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DC Buzz
Even as Top Foreign Policy Adviser Talks Iraq Withdrawal Around DC
07/30/2007 3:34 PM ET
US President George W. Bush (R) and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (L) speak during a joint press conference at Camp David, Maryland, 30 July 2007.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty
US President George W. Bush (R) and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (L) speak during a joint press conference at Camp David, Maryland, 30 July 2007.

New British Prime Minister Gordon Brown invoked the memory of Winston Churchill's description of the 'joint inheritance of liberty' to explain the shared values that bind US and UK interests, even as an adviser worked behind the scenes to assess the potential fallout of announcing a withdrawal of British forces from Iraq.

"The strength of this relationship," Brown said Monday, "is not just built on the shared problems that we have to deal with together." Attempting to dispel American anxiety that the new British leader might use his leadership to distance the UK from US interests, Brown used his first appearance with the American president to underscore the two nations' belief in opportunity for and dignity of the individual.

"I do see this relationship strengthening in the years to come, because it is the values that we believe in that I think will have the most impact as we try to solve the problems that we face right across the world," Brown said.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair's "special relationship" with Bush became the focus of much derision by the British public and media, which partly explains the rhetorical attempt to re-brand it as the "joint inheritance."

The most pressing problem for American interests concerns continuing the presence of British troops in southern Iraq. Brown said in his speech that the British military has moved three of four Iraqi provinces from combat to overwatch, with the fourth province under UK leadership to be handed over to Iraqi control following the green light from commanders on the ground.

The transfer of control has enabled the British military to withdraw 1,500 troops over recent months, leaving approximately 5,500 still in Iraq. Brown did not publicly discuss any plans he might be looking at to begin the staged withdrawal of remaining British troops, but behind the scenes his top foreign policy adviser has been giving Washington bureaucrats and technocrats the impression that preparations for a UK withdrawal is in the works.

According to the Times of London, Simon McDonald, the prime minister’s chief foreign policy adviser, who formerly ran the Iraq desk at the Foreign Office, was in Washington this month to prepare for the summit. He asked a select group of US foreign policy experts what they believed the effect would be of a British pull-out from Iraq.

“The general feeling was that he was doing the groundwork for a Brown conversation,” according to one of those he consulted. Most of the experts felt it was a question of when, not if, Britain would leave.

“The view is Britain feels it can’t fight two wars, and Afghanistan is more worth fighting for,” added the source.

Brown will leave Camp David today for talks with Congressional leaders before going to New York, where he is expected to deliver a speech on international development at the United Nations tomorrow.

Full Report PDF
US "Expects to Contribute Generously" to $129 Mil UNHCR/UNICEF Effort
07/27/2007 5:35 PM ET
Two UN agencies have launched a $129 million appeal to extend educational opportunity to Iraqi schoolchildren living as refugees in neighboring countries of the region.

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNICEF have issued a joint report and statement calling for international donations to fund the expansion of national educational systems in Middle Eastern countries hosting Iraqi refugee children.

In a statement, the US State Department has said "The United States expects to contribute generously" to the appeal.

While there is "no accurate count" of school-age Iraqi children that have fled Iraq, the UN agencies write, estimates suggest that "nearly half" of the approximately two million Iraqis displaced outside the country are children, of whom around 500,000 are of school age.

"Without a swift, robust and effective response from the international community to support the host countries in providing education opportunities for Iraqi children, the dangers related to the emergence of an uneducated and alienated young generation of Iraqis will become real," UNHCR and UNICEF write in the joint appeal, adding:

Many Iraqi children in the Syrian Arab Republic, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon are struggling to learn in over-crowded classrooms. Female headed households are seriously at risk with their children, who are often out of school, sitting in cramped apartments or forced to live in the streets, and are exposed to potential abuse and far-reaching alienation and manipulation. As host governments do not have the resources to meet the educational needs of the increasing numbers of Iraqi youth, UNHCR and UNICEF believe that the international community must provide substantive support to the concerned countries with the aim to offer much needed education to desperate Iraqi children.

Syria and Jordan host the brunt of the Iraqi refugee population, with sizable Iraqi populations also taking up residence in Lebanon, Egypt, as well as other regional countries.

Although Syrian policy is to provide free education to all Arab citizens living in its borders, in practice only a fraction of the estimated 300,000 school-age Iraqi children living in Syria are receiving education. In areas where Iraqi refugees are concentrated, the Syrian educational infrastructure has been swamped, and only 32,000 Iraqi children are enrolled in Syrian schools.

In Jordan, the government estimates 19,000 Iraqi children are enrolled in schools, and the ministry of education has committed with the UN agencies to the goal of fully enrolling the remaining 50,000 children.

Interestingly, while it applauds the Jordanian government for a recent agreement to provide education to all Iraqi refuge children in US-allied Jordan, the State Department’s statement does not mention the long-standing Syrian commitment to provide education to all Arab citizens, including Iraqis, even though the Syrian educational system is coping with a far larger estimated influx of Iraqi refugee children.

Syria has set the goal of enrolling another 100,000 Iraqi schoolchildren in the coming year, according to the UN agencies.

Other targets of the joint appeal include enrolling 2,000 Iraqi children in Egyptian schools, 1,500 in Lebanon, and 1,500 elsewhere in the Middle East.

The program aims to increase capacity in the national education systems to enroll Iraqi children, and eschews the idea of creating a parallel educational system for Iraqi refugees.

The joint appeal program targets primary, secondary, and vocational training, along with “a number of higher education opportunies,” depending on “absorption capacity” of universities in the host countries.

In addition to swamped infrastructure, the UN agencies cites a litany of other issues facing displaced Iraqi students, including unstable living conditions; lack of resources to purchase uniforms and supplies; families sending children to work rather than school to cope with the economic realities of refugee life; psychological trauma in children who have fled a conflict zone; lack of school documentation for families forced to leave under duress; the uncertain residency status of many displaced Iraqi families; and families simply not knowing that they could send their children to school in the host countries.

“Children with special needs face enormous challenges, as their families do not have sufficient resources to send them to schools with the required facilities,” the two agencies write.

Some families have also found the curriculum or placement of their children inappropriate or discouraging, leading to students dropping out.

The full UNHCR/UNICEF report and joint appeal, including a breakdown of the budget for the project, can be accessed here: UNHCR_UNICEF_ed_appeal_07_07.pdf.

See IraqSlogger’s full coverage of refugee issues here.

