006 there were 35 deaths per 1,000 live births, and 41 deaths of children under 5 per 1,000. Again, despite the better numbers, Iraq is still worse off compared to other Arab countries. In Kuwait there are 11 deaths per 1,000 live births and 26 deaths per 1,000 live births in Saudi Arabia and Jordan in 2006.

Infant Mortality Rate/Under 5 Mortality Rate In Iraq per 1,000

Infant Mortality Rate

Under 5 Mortality Rate
















2006 Infant Mortality Rates Iraq Compared to Arab Countries


Infant Mortality Rate


11 per 1,000


15 per 1,000

Saudi Arabia

26 per 1,000


26 per 1,000


35 per 1,000

Child Malnutrition

Other statistics for children have only slightly improved since the invasion. Child malnutrition for example is only marginally better. The rate for stunting children under five declined from 22.1% in 2000 to 21.4% in 2006. That meant 1 in every 5 Iraqi children was under nourished. Iran, Syria and Jordan did better in this category, with only Yemen at 53% doing worse. Iraqis in general largely rely upon the government's food ration system, the largest in the world. This was set up during the 1990s sanctions under the Oil For Food Program. Before the war 60% of Iraqis relied upon the rations, the same amount today.

One area that has seen a big improvement since the war is education. Iraq already had a reputation for a great higher education system before its series of wars. That was largely devastated beginning in the 1980s, but schooling overall has improved since 2003. A 2006 United Nations survey found 78% of Iraqis were literate, 86% for men and 70% for women. Access to education varies across the provinces from a high of 89% in Diyala to a low of 57% in Dohuk. Overall however, this is one category where Iraq is comparable to its neighbors like Jordan where 86% have access to education, and 75% in Syria. Students in Iraq's primary, secondary, prep, colleges, and post-graduate schools have all seen increases, with only those in kindergarten going slightly down since the invasion.


School Level






Primary (1st-6th)



Secondary (7th-12th)



Prep (10th-12th)










Until recently inflation was a major cause for the decline in living standards in Iraq. The inflation rate for fuel and electricity from 1996 to 2002 was 18%. After the invasion in 2005 the government ended subsidies for these two products causing the inflation rate for them to skyrocket to 71.6%. Fuel and energy expenses grew 590% from 2002 to 2005 as a result. They continued to go up 129% from 2005 to 2006. In the 1980s and 1990s an average Iraqi family spent 11% of their money on fuel and energy. That went up to 35% by 2006. In the last few years Iraq's Central Bank has gotten control of the problem, and greatly decreased inflation overall. That has improved the spending power of Iraqis.

Economy Overall
Iraq's overall economy is in some ways worse off than before the invasion. It is much more dependent upon oil now than ever before because of the decline in other sectors. Oil now accounts for roughly 70% of Iraq's GDP, while services are 22%. Industry went from 9% of GDP before the war to less than 1.5% afterward. Farming went from 35% of the GDP in the 1970s to 6.5% after 2003. Oil is also not a labor-intensive industry, and only employs about 2% of the work force. That means 98% of Iraqis are employed in businesses that only contribute around 30% of the GDP. This is the reason why the government is the largest employer in the country, because not only is it safe and steady work, but it provides one of the few opportunities in Iraq since the private sector is so small. In turn, the labor market is distorted as the government starves businesses of workers.

U.S. attempts to improve the economy have only made the situation worse. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) tried to implement free market and free trade reforms. This led to the lifting of tariffs that opened up the country to a flood of cheap imports, which caused major problems for many small businesses and farms. The CPA also cut support for Iraq's state-owned industries that accounted for 90% of industrial capacity and employed around 500,000. Eventually the CPA decided to help some of these businesses, but by then 2/3 of them had closed. Since 2007 the U.S. has tried to bring back many of these companies to very mixed results.


This is only a review of a few factors in the lives of average Iraqis. They can only tell so much as there are large variations from province to province, between rural and urban areas, and between classes. What the numbers provided do show is mixed living standards before and after the invasion. Per capita GDP is better now than before 2003, but not up to the level it reached in 1980. Life expectancy and child malnutrition have declined, but infant mortality is back to what it was in the 1980s. Education and inflation have both gotten better, but the economy overall is in a worse state for those looking for work. In most of those categories, Iraq also ranks at near the bottom compared to its neighbors. Those who want to argue that the U.S. intervention has improved Iraq or not can find numbers to argue both sides. What everyone can hopefully agree upon is that Iraqis deserve much better.


Collier, Robert, “Imports inundate Iraq under new U.S. policy,” San Francisco Chronicle, 7/10/03

Cordesman, Anthony, “The Changing Situation in Iraq: A Progress Report,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 4/4/09

Fairweather, Jack, “Iraqi state enterprises warily reopen,” Financial Times, 6/16/08

Government of Iraq, “Iraq National Report on the Status of Human Development 2008,” 12/31/08

Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, “Iraq Labour Force Analysis 2003-2008,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, January 2009

McGeary, Johanna, “Looking Beyond Saddam,” Time, 3/10/03

Reuters, “Iraq must cut food rations in 2008-trade minister,” 12/6/2007

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/09
- “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/09

Whitelaw, Kevin, “After The Fall,” U.S. News & World Report, 12/2/02

Friday, August 28, 2009

New National Iraqi Alliance

On August 24, 2009 the new Iraqi National Alliance was announced. This was the long-awaited revised version of the United Iraqi Alliance, which was the largest vote getter in the 2005 elections. The new grouping includes the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), the Sadrists, former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s National Reform Party, the Dawa-Iraq Party, and two Sunni figures, Sheikh Hamid al-Hayes of the Anbar Salvation Council and Khalid Abd al-Wahhab al-Mulla from Basra. It appears that the new list was unable to convince the Fadhila Party to join. In July 2009 they said they would not, and in August claimed they were going to form their own list, the Alliance for Integrity and Development. More importantly, the National Alliance did not include Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party.

