Compromises and Progress in Iraq

A series of stories today indicate that President Bush is willing to cede considerable ground in his Iraq policy for what appears to be nothing more than a figleaf of international “cooperation” while real progress is being made on the ground in Iraq.

WaPo — U.S. Bends To France, Russia On U.N. Iraq Resolution

In a major push to win international backing before the Group of Eight summit begins, the United States made several last-minute concessions to incorporate French and Russian demands in a proposed United Nations resolution on Iraq. It should win unanimous support in a Security Council vote today, U.N. diplomats predicted.

Passage would be a pivotal victory for the Bush administration as it ends a 14-month occupation of Iraq — and be a stark contrast to the divisions and diplomatic disarray at the world body when the United States failed last year to win U.N. backing for a resolution authorizing military intervention in Iraq.

The resolution is critical for Iraq, because it bestows international legitimacy on the new government 22 days before the occupation ends. With the U.N. vote today, U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said, Iraq will soon begin “a new phase in the political history, the full restoration of sovereignty and authority over Iraq’s own affairs.”

Even France, the most demanding party in the U.N. debate, sounded pleased with the resolution after both major and minor modifications yesterday. “It’s much improved. . . . Things are going in the right direction,” said French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere. “We’re almost finished.”

In a widely backed move, France and Germany had insisted that Baghdad have the right to veto Iraqi participation in “sensitive offensive operations” led by a U.S.-dominated multinational force, which was the final major concession by the United States and Britain, the resolution’s co-sponsors.

German Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said the new text reflects French and German concerns. “I think we have reached a stage where the resolution has a very good text,” he told reporters in New York. “My feeling is we have found a compromise.”

So, what do we get in exchage for these concessions? Apparently, nothing:

WaPo — A Summit For The Future (Editorial)

THE EVE of the annual Group of Eight summit meeting offered another demonstration of how the bad blood between the Bush administration and European governments continues to hamper international consensus on Iraq. Eager to win approval for a new United Nations resolution endorsing Iraq’s interim government, the Bush administration made considerable concessions, acknowledging the new government’s right to order the departure of U.S. troops and fixing an end date — January 2006 — for the mandate of international forces. Iraq’s new prime minister submitted a letter to the Security Council outlining arrangements that he said would allow his government and coalition forces “to reach agreement on the full range of fundamental security and policy issues.”

Yet this was not enough for France and its followers, which still appear to be pursuing the prewar strategy of using the council to contain U.S. power. Though they refuse to contribute their own troops to Iraq’s pacification, France, Germany and Russia tried to dictate military arrangements on the ground, demanding that the resolution grant Baghdad’s incoming government something it hadn’t asked for: an explicit veto over U.S.-led operations. Both sides played down the dispute and predicted an agreement could be reached as early as today. But it’s hard not to conclude from the debate that a truly cooperative Western effort to stabilize Iraq remains out of reach, despite the critical importance of that outcome for Europeans as well as Americans.

For now, the Bush administration has no choice but to press ahead in Iraq with its patchwork alliance. But in the longer run, the United States must forge a broader and stronger alliance if it is to win the war against Islamic extremism and terrorism. That’s why one of the initiatives set to emerge from this week’s summit meeting strikes us as constructive and promising: a joint commitment by the rich nations to democratic reform in the “broader Middle East and North Africa,” backed by several new programs.

Launched by the White House in January as one of its major diplomatic initiatives this year, the reform plan encountered resistance in Paris — where Middle Eastern democracy is dismissed as a fool’s errand, especially if promoted by the United States — and from entrenched Arab autocrats, who, not surprisingly, disapprove of a program intended to strip them of power. In Washington, these all-too-predictable reactions have been seized on by administration critics as proof that the initiative is doomed to failure. Yet such assessments ignore the growing pressure for change within the Middle East itself — an appetite reflected in an unprecedented series of manifestos issued in recent months by groups of Arab intellectuals and civil society movements calling for democratic institutions.

So, no troops, no money, and no consensus. But we get yet another UN Resolution that’s totally meaningless in the absence of action from the U.S. and our coalition of the willing.

Certainly, the nature of the compromises are such that they’re largely illusory as well. The interim Iraqi government was always going to have nominal sovereingty and the US forces were always going to nominally be constrained by the wishes of that government. In reality, the interim government will desperately need US forces to maintain security against the insurgency. Still, the Coalition will need to do everything it can to bolster the illusion of Iraqi control. Early indications are that they are doing just that:

AP — U.S. Is Easing Combat Tactics To Avoid Alienating Iraq Allies

“What happened in Fallujah and other places will not be repeated,” said Iraq’s incoming prime minister, Iyad Allawi, who heads the interim government taking office June 30. Allawi said U.S. forces will not be allowed to launch future offensives in Iraq without his permission.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling bristled at the notion that the Army was curbing its operations in Najaf. “Softer stance? We took a hard line with these guys and killed over a thousand,” Hertling wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “Concessions? We agreed to stop hunting down what was left of the militia long enough for them to disband.”

But military analysts agree that the Americans’ once broad freedom of action in Iraq is being restricted as authority is returned to Iraqis.