Witnesses Testify to Congress About Forced Labor at Baghdad Embassy
07/26/2007 2:06 PM ET
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - AUGUST 31: Cranes litter the skyline as construction workers continue work on the new United States Embassy compound in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone on August 31, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq. A new U.S. embassy is currently under construction.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - AUGUST 31: Cranes litter the skyline as construction workers continue work on the new United States Embassy compound in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone on August 31, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq. A new U.S. embassy is currently under construction.

"This is a cover-up," Rory Mayberry told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Thursday, referring to the State Department Inspector General's report that cleared the contractor building the US embassy in Baghdad from allegations of forced labor and human trafficking.

David Phinney first reported on the abuse for Slogger in late May, calling into question the State Department Inspector-General, Howard Kroengard's, conclusions that First Kuwaiti, the company with the $592 million contract to build the embassy in Baghdad, had not violated labor standards.

Mayberry, who worked as a sub-contracted employee for First Kuwaiti, testified to the committee that when he was in Kuwait on his way to Baghdad for the beginning of his contract, First Kuwaiti asked him to accompany 51 Filipinos to the airport and make sure they got on the plane to Baghdad.

When we got to the Kuwaiti Airport, I noticed that all of our tickets said we were going to Dubai. I asked why. A First Kuwaiti manager told me that because Filipino passports do not allow Filipinos to fly to Iraq, they must be marked as going to Dubai. The First Kuwaiti manager added that I should not tell any of the Filipino they were being taken to Baghdad.

As I found out later, these men thought they had signed up to work in Dubai hotels. One fellow I met told me in broken English that he was excited to start his new job as a telephone repair man. They had no idea they were being sent to do construction work on the U.S. Embassy.

Well, Mr. Chairman, when the airplane took off and the captain announced that we were headed for Baghdad, all you-know-what broke lose on that airplane. People started shouting. It wasn’t until a security guy working for First Kuwaiti waved an MP-5 in the air that people settled down.

Mayberry made his views clear, telling the committee, "I believe these men were kidnapped by First Kuwaiti to work on the U.S. Embassy."

According to Mayberry, and reinforced in testimony by a former First Kuwaiti employee, John Owens, the company seized passports so their third-country nationals couldn't leave, forced them to work abusively long hours, and did not have any safety guidelines or proper equipment--some of construction workers did not even have gloves or shoes, regularly leading to injuries.

Kroengard told the committee that he had been aware of these complaints, but had not witnessed anything like the men had described in his four-day visit to Baghdad in September 2006.

ACLU Warns Broad Scope Could Impact Humanitarian Donations
07/20/2007 4:28 PM ET
Earlier this week, President Bush issued a new executive order instructing the Treasury Department to block the assets of individuals who--through their own personal acts of violence or their support of others--endanger "the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq" or "undermin(e) efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq."

The White House released the order with little fanfare, and few in the media questioned the intent or scope of the new measure. Kudos to Spencer Ackerman at for taking the time to look a little closer.

Ackerman spoke to the ACLU's chief national security lawyer, Michael German, who warned of the possible "chilling effect" the new order could have on humanitarian donations, and the lack of due process for people affected by it.

German disputed Treasury Department spokeswoman Molly Millerwise's depiction of the order as a narrowly-focused measure against supporters of the Iraqi insurgency. "She's saying this doesn't affect (legitimate) charitable donations. Actually, it directly does." The order skips right over a relevant citation: section 203b(2) (pdf) of the International Economic Emergency Powers Act, which specifically denies to the president the ability to "regulate or prohibit ... donations, by persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, of articles, such as food, clothing and medicine, intended to be used to deal with human suffering." The order accepts the other restrictions applied by IEEPA, intended to protect, among other things, postal communications and legitimate journalism from unilateral executive restriction.

And that leads to to the broader problem with the order, according to Gerson: "the complete lack of due process" for those accused of violating it. Once someone's assets are frozen, there's no conviction, no appellate process. A better way of stopping terrorist finance, he says, would be "to bring them into court, and do something that would expose their activity... the idea that the executive can seize whatever he wants on his own volition with no sort due process cuts against American principles -- exactly the principles we're trying to get these other countries to follow."

Eye on Congress
House Committee Hears Testimony on Oil Law, Infrastructure, Reserves
07/20/2007 12:40 PM ET
WASHINGTON, July 19 (UPI) -- Experts at a U.S. House hearing on Iraq oil reconstruction highlighted problems in the industry and potential corruption in a draft oil law.

"Poor security, corruption and funding constraints continue to impede reconstruction of Iraq's oil sector," said the U.S. Government Accountability Office's International Affairs and Trade Director Joseph Christoff.

He said the U.S. State Department is overstating oil production numbers while smuggling rackets and theft take chunks from what is pumped. Workers and infrastructure are attacked regularly.

And, amidst the chaos that is Iraq, the federal government spent only 3 percent of $3.5 billion allocated for capital oil projects last year. That is, in part, because of lax administrative capacity, poor management and fears from officials of accusations of graft.

Meanwhile, the government is debating a controversial law governing the world's third-largest oil reserves. Negotiations are hung up in disputes over whether the central government or regional/local governments should have more control over which oil fields. And there's no consensus as to how much foreign investment is too much.

Tariq Shafiq, an Iraqi oil expert who testified via video link from London, said the oil law as currently written would lead to finding and pumping even more than the 115 billion barrels of current proven reserves.

"New oil is not needed," said Shafiq, one of three co-authors of the original oil law drafted last summer. He now opposes the law because it has been altered. He said federally managed investment in current reserves could increase production from the current 2 million barrels per day to 10 million bpd.

Both he and Issam Saliba, a Middle East legal specialist for the Library of Congress, said the law as written could lead to corruption.

Saliba said the contracting process now "is very loose," with limited checks and balances between various federal authorities.

Ben Lando is UPI energy correspondent. This article was re-printed by permission.

© Copyright 2007 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Edelman Says Such Discussion Only Empowers Enemies
07/19/2007 5:13 PM ET
DES MOINES, IA- JULY 10: U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton delivers a foreign policy address on the war in Iraq at the Temple for the Performing Arts July 10, 2007 in Des Moines, Iowa.
David Lienemann/AFP/Getty
DES MOINES, IA- JULY 10: U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton delivers a foreign policy address on the war in Iraq at the Temple for the Performing Arts July 10, 2007 in Des Moines, Iowa.

A Pentagon official has slammed Sen. Hillary Clinton's interest in DOD's contingency planning for future IRaq withdrawal, writing in a sharply worded rebuke that, "Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia."

