Iraq Study Group: Quick Reactions

Aside from the generic reservations about blue ribbon panels I’ve expressed here and elsewhere over the last several days, I’m working my way through the full text of the Iraq Study Group Report [PDF, HTML] in preparation for a conference call this afternoon with commission members Alan Simpson and William Perry.

Below the fold are some quick excerpts and quick reactions, which I will append until finished.

The challenges in Iraq are complex. Violence is increasing in scope and lethality. It is fed by a Sunni Arab insurgency, Shiite militias and death squads, al Qaeda, and widespread criminality. Sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability.

The Iraqi people have a democratically elected government, yet it is not adequately advancing national reconciliation, providing basic security, or delivering essential services. Pessimism is pervasive. (xiii-xiv)

That about sums it up.

It is clear that the Iraqi government will need assistance from the United States for some time to come, especially in carrying out security responsibilities. Yet the United States must make it clear to the Iraqi government that the United States could carry out its plans, including planned redeployments, even if the Iraqi government did not implement their planned changes. The United States must not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq. (xvi)

What does that mean, exactly? That we might just up and leave regardless of what the situation is on the ground? Isn’t that fear part of the problem the Maliki government has in securing domestic cooperation?

The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability. There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This commitment must include direct talks with, by, and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel’s right to exist), and Syria. (xv)

This has been said so many times as to be conventional wisdom. But is it really true? It strikes me that the situation in Iraq has nothing to do with the plight of the Palestinians and vice-versa. Indeed, Iraq is one of the few problems in the Middle East that has nothing whatsoever to do with Israel. If Israel were wiped off the map tomorrow and every grain of sand turned over to the Palestinians, just as many Iraqis will die the next day.

The Iraqi government should accelerate assuming responsibility for Iraqi security by increasing the number and quality of Iraqi Army brigades. While this process is under way, and to facilitate it, the United States should significantly increase the number of U.S. military personnel, including combat troops, imbedded in and supporting Iraqi Army units. As these actions proceed, U.S. combat forces could begin to move out of Iraq. (xvi)

How on earth is the Iraqi government going to do this? They have been completely inept at handling security affairs and both Sunni and Shia anti-government forces have infiltrated the security forces.

As redeployment proceeds, military leaders should emphasize training and education of forces that have returned to the United States in order to restore the force to full combat capability. As equipment returns to the United States, Congress should appropriate sufficient funds to restore the equipment over the next five years. (xvii)

I simply can’t imagine that the first of these isn’t already happening. Of course forces not currently deployed overseas should be training for combat duty. That’s what professional militaries do. Certainly no objection to the idea that we should repair or replace worn out materiel, though.

It is the unanimous view of the Iraq Study Group that these recommendations offer a new way forward for the United States in Iraq and the region. (xviii)

The members are likely the only ones who think these recommendations are “new.”

Al Qaeda is responsible for a small portion of the violence in Iraq, but that includes some of the more spectacular acts: suicide attacks, large truck bombs, and attacks on significant religious or political targets. Al Qaeda in Iraq is now largely Iraqi-run and composed of Sunni Arabs. Foreign fighters— numbering an estimated 1,300—play a supporting role or carry out suicide operations. Al Qaeda’s goals include instigating a wider sectarian war between Iraq’s Sunni and Shia, and driving the United States out of Iraq.

Sectarian violence causes the largest number of Iraqi civilian casualties. Iraq is in the grip of a deadly cycle: Sunni insurgent attacks spark large-scale Shia reprisals, and vice versa. Groups of Iraqis are often found bound and executed, their bodies dumped in rivers or fields. The perception of unchecked violence emboldens militias, shakes confidence in the government, and leads Iraqis to flee to places where their sect is the majority and where they feel they are in less danger. In some parts of Iraq—notably in Baghdad—sectarian cleansing is taking place. The United Nations estimates that 1.6 million are displaced within Iraq, and up to 1.8 million Iraqis have fled the country.


The Mahdi Army, led by Moqtada al-Sadr, may number as many as 60,000 fighters. It has directly challenged U.S. and Iraqi government forces, and it is widely believed to engage in regular violence against Sunni Arab civilians. Mahdi fighters patrol certain Shia enclaves, notably northeast Baghdad’s teeming neighborhood of 2.5 million known as “Sadr City.” As the Mahdi Army has grown in size and influence, some elements have moved beyond Sadr’s control.(4-5)

A stark but reasonable picture.

Jumping ahead to “II. The Way Forward—A New Approach.” Reading through the HTML version is too slow and the PDF version does not cut-and-paste cleanly.

The Support Group would not seek to impose obligations or undertakings on the government of Iraq. Instead, the Support Group would assist Iraq in ways the government of Iraq would desire, attempting to strengthen Iraq’s sovereignty—not diminish it.

