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Analysis Last Updated: Jan 4th, 2007 - 01:08:31

The Iraq Study Group: Evading responsibility, presuming legitimacy and getting caught like a monkey
By Nicolas J S Davies
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Dec 14, 2006, 00:31

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The Iraq Study Group has published the most candid review of the crisis in Iraq so far by an official American policy group. The principal weakness of its assessment is that it evades two central issues: the full extent of American responsibility for the crisis; and the illegality of the U.S. invasion and the resulting illegitimacy of the role that the United States is now playing in the affairs of Iraq.

In its tortuous efforts to skirt the issues at the heart of the crisis, the Iraq Study Group has highlighted them by default, and thereby defined the necessary first step toward peace, the complete withdrawal of American military and civilian occupation forces from Iraq.


American responsibility for the crisis in Iraq is acknowledged three times in this report -- first, in the letter from the co-chairs; second, in the introduction to the Assessment chapter; and, lastly, as a justification for rejecting the option of �Precipitate Withdrawal.�

The co-chairs, James Baker III and Lee Hamilton, state in their introductory letter, �Because of the role and responsibility of the United States in Iraq, and the commitments our government has made, the United States has special obligations.� Instead of going on to explain the �special obligations� of a country that has invaded another one in violation of the United Nations Charter, such as withdrawal of its forces, and the payment of reparations, it asserts weakly, �Our country must address as best it can Iraq�s many problems.�

This logic is repeated in the introduction to the Assessment chapter: �Because events in Iraq have been set in motion by American decisions and actions, the United States has both a national and a moral interest in doing what it can to give Iraqis an opportunity to avert anarchy.�

What follows is a damning assessment of the state of occupied Iraq, but one that carefully avoids directly linking any of the specific conditions it describes to �American actions and decisions.�

The section on Sources of Violence acknowledges �multiple sources of violence in Iraq: the Sunni Arab insurgency, al Quaeda and affiliated Jihadist groups, Shiite militias and death squads, and organized criminality.� Unless it is meant to be included in the last category, which would be valid but seems unlikely, there is no mention of the primary source of violence in Iraq, the U.S. invasion and military occupation of the country.

The epidemiological study recently published in the Lancet by researchers from Johns Hopkins and Columbia universities, found with 97.5 percent certainty that at least 26 percent of violent deaths since the invasion were attributed directly to �coalition� forces. In another 45 percent of cases, relatives were unable or unwilling to say who had killed their loved ones, so that the actual number of people killed by coalition forces is probably much higher. At an absolute minimum though (99.94 percent), this means that U.S. and other foreign troops have killed at least 110,000 people in Iraq.

In discussing militia violence, the report notes, �Many Badr members have become integrated into the Iraqi police . . ." and �While wearing the uniform of the security services, Badr fighters have targeted Sunni Arab civilians.� It does not mention the U.S. role in forming and training the Interior Ministry Special Police Commandos; nor the continuing role of U.S. advisors working with these Interior Ministry forces after they were merged with the Iranian-trained Badr Brigades and launched as death squads against the Sunni population; nor that the U.S. government is currently negotiating with SCIRI and Badr leader al-Hakim to give them a larger role in the next puppet government.

In the section on Operation Together Forward II, the report notes a 43 percent increase in violence in Baghdad during the period covered by this U.S. operation, but fails to explain why it had this effect. In fact, this operation targeted the same Sunni neighborhoods that had been under assault by Special Police Commandos and other Shiite militiamen since April 2005, but which had been resisting these attacks with some success. The nominal goal of the U.S. operation was to eliminate both Sunni resistance and Shiite militias, but the Iraqi auxiliary forces that were partnered with the U.S. 4th Infantry and 172nd Stryker Brigade were all comprised of or allied with Shiite militias. It was entirely predictable and therefore presumably intended that this operation would intensify the ongoing attacks on the beleaguered Sunni population of Baghdad. The recent increase in violence in Baghdad is thus a direct and apparently deliberate result of U.S. policy.

When the report goes on to discuss Some Alternative Courses in Iraq, the �role and commitments of the United States in initiating events that have led to the current situation� suddenly come to the fore as a reason to keep fighting, and the need for withdrawal is rejected as an article of faith: �we believe it would be wrong for the United States to abandon the country through a precipitate withdrawal of troops and support. A premature American departure from Iraq would almost certainly produce greater sectarian violence and further deterioration of conditions.� No evidence is presented to support this assertion, and other sections of the report contain ample evidence that the U.S. occupation is the primary source of violence in Iraq.

We have already discussed the effect of Operation Together Forward II in Baghdad, escalating rather than stopping violence in the capital, and the role of U.S.-trained death squads in initiating sectarian violence. One would think Iraq could do without this kind of �support.�

Then, in discussing the More Troops for Iraq option, the report states, �Sustained increases in U.S. troop levels would not solve the fundamental cause of violence in Iraq.� The argument for keeping exactly 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq is a Goldilocks argument, that this number is not too few and not too many, but �just right.� This is not a rational argument. Senator McCain is correct that if U.S. forces were really a force for stability in Iraq, then more of them would bring more stability. The More Troops for Iraq section acknowledges that this is not the case, but its sound reasoning has not been extended to the faith-based �Precipitate Withdrawal� section.

Recommendation 40 in the Way Forward chapter is prefaced by more discussion of the role of U.S. forces: �adding more American troops could conceivably worsen those aspects of the security problem that are fed by the view that the U.S. presence is intended to be a long-term �occupation,� but then �the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is moderating the violence.� This last formulation is an interesting allusion to what U.S. forces are really doing, tactically applying their own destructive power against the Sunnis in concert with the local forces of violence that the occupation has unleashed, while selectively attacking al-Sadr�s forces to keep them in check when possible.