The letter from Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman was in response to a May request from Clinton, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and has repeatedly expressed concern to military leaders about the need to plan for what will be a lengthy and complicated process of removing troops and equipment.

Edelman wrote that "such talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks."

Instead of addressing Clinton's questions regarding DOD contingency planning, the bulk of Edelman's letter instead profiled the current status and expectations for progress of the surge. The Clinton camp took little comfort in Edelman's concluding pledge, "I assure you, however, that as with other plans, we are always and evaluating and planning for possible contingencies."

Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines called Edelman's answer "at once outrageous and dangerous," and told the AP that the senator would respond to his boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"Redeploying out of Iraq with the same combination of arrogance and incompetence with which the Bush administration deployed our young men and women into Iraq is completely unacceptable, and our troops deserve far better," said Reines, who said military leaders should offer a withdrawal plan rather than "a political plan to attack those who question them."

Pentagon officials last week acknowledged that even after the decision had been made to withdraw, it could require years to move all the US troops and equipment. Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of US troops in northern Iraq, said he would need 18 months to reduce the troop levels under his purview (5-6 brigades) by half.

Eye on Congress
Skeptical Senate Committee Questions Ambassador Ryan Crocker
07/19/2007 1:07 PM ET
WASHINGTON - JULY 19: U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker testifies from Baghdad via video conference during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing July 19, 2007 in Washington DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty
WASHINGTON - JULY 19: U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker testifies from Baghdad via video conference during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing July 19, 2007 in Washington DC.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker tried to persuade a skeptical Senate Foreign Relations committee Thursday that the Iraqi government is making admirable progress towards political reconciliation, speaking to the senators via satellite link-up from Baghdad.

Crocker told the Senate panel that the Iraqi government has overcome great obstacles in achieving advances thus far, but faced difficulties in legislating despite the level of violence plaguing the country. The Ambassador said that the environment at every level of society could be summarized with one word: fear.

"For Iraq to move forward at any level, that fear is going to have to be replaced with some level of trust, confidence and that is what the effort at the national level is about," he said.

Crocker warned that the 18 benchmarks, which have become the critical marks for assessment, can't capture the real nature of Iraqi progress.

"The longer I am here, the more I am persuaded that progress in Iraq cannot be analyzed solely in terms of these discreet, precisely defined benchmarks," he said. "In many cases, these benchmarks do not serve as reliable measures of everything that is important — Iraqi attitudes toward each other and their willingness to work toward political reconciliation."

The Ambassador appealed to the Senators that the Iraqi government will need patience and support if it is to continue with its work, and warned of the potential for an increase in the violence and an empowerment of al Qaeda if the US were to withdraw.

Despite the Ambassador's presentation, he faced repeated reminders from the panel that American patience is running thin. Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) initially supported the surge's intent of creating enough stability so the Iraqi government could push through political reforms, only recently becoming one of a number of senior Republicans to declare the strategy a failure.

The Ohio Senator told Crocker that if he was in the President's position, he would call Iraqi leaders into a room together to tell them that time is running out. "We are buying time at the cost of the lives of our soldiers and the lives of Iraqi soldiers and they need to honor that sacrifice by moving their country forward," he said.

Voinovich said this is the government chance to work towards genuine progress, so Iraqi leaders must be told very clearly: "We have to disengage. It's inevitable. Take advantage of this wonderful opportunity that you have."

Committee chairman Joe Biden (D-DE) underscored the message for the Ambassador to communicate to the Iraqis, telling Crocker the bottom line is: "We're not staying. We're not staying. (There's) not much time. Political benchmarks must be met or we'll have traded a dictator for chaos."

About 200 lawmakers were also invited to the Pentagon for a classified satellite briefing with Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus on Thursday. Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, Bush's war czar, was also scheduled to attend.

Full Report PDF
With FY 2008 Request, Total Iraq Appropriations to Hit $567 Billion
By WINSLOW WHEELER 07/18/2007 6:39 PM ET
The Congressional Research Service has just sent to Congress its latest update of the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11,” dated July 16, 2007. Important elements of the new report include the following:

Assuming Congress’ approval of President George W. Bush’s request for war costs for the upcoming fiscal year 2008 (a request of $141.7 billion), total appropriations related to the wars would reach $758 billion, including $567 billion for Iraq, $157 billion for Afghanistan, $29 billion for other security operations in the US and elsewhere, and $5 billion which can be attributed to “unknown” due to the Defense Department’s inability to track its own money. (See second to last paragraph in the report’s “Summary.”)

Counting all war appropriations to date, including those for not just DOD but also the State Department and the VA, costs per month have risen from about $12 billion in FY 2006 to about $14.4 billion in FY 2007. (See p. 3)

--2007 costs total $173 billion. Of that amount, $135.2 billion is for Iraq, and $36.9 billion is for Afghanistan.

--In addition to the extra costs of the “surge” of troops in Iraq, the increase in costs from 2006 to 2007 is explained by a dramatic increase in procurement spending to replace warn out equipment and to move acquisition costs for routine modernization (such as for V-22s and C-17s) from the regular annual budget to the separate budget for the war. (See p. 18-19)

Current plans anticipate a reduction of spending in 2008: down to a total of $147.5 billion, of which $116.3 billion would be for Iraq. However, that plan assumes that the “surge” of US troops would terminate abruptly on September 30, 2007. (See p. 6) It would appear logical to assess that a continuation of the surge would require funding above the 2007 total if the size of the US deployment in Iraq and the tempo of operations continue at their present rate for more than six months in FY 2008.

Cost per deployed troop has increased from $320,000 for each troop in 2003 to $390,000 for each in 2006. (See p. 24)

CRS, CBO, and GAO each continue to find major discrepancies in DOD’s reporting on annual expenditures. (See p. 26) GAO’s Comptroller General reported that the continuing inability of DOD to account for its own spending “make it difficult to reliably know what the war is costing, to determine how appropriated funds are being spent, and to use historical data to predict future trends.” (See p. 28)

DOD may be “front loading” its budget requests for “reset” (repair and refurbishment of equipment and units) by requesting funds twice for both the Army and the Marine Corps for reset in 2007. (See p. 32)

While the Congressional Budget Office has made nominal estimates for the future costs of the wars (ranging from $393 billion to $840 billion ), the actual future costs of the wars is truly unknown, especially if one includes long term costs for the wars’ veterans as paid out over decades by the VA. Beyond federal appropriations, there are also other costs, such as to the economy, that have been measured by other studies.

