WHY WITHDRAWAL FROM IRAQ IS THE WORST OPTION
By Dr. Michael Rubin
Imposing a strong man to govern is easier said than done: while Iraqis support the concept, consensus quickly breaks down; Iraq is a country with 100 would-be generals for every private. There is no magical political formula. Compromise is undercut both by maximalist demands and a growing belief that violence leads to concession. Withdrawal is the worst option: it would enable terrorism to flourish not only in Iraq, but around the world.
Solutions in Iraq require precise treatment of the problems. One in six Iraqis fled the country under Saddam Hussein. Those who settled in the West had no cultural impediment to democracy. This suggests the problem in Iraq is not democracy, but, rather, the rule of law. Any solution to the Iraq quagmire, therefore, requires improving security, not creating a vacuum. The greatest impediment to the rule of law in Iraq is not the insurgency, still relatively localised, but the militias. These exist for one reason: to impose through force what citizens are unwilling to volunteer through the ballot box.
To improve security, the Coalition must improve the police and eviscerate the militias. The problems are related. The Interior Ministry has become a refuge for militiamen and a cover for death squads. As the Coalition did with the reconstituted Iraqi Army, the Coalition troops must embed with the police at every level. There should not be any police checkpoint that does not include Coalition soldiers, nor should there be any Interior Ministry raid conducted without a Coalition supervisor outside. This requires resolving a catch-22: the Coalition does not station its troops with the police because of inadequate security, but the driving forces of this insecurity are the police. If security is the goal, there is no shortcut.
A related lesson is that desire for shortterm calm cannot trump the quest for longterm security. While it has become conventional wisdom that de-Baathification, the initial removal of Saddam Hussein's Baathist Party members from authority, sparked insurgency, the data show violence to be proportional to that policy's subsequent reversal. In Mosul, U.S. General David Petraeus spoke of reconciliation when he appointed senior Baathist General Mohammed Kheiri Barhawi to be that city's Police Chief. He portrayed Mosul as a model of calm. But the peace was illusionary. General Barhawi was unreformed. He used his position to provide intelligence, equipment, and arms to terrorists. In November, 2004, he handed the keys of every police station in the city over to insurgents.
What General Petraeus did in the north, British commanders replicated in the south. While successive British commanders juxtaposed their non-confrontational strategy with more heavy-handed American tactics, the British approach sacrificed longterm stability for the sake of shortterm calm. Rather than pacify southern Iraq, the British Army enabled militias to entrench. Contrary to the belief of General Sir Richard Dannatt, the British Army Chief, occupation itself is not responsible for the deteriorating situation in Iraq, but, rather, the fact that militias have grown secure enough to believe themselves capable of defeating the British army.
Countering the militias need not require immediate confrontation, but, rather, more robust disruption of supply and operations. Both big Shia militias receive support from Iran. In 1992, the U.S. forced down an Iranian aircraft ferrying men, money, and weapons to Bosnia. Such operations in Iraq lack only political will: U.S. and British intelligence are well aware of Iranian supply lines.
It would be a mistake to abandon democracy. To do so would reaffirm the worst conspiracy theories about Coalition intentions and drive Iraq into the arms of neighbouring states. Still, there is room for improvement in the election system.
The current system of proportional representation encourages populist rhetoric, empowers political parties that sponsor militias, and encourages parties to form on ethnic and sectarian lines. The Coalition should press the Iraqi legislature to abandon party lists in favour of directly-elected legislators from geographic constituencies. This would make Iraqi politicians more accountable to constituents than party leaders, but encourage them to discuss more the problems of security, electricity and schools, rather than spout corrosive rhetoric.
As violence spreads in Iraq, politicians are right to change course. But abandoning the Iraqis should not be an option. Rather, Coalition strategy should address the rule of law directly, and remain cognisant that the war in Iraq has broader repercussions. While many in Britain and Europe believe war in Iraq to be illegal, they should not sacrifice ordinary Iraqis on the altar of anti-Americanism.
The Problem of Rogue States:
Iraq as a Case History
National Strategy for Victory in Iraq
Middle East -- Arabs, Arab States,
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Islamism & Jihadism -- The Threat of Radical Islam
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Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
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Dr. Michael Rubin, a Ph.D. in History (Yale University) and a specialist in Middle Eastern politics, Islamic culture and Islamist ideology, is Editor of the Middle East Quarterly and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Dr Rubin is author of Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami's Iran (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001) and is co-author, with Dr. Patrick Clawson, of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Dr. Rubin served as political advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad (2003-2004); staff advisor on Iran and Iraq in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (2002-2004); visiting lecturer in the Departments of History and International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2001-2002); visiting lecturer at the Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan (2000-2001); Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1999-2000); and visiting lecturer in the Department of History at Yale University (1999-2000). He has been a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, the Leonard Davis Institute at Hebrew University, and the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.
The foregoing article by Dr. Rubin was originally published in the Financial Times, October 26, 2006, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum.
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