Dawa was said to be involved in negotiations right up to the last minute of the press conference of the new list, but couldn’t get their demands met. Maliki was asking for a majority of seats in the alliance and a promise that he would be their sole candidate to be prime minister, which the other parties objected to. The National Alliance however did leave the door open to Maliki joining the list at a later date.

As reported before, Maliki’s main reason for flirting with rejoining the alliance after running separately with his own State of Law List in the 2009 provincial balloting, was to secure the top post in the country. While Maliki was considered the biggest winner in the 2009 election, a breakdown of the results show that he was in no position to hold onto the prime ministership if he ran alone again. Of the fourteen provinces that held elections, Maliki’s State of Law only won majorities in two, Baghdad and Basra, and even then, came away with 38% and 37% of the vote respectively. Overall, State of Law won 15.1% of the ballots and took 27.5% of the 440 seats up for grabs. That was hardly a hold on the electorate to ensure that he be re-elected. In comparison, the new National Alliance members walked away with 17.1% of the vote and 27.7% of the seats.

January 2009 Provincial Election Results Comparison
Maliki’s State of Law: 15.1% of vote, 121 seats, 27.5%
SIIC’s Al-Mihrab Martyr List: 6.6% of vote, 58 seats, 13.1%
Sadrists’ Independent Free Movement List: 6.3% of vote, 41 seats, 9.3%
Jaafari’s National Reform Party: 4.2% of vote, 23 seats, 5.2%
Iraqi National Alliance members together: 17.1% of vote, 122 seats, 27.7%

This leaves the Prime Minister in a quandary because there are few other major parties left for him to align with. The Fadhila Party and Dawa have not gotten along. The State of Law List did not include it in any of its ruling coalitions after the 2009 provincial elections, and Fadhila had a poor showing in the voting. Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha of the Awakening and National Independents List has repeatedly expressed a desire to run with Maliki in 2010. The al-Hadbaa Party of Ninewa, the Change List in Kurdistan, and Mithal al-Alusi’s Ummah Party may also be new partners. Those together would still probably not deliver a plurality of the vote. Maliki flirted with allying with parliamentarian Saleh al-Mutlaq’s National Dialogue Front after the 2009 balloting, but was attacked for it by the other Shiite parties who claimed Mutlaq was a Baathist. Mutlaq is now in discussions with former speaker of parliament Mahmoud al-Mashhadani of the National Dialogue Council, Vice President Tariq Hashemi of the Iraqi Islamic Party, former Prime Miniser Ilyad Allawi of the Iraqi National List, and Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani of the Constitution Party to form a new alliance. Bolani is said to be a candidate for prime minister, so it’s unlikely that Maliki would want to work with this grouping. After that there are only a plethora of smaller parties that tend to have very localized support.

Iraqi politics are in a state of flux. The Shiites along with the other ethnosectarian groups are fragmenting into smaller parties as the 2009 elections showed. This makes it much harder to form winning coalitions. Maliki may have to cobble together an ad hoc group of parties and hope for the best if he wants to be prime minister again. Even if he ran with the National Iraqi Alliance there was no guarantee he would hold onto the spot as the SIIC was only hoping to ride Maliki’s coattails back into power and then drop him afterwards. After the 2010 vote is completed and negotiations begin for a ruling coalition, the Prime Minister will also have to contend with the fact that the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (KDP) alliance is set against him, along with many in the Islamic Party. No matter what then, Maliki is facing an uphill battle after his spate of military and political victories in 2008 and 2009.


Alsumaria, “New Iraq political coalition in the offing,” 8/24/09

Associated Press, “New Shiite alliance excludes Iraqi prime minister,” 8/24/09

Aswat al-Iraq, “Fadhila party announces new alliance for next elections,” 8/10/09
- “Sunni leader envisions alliance with Maliki in next polls,” 7/26/09

Domergue, Jeremy and Cochrane, Marisa, “Balancing Maliki,” Institute for Understanding War, June 2009

Fox News, “Iraqi Clan Leader May Hold Key to Lasting Political Stability After U.S. Exit,” 4/4/09

Iraq The Model, “Accord Front Collapses, Sunni Tribes Seek Shiite Allies,” 8/15/09
- “Maliki promises a crackdown that could reach political figures,” 8/23/09

Kazimi, Nibras, “Announcing the ‘New’ UIA,” Talisman Gate, 8/24/09
- “Iraq: Alliances Galore,” Hudson Institute, 7/17/09
- “Iraq: Rumors Swirl,” Hudson Institute, 8/6/09

Londono, Ernesto, “Iraqi Shiite Parties Form Coalition Without Maliki,” Washington Post, 8/24/09

Myers, Steven Lee, “Iraqi Shiite Leaders Create Alliance, Minus Maliki,” New York times, 8/24/09

Parker, Ned, “Maliki remakes himself ahead of elections,” Los Angeles Times, 7/21/09

Parker, Ned and Salman, Raheem, “In Basra, political skirmishing heats up as elections near,” Los Angeles Times, 12/28/08

Shadid, Anthony, “In Iraq, Political Ambiguity,” Washington Post, 4/4/09

Visser, Reidar, “After Sadr-Badr Compromise in Tehran, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) Is Declared,”, 8/24/09
- “Claiming Nothing Has Really Changed, Fadila Rejects the Offer to Rejoin a ‘Reformed’ UIA,”, 7/17/09

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sons Of Iraq Integration Update

Beginning in September 2008, the United States began transferring control of the Sons of Iraq (SOI) program to Baghdad. The process went in stages with the SOI in Baghdad handed over first, and those in Salahaddin last in April 2009. 88,383 SOI are now on the government’s payroll. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has pledged to give 20% of the SOI jobs in the security forces, and the rest employment in civilian ministries. So far the integration plan has gone in fits and spurts, and does not appear to be on time to meet the goals set by the U.S.