See full CRS report here. CRS_on_Wars_Costs_July.pdf

Winslow Wheeler is the director of the Strauss Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, and author of Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages US Security
Breaking News
Republicans Successfully Block Vote on Levin-Reed Amendment
07/18/2007 11:35 AM ET
WASHINGTON - JULY 17: A member of the U.S. Capitol Police stands watch in front of the U.S. Capitol July 17, 2007 in Washington DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty
WASHINGTON - JULY 17: A member of the U.S. Capitol Police stands watch in front of the U.S. Capitol July 17, 2007 in Washington DC.

After an all-night marathon of Iraq speeches, the Senate voted 52-47 to end debate Wednesday morning, failing to get the 60 votes need to bring the Levin-Reed amendment up for a vote.

Senate Majority leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) accused the Republicans of quashing the will of the American people by blocking the measure from being decided by a simple majority. “I urge my Republican colleagues to end this filibuster,” Reid said. “Make this the first day of the end of the war.”

House Minority leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the Democrats' push for a vote on withdrawal as political theater, and said the appropriate time to have the debate would have been before the passage of the defense supplemental spending bill in the Spring, or after Petraeus's report to Congress in September.

If approved, the Levin-Reed amendment would have mandated a withdrawal of US troops to begin within 120 days, with most American troops pulled out by the end of April 2008.

Four Republicans, Susan Collins (ME), Gordon Smith (OR), Chuck Hagel (NE), and Olympia Snowe (ME), voted with the Democrats on the motion, along with one Independent, Bernie Sanders (VT).

DC Buzz
Proposed Warner-Lugar Amendment Requires President Define New Strategy
07/13/2007 6:10 PM ET
WASHINGTON - MAY 24: U.S. Sen. John Warner (R-VA) speaks during a news conference May 24, 2007 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/AFP/Getty
WASHINGTON - MAY 24: U.S. Sen. John Warner (R-VA) speaks during a news conference May 24, 2007 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Rejecting President Bush’s appeal to wait until September before attempting to legislate changes to the war, two senior Republican senators announced Friday they have drafted legislation that would require the White House by mid-October to define a new strategy for narrowing the scope of the US mission and reducing the American military presence in Iraq.

The proposal of Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Sen. John Warner (R-VA) states that "American military and diplomatic strategy in Iraq must adjust to the reality that sectarian factionalism is not likely to abate anytime soon and probably cannot be controlled from the top."

Sen. Lugar introduced the Warner-Lugar amendment to Defense Authorization Act on the floor of the Senate Friday, arguing that with little hope for political progress by the Iraqi government in any reasonable frame of time, “continuing with the surge delays policy changes that have a far better chance of protecting our vital interests in the region over a sustained period.”

The Senators do not anticipate any dramatically positive Iraqi political developments anytime soon, and don't want American troops in the middle of a confusing sectarian battle indefinitely. "Given continuing high levels of violence in Iraq and few manifestations of political compromise among Iraq's factions, the optimal outcome in Iraq of a unified, pluralist, democratic government that is able to police itself, protect its borders, and achieve economic development is not likely to be achieved in the near future," the Warner-Lugar proposal said.

Therefore, Warner and Lugar want Bush to draft a plan for U.S. troops that would keep them from "policing the civil strife or sectarian violence in Iraq" and focus instead on securing Iraq's borders, targeting terrorists, and defending core U.S. assets.

Lugar and Warner represent the elder statesmen of the GOP. The expertise and position of leadership earned through Warner’s longtime chairmanship of the Armed Services committee in the days of Republican dominance, and Lugar’s role as ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, adds great weight to their criticism of the President’s policy.

Their amendment also seeks to require Bush renew the 2002 war authorization, which many members argue was specifically limited to the military force needed to overthrow Saddam Hussein and seek out WMDs.

If passed, the proposal would require Bush to present his new strategy to Congress by October 16, and be ready for implementation by the end of the year.

Spin Battle for Inconclusive Benchmarks; No Relief for 2008-Wary GOP Lawmakers
07/12/2007 06:28 AM ET
A US soldier takes a combat position as he approaches a truck during a patrol at an area in the Iraqi Tamim Province, 07 July 2007.
Photo by Joseph Krauss/AFP.
A US soldier takes a combat position as he approaches a truck during a patrol at an area in the Iraqi Tamim Province, 07 July 2007.

At the two-month mark since the latest Beltway battle over funding Iraq operations, a required Bush administration report will “declare progress” in several areas in which Congress has required the Bush administration to verify Iraq’s progress, according to recent media reports citing high-level US officials.

Based on pre-release coverage, it appears that those in the US who are already committed to either pro- or anti- positions on current Iraq policy will not find a great deal in the July report to force a reevaluation of their positions. In the larger political battle, those looking to buttress their support of Bush policies will find enough “progress” to cling to until September’s four-month report is released, and yet those looking for ammunition to use against the Bush administration in the debate over Iraq policy will find that as well.

However, the report -- elements of which have been made known in a careful high-level leak campaign -- will be more interesting for what it does not contain: There are no major breakthroughs to report that could arrest the general downward trend in the Bush administration’s vulnerable position on the Iraq war.

In that regard, the July progress report could represent the start of a turning point for a key group on Capitol Hill: Republicans concerned about associating too closely with unpopular Bush policies as the 2008 elections draw nearer.

If the already heavily spun July report can be taken as proof of anything, it will show that the cavalry will not coming to rescue this embattled set of GOP legislators. With the additional “surge” troops now fully deployed, the report makes clear that the Bush administration can offer only arguably mixed progress -- at best -- and many in the GOP are aware that “more of the same” will be a losing formula for 2008.

Three major benchmarks for the Iraqi government’s progress have topped Iraq observers’ watch lists as assumed indicators of political reconciliation in Iraq: Reform of the Iraqi constitution, the reversal of the de-Ba'thification law, and the enactment of laws governing the Iraqi hydrocarbon sector and revenues derived from it.

It will be difficult for the US and Iraqi governments to claim success on any of these "big three" counts. However, for the rest of the 18 benchmarks, the spin battle is already underway.

On the first of the “big three” benchmarks, “Forming a Constitutional Review Committee and then completing the constitutional review,” Iraq’s constitutional review process has been at impasse since the deadline mandated in the constitution for amending the document expired in May.

