Showing posts with label iraq. Show all posts
Showing posts with label iraq. Show all posts

Monday, October 19, 2015

Kissinger: A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse

A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse. By Henry Kissinger

With Russia in Syria, a geopolitical structure that lasted four decades is in shambles. The U.S. needs a new strategy and priorities.

Wall Street Journal, Oct 16, 2015

The debate about whether the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran regarding its nuclear program stabilized the Middle East’s strategic framework had barely begun when the region’s geopolitical framework collapsed. Russia’s unilateral military action in Syria is the latest symptom of the disintegration of the American role in stabilizing the Middle East order that emerged from the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.

In the aftermath of that conflict, Egypt abandoned its military ties with the Soviet Union and joined an American-backed negotiating process that produced peace treaties between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan, a United Nations-supervised disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria, which has been observed for over four decades (even by the parties of the Syrian civil war), and international support of Lebanon’s sovereign territorial integrity. Later, Saddam Hussein’s war to incorporate Kuwait into Iraq was defeated by an international coalition under U.S. leadership. American forces led the war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States were our allies in all these efforts. The Russian military presence disappeared from the region.

That geopolitical pattern is now in shambles. Four states in the region have ceased to function as sovereign. Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq have become targets for nonstate movements seeking to impose their rule. Over large swaths in Iraq and Syria, an ideologically radical religious army has declared itself the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) as an unrelenting foe of established world order. It seeks to replace the international system’s multiplicity of states with a caliphate, a single Islamic empire governed by Shariah law.

ISIS’ claim has given the millennium-old split between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam an apocalyptic dimension. The remaining Sunni states feel threatened by both the religious fervor of ISIS as well as by Shiite Iran, potentially the most powerful state in the region. Iran compounds its menace by presenting itself in a dual capacity. On one level, Iran acts as a legitimate Westphalian state conducting traditional diplomacy, even invoking the safeguards of the international system. At the same time, it organizes and guides nonstate actors seeking regional hegemony based on jihadist principles: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Hamas in Gaza; the Houthis in Yemen.

Thus the Sunni Middle East risks engulfment by four concurrent sources: Shiite-governed Iran and its legacy of Persian imperialism; ideologically and religiously radical movements striving to overthrow prevalent political structures; conflicts within each state between ethnic and religious groups arbitrarily assembled after World War I into (now collapsing) states; and domestic pressures stemming from detrimental political, social and economic domestic policies.

The fate of Syria provides a vivid illustration: What started as a Sunni revolt against the Alawite (a Shiite offshoot) autocrat Bashar Assad fractured the state into its component religious and ethnic groups, with nonstate militias supporting each warring party, and outside powers pursuing their own strategic interests. Iran supports the Assad regime as the linchpin of an Iranian historic dominance stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean. The Gulf States insist on the overthrow of Mr. Assad to thwart Shiite Iranian designs, which they fear more than Islamic State. They seek the defeat of ISIS while avoiding an Iranian victory. This ambivalence has been deepened by the nuclear deal, which in the Sunni Middle East is widely interpreted as tacit American acquiescence in Iranian hegemony.

These conflicting trends, compounded by America’s retreat from the region, have enabled Russia to engage in military operations deep in the Middle East, a deployment unprecedented in Russian history. Russia’s principal concern is that the Assad regime’s collapse could reproduce the chaos of Libya, bring ISIS into power in Damascus, and turn all of Syria into a haven for terrorist operations, reaching into Muslim regions inside Russia’s southern border in the Caucasus and elsewhere.

On the surface, Russia’s intervention serves Iran’s policy of sustaining the Shiite element in Syria. In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule. It is a classic balance-of-power maneuver to divert the Sunni Muslim terrorist threat from Russia’s southern border region. It is a geopolitical, not an ideological, challenge and should be dealt with on that level. Whatever the motivation, Russian forces in the region—and their participation in combat operations—produce a challenge that American Middle East policy has not encountered in at least four decades.

American policy has sought to straddle the motivations of all parties and is therefore on the verge of losing the ability to shape events. The U.S. is now opposed to, or at odds in some way or another with, all parties in the region: with Egypt on human rights; with Saudi Arabia over Yemen; with each of the Syrian parties over different objectives. The U.S. proclaims the determination to remove Mr. Assad but has been unwilling to generate effective leverage—political or military—to achieve that aim. Nor has the U.S. put forward an alternative political structure to replace Mr. Assad should his departure somehow be realized.

Russia, Iran, ISIS and various terrorist organizations have moved into this vacuum: Russia and Iran to sustain Mr. Assad; Tehran to foster imperial and jihadist designs. The Sunni states of the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Egypt, faced with the absence of an alternative political structure, favor the American objective but fear the consequence of turning Syria into another Libya.

American policy on Iran has moved to the center of its Middle East policy. The administration has insisted that it will take a stand against jihadist and imperialist designs by Iran and that it will deal sternly with violations of the nuclear agreement. But it seems also passionately committed to the quest for bringing about a reversal of the hostile, aggressive dimension of Iranian policy through historic evolution bolstered by negotiation.

The prevailing U.S. policy toward Iran is often compared by its advocates to the Nixon administration’s opening to China, which contributed, despite some domestic opposition, to the ultimate transformation of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The comparison is not apt. The opening to China in 1971 was based on the mutual recognition by both parties that the prevention of Russian hegemony in Eurasia was in their common interest. And 42 Soviet divisions lining the Sino-Soviet border reinforced that conviction. No comparable strategic agreement exists between Washington and Tehran. On the contrary, in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear accord, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the U.S. as the “Great Satan” and rejected negotiations with America about nonnuclear matters. Completing his geopolitical diagnosis, Mr. Khamenei also predicted that Israel would no longer exist in 25 years.

Forty-five years ago, the expectations of China and the U.S. were symmetrical. The expectations underlying the nuclear agreement with Iran are not. Tehran will gain its principal objectives at the beginning of the implementation of the accord. America’s benefits reside in a promise of Iranian conduct over a period of time. The opening to China was based on an immediate and observable adjustment in Chinese policy, not on an expectation of a fundamental change in China’s domestic system. The optimistic hypothesis on Iran postulates that Tehran’s revolutionary fervor will dissipate as its economic and cultural interactions with the outside world increase.

American policy runs the risk of feeding suspicion rather than abating it. Its challenge is that two rigid and apocalyptic blocs are confronting each other: a Sunni bloc consisting of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States; and the Shiite bloc comprising Iran, the Shiite sector of Iraq with Baghdad as its capital, the Shiite south of Lebanon under Hezbollah control facing Israel, and the Houthi portion of Yemen, completing the encirclement of the Sunni world. In these circumstances, the traditional adage that the enemy of your enemy can be treated as your friend no longer applies. For in the contemporary Middle East, it is likely that the enemy of your enemy remains your enemy.

A great deal depends on how the parties interpret recent events. Can the disillusionment of some of our Sunni allies be mitigated? How will Iran’s leaders interpret the nuclear accord once implemented—as a near-escape from potential disaster counseling a more moderate course, returning Iran to an international order? Or as a victory in which they have achieved their essential aims against the opposition of the U.N. Security Council, having ignored American threats and, hence, as an incentive to continue Tehran’s dual approach as both a legitimate state and a nonstate movement challenging the international order?

Two-power systems are prone to confrontation, as was demonstrated in Europe in the run-up to World War I. Even with traditional weapons technology, to sustain a balance of power between two rigid blocs requires an extraordinary ability to assess the real and potential balance of forces, to understand the accumulation of nuances that might affect this balance, and to act decisively to restore it whenever it deviates from equilibrium—qualities not heretofore demanded of an America sheltered behind two great oceans.

But the current crisis is taking place in a world of nontraditional nuclear and cyber technology. As competing regional powers strive for comparable threshold capacity, the nonproliferation regime in the Middle East may crumble. If nuclear weapons become established, a catastrophic outcome is nearly inevitable. A strategy of pre-emption is inherent in the nuclear technology. The U.S. must be determined to prevent such an outcome and apply the principle of nonproliferation to all nuclear aspirants in the region.
Too much of our public debate deals with tactical expedients. What we need is a strategic concept and to establish priorities on the following principles:

• So long as ISIS survives and remains in control of a geographically defined territory, it will compound all Middle East tensions. Threatening all sides and projecting its goals beyond the region, it freezes existing positions or tempts outside efforts to achieve imperial jihadist designs. The destruction of ISIS is more urgent than the overthrow of Bashar Assad, who has already lost over half of the area he once controlled. Making sure that this territory does not become a permanent terrorist haven must have precedence. The current inconclusive U.S. military effort risks serving as a recruitment vehicle for ISIS as having stood up to American might.

• The U.S. has already acquiesced in a Russian military role. Painful as this is to the architects of the 1973 system, attention in the Middle East must remain focused on essentials. And there exist compatible objectives. In a choice among strategies, it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces. For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.

• The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.

• As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.

• The U.S. role in such a Middle East would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.

• In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.

The U.S. must decide for itself the role it will play in the 21st century; the Middle East will be our most immediate—and perhaps most severe—test. At question is not the strength of American arms but rather American resolve in understanding and mastering a new world.

Mr. Kissinger served as national-security adviser and secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

More War for Oil? President Obama dispatches troops to Iraq—and has to listen to the old canards all over again

More War for Oil? By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
President Obama dispatches troops to Iraq—and has to listen to the old canards all over again.Wall Street Journal, Aug 12, 2014 7:00 p.m. ET

The "no blood for oil" crowd has piped up with surprising speed and noisiness in the short hours since President Obama recommitted U.S. forces to the fight in Iraq.