From October 2008 to July 2009 only 6,282 SOI have been given jobs. Of those 4,565 have gone into the security forces, and 1,717 into non-security work. The provincial government in Diyala however announced in early August that it had accepted 8,800 SOI into the workforce. Since the January 2009 elections the Iraqi Accordance Front has controlled Diyala, which has actively allied itself with the SOI there to gain popular support and victory at the ballot box, so it should come as no surprise that so many SOI were taken in there.

In total, 17,423 SOI have gotten jobs since the program was created by the United States during the Surge up to July, with approximately 13,000 joining the Iraqi army and police. From June 2007 to September 2008, before the hand over, 11,141 were accepted by the government with 8,777 getting security jobs and 2,364 other government work. Baghdad has also processed 47,000 questionnaires filled out by the SOI, 3,331 of which were sent to the ministries at the beginning of August.

The U.S. general in charge of the transfer program said that he expected Baghdad to give all 94,000 SOI jobs by the end of 2009. So far however, only around 25% have found employment two-thirds of the way through the year, and there has been a hiring freeze of SOI in the Ministries of Defense and Interior since April because of their budget problems. In its latest report on Iraq to Congress, the Defense Department warned that Baghdad was not on tract to meet its promises.

There have been a number of other problems as well. In March and April 2009 the SOI were not paid because the budget did not originally include their salaries. Even after this mix up was fixed there are still on-going complaints by SOI about not getting paid. This has led to an unknown number of fighters to leave their posts and look for work elsewhere. The government has also carried out a series of arrests of SOI with 41 leaders detained since November 2008 with six released. In May 2009 the SOI and the U.S. registered complaints about this policy and things slowed, but then started again in July. There have also been reports that the SOI have been targeted for kidnappings by local police to be ransomed off, and of families charging SOI members with murdering their insurgent relatives.

Baghdad has always viewed the Sons of Iraq program with ambivalence. The fighters were mostly former insurgents organized by the United States without any role played by the Iraqi government. Shiite politicians have often complained about them being infiltrated by militants, denigrated their role in improving security, and said they are only relevant to the Americans. This lack of concern and the normal bureaucratic delays in the government has held up their integration into the Iraqi government. It’s very unlikely that all of them will get jobs by the end of the year, especially with the country’s budget problems holding up all new hiring. That will mean Washington will have to lobby Maliki to include their pay in the next budget as well. Since Iraq’s parliament takes months to pass anything that could leave the SOI without pay for several months all over again. Even then it seems unlikely that Baghdad has the will or capacity to take in all these former fighters. Ultimately, many will probably have to look for work on their own or end up on the unemployment line.


Aswat al-Iraq, “3,331 files of Sahwa fighters referred to concerned ministries,” 8/2/09
- “8,800 Sahwa council personnel absorbed into Diala’s security apparatus,” 8/9/09

Clark, Dave, “Some US-backed Iraqi militias plotting attacks: VP,” Agence France Presse, 4/14/09

Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” June 2009

Dolan, Jack and Issa, Sahar, “Iraqi militiamen frustrated that promised jobs haven’t materialized,” McClatchy Newspapers, 5/20/09

Al Jazeera, “Iraq’s unpaid Awakening Council,” 8/8/09

Nordland, Rod, “Arrests of Sunni Leaders Rise in Baghdad,” New York Times, 7/30/09

Nordland, Rod and Rubin, Alissa, “Sunni Fighters Say Iraq Didn’t Keep Job Promises,” New York Times, 3/24/09

Parker, Ned, “Corruption plays key role in Iraqi justice,” Los Angeles Times, 6/29/09

Rasheed, Ahmed and Cocks, Tim, “Some U.S.-backed Iraqi fighters desert posts,” Reuters, 5/6/09

Russo, Claire, “Countdown To Diyala’s Provincial Election: Maliki & The IIP,” Institute for the Study of War, 1/30/09

Santora, Marc, “Iraq Arrests 2 Sunni Leaders, Raising Fears of Violence,” New York Times, 5/19/09

Serwer, Daniel and Parker, Sam, “Maliki’s Iraq between Two Elections,” United States Institute of Peace, May 2009

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/09
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/09

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Iraqi Survey On Security

The latest edition of the Pentagon’s Measuring Stability and Security In Iraq report to Congress includes a public opinion poll of Iraqis done in April 2009 on security. The results showed that Iraqis felt that security in their neighborhood was good, but that they had apprehensions about the rest of the country, and that the Iraqi Security Forces had widespread support.

A majority of respondents said they felt secure in their neighborhoods and provinces, but less so in Iraq in general. 76% said security was calm in their neighborhood, and 60% said the same about security in their province. 90% said that security was the same or better in their neighborhood over the last six months. These numbers were relatively unchanged since August 2008. When asked about Iraq in general however, only 31% said security was calm. This was a 10% increase from August 2008. In November 2007, 23% felt that security was calm in the country. When asked whether they felt safe traveling outside their neighborhood only 42% said yes, largely unchanged since November 2007 when 39% said yes. A majority however, 56%, said they felt that the country was stable. These numbers reflect the new status quo in Iraq. The sectarian war ended in 2007, and the crackdown against the Shiite militias was over by the fall of 2008. That has led to relative stability in most Iraqis’ lives. There is still violence though, which could be the reason why so many are unsure of the security situation across the entire country, and have reservations about leaving their immediate area.