Deputies involved in the committee hit upon a formula that would temporarily fulfill the formal requirements of the constitution for implementing the amendment process, but without resolving the substantive disputes between the political forces in Parliament.

As reported earlier, unresolved constitutional sticking points include:

- The right of provinces to “regional” status with greater autonomy. Some Sunni Arab politicians are concerned that their constituents will be at a disadvantage because they are more likely to live in oil-scare areas.

- The future of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Article 140 of constitution calls for a referendum by the end of the year to decide whether it should become part of the autonomous region of Kurdistan.

- Whether Iraq should be described as an Arab country as some Sunni lawmakers have demanded.

- Whether to reduce the powers of the prime minister, and give more power to the president and his two deputies.

Advance leaks have indicated that the Bush administration will claim mixed progress on this benchmark, but it will be difficult to tie the formal filling of the procedural deadline to the political reconciliation that this benchmark is meant to ensure.

As for the second of the “big three” benchmarks, “Enacting and implementing legislation on de-Ba'athification,” the US and Sunni Arab lawmakers have been pushing for a reversal of the de-Ba'thification law, on the basis that the barring of former Ba’th Party members from public life and government jobs unfairly punishes many who joined the party for nonpolitical reasons, especially among the Sunni Arab community.

Debate about reforming the law has been stalled since a US-backed proposal was scuttled in April, meeting against the skepticism or outright opposition of several powerful players, including the Sadrist current, Ayatollah Sistani, and Iraqi officials currently administering the de-Ba'thification program.

According to advance leaks, even the Bush administration will not claim success on this front.

The same is true for the third of the big three, which reads as follows:

Enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources of the people of Iraq without regard to the sect or ethnicity of recipients, and enacting and implementing legislation to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens in an equitable manner.

A US-backed oil law has been circulating in Iraq for months. A draft version cleared the Iraqi cabinet, again, last week. Yet again, the draft proposal has been crippled by opposition from key players on opposing sides of the debate, with nationalists such as ex-PM Iyad Allawi’s List and the Sadrist current and Sunni Arab parliamentarians in particular expressing skepticism over the measure, and the Kurdish regional authorities -- from the opposite side of the debate -- also wary over the most recent version of the oil law. (For IraqSlogger’s full coverage of oil-related issues, click here.)

Although it will be difficult for the Bush administration to show progress on the “big three,” the other 15 benchmarks on the list will be where the major struggle to spin the benchmarks occurs, as they are either of much lower political profiles in the US debate, or very difficult to measure in a way that would compel consensus over the direction of the policy.

For example, on the question of “sectarian violence” and “militia control of local security,” supporters of current policy will point to indications that Iraqi civilian deaths were lower in June than in previous months, while detractors will point to the spectacular violence that continues to wrack the country, the continuing forced displacement of thousands of Iraqis, to the statistical unreliability of body counts in Iraq, and to the inconclusiveness of a one-month downward trend.

The second part of that same benchmark, "reducing militia control of local security," will also depend on what part of the country supporters or detractors of US Iraq policy survey. In Baghdad, out of 457 zones demarcated by US commanders, only 146 were found to be under control by US or Iraqi forces in a classified report issued by US commanders after three months of the surge. At the same time, supporters of US policy will point to the zones under US or Iraqi control and to successes in Anbar province based on US alliance with tribal-based militias to reduce al-Qa'ida’s presence in much of the province.

On another benchmark, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has floated the idea of holding provincial elections before the end of 2007, but no date has been set for this predominantly Sunni Arab demand. Again, this will provide ammunition to those already in the pro- and anti-Bush policy camps, but will not assuage those in the GOP worried about 2008 looking for a slam-dunk case to justify close association with the Bush Iraq policies.

The final July report will be a classified document distributed to Congress, but the spin battle will not be any less intense. However, for GOP fence-sitters torn between party loyalty and 2008, the handwriting may already be on the wall.

For the New York Times cheatsheet of the anticipated Bush administration conclusions in the July report, click here, and see also the Times article on the Bush administration’s pre-report spin.

The 18 benchmarks are listed here, and IraqSlogger readers are invited to submit their own evaluations of the progress via by clicking the “Tips, Questions and Suggestions” link in Slogger’s left sidebar.

Politico Recounts Senate Fights Over Al Qaeda Presence in Iraq
07/11/2007 5:24 PM ET
Senator John McCain, R-AZ
Jim Watson/Getty
Senator John McCain, R-AZ

The recent flood of Republican members of Congress who have begun to waiver in their support of President Bush's strategy in Iraq has created clear strains in what has been a remarkably unified GOP for most of his administration.

Such public differences of opinion has many wondering if a bitter rancor has invaded the Republican cloakroom, and today he Politico recounts an anecdote the illustrates how strained GOP relations have become on the topic of the war.

John Bresnahan writes that after John McCain made his heated statement on the Senate floor, he had an even more heated private exchange with Sen. George Vionovich.

In what one senator called "the most serious fight that I have seen in my time in the Senate," McCain clashed with Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) over the Arizona senator's assertion that the most dangerous threat facing U.S. troops in Iraq was Al Qaeda members.

Voinovich, who recently urged President Bush to change his war policy now, shot back that Al Qaeda "wouldn't be in Iraq" if American forces weren't there, according to people who witnessed the exchange.

DC Buzz
AP Scoops with Advance Word on Draft Report, Due July 15
07/10/2007 6:10 PM ET
US soldier trains Iraqi police cadets at a base in Hilla, Iraq on July 10.
Photo by Mohammed Sawaf/AFP.
US soldier trains Iraqi police cadets at a base in Hilla, Iraq on July 10.

A progress report due to Congress on July 15 will find that the Iraqi government has not met the “benchmarks” mandated in defense appropriations legislation, the Associated Press reports.

Speaking with a US official on condition of anonymity, the AP learned that the draft report, which was circulated among official agencies on Monday, will show that the US has determined that the Iraqi government has not met any of the targets established by Congress in legislation that tied “benchmarks” for the Iraqi government to US spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and reconstruction.

"The facts are not in question," the official told the AP, "The real question is how the White House proceeds with a post-surge strategy in light of the report."

The report is expected to be delivered to Congress by Thursday or Friday, the AP reports.

After a bitter and protracted debate over war funding, President Bush signed legislation based on a compromise with Democratic leadership that would fund the Iraq war but require the president to verify Iraq’s progress on 18 “benchmarks,” on pain of losing US aid money. The legislation requires a full report on September 15, and a two-month progress report by July 15.