Lowering the U.S. military’s profile may be the only way the United States can keep its forces inside Iraq after it declares its occupation at an end. “From here on, U.S. forces are going to be in Iraq at the pleasure of the Iraqi government,” said David Phillips, an Iraq analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “If we pursue a confrontational approach, it either derails the political process by radicalizing Iraqis or it could prompt Iraq to request that U.S. forces leave the country.”

U.S. occupation leaders say they would honor demands to leave.

Allawi’s interim government, selected in large measure by the United States, is the most pro-American regime Iraq is ever likely to have and represents the best path to achieving U.S. goals in Iraq, said Judith Yaphe, a former Iraq analyst at the CIA and a senior fellow at National Defense University.

“We’ve got to find a softer way … if we want this government to survive. We have to work with them,” Yaphe said. “What is good for the U.S. military is not to have more people killed in mindless operations.”

The Marines’ April siege of Fallujah is widely seen as a mistake that is driving this new policy. The operation helped stoke hatred of the U.S. occupation and was eventually resolved by a compromise that left the city to a new security force whose members included some of the militants the Marines had been fighting.

There are other signs that we’re putting a “softer” face on our presence as the mission shifts from occupation to assisting the transitional government.

Washington Times — New Iraq Weapon Is The Printed Word

U.S. forces battling insurgents in northern Iraq have a new weapon in their arsenal — illustrated Arabic-language booklets explaining politely to residents why American troops want to come into their homes to search for weapons.

“Iraqis did not like having their houses searched when we did not hand out the books,” said Capt. Jeff Peterman, an expert on psychological or “information” operations with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division.

Now soldiers routinely distribute the books — which emphasize that the troops do not want to harm Iraqi families — before carrying out searches, eliminating much of the previous friction.

The booklets are part of a broad public relations effort by the brigade’s psychological operations unit, which includes “story books and coloring books for the kids, including a full range of subjects about things like unexploded ordnance and teaching kids about the police department,” Capt. Peterman said.

Also, he said, “We’ll pass out simple informational fliers or handbills telling people not to park their car along the side of the road because it could be mistaken for someone placing an explosive device.”

Even so, military officials understand that their effort to win the “hearts and minds” of the Iraqis remains a struggle. “There’s an element out there that does not want us to succeed,” Capt. Peterman said.

This is psyops 101 and, if this is indeed something new, I’m perplexed. Indeed, we were doing much of this in 1991 during Desert Storm when we were fighting a hot war.

In the meantime, there are early signs that the transitional government is, for now at least, actually going to be able to govern.

LA Times — Iraqi Militias To Disband, Join Official Forces

U.S. officials and leaders of Iraq’s new government on Monday announced a long-sought deal to integrate about 100,000 fighters belonging to private militias into the army and police, an arrangement that seeks to bolster the central government in advance of the U.S. transfer of sovereignty later this month.

U.S. and Iraqi officials hope that the agreement will reduce the threat of civil war when the U.S. occupation ends. Although the accord moves closer toward forming a representative Iraqi army reflecting Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish groups, it also allows pro-U.S. Kurds to keep under their command a significant number of fighters. That arrangement could spark friction among Shiites and Sunnis wary that an armed Kurdish force could potentially push for independence.

The accord does not cover the dogged Iraqi insurgency, including the Al Mahdi militia of Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr, which has been battling U.S. troops in a Baghdad slum and southern Iraq.

Without naming individuals or groups, Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi declared “as of now, all armed forces out of state control … are illegal [and] will be dealt with harshly.”

The agreement bars all other “members of illegal armed forces or militias” from political office or involvement in campaigns for three years.

Perhaps the most important indicator of actual sovereignty is establishing a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. While there will still be well over 100,000 international soldiers in Iraq, only theoretically under control of the government, melding the militias is a huge first step.

A related WaPo piece, Decree Outlaws Iraqi Militias In Effort To Increase Security, strikes an optimistic tone that the ban will succeed.

The ban was designed in part to dramatize the intention of Allawi’s government, named a week ago, to increase security measures in a country shaken by car bombings and hostage-takings directed against foreigners and robberies and kidnappings directed against ordinary Iraqis by criminals seeking to profit from the disorder. But whether the unelected interim government can enforce such an order remains doubtful given the shaky security situation at present, said Abdul-Wahab Qassab, a retired General Staff officer who runs the Azzaman Center for Strategic Studies in Baghdad.

“Unless there is a strong commitment from the political parties, I don’t think the outcome will be positive,” he said.

Nine other Iraqi political parties and movements have pledged to abide by the ban on militias and seek promised benefits, including job training and veterans’ pensions for demobilized fighters, Allawi announced. “All of these parties have accepted detailed plans, timetables and terms for the transition and reintegration of the armed groups under their authority or have already disbanded their militias,” he added.

Clearly, we’re not out of the woods yet. The terrorists continue to kill Iraqi civilians and make things miserable for those who cooperate with us. Success is by no means assured. Still, the odds are way up from a month ago.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. oceanguy says:

    You’re right, “We” don’t get a thing with any meaning, but the President scores a few re-election points… I wish he’d do more leading and less campaigning.