Said security was calm in neighborhood

April 09 76%
Jan. 09 77%
Oct. 08 76%
Aug. 08 73%

Said security was same or better in neighborhood over last 6 months

April 09 90%
Jan. 09 90%
Oct. 08 89%
Aug. 09 91%
Nov. 07 82%

Said security in province was calm

April 09 60%
Jan. 09 57%
Oct. 08 57%

Said security in Iraq was calm

April 09 31%
Jan. 09 29%
Oct. 08 28%
Aug. 08 21%
Nov. 07 23%

Said security was the same or better in Iraq in last 6 months

April 09 86%
Jan. 09 86%
Oct. 08 79%
Nov. 07 81%

Said Iraq was stable

April 09 56%
Jan. 09 51%
Oct. 08 45%
Nov. 07 38%

Said felt safe traveling outside of neighborhood

April 09 42%
Jan. 09 42%
Oct. 08 42%
Aug. 08 37%
Nov. 07 39%

One of the main changes in the security situation in Iraq has been the increasing size and abilities of the Iraqi security forces to conduct day-to-day operations, and the public’s confidence in them. In all the questions about the Iraqi Army and police, respondents had positive views. The same could not be said of the U.S. military that seemed to be considered in low regard, and tribes, militias, and other groups were largely not considered relevant to providing security. 72% said they felt secure around the army, and 75% said they were winning the war against terrorists. In contrast, in November 2007 only 51% said they felt safe around the army, and 52% said they were winning. 66% said they felt secure around the police, and 65% said they were winning against crime. 79% responded that the either the army or police were responsible for security in their neighborhood. The security forces were also trusted more than the local, provincial or national governments. A major change between the April 2009 survey and the October 2008 one was the complete disappearance of trust in militias and armed groups. This is important not only for the development of the Iraqi forces, but for the U.S. withdrawal as well, as security will eventually be turned completely over to Baghdad’s control, and they need the support of the public to operate effectively.

Said they felt secure around Iraqi Army

April 09 72%
Jan. 09 70%
Oct. 08 65%
Nov. 07 51%

Said Iraqi Army was winning battle against terrorists

April 09 75%
Jan. 09 72%
Oct. 08 70%
Nov. 07 52%

Said felt secure around police

April 09 66%
Jan. 09 62%
Oct. 08 61%
Nov. 07 53%

Said police winning against crime

April 09 65%
Jan. 09 61%
Oct. 08 61%
Nov. 07 60%

Who was responsible for security in your neighborhood?

Police 40%
Army 39%
Tribes 6%
Sons of Iraq 3%
Neighbors 2%
Religious leaders 2%
U.S. 2%
Militias 0%

Who did you trust to protect you? – April 09

Army 87%
Police 83%
Provincial government 74%
National government 72%
Local government 66%
U.S. 27%

Who did you trust to protect you? – October 2008

Army 85%
Police 81%
Provincial government 68%
National government 66%
Local government 64%
U.S. 26%
Armed groups 12%
Militias 12%

The Pentagon’s April 2009 survey had roughly the same results as a poll conducted by the international news agencies the BBC, ABC, and Japan’s NHK from March 2009. Both groups found an overwhelming majority of Iraqis felt safe and secure in their neighborhoods, but had questions about the situation in the rest of the country. Respondents in both surveys also said they had confidence in the Iraqi security forces to do their jobs, and felt that they were winning. Both of these polls were taken before the recent wave of bombings however. While overall deaths have gone up and down, the constant attacks and publicity take a psychological toll and could change perceptions. Those create reality for people, and could change opinions about the security situation. If it does, the first victim could be Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who is running in the 2010 parliamentary election on the claim that he has brought security and stability to Iraq.


BBC, ABC, NHK, “Iraq Poll February 2009,” 3/16/09

Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” June 2009
- “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” December 2008
- “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” September 2008

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Obama Administration Needs A Real Iraq Strategy

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies is one of the leading military analysts on Iraq. Every month he authors a few reports on the subject, and at the end of July issued a short paper on the short-comings of the Obama administration called “Iraq: A Time To Stay? The US Needs an Exit Strategy, Not Just an Exit.” Cordesman thinks the Obama White House is solely focused upon withdrawing, and isn’t adequately planning for a long-term Iraq policy afterward.

June 30, 2009 was the beginning of the American pull out of Iraq. That was when U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq’s cities. Until today’s slew of bombings in Baghdad, things were going better than expected. What will come next is Cordesman’s main concern. The U.S. needs to leave behind a stable Iraq that can defend itself. There are still some major barriers to overcome before this can happen. Those are continued development of the Iraqi security forces, the Arab-Kurd divide, political divisions, fighting insurgents and Special Groups, and the development of Iraq’s economy. Cordesman believes that the Obama White House will fail if it doesn’t adequately manage this situation properly. They have to come up with a sustainable strategy for Iraq that switches emphasis from a military led effort to a civilian one.

There are several policies Cordesman suggests that could help with this process. First, American trainers need to remain in Iraq for the long-term until the Iraqi forces are self-sufficient. Second, the U.S. needs to work with the United Nations to try to moderate the Arab-Kurdish disputes, something that could take years to resolve. Aid needs to be sustained, and used strategically to push for reforms in the Iraqi government and economy, as well as alleviate differences. Fourth, Iraq’s economy needs serious investment and reform. The U.S. could help by providing business models for Iraq’s oil and agriculture sectors, as well as getting an investment law passed in parliament. Last, the White House needs to prepare the Congress and the American public for a lasting relationship with Iraq so that these policies can be implemented.