This discussion outlines the basic dilemma facing U.S. policymakers over Iraq. They are losing the war with the Sunnis, whose level of resistance is still increasing, while Muqtada al-Sadr has quietly become the de facto leader of the Shiites throughout most of the country. The Americans have tried to take on the Sunnis and leave al-Sadr for later, but this has not worked. The result has been that both the Sunni resistance and al-Sadr have only grown stronger and the positions of the U.S. and its various puppets are weaker than ever.

The report�s prescription is to concentrate on training security forces loyal to the puppet government, but the loyalty of these forces can never be guaranteed. If it should come to a showdown with al-Sadr, most of them would suddenly be on the other side, and the Kurdish peshmerga would prefer to fight for an independent Kurdistan than for Baghdad.

In the end, the Iraq Study Group has followed the same self-serving logic regarding America�s responsibility toward Iraq as General Powell�s �Pottery Barn rule�: �You break it -- you own it.� But a country that �breaks� another country doesn�t �own� it -- that�s nonsense. The only way to paraphrase Powell�s statement in the real world would be: �You break it -- you get out of my store before you do any more damage . . . and I�ll send you the bill.� And in the real world, that is exactly what the Iraqis are saying.


The word �invasion� does not occur anywhere in this report. The word �legitimacy� occurs once, in relation to diplomatic relations between Iraq and neighboring countries. The false presumption of legitimacy that underpins the American role in Iraq is, however, a ghost in the machine that makes both its presence and its insubstantiality felt throughout the report.

The Security section of the report�s Assessment begins by explaining that U.S. forces are part of the Multi National Force authorized by UNSCR 1546. It does not explain that these were the same forces that invaded the country in violation of the U.N. Charter in March 2003, and that, because of the United States� role as a Permanent Member of the Security Council, subsequent U.N. resolutions have been unable to confront the reality of this situation.

The United States has prevented the Security Council from fulfilling its responsibility to restore international peace and security, leaving the council to act under this constraint to do what it can under the circumstances. When the history books are written, we will probably find that some members and some U.N. officials practiced quiet diplomacy to try to reclaim the protection to which the people of Iraq are entitled under international law, while most were governed primarily by their own interests in maintaining a stable relationship with the United States.

Unresolved questions of legitimacy underlie the report�s discussions of many issues: the status of Iraqi Kurdistan; �amnesty for those who have fought against the government�; the flight of the technocratic class from the country, including government officials, academics and petroleum engineers; the refusal of the Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Transportation to work with American advisors; the uncertain framework for foreign investment; the growth of popular opposition to the occupation; and the fact that 61 percent of Iraqis approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces.

Initiatives on Building an International Consensus and the New Diplomatic Offensive are clearly designed to engage other countries in discussions that could strengthen the American presumption of legitimacy and the de facto position of the U.S. and its puppets in Iraq. The tenuous position of the Iraqi puppet government is also the theme of Recommendations 19 and 20, requiring closer cooperation with U.S. officials to meet milestones on national reconciliation, security and governance.

Recommendations 22 and 23 speak to the heart of the American enterprise in Iraq, asking President Bush to �state that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq� and �that the United States does not seek to control Iraq�s oil.� The report does not ask Bush to take any concrete steps regarding these issues, such as halting construction on U.S. bases or the Vatican-sized U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone, or abandoning U.S. pressure for �Approval of the Petroleum Law,� as one of the Milestones for Iraq.

In fact, recommendations 62 and 63 are a complex 10-part prescription for the disposition of the Oil Sector in Iraq. They would �create a fiscal and legal framework for investment,� and commit U.S. military forces to work with Iraqis and foreign mercenaries to protect oil infrastructure and contractors.

�The United States should encourage investment in Iraq�s oil sector by the international community and by international energy companies� and �The United States should assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise.� These statements reveal continuing support for the Oil Production Sharing Agreements that Western oil companies have been eagerly awaiting since the invasion. Such agreements would be a throwback to the time before the major oil-producing countries nationalized their oil industries, when Western companies could help themselves to oil in exchange for the payment of small royalties to national governments. Until the Second World War, Anglo-Iranian (now BP) paid only a 16 percent royalty on oil production to the government of Iran.

Kevin Phillips reported in his book �American Theocracy� that American oil companies hoped to earn greater profits on Iraqi oil under these new Production Sharing Agreements than they currently make on the rest of their worldwide operations combined. The Iraq Study Group�s inclusion of this item in their report shows that the primary commercial goals of the invasion have not changed, even if they mean destroying the country that has the misfortune to sit atop these precious oilfields, city by city, block by block, life by life.

An analogy

Somebody once told me how hunters in a certain part of India catch monkeys for food. I don�t know if this is really true, but it provides a good analogy for the American predicament in Iraq.

A hunter places a large piece of fruit in a heavy earthenware jar with a long, narrow neck. The hunter hides as a monkey approaches the jar. If monkeys were more intelligent and a little less greedy, the monkey would just tip the fruit out of the jar, pick it up and run away with it, but there is always the fear that another monkey might grab the fruit first as it falls to the ground.

So, the monkey reaches into the jar, and clenches the fruit in his fist. He can feel the fruit; he can smell it; he can almost taste it. But this is actually the moment that he is trapped. With the fruit in his fist, he cannot pull his hand back through the narrow neck of the jar.

If he would only let go of the fruit, he could scamper away unharmed. But, instead, he only screeches and pulls vainly on the heavy jar as the hunter approaches with a club in his hand.

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