The Bush administration is highly unlikely to withhold or suspend aid to the Iraqi government based on the July report, the official told the AP.

However, the report is likely to accelerate debate on Capitol Hill as the list of Republican legislators that have publicly criticized with the President over Iraq grows.

A draft version of the administration's progress report circulated among various government agencies in Washington on Monday.

In Iraq, Gen. Petraeus said in a recent interview that progress would be mixed, suggested to the BBC that the US counterinsurgency strategy could take up to a decade to succeed. “I don't know whether this will be decades, but the average counter-insurgency is somewhere around a nine- or a 10- year endeavor,'' said the US commander.

Bush administration officials are preparing for the report by ratcheting down expectations and calling for more time on the “Washington clock,” as the debate about US military deployment to Iraq has been called.

On Tuesday, President Bush called for Congress to grant more time for the US “surge” strategy in Iraq, speaking in Parma, Ohio.

“I fully understand that this is a difficult war,” Bush said after touring a fuel-cell manufacturing plant. “It's hard on the American people. But I'll once again explain the consequences of failure to the American people, and I'll explain the consequence of success as well,” Bloomberg reports.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow tried to lower expectations in advance of the report, saying on Monday, “You are not going to expect all the benchmarks to be met at the beginning of something,” adding "I'm not sure everyone's going to get an 'A' on the first report."

The 18 benchmarks are listed here, and IraqSlogger readers are invited to submit their own evaluations of the progress via by clicking the “Tips, Questions and Suggestions” link in Slogger’s left sidebar.

Eye on Congress
GOP Senator, Just Back From Iraq Visit, Says Petraeus Making Positive Strides
07/10/2007 1:47 PM ET
US Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
Justin Sullivan/Getty
US Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) slammed the Maliki regime's failure to make political progress during Tuesday's Senate debate on the defense authorization bill, while also commending the leadership of Gen. David Petraeus and the successes he has achieved so far with the surge.

The Republican Presidential hopeful spent his 4th of July holiday visiting troops in Iraq, meeting with US and Iraqi officials for an update on the security and political situation.

McCain clarified that he did not intend to imply that he had learned the areas of US operation had become safe, but only that the surge was making advances unseen under the "failed Rumsfeld-Casey strategy" of keeping US forces contained to FOBs and focused on counterterrorism and training operations.

The final summary of his view on the progress of the surge sounded like a carefully constructed and vague assertion of optimism: "What I do believe," he said, "is that, while the mission – to bring a degree of security to Iraq, and to Baghdad and its environs in particular, in order to establish the necessary precondition for political and economic progress – while that mission is still in its early stages, the progress our military has made should encourage all of us."

Encouraged by the capabilities of men in US uniform, McCain then turned to speak of the failures of the Iraqi government to capitalize on Petraeus's success by making its own progress on reconciliation or political benchmarks.

Now that the military effort in Iraq is showing some signs of progress, the space is opening for political progress. Yet rather than seizing the opportunity, the government of Prime Minister Maliki is not functioning as it must. We see little evidence of reconciliation and little progress toward meeting the benchmarks laid out by the President. The Iraqi government can function; the question is whether it will.

McCain's solution for advancing political progress selectively cites a proposal put forth by Henry Kissinger in a January op-ed, which would include working to strengthen political dialogue between Iraqi leaders, and encouraging regional participation.

The Senator specifically constrained his recommendation for regional involvement to the Sunni countries of audi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, though Kissinger's suggested "Contact Group" would also include Turkey. McCain completely ignores that Kissinger also argues the importance of parallel negotiations with Syria and Iran, designed to engage them in a forward-moving process rather ostracizing them as foes.

Eye on Congress
Senator Joins Republican Chorus Criticizing Bush's Iraq Policy
07/05/2007 7:00 PM ET
US Republican Senator from New Mexico Pete Domenici
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty
US Republican Senator from New Mexico Pete Domenici

Pointing to his profound disappointment in the Iraqi government, another senator joined the chorus of senior Republicans publicly criticizing the ongoing presence of US troops in Iraq. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) also announced his support for bipartisan legislation designed with the intent to brings US troops home.

Domenici, who serves on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, announced his decision to support the legislation, the Iraq Study Group Recommendation Implementation Act (S.1545), at a news conference in Albuquerque Thursday.

“I want a new strategy for Iraq. I continue to completely support the men and women in the American Armed Forces. They have not failed us. It is the Iraqi government that is failing to make even modest progress to help Iraq itself or to merit the sacrifices being made by our men and women in uniform,” Domenici said. “I am unwilling to continue our current strategy.”

"I have carefully studied the Iraq situation, and believe we cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress to move its country forward,” Domenici said. “I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops. But I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home.”

S.1545, introduced by Senators Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), embraces the recommendations in the Iraq Study Group Report issued by the bipartisan Baker Hamilton Commission. The bill makes the Iraq Study Group’s 79 recommendations the policy of the United States, and asks the Bush administration—working with military and diplomatic leaders—to implement those recommendations.

The bill is intended to create conditions that could allow for a drawdown of American combat forces in Iraq by March 2008. Under S.1545, the U.S. military could maintain a long-term but more limited presence in Iraq—focused on protecting American personnel and interests, training and advising Iraqi forces, and carrying out counterterrorism and special operations missions.

Domenici indicated that the provisions in S.1545 could be debated as part of the FY2008 Defense Authorization Bill that the Senate will take up next week.

The Latest
An Increase over May, but Still "Too Early to Cheer"
07/05/2007 2:49 PM ET

Total FY 2006-07OCT06NOV06DEC06JAN07FEB07MAR07APR07MAY07JUN07

Iraqi Refugees Admitted to the US during the fiscal year ending September 2007.

The US admitted 63 Iraqi refugees in June 2007, according to State Department figures, bringing the total admitted in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2007 to 133 Iraqis.

While the figure represents an improvement over May's figure of one Iraqi refugee admitted to the US, it's still "too early to cheer," writes Refugees International President Ken Bacon in a recent blog post, given both the magnitude of the Iraqi refugee crisis, and earlier US commitments.

"This is still a very small number compared to the State Department’s various announcements that it was prepared to resettle from 7,000 to 20,000 Iraqis this year," Bacon writes, adding that, "The hold up has been the Department of Homeland Security, which has moved slowly to issue its security protocols for processing Iraqis and getting interview teams into the field."

The latest figures from the Iraqi Red Crescent on the Iraqi refugee crisis estimate over one million internally displaced Iraqis (The UN estimates over two million), and well over two million externally displaced.