Steve Coll, a writer for the New Yorker, suggests in a piece posted on the magazine's website that "Kurdish oil greed," whose partner Mr. Obama now becomes, has been a primary factor in making Iraq a failed state. That's apparently because of the Kurds' unwillingness to reach a revenue-sharing deal with Baghdad. For good measure, he refers readers to a Rachel Maddow video, featuring Steve Coll, that argues that the U.S. invaded Iraq to gets its oil in the first place.

John B. Judis, a veteran editor of the New Republic, in contrast is relatively sane under the headline "The U.S. Airstrikes in Northern Iraq Are All About Oil." While nodding toward Mr. Obama's stated humanitarian justifications, he insists oil "lies near the center of American motives for intervention."
There are a few problems with this argument. Oil exists in the hinterland of Erbil, all right, the capital of a stable, prosperous and relatively free Kurdistan that President Obama now is trying to protect from the Islamic murderers of ISIS.

But oil also exists in northwestern Iraq—in fact, vast amounts of oil around Mosul, whose fall did not trigger Obama intervention. Oil is in Libya, where the U.S. quickly took a hike after the fall of Gadhafi. Oil is in Canada, where Mr. Obama, who just fatally risked his legacy with his core admirers by dispatching forces to the Mideast, can't bring himself to choose between his labor and greenie constituents by deciding to approve or veto the Keystone pipeline.

Oil apparently explains nothing except when it explains everything.
Another problem is that Americans are both consumers and producers of oil. So does the U.S. want high or low prices? A bigger producer in recent years, America presumably has seen its interest shifting steadily in the direction of higher prices. Yet acting to protect Kurdish production would have the opposite effect.

But then Mr. Coll especially is ritualizing, not thinking—and what he's ritualizing is a certain leftist hymn about the origins of the 2003 Iraq war. Never mind that if the U.S. had wanted Iraq's oil, it would have been vastly cheaper to buy it— Saddam was certainly eager to sell. Never mind that the Bush administration, after overthrowing Saddam, stood idly by while Baghdad awarded the biggest contracts to India, China and Angola.

It was not a Bushie but Madeleine Albright, in her maiden speech as Bill Clinton's secretary of state, who first laid out the case for regime change in Iraq.

In the same 1997 speech, she explained, "Last August, Iraqi forces took advantage of intra-Kurdish tensions and attacked the city of Irbil, in northern Iraq. President Clinton responded by expanding the no-fly zone to the southern suburbs of Baghdad. . . . Contrary to some expectations, the attack on Irbil has not restored Saddam Hussein's authority in the north. We are firmly engaged alongside Turkey and the United Kingdom in helping the inhabitants of the region find stability and work towards a unified and pluralistic Iraq."

Madame Secretary did not mention oil any more than President Obama did last week. Of course, the catechism holds that, when politicians aren't freely voicing their obsession with oil as Bush and Cheney supposedly did while cooking up the Iraq War, politicians are concealing their obsession with oil. In fact, oil was not yet produced in significant quantities in Erbil at the time. It was the peace and stability that Presidents Bush, Clinton and Bush provided, and that President Obama is trying to restore, that allowed the flowering of Iraqi Kurdistan, including its oil industry.

By now, America has invested 23 years in shielding northern Iraq from the suppurating chaos that seems to flow endlessly from Baghdad and its Sunni-dominated Western suburbs. It's one of our few conspicuous successes in Iraq. Politics, in the best and worst senses of the word, drives every political decision. Despite his palpable lack of enthusiasm, President Obama knows surrender in northern Iraq would be an intolerable disgrace for his administration and U.S. policy. So he sends in the troops.

We come to an irony. The liberal habit of assuming everyone else's motives are corrupt is, of course, an oldie-moldie, if a tad free-floating in this case. But the critics in question don't actually oppose Mr. Obama's intervention, the latest in our costly and thankless efforts in Iraq. They don't exactly endorse it either. The New Yorker's Mr. Coll especially seems out to avoid committing himself while striking a knowing, superior tone about the alleged centrality of oil, which is perhaps the most ignoble reason to pick up a pen on this subject right now.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Opening a New Era in U.S.-Iraq Relations - We Iraqis, grateful for America's sacrifice, now seek an economic partner

Opening a New Era in U.S.-Iraq Relations. By Lukman Faily
We Iraqis, grateful for America's sacrifice, now seek an economic partner.
The Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2013, on page A13

Last week, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to lift international trade and financial sanctions on Iraq that have been in effect since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the 1990s. Iraq's exit from Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter—and the substantial progress it has made with Kuwait—is a major accomplishment, and one of several recent developments we Iraqis are celebrating.

Though most Americans probably believe that Iraqis are fed up with the U.S., the truth is that Iraqis appreciate what the U.S. has done and are looking for more U.S. involvement—not more sacrifice of blood and treasure, but more diplomatic, political, trade, investment and economic partnership.

The next clear step is for the U.S. and Iraq to fully implement the Strategic Framework Agreement, signed prior to the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces, which defines the overall political, economic, cultural and security ties between our two countries. Americans should see this agreement not as a ticket out of Iraq, but as the foundation for a long-term partnership with the people and government of Iraq.

At a time of profound change in the Middle East, the implementation of the agreement has so far been slow and uneven. While security coordination through military sales and financing programs continues, an expedited delivery of promised sales, better intelligence sharing, and stepped-up assistance in counterterrorism and training is essential for Iraq's fight against terrorism—a clear national security interest of the U.S. Implementing this agreement should not be linked to regional issues, such as the conflict in Syria.

As we look forward to full implementation of the Strategic Framework Agreement, the legacy of the past 10 years is something to build on. After decades of dictatorship, three disastrous wars, international isolation, economic sanctions, the displacement of more than a million Iraqis and the deaths of tens of thousands more, Iraq has begun to build a multiethnic, multiparty democracy with respect for the rule of law.

It hasn't been easy. But Iraqis are making progress towards creating a democratic system. All the political parties have accepted elections as a method of power-sharing and peaceful change. Terrible as it is, the current violence in Iraq is primarily caused by terrorism, not civil war. As the recent provincial elections affirmed, Iraqis are developing a culture of democracy—something that many of our neighbors do not yet have.

With Iraq taking its place as a partner, not a protectorate, Americans can help by providing political, diplomatic and security assistance, in addition to technical know-how and investment capital.

On the political front, the U.S. can serve as an honest broker among Iraqi factions that are learning to work with each other. Americans are seen as mature partners who have proven their commitment to Iraq, and their involvement is not perceived as a threat to our sovereignty or national interest.

On the diplomatic front, Iraq has rejoined the international community by exiting Chapter VII, and it has done important work with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the Arab League. Looking ahead, Iraq and the U.S. can cooperate to resolve broader regional challenges.

Now that Iraq is moving toward a market economy friendly to foreign investment, Americans can provide what our nation needs: expertise on energy technologies, engineering, design, construction and financial services. Iraq offers tremendous investment opportunities for developing and servicing telecommunications, health care, education, water treatment, and bridges and highways, to name a few.

Meanwhile, oil production has increased by 50% since 2005, and our economy is expected to grow by at least 9.4% annually through 2016. Iraq expects to increase oil production to 4.5 million barrels per day by the end of 2014 and nine million barrels a day by 2020—a 157% increase from our current production levels. With the goal of diversifying our economy beyond energy, Iraq plans to invest these oil revenues in education and critical development projects, including restoring electrical power and rebuilding our transportation system.

Moreover, Iraq is in the process of purchasing over $10 billion worth of military equipment, paid for with our own revenues, and we are eager to buy this hardware from the U.S. Iraq's recent purchase of 30 Boeing BA +1.40% planes for our national carrier testifies to our potential as a market for U.S. goods and services.

Iraqis will be forever grateful to Americans for sacrificing alongside us to overthrow Saddam's brutal tyranny. We now look forward to working together to build a strong and prosperous democracy in Iraq and to cement a strategic partnership between our nations.

Mr. Faily is the newly appointed ambassador of Iraq to the United States.

Friday, March 29, 2013

America's Voluntary Standards System: A 'Best Practice' Model for Asian Innovation Policies? By Dieter Ernst

America's Voluntary Standards System: A 'Best Practice' Model for Asian Innovation Policies? By Dieter Ernst
East-West Center, Policy Studies, No. 66, March 2013
ISBN: 978-0-309-26204-5 (print); 978-0-86638-205-2 (electronic)
Pages: xvi, 66


Across Asia there is a keen interest in the potential advantages of America's market-led system of voluntary standards and its contribution to US innovation leadership in complex technologies.

For its proponents, the US tradition of bottom-up, decentralized, informal, market-led standardization is a "best practice" model for innovation policy. Observers in Asia are, however, concerned about possible drawbacks of a standards system largely driven by the private sector.

This study reviews the historical roots of the American system, examines its defining characteristics, and highlights its strengths and weaknesses. A tradition of decentralized local self-government has given voice to diverse stakeholders in innovation. However, a lack of effective coordination of multiple stakeholder strategies constrains effective and open standardization processes.