Cordesman’s sees some planning going on in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for this change, but none in Washington. According to him, this is mostly happening on the military side in Iraq. The civilian agencies in comparison are caught up in short-term goals such as finishing on-going projects instead of planning for the future. In the U.S. Cordesman sees no leadership by the Obama administration on Iraq. This seems like a strong call for action, but one that may not be heeded. According to members of the Tamim provincial council, when Vice President Joe Biden talked to them this year, he told them that development aid was coming to an end since the U.S. had such a large deficit. There are plans to cut the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams that work in each province by more than half. While administration officials are talking about the need to mediate the Arab-Kurd dispute and Kirkuk, there is no strong push by the U.S. to actually do something. Whenever a U.S. role is mentioned, it appears to be going on quietly behind closed doors, when this needs to be a major policy push before U.S. forces are out and America’s influence fades even more. The Americans are not the solution to everything, but they can definitely help in selected areas like governance, development, security, and the Baghdad-Kurdistan dispute. With domestic issues taking a precedence, and emphasis switching to Afghanistan in foreign affairs, the Obama administration may not have the time, focus or patience to deal with Iraq adequately. The White House talks about Iraq every now and then, but actual action seems lacking.


Cordesman, Anthony, “Iraq: A Time To Stay?” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 7/30/09

Dagher, Sam, “2 Blasts Expose Security Flaws in Heart of Iraq,” New York Times, 8/19/09

Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” June 2009

International Crisis Group, “Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along the Trigger Line,” 7/8/09

Monday, August 24, 2009

Political Parties Playing Into The Hands Of Insurgent Attacks

Ninewa province and its districts

The recent mass casualty bombings in Ninewa have only added to the on-going dispute between the ruling al-Hadbaa party and the Kurdish Ninewa Fraternal List to the point that the U.S. is offering extra troops to help patrol the province. On August 7, 2009 there was a bombing of a Turkmen Shiite mosque in the provincial capital Mosul that killed 38 and wounded 140. On August 10, two truck bombs leveled the town of Khazna, ten miles east of Mosul killing 28 Shabaks and wounding 155. Finally, on August 13 a suicide bomber detonated his device in a café in Sinjar in western Ninewa killing 20 Yazidis and wounding 35.

Ninewa’s minorities have often been caught in the middle of the battle for control between Arabs and Kurds, so it was no surprise when Al Hadbaa and the Kurdish List used the bombings to attack each other. A senior Kurdish politician in Mosul said al-Hadbaa was directly involved in the violence, and that Arabs were trying to ethnically cleanse the Kurds from the province. The Kurdistan Regional Government went farther saying al-Hadbaa was responsible for the deaths of over 2,000 Kurds and the displacement of both Kurds and Christians. Governor Atheel al-Najafi replied by saying that the bloodshed benefited the Kurds because it justified the continued presence of their peshmerga in the province. The al-Hadbaa controlled provincial council also said the Iraqi army and police should take over security for the entire province and replace the Kurdish forces, an idea rejected by the Kurdish List.

The situation has grown so tense that the U.S. commander in Iraq General Ray Odierno has proposed increasing the U.S. troop presence in Ninewa. He has recently met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Kurdish President Massoud Barzani about creating joint U.S.-Iraq-Kurdish patrols in the disputed areas of the province. The general said that Al Qaeda in Iraq is exploiting the political differences to carry out their attacks and sow dissension. The U.S. has tried similar things in Tamim province, but has only been successful in the Kirkuk area. While this tactic might improve security, it would only be a band-aid on a growing wound.

What is needed is some kind of power-sharing agreement between al-Hadbaa and the Fraternal List, but they seem intractable. In June 2009, the Sadrists in parliament sent a delegation to Ninewa to try to negotiate between the two sides, but failed. More recently, the Iraqi Islamic Party gave it a go, but neither side was willing to compromise. The United States is now working on the issue behind the scenes.

In the meantime, the inflammatory rhetoric continues, and 16 of Ninewa’s 37 administrative units, which are majority Kurdish, are boycotting the provincial government and threatening to create their own independent administration. The insurgent attacks were meant to incite just such responses, and the two political lists in Ninewa seem to be intent on accommodating them.


Aswat al-Iraq, “KRG blames Hadbaa for murder of Kurds, displacement of Christians in Mosul,” 8/14/09
- “Kurdish list says Ninewa to see serious escalation if govt. fails to intervene,” 8/15/09
- “Sinjar suicide blast casualties up to 55,” 8/13/09

Al-Badrani, Jamal, “Kurds in troubled Iraqi province threaten to secede,” Reuters, 7/19/09
- “Qaeda stronger as blasts feed Iraqi Kurd-Arab feud,” Reuters, 8/16/09

Dagher, Sam, “Minorities Trapped in Northern Iraq’s Maelstrom,” New York Times, 8/16/09
- “Sectarian Bombings Pulverize a Village in Iraq,” New York Times, 8/11/09

International Crisis Group, “Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along the Trigger Line,” 7/8/09

Mohsen, Amer, “Iraq Papers Wed: A Wounded Country,”, 6/23/09

Nordland, Rod and Dagher, Sam, “U.S. Will Release More Members of an Iraqi Shiite Militia,” New York Times, 8/17/09

Reuters, “Iraq bombs kill 50, mostly Shi’ites targeted,” 8/7/09

Shadid, Anthony, “Worries About A Kurdish-Arab Conflict Moves To Fore in Iraq,” Washington Post, 7/27/09

Sly, Liz, “Iraq attacks raise fears of renewed ethnic tensions,” Los Angeles Times, 8/11/09

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, "Iraq Report - 2008," December 2008

Maliki Wants Referendum On SOFA In January 2010

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s cabinet submitted a draft law to parliament calling for a referendum on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to coincide with the January 2010 parliamentary election. The SOFA was originally passed in November 2008 by the Iraqi parliament. Alongside it was a second law, the Political Reform Document, which also called for power sharing in the government and security forces, and a referendum on the SOFA by July 2009. The Reform Document was pushed by the Iraqi Accordance Front, and was the only concession they were able to get from the negotiations over the SOFA. It was not binding however, which was why the referendum was not held on time, and there has been no change in the administration or army and police. There was also no one advocating for the referendum from within the parliament, Maliki’s cabinet, or the United States.