Click here for all of IraqSlogger's coverage of refugee-related issues.

Defense Minister Cites Oil as Reason to Maintain Troop Presence
07/05/2007 12:45 PM ET
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 5: Rear Admiral Rick Wren shows Australian Prime Minister John Howard around the deck during a tour of the USS Kitty Hawk on July 5, 2007 in Sydney, Australia.
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 5: Rear Admiral Rick Wren shows Australian Prime Minister John Howard around the deck during a tour of the USS Kitty Hawk on July 5, 2007 in Sydney, Australia.

The importance of Iraqi oil makes it imperative Australia maintain its troop presence in the Middle East, Aussie defense minister Brendan Nelson said in a radio interview Wednesday. Constantly battling critics charging that oil concerns dominated the decision to join the US invasion of Iraq, Prime Minister Glen Howard immediately moved into damage control mode, but not before a political firestorm had erupted.

Nelson began the trouble with his comments to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio on Wednesday. "Energy security is extremely important to all nations throughout the world, and of course, in protecting and securing Australia's interests," he said.

"The Middle East itself, not only Iraq, but the entire region is an important supplier of energy, oil in particular, to the rest of the world," he said, concluding "(We) need to think what would happen if there were a premature withdrawal from Iraq."

By late Wednesday, Howard had taken to the airwaves to reject the notion that oil had been a reason driving the invasion of Iraq.

"We are not there because of oil and we didn't go there because of oil. We don't remain there because of oil. Oil is not the reason," he told Macquarie Radio. "Oil comes from the Middle East - we all know that - but the reason we remain there is we want to give the people of Iraq the possibility of embracing democracy."

He said it was "stretching things a bit" to say Dr Nelson had cited oil as a reason.

Labour candidates have promised to remove most of Australia's troops from Iraq if elected later this year, and the party jumped on the public crack in the Howard administration's justification for war.

The opposition party's defense spokesman, Robert McClelland, accused Howard's government of trying to put a misleading spin on a refreshingly frank admission from the defense minister.

"Oil was a factor in their considerations. It's taken them four years to acknowledge the fact."

Until yesterday the Government had not mentioned oil as one of the many reasons it has given over the years for invading Iraq or staying there.

As the leader who chose to take the country to war, Howard has had to constantly defend the unpopular decision as he faces a difficult re-election campaign. With the crisis of his defense minister's careless tongue nearly subsided, Howard will now have to face down one of his most sympathetic critics.

To commemorate the two-year anniversary of the London metro bombings, an Australian woman injured in the attacks has made a TV commercial asking the prime minister if the incidents of terrorism are related to the decision to invade Iraq.

Louise Barry, who spent three months in traction with a broken neck, shrapnel wounds and burns, conceived and wrote the ad, which was paid for by the left-leaning group GetUp!

In the advertisement, Barry tells Howard, "You got us into this mess.... It's your responsibility to get us out".

"The situation clearly is not getting any better," she says. "I don't want what happened to me to happen to any other Australians, or anyone else for that matter."

Barry embarrassed Howard when he visited her at University College Hospital, London, days after the July 7 attacks by asking whether he thought the bombings were linked to Iraq. Mr Howard said: "I don't. But, you know, different people have different views. I don't. I mean, they had a go at us and they had a go at other people before Iraq started."

But in the commercial, Ms Barry, now back in Australia, says her question remains pertinent. "These recent attacks in the UK brought back some really painful memories," she says.

"Wasn't going to war in Iraq supposed to make us safer, not put us in more danger?

"I don't have all the answers, and I'm not an expert, but I do know something about the real cost of terrorism."

The Latest
New UK Prime Minister Pledges to Restore Public Trust in the Government
07/03/2007 3:27 PM ET
London, UNITED KINGDOM: Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown (L) sits next to Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor Jack Straw as he chairs the weekly Cabinet meeting in 10 Downing Street, in central London, 03 July 2007.
Stephen Hird/Getty
London, UNITED KINGDOM: Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown (L) sits next to Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor Jack Straw as he chairs the weekly Cabinet meeting in 10 Downing Street, in central London, 03 July 2007.

With British confidence in their leaders at a low ebb, new Prime Minister Gordon Brown assumed office last week pledging to undertake measures designed to restore public trust in the government. Following through on his promise, Brown presented a new plan Tuesday that would dramatically revise the Constitutional powers of the British government, with an eye to strengthening the checks and balances.

In his first statement to the House of Commons since assuming power last week, Brown said he would surrender to Parliament 12 powers traditionally reserved for the prime minister under the "Royal prerogative," including the power to declare war, along with the power to dissolve the House, and the right to appoint judges and bishops.

"I now propose to surrender or limit these powers to make for a more open 21st century British democracy which better serves the British people," he told MPs, to loud Labour cheers.

For full coverage on Brown proposed changes, see the Guardian, Times, or the BBC.

CFR Outlines South Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, and Lebanon
By LIONEL BEEHNER 07/03/2007 12:25 PM ET
BABYLON, IRAQ: Two US coalition soldiers walk in front of a map of Iraq hung on the museum wall at ancient city of Babylon south of Bagdad.
BABYLON, IRAQ: Two US coalition soldiers walk in front of a map of Iraq hung on the museum wall at ancient city of Babylon south of Bagdad.

Even as they disagree on how long American forces will remain in Iraq, U.S. officials and foreign policy experts suggest a number of scenarios for what Iraq might resemble after coalition forces eventually pull out. President Bush has proposed the so-called South Korean model, a long-term residual troop presence to prevent civil war from breaking out. Many have also likened the conflict to Vietnam, where the fall of Saigon did not unleash the massive “domino” effect many predicted. Others have offered Lebanon, which suffered from a long civil war before an uneasy truce was inked, as a more accurate template. Then there are those who say Iraq should become a federalized state, akin to post-1995 Bosnia. Experts disagree over the degree to which the conflict in Iraq could spread to neighboring countries.

The South Korea Model

Over fifty years after the Korean War, some thirty thousand U.S. troops remain stationed along the DMZ, which divides the peninsula between North Korea and South Korea (the number is expected to diminish to 24,500 next year). The U.S. forces are there to keep an uneasy peace between the two Koreas and prevent war from erupting again. The analogy to Korea is meant to portray the Iraq conflict as a long-term one that requires a residual “over-the-horizon” military presence, mainly to support indigenous forces and keep the peace. “The idea is more a model of a mutually-agreed arrangement, whereby we have a long and enduring presence, but one that is by consent of both parties and under certain conditions,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters in early June. He also said the Korean model stood in contrast to the aftermath of the Vietnam War, where “we just left lock, stock and barrel.”