Asian countries seeking to improve their standards systems should study the strengths and weaknesses of the American system. Attempts to replicate the US standards system will face clear limitations--persistent differences in Asia's economic institutions, levels of development, and growth models are bound to limit convergence to a US-style market-led voluntary standards system.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Real Blackwater Scandal - Another example of prosecutorial abuse in a political case

The Real Blackwater Scandal. WSJ Editorial
Another example of prosecutorial abuse in a political case.
WSJ, Monday, January 4, 2010

No, not as the left would have it, that Blackwater still exists. The scandal is that the Justice Department's case against five former security guards for the military contractor unraveled late last week in what appears to be another instance of gross prosecutorial misconduct, as abusive Justice lawyers went after an unsympathetic political target.

The indictments—which were thrown out by D.C. District Judge Ricardo Urbina in a derisive and detailed 90-page opinion—stemmed from a 2007 firefight in Baghdad's Nisour Square that left 14 Iraqis dead and others wounded. The government contends that five Blackwater guards, who were providing tactical support for the State Department after an IED exploded in the vicinity of a meeting with Iraqi officials, went on an unprovoked killing spree against unarmed civilians. The guards maintain that they came under attack by insurgents and were responding in self-defense to a mortal threat.

Judge Urbina dismissed the charges because prosecutors misused sworn statements the guards were compelled to make to investigators after the shooting, under the threat of job loss. This was routine practice under military contracting rules, though the statements could not be used in criminal prosecutions. Promptly after the Nisour incident these statements were also leaked to the media, which ran with the narrative of modern-day Hessians gone berserk.

"In their zeal to bring charges against the defendants in this case," Judge Urbina ruled, prosecutors had violated Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination by using these compelled statements to formulate their case and ultimately obtain indictments against the guards. The judge calls it "the government's reckless violation of the defendants' constitutional rights."

Because of prior contact with the compelled statements, the Justice Department's entire criminal division had recused itself from the case, which was handed over to national-security prosecutors and later to Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Kenneth Kohl. The veteran Justice public-integrity lawyer Raymond Hulser was eventually assigned to lead a "taint team" to rebuild the case without using the off-limits statements, and he repeatedly warned the trial team that their evidence was "thoroughly tainted."

"By all accounts these prophylactic measures fell well short of expectations," Judge Urbina notes with some understatement. In "direct contravention of the clear directives" of Mr. Hulser, the statements were used to obtain a search warrant against Blackwater, figured into plea discussions, and exposed in testimony to the grand jury, forcing Justice to withdraw the case and present it to a new panel.

In the second round that featured redacted testimony from the first grand jury, prosecutors also excised what Judge Urbina calls "substantial exculpatory evidence." The judge goes on to say that Justice's "inconsistent, extraordinary explanations" for its conduct "smack of post hoc rationalization and are simply implausible," and ultimately "lacking in credibility."

Certainly the shootings at Nisour are a tragedy that strained U.S. relations with the Iraqi government, though the details seem reminiscent of the 2005 incident at Haditha, which the Washington political class played as another My Lai massacre but in reality was the product of the complex, asymmetrical combat conditions in a war zone. The courts martial against all but one of the Marines at Haditha have been dismissed or collapsed.

In this case, too, one question is whether prosecutors felt they could get away with such abusive behavior because Blackwater was such a politically unpopular defendant. The firm had political ties to Republicans, and Democrats and their media allies had made Blackwater a whipping boy to further undermine public support for the Iraq war. (Blackwater is now renamed Xe Services and no longer contracting in Iraq.)

This marks the fourth recent example in which judges have tossed out cases citing Justice Department abuse involving easy political targets. In the last year it has become clear that the ethics conviction against former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was likely a miscarriage of justice, with prosecutors covering up evidence and trying to keep a witness from testifying.

There's also the vendetta against two former executives at Broadcom in the forgotten political uproar over backdating stock options. That case was thrown out last month after a judge ruled that prosecutors had improperly pressured witnesses and leaked information to the press. Earlier this decade, a federal judge tossed out multiple tax evasion cases against former KPMG partners.

Something is rotten in the culture of Justice, leading ambitious government crusaders to think they can get away with flouting due process when the political winds are blowing hot. Congress and the press corps may be too politically implicated to police this prosecutorial malpractice, so it may be up to the judiciary to apply more stringent sanctions.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Readout of the Presidents call and meeting with Iraqi President Talabani

Readout of the Presidents call and meeting with Iraqi President Talabani

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release October 6, 2009

Readout of the President’s call and meeting with Iraqi President Talabani

President Obama called President Talabani on October 5, and spoke with him at the White House on October 6 when he dropped in on President Talabani’s meeting with National Security Advisor General Jim Jones. The President conveyed appreciation for the leadership that President Talabani has shown in promoting national unity in Iraq and encouraged him to continue his efforts in this regard. The President conveyed to President Talabani support for Iraqi efforts to adopt an election law soon. He also reaffirmed that the United States remains committed to working with Iraq to promote security, political progress, and economic development as Iraqis take responsibility for their future. The two leaders expressed support for further economic cooperation, and highlighted the upcoming October 20-21 U.S.-Iraq Business and Investment Conference in Washington.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The release of the Irbil Five - Quds Force commanders from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)

Obama Frees Iranian Terror Masters. By Andrew C. McCarthy
The release of the Irbil Five is a continuation of a shameful policy.
NRO, July 11, 2009 7:00 AM

There are a few things you need to know about President Obama’s shameful release on Thursday of the “Irbil Five” — Quds Force commanders from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who were coordinating terrorist attacks in Iraq that have killed hundreds — yes, hundreds — of American soldiers and Marines.

First, of the 4,322 Americans killed in combat in Iraq since 2003, 10 percent of them (i.e., more than 400) have been murdered by a single type of weapon alone, a weapon that is supplied by Iran for the singular purpose of murdering Americans. As Steve Schippert explains at NRO’s military blog, the Tank, the weapon is “the EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrator), designed by Iran’s IRGC specifically to penetrate the armor of the M1 Abrams main battle tank and, consequently, everything else deployed in the field.” Understand: This does not mean Iran has killed only 400 Americans in Iraq. The number killed and wounded at the mullahs’ direction is far higher than that — likely multiples of that — when factoring in the IRGC’s other tactics, such as the mustering of Hezbollah-style Shiite terror cells.

Second, President Bush and our armed forces steadfastly refused demands by Iran and Iraq’s Maliki government for the release of the Irbil Five because Iran was continuing to coordinate terrorist operations against American forces in Iraq (and to aid Taliban operations against American forces in Afghanistan). Freeing the Quds operatives obviously would return the most effective, dedicated terrorist trainers to their grisly business.

Third, Obama’s decision to release the five terror-masters comes while the Iranian regime (a) is still conducting operations against Americans in Iraq, even as we are in the process of withdrawing, and (b) is clearly working to replicate its Lebanon model in Iraq: establishing a Shiite terror network, loyal to Iran, as added pressure on the pliant Maliki to understand who is boss once the Americans leave. As the New York Times reports, Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, put it this way less than two weeks ago:

Iran is still supporting, funding, training surrogates who operate inside of Iraq — flat out. . . . They have not stopped. And I don’t think they will stop. I think they will continue to do that because they are also concerned, in my opinion, [about] where Iraq is headed. They want to try to gain influence here, and they will continue to do that. I think many of the attacks in Baghdad are from individuals that have been, in fact, funded or trained by the Iranians.

Fourth, President Obama’s release of the Quds terrorists is a natural continuation of his administration’s stunningly irresponsible policy of bartering terrorist prisoners for hostages. As I detailed here on June 24, Obama has already released a leader of the Iran-backed Asaib al-Haq terror network in Iraq, a jihadist who is among those responsible for the 2007 murders of five American troops in Karbala. While the release was ludicrously portrayed as an effort to further “Iraqi reconciliation” (as if that would be a valid reason to spring a terrorist who had killed Americans), it was in actuality a naïve attempt to secure the reciprocal release of five British hostages — and a predictably disastrous one: The terror network released only the corpses of two of the hostages, threatening to kill the remaining three (and who knows whether they still are alive?) unless other terror leaders were released.

Michael Ledeen has reported that the release of the Irbil Five is part of the price Iran has demanded for its release in May of the freelance journalist Roxana Saberi. Again, that’s only part of the price: Iran also has demanded the release of hundreds of its other terror facilitators in our custody. Expect to see Obama accommodate this demand, too, in the weeks ahead.

Finally, when it comes to Iran, it has become increasingly apparent that President Obama wants the mullahs to win. What you need to know is that Barack Obama is a wolf in “pragmatist” clothing: Beneath the easy smile and above-it-all manner — the “neutral” doing his best to weigh competing claims — is a radical leftist wedded to a Manichean vision that depicts American imperialism as the primary evil in the world.

You may not have wanted to addle your brain over his tutelage in Hawaii by the Communist Frank Marshall Davis, nor his tracing of Davis’s career steps to Chicago, where he seamlessly eased into the orbit of Arafat apologist Rashid Khalidi, anti-American terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, and Maoist “educator” Michael Klonsky — all while imbibing 20 years’ worth of Jeremiah Wright’s Marxist “black liberation theology.” But this neo-Communist well from which Obama drew holds that the world order is a maze of injustice, racism, and repression. Its unified theory for navigating the maze is: “United States = culprit.” Its default position is that tyrants are preferable as long as they are anti-American, and that while terrorist methods may be regrettable, their root cause is always American provocation — that is, the terrorists have a point.

In Iran, it is no longer enough for a rickety regime, whose anti-American vitriol is its only vital sign, to rig the “democratic” process. This time, blatant electoral fraud was also required to mulct victory for the mullahs’ candidate. The chicanery ignited a popular revolt. But the brutal regime guessed right: The new American president would be supportive. So sympathetic is Obama to the mullahs’ grievances — so hostile to what he, like the regime, sees as America’s arrogant militarism — that he could be depended on to go as far as politics allowed to help the regime ride out the storm.