Now Maliki is on the campaign trail, and is portraying himself as the leader that got the Americans to leave Iraq. Maliki for example, called the June 30, 2009 withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq’s cities a national holiday and a great victory. If the Iraqi public votes the SOFA down in January, which American officials seem to believe will happen, the U.S. will have one year to withdraw its forces. As the policy now stands, the Obama administration plans to accomplish that by December 31, 2011. In pushing for the referendum, Maliki needs to balance the continued need for U.S. support with his desire for a nationalist image. He appears to be going for the route that will assure him the most votes.


Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Sunni Arab support key to US-Iraq security deal,” Associated Press, 11/25/08

Ashton, Adam, Landay, Jonathan and Youssef, Nancy, “U.S. staying silent on its view of Iraq pact until after vote,” McClatchy Newspapers, 11/26/08

Aswat al-Iraq, “Iraqi govt. allocates $100 million for referendum on security agreement,” 6/9/09

Domergue, Jeremy and Cochrane, Marisa, “Balancing Maliki,” Institute for Understanding War, June 2009

Londono, Ernesto, “Iraq May Hold Vote On U.S. Withdrawal,” Washington Post, 8/18/09

Mohsen, Amer, “Iraq Papers Mon: Tragedy Near Kirkuk,”, 6/21/09

Rubin, Alissa, “Iraq Marks Withdrawal of U.S. Troops From Cities,” New York Times, 6/30/09

Rubin, Alissa, Robertson, Campbell and Farrell, Stephen, “Iraqi Parliament Approves U.S. Security Pact,” New York Times, 11/27/08

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Critique Of Mayor’s Warning of Politicization Of Iraq’s Security Forces

In July 2009 the former mayor of Tel Afar in Ninewa Najim Abed al-Jabouri authored a paper for the National Defense University warning of sectarianism and political influence in the Iraqi Security Forces. The report, “An Iraqi ISF Assessment after U.S. Troop Withdrawal” warned that the U.S. must protect the security forces from Iraq’s political parties before it withdraws in 2011 or face a possible civil war. While touching on an important issue, there are some major problems with Jabouri’s argument.

Jabouri starts off by saying that many American officials have warned about politicization of the security forces. He notes General James Jones’ report on Iraq’s forces, General Ray Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, and the Defense Department’s quarterly reports to Congress, have all mentioned political meddling in Iraq’s army, police, and Interior and Defense Ministries. This is the first issue with the paper. General Jones’ report from September 2007 mentioned that the Iraqi police were open to political influence because they were locally recruited and thus under local political leaders’ sway. It also talked about the sectarian nature of the Interior Ministry and the lack of top leadership. At the same time it found that the Defense Minister was independent of politics. Later in the paper Jabouri actually seems to admit this by saying that the Iraqi Army is less influenced by politics as the police because the U.S. has spent much more time training and mentoring the armed forces. Newer reports like one by the United States Institute of Peace from August 2009 has found that Interior Minister Jawad Bolani has successfully instituted a series of reforms of the ministry, and cleaned up a lot of the previous problems. A further issue is that the two quotes used, one by General Odierno and one by the Defense Department, mentioned politics and sectarianism were still problems in Iraq in general, but never mentioned the security forces. That’s not to say that Jabouri’s thoughts are off, but the examples he gives don’t quite support his point.

Next Jabouri goes over Iraqi concerns about their forces. According to him Iraq assessments see problems with political meddling, lack of professionalism and training, and logistics and organization as the major issues facing the army and police. He gives examples of political influence over the army by saying the 8th Division is under the influence of the Dawa party, the 4th Division under the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the 7th Division under the Anbar Awakening, and the 5th Division under the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC). Here Jabouri does a much better job. In Anbar for example, almost all of the soldiers and police were recruited from the Awakening tribes. During the standoff between the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish peshmerga in the Khanaqin district of Diyala in August 2008, a Kurdish led Brigade in the province refused to take orders from Baghdad, while another commander and 200 of his soldiers in Ninewa quit and marched back to Irbil. Maliki has also tried to centralize control of the Army divisions by placing his supporters in command positions. There is definitely political influence in the security forces; the question is to what extent.

Jabouri is afraid with U.S. forces withdrawing, the different sectarian parties will launch attacks to try to undermine the security situation and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s standing, which could have wide ranging affects upon the country. If the security forces are not able to deal with the violence, then Iraqis might look to other groups like militias or insurgents for protection. He’s also afraid that this could escalate into civil war, where the security forces will loose its national character and become solely beholden to each one of the ruling parties. Jabouri writes that the attacks will seek to test the security forces’ strengths and weaknesses. Yet if they are already under the control of the political parties as he argues, wouldn’t they already know the capabilities of the security forces? A second problem is why would the political parties escalate these attacks into an open armed conflict with each other? What event could be the cause of this breakdown? All of the parties are planning for the 2010 parliamentary elections, and are trying to figure out whether to oppose or support Maliki. While Iraqis are increasingly blaming political actors for the increase in bombings lately, there have been no retaliations for the attacks, and people are demanding more from their security forces instead. Things could obviously change after the balloting or some event could spiral out of control, but for now the status quo is based upon political, not armed struggle.