Still, some opponents of the war, including several presidential aspirants, have seized on this comparison as a justification for keeping U.S. forces in Iraq indefinitely. This issue tracker examines the positions of current 2008 candidates. Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson, for instance, has called for “zero troops,” including residual forces, as well as for a withdrawal of embassy staff if the security situation worsens.

Others say Korea is a faulty model, and a residual force will only embolden Islamic radicals and arouse suspicions that U.S. interests are related more to oil than democracy promotion. “Any U.S. bases remaining in Iraq, either to keep a finger on the oil, or to act as a jumping off point for attacking Iran, will similarly quickly come under withering attack from Iraqi insurgents and al-Qaeda,” writes Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute, a public-policy research organization.

The Lebanon Model

Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war illustrates that long and violent factional fighting can draw regional countries into a wider war. But some experts say Iraq is different and argue the sectarian violence would stay relatively contained and not spread to neighboring countries. “Such meddlers tend to seek advantage in their neighbors’ civil wars, not to spread them, which is why they rely on proxies to do their fighting,” write CFR's Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh in the Washington Post. “You can already see that pattern at work in Iraq today.”

The Lebanon model was promoted by some White House officials back in 2004 as a blueprint for dealing with Iraq. Before last summer’s war, Lebanon was seen as an example of how a failed state could transition into a relatively stable democracy in the Arab world, held together by a power-sharing arrangement, however tenuous. “It works in a flawed-but-muddling-through sort of way,” Michael J. Totten, a Beirut-based journalist, wrote in the Wall Street Journal in January 2006. “ what makes this place unique is that the Lebanese political system is nearly incapable of producing dictatorship.” Although eighteen months later, Lebanon teeters on the brink of sectarian war, some experts say its power-sharing agreement between sectarian camps with competing agendas and claims to land may provide a model, however flawed, for Iraq to follow.

But other analysts fear Iraq may result in something worse than Lebanon at its nadir in the 1980s. “Lebanon’s simmering civil war eventually burned itself out and left a coherent, albeit weak, state in its ashes,” writes Christopher J. Fettweis of the U.S. Naval War College in the Los Angeles Times. “Iraq could soon more closely resemble Somalia in the 1990s, an utterly collapsed, uncontrolled, lawless, failed state that destabilizes the most vital region in the world.” Democratic presidential candidates, similarly, regularly refer to the prospect of “genocide” in postwar Iraq.

The Vietnam Model

The Vietnam War ended in a four-year-long withdrawal of U.S. forces followed by the fall of Saigon and the rest of South Vietnam to the North Vietnamese. In Vietnam, the U.S. military slowly handed over combat duties to local forces as part of its “Vietnamization” campaign. Some analysts say employing a similar strategy in Iraq would be complicated because the conflict is more of a communal civil war, not an ideological struggle for national liberation. “Such a policy,” writes CFR’s Stephen Biddle in Foreign Affairs, “might have made sense in Vietnam, but in Iraq it threatens to exacerbate the communal tensions that underlie the conflict and undermine the power-sharing negotiations needed to end it.” Some say the lesson of the “Vietnam model,” as it applies to Iraq, is to maintain a U.S. presence and economic aid to sustain a political solution. “The shame of Vietnam is not that we were there in the first place, but that we betrayed our ally in the end,” wrote former Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird in Foreign Affairs. Adds Henry Kissinger, a former secretary of state, in a recent op-ed: “The essential prerequisite for such a political solution is staying power in the near term.”

Fettweis says Vietnam is an apt comparison to Iraq because both represented major strategic mistakes in U.S. foreign policy, turning public opinion against the White House and against interventionism in general—what became know as “Vietnam Syndrome.” But he says the significance of pulling en masse out of Iraq, like Vietnam before it, may prove to be overplayed by the war’s architects. “ust as the war’s critics predicted in the 1960s, Vietnam turned out to be strategically irrelevant,” he writes. “Saigon fell, but no dominoes followed; the balance of Cold War power did not change.”

The Bosnia Model

The “nation building” parallels between Iraq and Bosnia are manifold. The Iraq Study Group, among other sources, has advocated a Dayton-like peace process to bring in Iraq’s neighbors to cooperate on border control and security operations. Moreover, Iraq’s Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites have made fitful attempts to reach a power-sharing agreement, much as the various ethnic factions did in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the mid-1990s. Troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have been compared to foreign troop proportions deployed to keep peace in the former Yugoslavia (to meet the troop-to-civilian ratios applied in Bosnia, the coalition would have to deploy 258,000 thousand forces to Iraq). And Bosnia may give development specialists a blueprint on rebuilding Iraq’s economy, particularly regarding how much foreign aid to give per capita.

But the main use of the “Bosnia model” has come from advocates who favor a looser federation rather than a centralized state, not unlike Bosnia post-1995. “The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group—Kurd, Sunni Arab, and Shiite Arab—room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests,” wrote Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE) and the Council on Foreign Relations’ President Emeritus Leslie H. Gelb in the New York Times. “In effect, Iraq is already becoming Bosnia,” adds Michael E. Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, writing in the Washington Times. Decentralization in Iraq, like Bosnia, would require land swaps, the separation of ethnic groups, and a political agreement that disperses powers to the regions, while keeping a unitary state. “Ethnic relocation is distasteful and not free from risk but if carried out with care as government policy, it can occur with less trauma than in the Balkans,” adds O’Hanlon.

Yet others disagree. More than a decade after the Dayton Peace accords, some say that Bosnia’s Serbs, Croats, and Muslims still do not share a unified vision for the country as a whole. “Of all the ironies of the American adventure in Iraq, perhaps none is larger than using the ‘success’ of Bosnia as a model to solve the sectarian violence now raging in Baghdad,” write Don Hays of the U.S. Institute of Peace, R. Bruce Hitchner of the Dayton Project, and Edward P. Joseph in the International Herald Tribune. “The Dayton legacy of balancing power at the central, cantonal, and local levels is hopelessly dysfunctional.” They say Bosnian Serbs, emboldened by Kosovo’s push for independence, may be poised to pull out of the Dayton arrangement. Moreover, Bosnia, given its porous borders, remains a lawless haven for drug and arms traffickers, terrorists, and other organized crime elements.

From Reprinted with permission. For more analysis on foreign policy and international relations, go to

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