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Walker's World: Iraq's Gloomy Experts

If only there was a sunset to drive off into.

Washington DC (UPI) July 1, 2005
President George W. Bush did himself no favors with last week's televised address on Iraq. Most of the U.S. media commentary seemed more concerned with the lack of applause from his military audience at Fort Bragg, N.C., (they were asked to refrain from making the event look like a pep rally) than with the substance and policy implications of his speech.

Those that were concerned with substance have been mostly critical. They note the way he airbrushed out of history the initial justification for the war - the suspected presence of weapons of mass destruction.

Or like President Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, they warn the Iraq campaign cannot succeed without signs of progress and U.S. commitment in the Israel-Palestinian imbroglio.

Or they point to the erosion of support for the war in the opinion polls, the signs of nervousness in Republican ranks, or the U.S. Army's recruitment problems.

There are not many real experts in the United States on the politics of Iraq, but those whose views command respect from insiders are almost uniformly gloomy.

Larry Diamond, former adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority, sees the new government accepting the emergence of ethnic and tribal militias leading toward a form of warlordism, and possibly the kind of endemic civil war those tore Lebanon apart in the 1970s and 1980s.

Chas Freeman, former assistant defense secretary (and a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia), who runs the Middle East Policy Council, says there are "at least three insurgencies going on."

One is a secular nationalist resistance to the Anglo-American occupation led by former Baathist elements. The second is a religiously inspired resistance, and the third are the international jihadis flocking to Iraq to fight the infidel invaders.

On top of that, says Freeman, the struggle for mastery between Kurds and Sunnis in Mosul and Kirkuk and for control of the northern oilfields is already "a low-grade civil war."

Ivan Eland, formerly of the Cato Institute and author of "The Empire Has No Clothes," is a genuine expert on the Kurds, and at a recent forum on the MEPC he noted the Kurds too are losing faith in U.S. capability and resolve.

"They no longer trust the U.S. to bring peace and stability to Iraq and ensure their interest vis-A-vis the other groups," Eland noted.

"And I think the U.S. has no choice but to allow them to keep their arms because we are using them as a fighting force to fight against the Sunnis. And so we're also using them to provide intelligence which we sorely lack there."

He went on ominously to note the Kurds now had an entirely different set of priorities from their U.S. allies.

"The two Kurdish militias are cooperating more closely and they are worried about the Turks. They want to broaden to Germany and to Syria and Iran and Turkey to try to recruit people to come to Kurdistan - that is Kurds to come to Kurdistan to potentially fend off any Turkish challenge," Eland added.

"I think we lost the war a long time ago and we just don't know it yet," Eland concluded. "There are so many militias running around, and it's going to be impossible to get rid of them because no one has confidence that the Americans are going to stay long enough to do this."

Eland was speaking alongside W. Patrick Lang, now with Global Resources Group, but formerly the Pentagon's top expert as defense intelligence officer for the Middle East, and Lang takes the view the Bush administration did not invade the real Iraq "but the Iraq of our dreams."

The United States now finds itself stuck in the middle of a civil war it neither acknowledges nor comprehends, that will end with Iran dominating a weak and embattled "Iraqi Shi'a government that will have choice whether they wish to be subordinated to the Iranians or not."

"In my opinion there was a real failure and perhaps a continuing failure of leadership in the intelligence community," Lang went on, in a powerful condemnation of his old chiefs.

"I have been in many situations in which the director of DIA or some other senior officer has told the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the secretary of Defense or some powerful senator, no, we will not say that. We will not say that. We know what the truth is. We will tell the truth. It is our duty.

"Now, you can't tell me that that's what happened in the run-up to this latest war in the ranks of the leadership of the intelligence community, because if these guys had stood their ground and refused to allow their people to be pushed around, then in fact, we would not have gone into a situation in which we completely misinterpreted what the realities were in the real world."

If there is any good news at all for the Bush administration, it is that the main base and center of gravity of the insurgency seems to be tilting away from the homegrown Iraqi Sunni, and more toward the foreign jihadist volunteers who are flocking to the banner of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

This is the view of the new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, who will seek to widen the political base of the new Iraqi government, just as he did as U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan to cajole and pressure regional warlords to support the Karzai government in Kabul.

In this context, Khalilzad will work closely with the former Iraqi premier, Ayad Allawi, who is holding talks with Sunni tribal leaders in Amman, Jordan, trying to get them to recognize that they need to engage in the political process in Baghdad.

Officials from the Saudi and Jordanian and Gulf states governments are also involved, telling them in the name of Sunni solidarity to get into the Baghdad process rather than stay out and let Iraq become a Shiite-run state.

That is the political strategy on which the Bush administration is pinning its hopes, and it looks rather less credible now than it did in the weeks immediately after the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq.

Since then, the Sunnis read the U.S. opinion polls and understandably start to suspect the United States will not stay the course. And they know that in the long and bloody tradition of the Middle East, any Sunni who threw in his lot with the Americans will pay a dreadful price once they withdraw.

But at least the Bush administration does have a coherent political strategy, and claims also to have a plausible military strategy of training an Iraqi army and police to take over more and more of the security task. In that sense, argues Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Iraq is not at all like Vietnam.

"In Vietnam, the U.S. side had a great military strategy, but not really a political strategy. So it could win all the battles, but ultimately lost the war," Mead argues.

"In Iraq, the insurgency has a good military strategy - they have the ability to use force in an asymmetrical way to create noise, kill people, show they're alive. But they don't have a political strategy in the sense that every time a bomb goes off, a majority of Iraqis hate them more.

"There's no sense in Kurdish Iraq or Shiite Iraq that these guys who are setting off bombs, blowing up mosques, and attacking funeral processions are the people who ought to be running Iraq or that they represent the true national movement within in Iraq. What you have is an insurgency that is effective militarily, but ineffective politically."

Mead also judges that American public opinion is not panicking, and is not prepared to cut and run from Iraq, which means the Bush administration has time for its political and military strategies to work.

"The polling I've seen has shown that a lot of people, a majority, think it was a mistake to get in, but a very solid majority opposes getting out before we win," Mead concludes.

"People may have a lot of questions about why we got in, but once in, we have to win. It's much more difficult to argue that the U.S. could fail to prevail in Iraq and be happy with that outcome."

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Outside View: Doing Iraq Right
Washington DC (UPI) July 1, 2005
An article in the June 23 Christian Science Monitor, "A U.S. patrol gains trust in Baghdad neighborhood," tells the story of an American unit that gets Fourth Generation war.

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