Jabouri writes that there are six steps to reform the security forces. First is to have a renewed push for reconciliation and to support free elections. The Obama administration and U.S. military have been talking about both. Jabouri also says that former soldiers that are not getting any government support should be paid their pensions. This could help with reconciliation because many of the former soldiers are Sunnis, but this doesn’t seem like a way to keep the political parties’ hands off the security forces. Second, corrupt officers should be removed and time limits should be set on officers, because many get their positions through political connections. Third, there are already laws on the books prohibiting political meddling. The judicial system and media could play a role here as well enforcing the laws and exposing backroom deals. The Prime Minister is one of the main actors trying to strengthen his control over the security forces however, and it may be hard to determine which of his actions are legitimate and which are not. Fourth, Army battalions should be moved around the country to break the hold the local ruling party has over them. He cites the example of Maliki’s deployment of army units to northern Iraq, and his attempt to lesson the Kurdish influence in those forces. The problem is that this was a political move by the Prime Minister, just the type of action that Jabouri is seemingly writing against. Fifth, conscription should be brought back so that the armed forces are truly national in character. On the other hand, Jabouri’s last suggestion is to reduce the Interior Ministry’s forces because they are too large, and the most open to political influence.

Finally the paper has four steps for the U.S. to take to achieve these goals. First the U.S. needs to be forceful with Iraqi leaders to make sure that they get the message that America wants to fix these problems before it leaves. Second, Iraq’s neighbors need to be brought into the process. All of the countries that Jabouri mentions however are Sunni ones. Why would the Shiite or Kurdish parties listen to them? They have little influence in Iraq right now. Third, the U.S. needs to use its media assets to increase transparency within the security forces and ministries. Last, the Iraqi Army needs to turn to national security, which will them a goal that is less political than internal defense

Jabouri writes about an important issue. There are undoubtedly political influences in the Iraqi forces, especially the local police. The U.S. is also loosing influence every month as they plan for their withdrawal. At the same time, Jabouri brings up many issues that are not relevant to his point like using quotes by American officials that don’t mention the security forces, arguing that Sunni Arab countries could influence Iraq’s political parties, and saying that Maliki’s use of the armed forces to pressure the Kurds is an example of lessoning political influence. More importantly, he warns over and over of a civil war, yet Iraq’s problems are being largely dealt with on the political field today. There is a real possibility of an armed clash between the Iraqi army and the Kurdish peshmerga that everyone is talking about. Other than that though, all of the major disputes are over Maliki’s growing power, not sectarian divisions. In fact, opposition to Maliki unites a wide swath of Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish parties. That being said, many of the paper’s suggestions for solving the problem of politicization are good such as moving Iraqi units around, which is already done to some extent. That should be mixed with a rotation of officers rather than term limits, something the armed forces are unlikely to adopt. The real problem could be stopping the Prime Minister from naming commanders, as that would be extremely hard to prove as a political move rather than just an exercise of his executive power. Overall, Jabouri could’ve done a lot better with a more focused argument and better analysis to prove his point.


Abouzeid, Rania, “Arabs-Kurd Tensions Could Threaten Iraq’s Peace,” Time, 3/24/09

Amos, Deborah, “Ethnic, Sectarian Discord Threaten Iraq Security Gains,” All Things Considered, NPR, 8/13/09

Ashton, Adam and Issa, Sahar, “Iraqis remaining cool despite attacks on mosques, minorities,” McClatchy Newspapers, 8/14/09

Cordesman, Anthony Mausner, Adam, “Withdrawal from Iraq, Assessing the Readiness of Iraqi Security Forces,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 2009

Al-Jabouri, Najim Abed, “An Iraqi ISF Assessment after U.S. Troop Withdrawal,” Strategic Forum, July 2009

Jones, General James, “The Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq,” Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, 9/6/07

Paley, Amit, “Uncertainty After Anbar Handover,” Washington Post, 9/2/08

Perito, Robert and Kristoff, Madeline, “Iraq’s Interior Ministry,” United States Institute of Peace, August 2009

Serwer, Daniel and Parker, Sam, “Maliki’s Iraq between Two Elections,” United States Institute of Peace, May 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

Could The U.S. Have Done Better In Iraq?

In the October 2008 issue of the journal Security Studies, Daniel Byman of Georgetown University and the Brookings Institution, asked the question could the U.S. have done better with post-war Iraq? The article was entitled, “An Autopsy of the Iraq Debacle: Policy Failure or Bridge Too Far?” The conventional wisdom is that the U.S. didn’t have enough international support going into the war, didn’t commit enough troops, didn’t expect an insurgency, and then made bad policy choices like disbanding the Iraqi army. That was too many mistakes to be successful. The question then is if the U.S. made better decisions would post-war Iraq have turned out differently? Byman’s answer is no. There were too many structural barriers that limited choices to make things decidedly different immediately after the 2003 invasion.

Even before U.S. forces entered Iraq in March 2003, Byman believes the Bush administration faced three structural impediments to creating a stable Iraq. First, the U.S. knew little about the country. For example, when the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs, the first civilian group put in charge of post-war Iraq was making plans to run Iraq’s ministries, it didn’t even know how many there were. In light of facts about Iraq, Washington instead relied upon a best-case scenario for what the nation would be like after the war, which was that the U.S. would be greeted as liberators, the Iraqi government would still be up and running, reconstruction would be limited and paid for by Iraqi oil, democracy would sprout, and American forces would be out in a number of weeks. Second, many of these ideas of what Iraq would be like came from Iraqi exiles that were actively lobbying the administration for regime change. The liberators scenario for example came after three Iraqi exiles met with President Bush at the White House. This skewed America’s vision of the situation in Iraq, and what the likely outcomes of an invasion would be like. Finally, the U.S. lacked the resources and staff to conduct nation building. As Professor William Olson of the National Defense University recently wrote in an article for Small Wars Journal, the U.S. spent fifty years fighting the Cold War, which privileged spending on the Pentagon and the military over the civilian agencies of the U.S. government like the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The Pentagon was thus given control of post-war Iraq because the State Department couldn’t handle the job even if it wanted to. The Defense Department however didn’t have the expertise or personnel either to take on what the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has called the largest rebuilding project in American history. These three issues greatly limited the choices the U.S. could make before and after the war, and put the administration in a hole before it even entered Iraq.