And so he has. Right now, politics will allow quite a lot: With unemployment creeping toward 10 percent, the auto industry nationalized, the stimulus revealed as history’s biggest redistribution racket (so far), and Democrats bent on heaping ruinous carbon taxes and socialized medicine atop an economy already crushed by tens of trillions in unfunded welfare-state liabilities, Iran is barely on anyone’s radar screen.

So Obama is pouring it on while his trusty media idles. When they are not looking the other way from the carnage in Iran’s streets, they are dutifully reporting — as the AP did — that the Irbil Five are mere “diplomats.” Obama frees a terrorist with the blood of American troops on his hands, and the press yawns. Senators Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl press for answers about the release of the terrorist and Obama’s abandonment of a decades-old American policy against trading terrorists for hostages, and the silence is deafening.

Except in Tehran, where the mullahs are hearing exactly what they’ve banked on hearing.

— National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad (Encounter Books, 2008).

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Link Between Iraq Violence, Troop Withdrawals Considered

Link Between Iraq Violence, Troop Withdrawals Considered. By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post, Sunday, July 5, 2009

A recent spike in violence in Iraq is prompting senior defense officials to ask whether the gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities over the past several months has provided an opening to extremist groups eager to spark sectarian attacks between Sunnis and Shiites.

The latest bombings have highlighted the still-fragile state of the Iraqi government and security forces as the war enters a new phase and U.S. influence in the country continues to wane. Some senior defense officials speculated that the recent increase was part of a last push by Sunni extremist groups, who appeared to be marshaling their resources in May, to make their presence felt before the formal deadline for the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq's cities.

"We knew that if al-Qaeda in Iraq had only five bombs left, they were going to use them all as the last of our forces left the cities," said a senior defense official who follows Iraq. "They wanted to create the narrative that they had driven us from Iraq. Next, they'll want to build the narrative that the Iraqi security forces can't protect the people."

Iraqi civilian deaths, which had dropped in May to among the lowest levels of the war, almost doubled in June, to 447, according to a count by the Associated Press. Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, played down the impact of the recent attacks. "I still believe that al-Qaeda has been significantly degraded here in Iraq," he told reporters on Tuesday.

Military officials said that in the coming weeks they will be watching closely to see whether al-Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist groups can sustain the recent spate of suicide bombs, which would be a sign that networks of fighters have reinvigorated themselves, and whether the attacks provoke retaliatory violence.

Over the long term, the concern is whether the relative peace between Shiites, who represent the majority in Iraq, and Sunnis can be sustained without a large presence of U.S. troops in Baghdad.

"If Sunnis and Shiites continue to work through their differences politically, Iraq will survive. If not, there is no way it will hold together," said retired Col. Pete Mansoor, who served as a senior aide to the top commander in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.

When U.S. troops moved into Baghdad in large numbers in 2007, they took up positions on the fault lines between Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods in an effort to stop the sectarian killing. "We put ourselves between the sects and functioned as honest brokers," Mansoor said. "That was our primary leverage."

A small number of U.S. advisers and several companies of American combat troops will remain in Baghdad over the coming year. But it will be largely up to Iraqi army and police forces to calm sectarian tensions, which are almost certain to flare as the next national elections, scheduled for January, draw closer.

Senior U.S. officials said they will watch closely for any signs that civilian casualties and sectarian murders in Iraq are increasing in the coming months. So far, the recent bombings have not spurred a cycle of retribution, and even with the recent spike in killings violence still remains at summer 2003 levels.

Another danger is that Iraqi army and police forces will revert to the overtly sectarian behavior of 2006 and 2007 without the stabilizing presence of U.S. forces operating alongside them. It will be difficult for the small number of U.S. advisers embedded with Iraqi units to accompany them on all missions. The conduct of Iraq's senior political leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and its top generals will play the biggest role in determining whether the country's security forces hold together or fracture on sectarian lines, military analysts said.

"In 1973 and 1974, there were a lot of good South Vietnamese battalion commanders, but that wasn't enough to compensate for the lack of leadership at senior levels," said Steven Metz, a counterinsurgency expert at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.

A major test will be how Maliki and other Iraqi leaders handle the armed groups known as the Awakening or Sons of Iraq. These largely Sunni forces include many former insurgents who agreed to drop their resistance in exchange for positions paying about $300 a month.

Despite its promise to integrate 20 percent of the former Sunni fighters into the Iraqi army and police forces, Maliki's government has found positions for about 5 percent of the 91,000 Iraqis in the program, according to the upcoming quarterly report to Congress on Iraq, which will be released this month. Maliki's government has also targeted a few of the Awakening leaders for arrest in recent months and, at times, has been slow to pay other militia members.

U.S. officials remain optimistic that the Iraqi government will not alienate the former insurgents. "The prime minister and his advisers understand they can't abandon these guys en masse," said the senior defense official.

Even if the government does not meet its promises to the former insurgents, it is unlikely that disaffected Sunnis will turn to groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq for revenge, military analysts said.

"My worry is that you could see a huge uptick in criminality if the Sons of Iraq aren't integrated into the security forces," Mansoor said. "People have to feed their families, and will resort to oil smuggling, illegal checkpoints and shaking down business owners for protection money."

But if violence rises in Iraq, there is little political appetite in Washington or Baghdad for an increased U.S. role. Some military analysts worried that President Obama had not done enough of late to make it clear to his military commanders and the American people that U.S. troops will push back into Baghdad if necessary.

"Right now, you have a public that is starting to say the war is finished," said Peter D. Feaver, who focused on Iraq as a special adviser to the Bush White House and is a professor at Duke University. "The problem is that we're not done in Iraq. The president is the only one who can mobilize American public support for the war."

Friday, May 29, 2009

USAID Partner with Iraqis to Launch Social Safety Net Program

USAID Partner with Iraqis to Launch Social Safety Net Program
May 28, 2009

BAGHDAD -The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Iraq's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MoLSA) today launched the Social Safety Net program nationwide aimed at providing benefits to the most vulnerable citizens of Iraq and facilitating their integration into the country's economic development.

In 2005, the Government of Iraq passed legislation to establish a Social Safety Net to complement the state-subsidized food rationing system, the largest social security spending in the country. The new system is intended to help low-income families, displaced workers, and unemployed people adjust to the ongoing restructuring and reform efforts. The initiative is an essential step in ensuring food availability, supplementing buying power, encouraging students to stay in school, and preserving access to other social services.

The USAID-funded Economic Governance Program in partnership with MoLSA provided technical support in the design of the Social Safety Net program, including upgrading the information technology system, and leveraging grants from the World Bank Trust Fund to expand coverage to 21 sites. A team of USAID advisors and their Iraqi counterparts addressed key capacity building concerns by enhancing the skills of civil service personnel in technical, operational and management techniques essential to the implementation of the program. The World Bank and USAID have invested more than $13 million for the nearly four-year project.

The Social Safety Net system has robust processes to detect and prevent operational irregularities that allow for the delivery of benefits in a standardized manner to all needy recipients. The system uses internal controls that ensure accurate identification, registration, and verification of recipients, and appropriate tracking of beneficiary records and payments. Such mechanisms are aimed at running an effective, transparent and accountable program.

The success of the 2008 pilot in Baghdad paved the way for a Memorandum of Understanding between MoLSA and USAID to expand the program nationwide. Today, nearly 673,000 people, or 2.4 percent of the population of Iraq, are receiving benefits through the Social Safety Net program. The program is expected to cover an estimated one million beneficiaries.

Since 2003, USAID has invested more than $6 billion on programs designed to stabilize communities; foster economic and agricultural growth; and build the capacity of the national, local, and provincial governments to respond to the needs of the Iraqi people

Sunday, May 17, 2009

WaPo: Mr. Obama's War? No, it's America's war

Mr. Obama's War? WaPo Editorial
No. Like it or not, it's America's war.
Sunday, May 17, 2009

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S clashes with the liberal base of his party are the kind of sporting event that Washington loves. But what Mr. Obama is confronting is less his party and more a stubborn reality that many in his party are unwilling to accept: There are forces in the world that continue to wage war against the United States and its allies, whether or not the United States wants to acknowledge that war.

Mr. Obama's recent decisions on paying for Afghanistan, reviving military tribunals and withholding photos of detainee abuse, among others, all reflect this reality. Although we disagreed with his conclusion on the photos, we sympathize with his concern that it might harm Americans fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. His announcement Friday that he had reversed his opposition to trying some enemy detainees in military commissions reflects, again, the fact of a nation at war; the federal courts will not be the proper venue for every al-Qaeda member captured by U.S. forces. (In a separate editorial we offer some views on how to improve the commissions further.) His commitment to fighting al-Qaeda and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan recognizes that pretending a threat does not exist will only increase the danger to America.

That's what is worrying about the modest but gathering opposition to Mr. Obama's policies within his party. Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.), who represents parts of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, was one of 51 Democrats to vote against funding for the Afghan war on Thursday. In a statement, Ms. Edwards hailed "the passion and commitment of our servicemen and women" that she witnessed on a recent trip to the embattled nation as well as "the commitment and courage of Afghan women to build a future for their country." But Ms. Edwards said that she could not support funding, because Mr. Obama lacks "a strategy for leaving Afghanistan." In a similar vein, Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, told the New York Times that he would give Mr. Obama's strategy one year to work before moving into opposition.

