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After Baker-Hamilton: What to Do in Iraq

Baghdad/Amman/Damascus/Brussels, 19 December 2006
: The rethinking of U.S. Iraq policy represented by the Baker-Hamilton report is an important and welcome start but insufficiently radical if Iraq's collapse and an unprecedented regional war are to be avoided.

After Baker-Hamilton: What to Do in Iraq,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the situation in Iraq and the wider region in the wake of the Iraq Study Group. Co-chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, the Study Group described with necessary candour the magnitude of the Iraqi calamity. But though Crisis Group endorses many of its key recommendations, the change the report advocates is not nearly far-reaching enough, and its prescriptions are no match for its diagnosis.

"We are looking at Iraq's complete disintegration into failed-state chaos, threatening to drag down much of the region with it", says Crisis Group President Gareth Evans. "More troops in - or out - are not going to solve this. What is needed above all is a new multinational effort to achieve a new political compact between all relevant Iraqi players."

All Iraqi actors who, one way or another, are involved in the country's internecine violence must be brought to the negotiating table and pressed to accept the necessary compromises. That cannot be done without a concerted effort by all Iraq's neighbours, which in turn cannot be done if their interests are not reflected in the final outcome. If Iraq can be saved at this late date, it will require three ambitious and interrelated steps:

  • A new forceful multilateral approach that puts real pressure on all Iraqi parties. The Baker-Hamilton report is right to advocate a broad International Support Group; it should comprise the five permanent Security Council members and Iraq's six neighbours. But its purpose must not be to support the Iraqi government. It must support Iraq, which means pressing the government, along with all other constituencies, to make necessary compromises. The government and security forces should not be treated as privileged allies to be bolstered. They are but one among many parties to the conflict and not innocent of responsibility for much of the trouble. It also means agreeing on rules of conduct and red-lines for third-party involvement. Sustained multilateral diplomacy, not a one-off international conference is needed.
  • A conference of all Iraqi and international stakeholders to forge a new political compact. This is not a military challenge in which one side needs to be strengthened and another defeated. It is a political challenge in which new consensual understandings need to be reached. A new, more equitable and inclusive national compact needs to be agreed upon by all relevant actors, including militias and insurgent groups, on issues such as federalism, resource allocation, de-Baathification, the scope of the amnesty and the timetable for a U.S. withdrawal. This can only be done if the International Support Group brings all of them to the negotiating table, and if its members steer their deliberations, deploying a mixture of carrots and sticks to influence those on whom they have particular leverage.
  • A new U.S. regional strategy, including engagement with Syria and Iran, end of efforts at regime change, revitalisation of the Arab-Israeli peace process and altered strategic goals. Mere engagement of Iraq's neighbours will not do; Washington must clearly redefine its objectives in the region to enlist regional, and particularly Iranian and Syrian help. The goal is not to bargain with them, but to seek compromise agreement on an end-state for Iraq and the region that is no one's first choice, but with which all can live.

"There is abundant reason to question whether the Bush administration is capable of such a dramatic course change. But there is no reason to question why it ought to change direction, and what will happen if it does not", says Robert Malley, Crisis Group's Middle East and North Africa Program Director.


... Payvand News - 12/21/06 ... --

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