Five years since U.S. President George W. Bush's
infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech, critics say the administration
has yet to show a credible way to actually "accomplish" the mission
that could see a peaceful Iraq and a return home of U.S. troops.
Though the 2007 revamping of the counter-insurgency strategy, known as the
"surge," has markedly reduced violence, political turmoil and ethno-sectarian
strife still plague Iraq.
The U.S. surge and its concurrent positive developments did create political
space, but meaningful moves toward comprehensive political accords and reconciliation
have yet to follow, said a pair of new Iraq reports from the International
Crisis Group (ICG).
For example, the Sunni Awakening, or Sahwa movement, that helped to slow violence
in much of Baghdad and Anbar province by bringing in former insurgents and
incorporating them into U.S.-funded militias, for example, leaves a new Sunni
But that landscape, with all of its advantages for bringing stability and
thereby aiding the U.S. occupation has failed to transition into the politics
of the Iraqi central government. Frustration with those failures creates a
tense atmosphere that even U.S. officials acknowledge as being "fragile
"Tribal elements and former insurgents may become disillusioned with
lack of political progress, inadequate steps toward economic and social inclusion,
and what they perceive as continued dominance by Iran and its Shi'ite proxies,"
said the first IGC report, "Iraq After the Surge I: The New Sunni Landscape."
So while the larger insurgent-U.S. battles and wider Sunni-Shia fighting have
abated, the new, smaller, more subdivided groups continue to bump heads. The
U.S. policy of tending to choose between these groups with either economic
or military support, said the report, does not constitute meaningful steps
toward political reconciliation.
The IGC report notes that the U.S. "divide-and-rule tactics" reinforce
the new fault lines in society, and by benefiting only one group, create resentment
among the others.
"Ultimately, stability will require that such rivalries be mediated neither
through violence nor buy-off, but by functional, legitimate state institutions,"
said the report. That, in turn, requires the U.S. to support "a genuinely
inclusive political system."
Another incident of U.S. favoritism that could lead to sharp divides and potential
large-scale violence is the intra-Shia power struggle for control of southern
Backed by U.S. air power, an offensive by the two main power-sharing partners
in the Iraqi central government, Da'wa and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq,
in the southern strongholds of militant anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was
designed to cripple Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia ahead of provincial elections
scheduled for this fall.
When the advance was thwarted by Sadrist fighters, the ruling Shia parties
took up a piece of legislation that was aimed at scuttling Sadr's bid in the
elections by making it illegal for parties with militias to participate.
Council on Foreign Relations fellow Mohammad Bazzi wrote in the Washington
Times that though Sadrists and the Mahdi Army were not named in the legislation,
it is clearly a misguided attempt to isolate them noting that other
parties such as ISCI are not hampered though they, too, have militias.
"It's virtually impossible to wipe out the Sadrist trend, which is a
social, political, and military movement that enjoys wide support, particularly
among young and poor Shi'ites," wrote Bazzi.
"The consequences of trying to isolate Sheik al-Sadr and his political
movement are profound," said Bazzi, saying that the move would end a Sadr
cease-fire and drastically increase violence aimed at both the U.S. and the
central Iraqi government.
Noting the situation in the second report, "Iraq After the Surge II:
The Need For a New Political Strategy," ICG recommends that the Iraqi
government hold provincial elections on the original schedule of Oct. 1, 2008,
and "ensure that these are inclusive of all parties, groups and individuals
that publicly accept nonviolence (rather than, at this stage, disband their
This runs contrary to the law before the Iraqi parliament, and would allow
incorporation of Sadrists into above-board politics.
"If [the Sadrists are going to sweep the South], that needs to be allowed
to happen so long as it's the result of a free and fair election and not
at the barrel of a gun," Jason Gluck of the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP)
"If you want to talk about political progress, there are many justifications
for confronting the armed militias, particularly the Mahdi Army," said
Gluck. "But that confrontation must be coupled with political opportunity
and engagement. The Sadrists need to be ensured that if they comply, there
are going to be free and fair elections."
"My criticism would be that there has not been this olive branch
this welcoming into the political process that's simultaneous with the
military engagement," continued Gluck, who is a rule-of-law adviser with
USIP. "It has not been made clear that while Sadr and the Mahdi Army must
disarm, or at the very least disavow violence [as with the ICG proposal], if
they do that they will be welcomed into the political process."
Gluck acknowledged that the dealings of Sadrist members of parliament in
line with the general Sadrist Iraqi nationalism already show that they are
capable of meaningful political engagement, most importantly across sectarian
"We can promote that by encouraging Sadr to rely on the political process
and not on the barrel of a gun," he said.
The IGC report on the new politics needed in Iraq reinforced the importance
of the provincial elections as a stepping stone toward true reconciliation.
"If genuinely free and fair and carried out in a secure environment,
these hold the potential of beginning to alter the political landscape by bringing
a new generation and class of political leaders to the fore," it said.
Nearly all observers agree that action needs to be taken soon in the relative
calm provided by the U.S. surge strategy.
"There is reason to fear this is only a temporary salve and that underlying
issues will again come to the fore," said the IGC report. "Whatever
political space the surge tore open is likely to narrow once again."
(Inter Press Service)