Mr. Obama understands that the only safe strategy for leaving Afghanistan is to beat back radical Islamist forces and build Afghan capacity to continue that fight. It's an effort that will require soldiers and civilians, military battles and economic development. Of course it will take more than a year; Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the military effort, has been entirely candid about that.

What's discouraging is how quickly many Americans seem to forget the peril of half-finishing wars. Once before this country abandoned the battlefield in central Asia; Osama bin Laden moved into the vacuum. Today, he and like-minded terrorists continue to conspire in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere. Confronted by this unpleasant truth and the difficult challenge it poses, too many politicians lapse into the wishful-thinking school of making policy. We worry that there remains a touch of that in Mr. Obama's Iraq timetables and lean defense budget. But for the most part, having accepted the responsibility of keeping America safe, he has recognized that America can't always choose its enemies or its battlefields. His realism deserves support.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Iraq: Hold And Build, Or Lose

Iraq: Hold And Build, Or Lose. By Anthony H. Cordesman
WaPo, Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Despite the violence of the past few weeks, it is Iraq that now risks becoming the "forgotten war." Iraq has become both a perceived "victory" and a war that many Americans and members of Congress would like to forget. As a result, we may rush toward the "exit" without a strategy -- and lose both the ongoing war and the peace that could follow.

It is all too easy to forget that we "won" in Vietnam. We left having defeated the Viet Cong, having forced North Vietnam to halt its offensives -- and having gotten a Nobel Prize for the settlement. We created something approaching a functioning democracy, a reasonable level of development, and Vietnamese forces that seemed able to defend both without our support. It only took a few years, however, to show how costly an exit without a strategy can be.

There are limits to what we can do in Iraq. We cannot force Iraqis into political accommodation. We cannot develop their economy for them. And we cannot act as a lasting substitute for effective Iraqi forces or the creation of local security and a rule of law. But there are steps we can and should take to complete the "clear, hold and build" strategy that has changed the war so dramatically since 2007.

First, we need to ensure that Iraq can finish "winning" and continue to "hold." We should make clear that we will be flexible about the speed and level of our withdrawal of U.S. forces if an elected Iraqi government needs a limited amount of added help to defeat al-Qaeda and establish national security. We should also make clear that U.S. military advisory teams, including the embedded advisers necessary to make Iraqi combat forces fully independent and effective, will stay as long as Iraq wants them. We should be prepared to maintain and strengthen our advisory teams to help Iraq develop effective police and a criminal justice system.

If necessary, we should provide military assistance and equipment until Iraq can emerge from the budget crisis triggered by the collapse of world oil prices -- a crisis that has sharply cut its planned budget to $58.6 billion from an anticipated $78 billion. The revenue shortfall has also forced a freeze on the expansion of Iraqi forces when the country needs some 60,000 recruits in the coming year and has delayed most major equipment purchases.

Second, we must help Iraq "build." U.S. help will steadily grow more important as the necessary transition from armed nation-building to post-conflict reconstruction occurs over the next three to four years. This means keeping our economic and governance advisers in place as long as Iraq wants them. It means keeping our Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the field and replacing their military members with civilians. It means a major U.S. effort to support Iraq in dealing with both the International Monetary Fund and its debt and reparations problems. It might require carefully targeted economic aid in select areas. Iraq's budgetary and governance problems are solvable, but they will require years of additional aid and support.

Active U.S. diplomacy will be equally important in helping Iraq move toward political accommodation and minimizing the risk of new conflicts between Arabs and Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, or local violence. It will be critical to working with a strong U.N. team, and it should involve doing everything possible to seek support from other Arab states, Turkey, and even (possibly) Iran.

The final dimension of the "hold" effort requires giving the highest possible priority to helping Iraq develop its oil fields and renovate and increase its export capabilities. This does not mean financial aid. It means recognizing that some 95 percent of the Iraqi government's revenue will come from oil exports over the next five years and that fixing the petroleum sector as quickly as possible is the only way for Iraq to obtain the money and government revenue that can hold the country together and fund security and stability.

Iraq can maintain and expand its petroleum exports only through major investment and the technology transfers that come from foreign oil companies. Progress cannot wait until Baghdad can pass perfect petroleum laws. Helping Iraq does not mean pushing it into contracts with American firms or those that are not to Iraq's clear advantage. It does mean giving U.S. firms and teamed U.S. and foreign oil company efforts proper support, and prioritizing open, competitive bidding managed by the Iraqi government. Without this, Iraq cannot find the money to help bridge its ethnic and sectarian divisions, unemployment will get even worse, and young men will turn back toward violence. Iraq will not be able to make use of its past aid, pay for key services such as education and medical care, improve its infrastructure, or attract other forms of investment. In the short term, Iraq has no other options.

Yes, some of these actions will cost U.S. lives and dollars. Such costs, though, will be far lower than the mid- to long-term cost of throwing away a high probability of leaving Iraq with lasting security and stability. The United States must find a way to leave Iraq that ensures the stability of the Persian Gulf -- a region with close to half of the world's known oil and gas reserves and where America's future credibility will be as critical to dealing with jihadist terrorism as is the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In strategic terms, Vietnam was always expendable. Iraq and the Gulf are not.

The writer holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Review of Mansoor's Baghdad at Sunrise: Rediscovering counterinsurgency in Iraq

The Learning Curve, by Mackubin Thomas Owens
Rediscovering counterinsurgency in Iraq.
The Weekly Standard, May 11, 2009, Volume 014, Issue 32

Review of Baghdad at Sunrise
A Brigade Commander's War in Iraq
by Peter R. Mansoor
Yale, 416 pp., $28

Some years ago, the late Carl Builder of RAND wrote a book entitled The Masks of War, in which he demonstrated the importance of the organizational cultures of the various military services. His point was that each service possesses a preferred way of fighting that is not easily changed.

Since the 1930s the culture of the U.S. Army has emphasized "big wars." This is the legacy of Emory Upton, an innovative 19th-century officer who became a protégé of William Tecumseh Sherman when Sherman became general-in-chief of the Army after the Civil War. Upton believed that the traditional constabulary focus of the Army was outdated. Dispatched on a world tour by Sherman, Upton was especially impressed by Prussian military policy, Prussia's ability to conduct war against the armies of other military powers, and its emphasis on professionalism. Certainly Prussia's overwhelming successes against Denmark, Austria, and France in the Wars of German Unification (1864-71) made the Prussian Army the new exemplar of military excellence in Europe.

Upon his return home, Upton proposed a number of radical reforms, including replacing the citizen-soldier model with one based on a professional soldiery, reducing civilian "interference" in military affairs, and abandoning the emphasis on the constabulary operations that had characterized Army roles during most of the 19th century (with the exception of the Mexican and Civil wars) in favor of preparing for a conflict with a potential foreign enemy.

Given the tenor of the time, all of his proposals were rejected. In ill health, Upton resigned from the Army and, in 1881, committed suicide. But the triumph of progressivism, a political program that placed a great deal of reliance on scientific expertise and professionalism, the end of the Army's constabulary duties on the Western frontier, and the problems associated with mobilizing for and fighting the Spanish American War, made Upton's proposed reforms more attractive, especially within the officer corps. In 1904 Secretary of War Elihu Root published Upton's Military Policy of the United States, and while many of Upton's more radical proposals remained unacceptable to republican America, the idea of reorienting the Army away from constabulary duties to a mission focused on defeating the conventional forces of other states caught on.

While the Army returned to constabulary duties after World War I, Upton's spirit now permeated the professional culture. World War II vindicated Upton's vision, and his view continued to govern Army thinking throughout the Cold War. The American Army that entered Iraq in 2003 was still Emory Upton's Army. Focused as it has been on state-versus-state warfare, Upton's army has not cared much for counterinsurgency, and this was apparent during the first years of the Iraq War. It is also the theme of several recent books on the conflict.

Baghdad at Sunrise is one of the best, written by a colonel who commanded the 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division during a particularly difficult year (May 2003-July 2004), a period that saw the rapid coalition victory over Saddam Hussein give way to a vicious insurgency that came close to defeating the United States in Iraq. A genuine soldier-scholar, Colonel Mansoor provides the unique perspective of a midlevel ground commander adapting to the requirements of fighting an insurgency under the most difficult conditions.

His perspective is enhanced by the fact that, two-and-a-half years after redeploying his brigade to Germany, he returned as executive officer to Gen. David Petraeus as Petraeus implemented the "surge" and the counter- insurgency strategy that helped turn the situation around in Iraq. Mansoor not only observed but helped to implement the Army's painful transition from an organization beholden to Emory Upton to one that recognized the necessity to adapt to an enemy who refused to fight the Upton way.

The conventional wisdom holds that it was civilian interference, especially on the part of Donald Rumsfeld, that was to blame for the difficulties U.S. forces faced in Iraq during the first years of the campaign. According to the dominant narrative, Rumsfeld willfully ignored military advice and initiated the war with a force that was too small. He ignored the need to prepare for post-conflict stability operations, and he failed to adapt to the new circumstances once things began to go wrong, not foreseeing the insurgency that engulfed the country.

It is undeniable that Rumsfeld made many critical mistakes. But the uniformed military was no more prescient than he. Did Rumsfeld insist on an early attack with a smaller force than that recommended by many uniformed officers? Yes. But the plan he pushed was a version of a scheme developed by an Army officer, Col. Douglas MacGregor. The military objective of this plan was not to occupy the country but to liberate Iraq from Saddam and turn governance over to liberal Iraqis. The approach was popular with both Rumsfeld and the military because both took their bearings from the Weinberger Doctrine, a set of rules for the use of force drafted in the 1980s which emphasized the quick, overwhelming application of military force to defeat an enemy, leaving postwar affairs to others.