To make the situation worse, the U.S. made several pre-war policy mistakes. First, the U.S. did not adequately plan for post-war Iraq. As reported before, the White House usually had at least two different organizations strategizing for Iraq after the invasion completely independently, and usually with no knowledge of what the other was doing. That meant there was no comprehensive or unified plan for what to do with Iraq. National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice tried to coordinate this planning phase, but failed. The best-case view promulgated by the White House also meant that the various agencies tasked with thinking about post-war Iraq never really thought about serious contingencies. There were also some in the administration that didn’t want any detailed post-war planning because they thought it would cause political problems in convincing the country to go to war. Second, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld micromanaged the military planning, and whittled down the invasion force to match his plans for transforming the U.S. armed forces. That meant there were enough troops to overthrow Saddam, but not enough to deal with the country afterward. Third, the U.S. military had also rejected counterinsurgency strategy since the Vietnam war, which made them unprepared for the insurgency that quickly sprouted after the fall of the government. Byman doesn’t believe any of these choices were inevitable. The military for example is known for its in-depth planning, yet failed to do that with post-war Iraq. The U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki famously warned that Iraq would take several hundred thousand troops to run the country, but was ignored by policy makers. The U.S. thus set itself even farther back in dealing with the eventual occupation of Iraq through these decisions.

There were also structural barriers within Iraq. Most importantly, Iraq was a devastated country. In the 1970s it was a middle class and developing nation, but the costs of the Iran-Iraq War and the sanctions imposed after the Gulf War destroyed all that. The United Nations estimated that the standard of living dropped 2/3 from 1988 to 1995 as a result. Many political scientists believe that a middle class is necessary to support democracy, so any attempt by the U.S. to build one would be constrained by this factor. Second, occupations often create backlashes, and the American presence in Iraq caused resentment by both Sunnis and Shiites, some of which took up arms against the U.S. as a result. Third, Saddam’s divide and conquer policies created deep ethnosectarian divisions in Iraqi society, which would explode after the invasion. The fact that the U.S. knew nothing about these issues, and didn’t want to plan for them anyway because it expected everything to go well after the war, had devastating effects upon the country and the U.S. occupation.

As if these barriers within America and Iraq, and poor pre-war choices weren’t enough, the U.S. made more mistakes after the invasion. First, Paul Bremer decided to disband the Iraqi Army leaving thousands of angry and out of work ex-soldiers. Second, Bremer also set up a deBaathification program that went too deep and caused resentment amongst Sunnis. Third, the U.S. didn’t stop the looting, which cost millions of dollars in damages, slowed the administration of Iraq, and made the Americans look powerless. Fourth, the U.S. went back and forth on Iraq’s political future causing confusion and anger. Fifth, the Coalition Provisional Authority implemented a privatization and free trade policy, which failed at turning Iraq into a capitalist country, but did put many Iraqi enterprises out of business, and added to the unemployment problem. Sixth, the U.S. military refused to acknowledge and adapt to the insurgency. Seventh, reconstruction went slowly due to the post-war chaos and lack of security, which caused growing anti-Americanism amongst Iraqis. Eighth, the Coalition Provisional Authority lacked a trained and stable staff. Ninth the U.S. occupation lacked unity of command with Bremer and General Ricardo Sanchez both claiming authority over Iraq, and neither cooperating or liking each other. Finally, the military rotated units in and out of Iraq, which meant a loss of knowledge and local contacts each time a new set of troops replaced an old one. Again, policy makers had various alternative policies they could have pursued, and were often warned about the decisions they did make.

Byman believes the U.S. didn’t follow Sun Tzu’s axiom, “Know they self, know they enemy” when it went it decided to go to war. The U.S. knew next to nothing about Iraq, and didn’t understand the limits of the U.S. government’s capabilities either. That created too many structural barriers, which severely constrained the options open to the administration. To add to that the U.S. made bad choices again and again before and after the invasion. Byman believes that even if the U.S. had made some different decisions it would’ve only marginally improved the situation. For example, if the U.S. had sent more troops that didn’t mean they would’ve dealt with the looting or suddenly adopted counterinsurgency tactics. The results as everyone knows, were a burgeoning guerrilla war, the rise of Shiite militias, political fragmentation, sectarianism, mass unemployment, crime, and the growth of Iranian influence. Iraq quickly turned into a failed state as a result. The U.S. has been trying to make up for many of these mistakes since then. For all of these reasons Byman does not think post-war Iraq could’ve turned out any better.


Byman, Daniel, “An Autopsy of the Iraq Debacle: Policy Failure or Bridge Too Far?” Security Studies, October 2008

Collins, Joseph, “Choosing War: The Decision to Invade Iraq and Its Aftermath,” Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, April 2008

Elliott, Michael, “So, What Went Wrong?” Time, 10/6/03

Fineman, Mark, Wright, Robin, and McManus, Doyle, “Preparing for War, Stumbling to Peace,” Los Angeles Times, 7/18/03

Government of Iraq, “Iraq National Report on the Status of Human Development 2008,” 12/31/08

Gordon, Michael, “Army Buried Study Faulting Iraq Planning,” New York Times, 2/11/08

McGeary, Johanna, “Looking Beyond Saddam,” Time, 3/10/03

Olson, Dr. William, “Mistakes Were Made, How Not to Conduct Post-Conflict Management and Counterinsurgency,” Small Wars Journal, 7/17/09

Parker, George, Assassins’ Gate, 2005

PBS Frontline, “INTERVIEWS Karen DeYoung,” Bush’s War, 3/24/08

Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09

Thompson, Mark and Duffy, Michael, “Pentagon Warlord,” Time, 1/19/03
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