Did Rumsfeld ignore postwar planning? Again, yes. But in doing so he was merely ratifying the preferences of a uniformed military that had internalized the Weinberger emphasis on an "exit strategy." The fact is that if generals are thinking about an exit strategy they are not thinking about "war termination"--how to convert military success into political success. This cultural aversion to stability operations is reflected in the fact that operational planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom took 18 months while planning for postwar stabilization began half-heartedly only a couple of months before the invasion.

Did Rumsfeld foresee the insurgency and the shift from conventional to guerrilla war? No. But neither did his critics in the uniformed services. Mansoor makes this point clear by observing that, for at least the three decades before the Iraq war, the professional military education system all but ignored counterinsurgency operations. This cultural aversion to counter- insurgency lay at the heart of the difficult years in Iraq (2003-07), and in the absence of a counterinsurgency doctrine the Army fell back on what it knew: conventional offensive operations designed to kill the enemy without protecting the population.

The Army's predisposition toward offensive operations was reinforced in the 1990s by a sort of operational "happy talk" that convinced many (who should have known better) that the American edge in emerging technologies, especially informational technologies, would permit the United States to conduct short, decisive, and relatively bloodless campaigns. This was the lesson many learned from the first Gulf war, and the result was an approach that goes under the name of Rapid Decisive Operations. Mansoor observes that Rapid Decisive Operations misunderstood the timeless nature of war: "What we learned [in Iraq]," he writes, "was that the real objective of the war was not merely the collapse of the old regime but the creation of a stable government." As the old saying goes, in war the enemy has a vote, and in the case of Iraq, our adversaries voted not to fight the kind of war Americans preferred.

As the conflict morphed into an insurgency, U.S. ground troops responded by going after the insurgents, adapting conventional tactics to a guerrilla war. In The Gamble Thomas Ricks quotes a speech by an Army officer that captures the essence of the U.S. approach in Iraq until 2007: "Anytime you fight, you always kill the other sonofabitch. Do not let him live today so he will fight you tomorrow. Kill him today."

This approach made sense when the insurgents stood and fought, as they did in Falluja in April and November 2004. It also made sense during the subsequent "rivers campaign" of 2005, designed to destroy the insurgency in al Anbar Province by depriving it of its base and infrastructure in the Sunni Triangle and the "ratlines" west and northwest of Falluja. It unquestionably killed thousands of insurgents, including Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, as well as many of his top lieutenants, and led to the capture of many more. Intelligence from captured insurgents, as well as from Zarqawi's computer, had a cascading effect, permitting the coalition to maintain pressure on the insurgency.

But while successful in disrupting insurgent operations, there were too few troops to maintain control of the towns of al Anbar. The insurgents, abandoning their Falluja approach of standing and fighting the Americans, simply melted away, only to return after coalition troops had departed. Thus, while soldiers and Marines were chasing insurgents from sanctuary to sanctuary, they were not providing security for the Iraqi population, leaving them at the mercy of the insurgents who terrorized and intimidated them.

As the insurgency metastasized in 2005 the United States had three military alternatives: continue offensive operations along the lines of those in Anbar after Falluja; adopt a counterinsurgency approach; or emphasize the training of Iraqi troops in order to effect a transition to Iraqi control of military operations. Gen. John Abizaid of Central Command, and Gen. George Casey, the overall commander in Iraq, chose the third option, supported by Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Richard Myers.

But while moving toward Iraqi control was a logical option for the long run, it did little to solve the proximate problem of the insurgency, which had generated sectarian violence. Based on the belief of many senior commanders, especially General Abizaid, that U.S. troops were an "antibody" to Iraqi culture, U.S. forces were consolidated on large "forward operating bases," maintaining a presence only by means of motorized patrols that were particularly vulnerable to attacks by IEDs. In so doing, we ceded territory and population alike to the insurgents. Mansoor describes this approach as a mistake: "Security of the population is the fundamental basis of any successful counterinsurgency strategy."

The withdrawal of American forces to forward operating bases also contributed to a "kick-in-the-door" mentality among troops when they did interact with Iraqis. This was completely at odds with effective counterinsurgency practice, seriously undermining attempts to pacify the country. And yet, despite many difficulties (including resistance from above), some Army and Marine commanders had been implementing a counterinsurgency approach on their own initiative; that is to say, forming partnerships with the Sunni sheikhs in al Anbar province who had tired of al Qaeda's reign of terror in the Sunni Triangle. By providing security to the people in cooperation with the sheikhs, the Americans were able to isolate Al Qaeda in Iraq. And as U.S commanders were struggling with the insurgency, the Army and Marine Corps were developing a counterinsurgency doctrine based on this insight, and an operational strategy that would successfully be applied as part of the surge in 2007.

As a close associate of General Petraeus, Colonel Mansoor helped serve as midwife to the remarkable shift in Iraq arising from a more general application of the lessons that he had learned during his 2003-04 command. This new approach rejected the position articulated by Petraeus's predecessor, General Casey, who had told President George W. Bush in 2006 that "to win, we have to draw down." And General Abizaid of Central Command, sticking to his belief that American soldiers were an "antibody" to Iraqi culture, seconded Casey.

But Petraeus agreed with Mansoor's observation that "counterinsurgency is a thinking soldier's war," requiring "the counterinsurgent to adapt faster than the insurgent." The time for applying a new approach was at hand, and to his credit, President Bush saw the necessity for change and took action.

One of the debates triggered by our experience in Iraq concerns U.S. force structure. As Mansoor puts it, "If we accept the premise that [counterinsurgency and] stability operations [are] of primary concern, then the Army's organization for combat should [be] different." This debate pits the "long war" school against "traditionalists." The former argues that Iraq and Afghanistan are most characteristic of the protracted and ambiguous wars America will fight in the future, and that the military should be developing a force designed to fight the "long war" on terrorism, which envisions the necessity of preparing for small wars, or insurgencies.

The traditionalists concede that irregular warfare will occur more frequently in the future and that fighting small wars is difficult. But traditionalists also conclude that such conflicts do not threaten U.S. strategic interests, while large-scale conflicts, which they believe remain a real possibility, will threaten strategic interests. They fear that the Long War School's focus on small wars and insurgencies will transform the Army back into a constabulary force, whose new capability for conducting stability operations and "nation-building" would be purchased at a high cost: the inability to conduct large-scale conventional war.

This is by no means a parochial debate, of interest only to the uniformed military, and its outcome has implications for broader national security policy: A force structure aligned with the requirement to fight conventional wars would make it more difficult for the United States to fight small wars. This may be a legitimate choice for the United States, but it is one that should be made by policymakers, and not delegated to the uniformed military. To do so would permit military decisions to constrain policy and strategy questions that lie well within the purview of civilian authority, and our experiences in Vietnam and Iraq demonstrate the dangers of leaving military doctrine and force structure strictly to the military.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is editor of Orbis, the journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

WaPo on Iraq: How the Obama administration can respond to incipient signs of trouble

Iraq's Wobbles. WaPo Editorial
How the Obama administration can respond to incipient signs of trouble.
WaPo, Sunday, April 19, 2009

IT'S BEEN only seven weeks since President Obama outlined a strategy for Iraq aimed at withdrawing most U.S. troops by the end of next summer. But already there is cause for concern. During the past month security around the country has been slipping: At least 37 people have been killed in four major attacks on security forces in the past week alone, and there have been multiple car bombings in Baghdad and other cities. Those strikes have been claimed by al-Qaeda, which appears to be attempting a comeback. But there have also been new bursts of sectarian violence among Sunni and Shiite extremists.

Following successful local elections in January, Iraqi politicians are mired in backroom squabbling over the formation of provincial governments. The Shiite-led national government has made disturbing moves against some of the Sunni leaders who led the fight against al-Qaeda. Hamstrung by the fall in oil prices, the government is having trouble meeting commitments to pay former insurgents or expand the security forces. Normally the U.S. ambassador would be deeply involved in trying to smooth over such problems, but there has been no ambassador in Baghdad since February.

It's not time to panic: U.S. commanders point out that overall, violence in Iraq is at its lowest level since the first year of the war. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, bolstered by the election outcome, remains strong and confident. But the administration needs to be alert to what is happening in Iraq -- and ready to adjust political and military plans to prevent what could easily become a downward spiral.

One early decision point involves the withdrawal timetable, which calls for U.S. troops to leave all Iraqi cities by the end of June. That pullout is looking risky in a couple of places, including the northern city of Mosul, which has never been entirely cleansed of anti-government insurgents. The U.S. commander in the area told a Pentagon briefing last week that American troops could remain in the city if the Iraqi government requests it following an ongoing review; such flexibility should be extended to other areas, if necessary.

U.S. diplomats and commanders also need to make sure that Sunni leaders -- already under renewed attack by al-Qaeda -- are treated fairly by the government. It's hard to tell from Washington whether recent arrests of some tribal leaders were justified or prudent; that's one reason why the administration's chosen ambassador, Christopher Hill, needs to get to Baghdad as soon as possible. He should be confirmed when Congress returns this week.

Mr. Hill's main focus, once he arrives, ought to be helping to ensure that Iraq's national elections, expected next January, go smoothly. Judging from January's results, elections may be the best way to defuse sectarian tensions and resolve disputes among feuding factions. Al-Qaeda and other extremists will try to disrupt the democratic process, while Iran will seek to manipulate it. Though the new administration has minimized the promotion of democracy as a goal, both in Iraq and elsewhere, it offers perhaps the best means of enabling the troop withdrawal that Mr. Obama has promised for next year.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Promise, and Peril, Ahead for Iraq - The parliament has learned how to use the power of the purse

The Promise, and Peril, Ahead for Iraq. By Kimberley Kagan and Frederick W Kagan
The parliament has learned how to use the power of the purse.
WSJ, Apr 10. 2009

During his visit to Iraq this week, President Barack Obama commended U.S. forces for their invaluable work there: "From getting rid of Saddam, to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections -- you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement." But the president also cautioned that "now is not the time to lose focus" for the next 18 months will be a "critical period."

He's absolutely right.

Iraq has undergone a quiet transformation since Mr. Obama's first visit to the country as a senator in July 2008. We can no longer speak of Iraqi politics at a standstill, or a lack of political accommodation, or an unwillingness of the Iraqi government to take responsibility. The issues facing the president in Iraq, and his military commanders, are fundamentally different from those of 2007 and 2008.

On a visit to Iraq last month, we had the opportunity to see the transformation firsthand. Iraq is now a fully sovereign country. U.S. Commander Gen. Ray Odierno has insisted on the most rigorous implementation of the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, which gives Iraqi authorities greater responsibility than ever before. U.S. forces now detain Iraqis only after securing arrest warrants from Iraqi judges, and they are releasing or transferring to Iraqi custody all of the detainees they now hold. The U.S. maintains forces and bases only where the Iraqi government wants them. The U.S. has already turned responsibility for the security of the Green Zone over to the Iraqi government, and Iraqi Security Forces have responsibility for an ever-growing proportion of Baghdad well in advance of the agreement's June 30 deadline.

Moreover, Gen. Odierno and the U.S. Embassy have established joint committees with Iraqi military and political leaders at the highest levels both to coordinate operations and to monitor and ensure adherence to the agreement. There is a committee for each article of the agreement that reviews all questions of implementation and investigates all accusations of infringements. Both sides have agreed that the approved minutes of these committees are legally binding.

January's peaceful provincial elections have reinvigorated Iraqi democracy. Iraqis voted in large numbers and, as dissatisfied voters often do, they voted the incumbents out. This was an important step, demonstrating that Iraqis believe that their vote counts and their leaders are held accountable. Iraqi politicians have gotten the message. The losing parties are working to develop platforms to win back their voters in the upcoming national elections. The struggle to form coalitions in the provinces has forced competing parties to compromise with one another at the local level.

Mr. Obama also said that Iraqis must "decide that they want to resolve their differences through constitutional means and legal means." Iraqi leaders of many parties are already showing their determination to do precisely this. For some time, rivals (and even allies) of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have been concerned about his apparent efforts to concentrate too much power in his own hands through the establishment of extra-constitutional government bodies. The Council of Representatives has used the 2009 budget to clip the prime minister's wings by eliminating all funding for these "illegal" bodies. In other words, Iraqi representatives have discovered the power of the purse. It is a remarkable advance in Iraqi politics that the parliament could act against the prime minister and his party, while nonetheless passing a law that is constructive for the state.

But the country faces three major challenges in coming months: national parliamentary elections, most likely in January 2010; major budget constraints, resulting from the low price of oil; and the threat of growing Arab-Kurd tensions in the north.

The national elections will lead to the first transfer of power in the democratic Iraqi state. This is always a critical moment in the birth of a new democracy. In Iraq it will be especially challenging because of its parliamentary system. Voters must first elect a new Council of Representatives, which must then elect a prime minister and approve a cabinet. The parties must agree not only on a leader but also about how all of the ministries will be parceled out among parties and ethno-sectarian groups. In 2006, this process took five months. U.S. forces will play a critical role in helping the Iraqis secure the elections, but they will also play an important role after the vote supporting the Iraqi Security Forces and deterring dissatisfied groups from resorting to violence.

Meanwhile, the fall in the global price of oil has presented a major problem for Iraq's balance of payments. The current Iraqi budget is based on the assumption that oil would sell for an average of $50 per barrel. Oil prices have been lower than that for most of the year, generating a significant shortfall of revenue so far and forcing the Iraqi government to slash spending and dip into its reserves.

If prices remain low, important programs that maintain Iraq's security and internal stability may be threatened. Revenue shortfalls have already halted the planned expansion of the Iraqi Security Forces and disrupted plans to acquire equipment for them. And since the Iraqi government is the principal employer in the country, any significant reduction in its spending limits its ability to create jobs, including those central to the process of reconciling former insurgents.

The budget crisis, if protracted, can also prevent the newly elected provincial governments and even the central government from providing the services that the population expects, possibly leading to general disillusionment with the political process if not to a resurgence of violence. Tensions between Iraq's Arabs and Kurds, particularly over the status of Kirkuk, are still capable of destabilizing the country rapidly and profoundly. The unexpected success of the Arab al Hadba Party in Ninewah Province shifted the focus of these tensions from Mosul back to Kirkuk. But the friction over Kirkuk's status is not simply one of rival ethnicities. It also involves fundamental constitutional questions about the relationship between the central government, provincial government, and federal regions.

There is little enthusiasm in Kirkuk itself for a violent resolution of the dispute, and the presence of an American brigade near the city has helped keep the peace by helping Kurdish and Iraqi forces to understand each other's positions and actions. But rhetoric and posturing in an election year could inflame this delicate situation, and the presence of U.S. forces there is necessary.

Mr. Obama has stated his objectives in Iraq clearly: The U.S. must "make sure that Iraq is stable, that it is not a safe haven for terrorists, that it is a good neighbor and a good ally." This is an attainable goal. Iraq has undergone a profound transformation -- it is no longer a predatory, dictatorial state or a maelstrom of sectarian violence. It no longer threatens its neighbors or stability in the region. Indeed, Iraq has become an attractive political and economic partner for states throughout the Middle East.

But Iraqis remain most interested in establishing a strategic partnership with the U.S. and the West. In the long run, this partnership will not be defined by the numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq but by the depth of our economic and political cooperation, diplomatic support, and strategic alliance. As Mr. Obama said in Baghdad, America must be "a stalwart partner" and Iraqis must "know that they have a steady partner with us."

Ms. Kagan is the president of the Institute for the Study of War and the author of "The Surge: A Military History," which will be published this month by Encounter Books. Mr. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Remarks by the Federal President to the Troops in Baghdad

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release April 7, 2009


Al Faw Palace
Baghdad, Iraq
6:08 P.M. (Local)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, guys. Let me say Multinational Force Iraq, Multinational Corps Iraq, Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq First Corps, America's Corp Band: Thanks to all of you.

Listen, I am so honored.


THE PRESIDENT: I love you back. (Applause.) I am honored -- I'm honored and grateful to be with all of you. And I'm not going to talk long because I want to shake as many hands as I can. (Applause.) And I've been talking all week. (Laughter.)

But there's a couple of things I want to say. Number one, thank you.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: You're welcome.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, when I was at Camp Lejeune I spoke about what it means for America to see our best and brightest, our finest young men and women serve us. And what I said then is something that I want to repeat to you, which is: You have performed brilliantly in every mission that has been given to you.


THE PRESIDENT: Under enormous strain and under enormous sacrifice, through controversy and difficulty and politics, you've kept your eyes focused on just doing your job. And because of that, every mission that's been assigned -- from getting rid of Saddam, to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections -- you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement, and for that you have the thanks of the American people. (Applause.) That's point number one.

Point number two is, this is going to be a critical period, these next 18 months. I was just discussing this with your commander, but I think it's something that all of you know. It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. (Applause.) They need to take responsibility for their country and for their sovereignty. (Applause.)

And in order for them to do that, they have got to make political accommodations. They're going to have to decide that they want to resolve their differences through constitutional means and legal means. They are going to have to focus on providing government services that encourage confidence among their citizens.

All those things they have to do. We can't do it for them. But what we can do is make sure that we are a stalwart partner, that we are working alongside them, that we are committed to their success, that in terms of training their security forces, training their civilian forces in order to achieve a more effective government, they know that they have a steady partner with us.

And so just as we thank you for what you've already accomplished, I want to say thank you because you will be critical in terms of us being able to make sure that Iraq is stable, that it is not a safe haven for terrorists, that it is a good neighbor and a good ally, and we can start bringing our folks home. (Applause.)

So now is not the time to lose focus. We have to be even more focused than we've been in order to achieve success.

The last point I want to make is I know how hard it's been on a lot of you. You've been away from your families, many of you for multiple rotations. You've seen buddies of yours injured and you remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.


THE PRESIDENT: There are probably some people here who have seen children born and have been missing watching them grow up. There are many of you who have listened to your spouse and the extraordinary sacrifices that they have to make when you're gone.

And so I want you to know that Michelle and myself are doing everything -- (applause) -- are doing everything we can to provide additional support for military families. The federal budget that I have introduced increases support for military families. We are going to do everything required to make sure that the commitment we make to our veterans is met, and that people don't have to fight for what they have earned as a consequence of their service.

The main point I want to make is we have not forgotten what you have already done, we are grateful for what you will do, and as long as I am in the White House, you are going to get the support that you need and the thanks that you deserve from a grateful nation. (Applause.)
So thank you very much everybody. (Applause.) God bless you. (Applause.) God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)


6:15 P.M. (L)

Friday, March 20, 2009

U.S. Contributes More Than $150 Million to Help Displaced Iraqis

U.S. Contributes More Than $150 Million to Help Displaced Iraqis
US State Dept, Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC, March 20, 2009

The United States is pleased to announce new FY 2009 contributions of more than $141 million to help Iraqis who remain displaced as a result of the war. These contributions come in addition to the $9 million that the United States committed earlier this fiscal year, to total $150 million thus far in FY 2009. These contributions show an ongoing U.S. focus on the needs of this vulnerable population, a focus that continues even as the security conditions inside Iraq improve, making returns of the displaced persons a more viable option in some areas. Between October 1, 2006 and September 30, 2008 (FY 2007 and FY 2008), the United States provided approximately $570 million to support humanitarian assistance for Iraqis.

This year’s funding has supported the 2009 United Nations Consolidated Appeal for Iraq and the region, and key international non-governmental organizations. The Appeal for $547 million will support relief efforts by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Food Program (WFP) and others. The United States calls on other donors to respond to the United Nations Appeal with substantial contributions of their own.

Through these organizations, U.S. funding will support a range of services for displaced Iraqis and conflict victims, including:
  • continued provision of emergency relief supplies to the most vulnerable Iraqis;
  • rehabilitation of water systems for internally displaced persons and local communities in Iraq;
  • informal education activities for Iraqi students unable to attend public schools in Jordan and Syria;
  • school reconstruction to support the influx of Iraqi students into Syrian public schools;
  • mental health services for displaced Iraqis;repairs to clinics in Iraq, including donation of medical equipment; and
  • mobile health units for Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

New Alliances Emerge in Advance of Iraq Elections

New Alliances Emerge in Advance of Iraq Elections. By Anthony Shadid
Negotiations Raise Possibility That Politicians Could Bridge Ethnic, Sectarian Divides
Washington Post, Thursday, March 19, 2009; 6:01 PM

BAGHDAD, March 19 -- Six weeks after provincial elections, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has allied himself with an outspoken Sunni leader in several provinces and broached a coalition with a militant, anti-American cleric, suggesting the emergence of a new axis of power in Iraq centered on a strong central government and nationalism.

Negotiations are still under way in most provinces, distrust remains entrenched among nearly all the players and agreements could crumble. But the jockeying after the Jan. 31 elections indicates that politicians are assembling coalitions that cross the sectarian divide ahead of parliamentary elections later this year, a vote that will shape the country as the U.S. military withdraws.

"There is a new political map," said Anwar al-Luheibi, a Sunni adviser to Maliki, who is a Shiite. "And I anticipate this map will be far better than the one we had before."

The negotiations and deal-making mark a departure from politics that have hewed almost exclusively to ethnic and sectarian lines, fomenting the discord that brought Iraq to the precipice of civil war in 2006 and 2007. They represent the first round of a great game that may resolve a question unanswered since Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003: What coalition of interests will find the formula to wield power in Iraq from Baghdad?

With his strong performance in the provincial elections, Maliki is the front-runner in forging such an alliance, a remarkable ascent for a lawmaker considered weak and pliable when he was put forward as a consensus candidate for prime minister three years ago.

Forgoing the slogans of his Islamist past for a platform of law and order, his party won a majority of seats on the council in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, and emerged as the single biggest bloc in Baghdad and four other provinces in the south, which has a Shiite Muslim majority. In most provinces, though, his party must make coalitions if it hopes to help determine who will fill the governorship and other key provincial positions.

Saleh al-Mutlaq, a leading secular Sunni Arab politician known for his nationalism and strident opposition to the U.S. occupation, said his supporters would ally with Maliki in four provinces: Diyala, Salahuddin, Baghdad and Babil. Mutlaq heads the Iraqi National Dialogue Party, but his supporters ran under different labels in provincial contests. Mutlaq said Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister who led a secular list in the campaign, would also join the alliances.

The convergence of their interests is a stark contrast to the alliances that followed elections in 2005, which Sunni Arabs largely boycotted. Their refusal to vote gave religious Shiites and Kurds disproportionate power in provinces such as Baghdad, Diyala and Nineveh, all with substantial Sunni populations. In predominantly Shiite southern Iraq and Sunni western Iraq, power coalesced around ostensibly religious parties, whose members built their appeal on clandestine organizations in exile, underground networks under Hussein, support from Iran and other neighbors and, occasionally, the end of a militiaman's gun.

This time, some coalitions seem to be based on ideology: a strong central government that Maliki, along with secular candidates such as Allawi and Mutlaq, have endorsed, as well as opposition to the kind of federalism espoused by Maliki's Shiite rivals, who favor a Shiite-ruled zone in the south, and Kurdish parties that control an autonomous region in northern Iraq. Both Maliki and Mutlaq have rallied support among Arab and nationalist constituents by opposing Kurdish territorial claims, particularly around the contested northern city of Kirkuk.

Mutlaq draws backing from among the still numerous supporters of Hussein's Baath Party in Sunni regions, and he has long pushed for reconciliation with its members. Despite his reputation as a Shiite hard-liner when he came to power in 2006, Maliki echoed the call this month. In a speech, he urged Iraqis to reconcile with rank-and-file Baathists, those he described as "forced and obliged at one time to be on the side of the former regime."

He declared that it was time "to let go of what happened" in the past.

Mutlaq said he told Maliki in a meeting two months ago that "there was a time when you stood against me on those issues. 'You should be happy I changed,' he told me." Smiling in the interview, Mutlaq joked that first the prime minister "stole the government from us, and now he's trying to steal our political speech from us."

Mutlaq said that Maliki had proposed an alliance for parliamentary elections, too. But, he said, "we're still studying the message."

Since the fall of Hussein, religious Shites and Kurds had effectively served as the coalition at the heart of power in Iraq. Maliki's emergence has upset that formula, and virtually each component of the Shiite alliance has now gone its own way. The bloc that claimed to speak on behalf of long reticent Sunnis has splintered, too, unable even to agree on a replacement for the speaker of parliament, who resigned in December.

Fayed al-Shammari, a leader of Maliki's Dawa Party in Najaf, who will serve on the provincial council there, said he foresaw a grand coalition for the December parliamentary elections that would join Maliki with influential Sunni leaders, elements of the U.S.-backed Sunni movement that turned against the insurgency and perhaps even Moqtada al-Sadr, a militant Shiite cleric whose followers witnessed a political resurgence in the January vote. Strikingly, it would not include Maliki's other Shiite rivals or Kurds.

A hint of that alignment emerged in Wasit province, where Maliki's supporters were reported to have joined with Allawi's list and Sadr's followers.

"There's a great possibility for this," Shammari said, although even he questioned whether it could withstand the still-seismic conflicts over the very nature of the Iraqi state, namely its power in relation to the provinces. "With any coalition, you have an ambition for it to be permanent," he said. "But ambition doesn't always match reality."

Mutlaq envisioned three main groups competing in the December vote: A list that he led, Maliki's group and an alliance of Kurds and religious parties -- both the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party. One example of the third grouping has emerged in Diyala province, where the Supreme Council agreed to an alliance with the Islamic Party, said Ridha Jawad Taqi, a lawmaker from the Supreme Council.

Mutlaq, an agricultural engineer who grew wealthy under Hussein's government and is sometimes spoken of as a candidate for Iraq's presidency, said any future national alliance with Maliki would depend on cooperation in the provincial councils.

"We want to see what he's going to give," he said in the interview. "Is he going to behave as a real partner or is he going to try to isolate the others?"

He said he was still skeptical. "We don't think Maliki is going to act in a democratic way. We're worried that he's collecting power in a dictatorial way."

Mutlaq said he understood that Maliki had already reached provincial alliances with an electoral list supported by Sadr's followers, a deal that Shammari, of Maliki's Dawa Party, called likely. But spokesmen for Sadr and the list of candidates he supported said negotiations were still under way.

"We think they only want alliances in the provinces where they're facing difficulties. They reject us in the provinces where they feel comfortable," said Ameer al-Kinani, the head of the Trend of Free Independents, the list Sadr's followers supported.

Sadr's supporters did especially well in Dhi Qar and Maysan provinces in southern Iraq, where negotiations are still under way to choose the top officials.

To help win their support, Sadr's officials have insisted Maliki play a role in freeing their supporters in prison. Hazem al-Araji, a Sadr spokesman, estimated as many as 1,500 remained in U.S. custody and 2,500 in Iraqi custody. Like other Sadr officials, he complained that security forces were still arresting their followers in southern provinces.

"There has been a step toward each other," said Salah al-Obeidi, another Sadr spokesman in Kufa, near the sacred city of Najaf. "But until now, Maliki's coalition refuses to give any kind of guarantees and any kind of details of the map they will follow in representing the provinces. This arouses many fears with out friends."

Earlier in his tenure, when his position was far weaker, Maliki courted the Sadrists as a source of support. Last year, though, he turned on them, dispatching the military against their militiamen in Baghdad and Basra. This time around, Sadr's supporters say, Maliki seems to be trying to negotiate from a position of strength.

"He's not in need of the Sadrists anymore?" Obeidi asked. "Maybe, maybe."

But like Mutlaq, he said they would watch the behavior of Maliki's officials in the provincial councils to determine whether they could enter a broader alliance in the next election. "Until now we haven't decided," he said. "Yes, there are big obstacles between us. They can all be bridged. But until now, Maliki has not acted on any promises he made us."

Asked if he trusted Maliki, he shrugged his shoulders. "I don't trust any political figure," Obeidi said.

Special correspondents Zaid Sabah and Qais Mizher contributed to this report.