It is clear to Iraq Study Group members that all of Iraq’s neighbors are anxious about the situation in Iraq. They favor a unified Iraq that is strong enough to maintain its territorial integrity, but not so powerful as to threaten its neighbors. None favors the breakup of the Iraqi state. Each country in the region views the situation in Iraq through the filter of its particular set of interests. (47)

If this were truly the case, wouldn’t they be helping already? Rather clearly, the Iranian government loves the instability that marks Iraq now; indeed, they are not only bragging about the opportunity that provides them but barely concealing their efforts to bolster the Shia militias and train the terrorists.

The bottom line is that each of the neighbors’ “particular set of interests” are in conflict with each other, the various Iraqi faction, and the US-UK coalition. Indeed, that’s what makes them “particular.”

Left to their own devices, these governments will tend to reinforce ethnic, sectarian, and political divisions within Iraqi society. But if the Support Group takes a systematic and active approach toward considering the concerns of each country, we believe that each can be encouraged to play a positive role in Iraq and the region.

Rodney King is not listed as a member of the Group but he was surely consulted on this section.

Our limited contacts with Iran’s government lead us to believe that its leaders are likely to say they will not participate in diplomatic efforts to support stability in Iraq. They attribute this reluctance to their belief that the United States seeks regime change in Iran.

Nevertheless, as one of Iraq’s neighbors Iran should be asked to assume its responsibility to participate in the Support Group. An Iranian refusal to do so would demonstrate to Iraq and the rest of the world Iran’s rejectionist attitude and approach, which could lead to its isolation. Further, Iran’s refusal to cooperate on this matter would diminish its prospects of engaging with the United States in the broader dialogue it seeks.

Because Iran currently enjoys widespread respect in the region and a warm dialog with the U.S.?

The Syria section (pp. 55-57) is pure fantasy.

Gotta love this:

RECOMMENDATION 16:In exchange for these actions and in the context of a full and secure peace agreement, the Israelis should return the Golan Heights, with a U.S. security guaran- tee for Israel that could include an international force on the border, including U.S. troops if requested by both parties. (57)

That’s the entire discussion of this one. Shorter recommendation: Israel should give up everything for the promise of peace. I’m guessing that won’t go over so well.

The United States should work closely with Iraq’s leaders to support the achievement of specific objectives—or milestones—on national reconciliation, security, and governance. Miracles cannot be expected, but the people of Iraq have the right to expect action and progress. The Iraqi government needs to show its own citizens—and the citizens of the United States and other countries—that it deserves continued support.

What government has ever operated on such a premise? In principle, I agree that we have to hold Maliki’s feet to the fire. But it should be in terms of upholding certain principles, enforcing the law, upholding the constitution, and so forth. Arbitrary calendar deadlines are not only meaningless but harmful, since they give the enemy a firm goalpost.

RECOMMENDATION 21: If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government.

Isn’t this rather like saying we will decrease the dosage of medication unless the symptoms of a disease show signs of diminishing? Reducing that support will make the goals that much more difficult to achieve, which will in turn be an indication that the support should be reduced. Rather a vicious cycle that.

RECOMMENDATION 23: The President should restate that the United States does not seek to control Iraq’s oil.

No harm in that, I guess. But if they didn’t believe it the first couple dozen times, why would they believe it now?

RECOMMENDATION 27: De -Baathification. Political reconciliation requires the reintegration of Baathists and Arab nationalists into national life, with the leading figures of Sad-dam Hussein’s regime excluded. The United States should encourage the return of qualified Iraqi professionals—Sunni or Shia, nationalist or ex-Baathist, Kurd or Turkmen or Christian or Arab—into the government.

Wasn’t this done almost immediately after we realized that De-Baathification was a mistake?

RECOMMENDATION 31: Amnesty. Amnesty proposals must be far-reaching. Any successful effort at national reconciliation must involve those in the government finding ways and means to reconcile with former bitter enemies.

RECOMMENDATION 32: Minorities. The rights of women and the rights of all minority communities in Iraq, including Turkmen, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Yazidis, Sabeans, and Armenians, must be protected.

RECOMMENDATION 33: Civil society. The Iraqi government should stop using the process of registering nongovernmental organizations as a tool for politicizing or stopping their activities. Registration should be solely an administrative act, not an occasion for government censorship and interference.

Folks, if they could just wave a wand and start doing those things, we wouldn’t have needed an Iraq Study Group.

One of the most important elements of our support would be the imbedding of substantially more U.S. military personnel in all Iraqi Army battalions and brigades, as well as within Iraqi companies. U.S. personnel would provide advice, combat assistance, and staff assistance. The training of Iraqi units by the United States has improved and should continue for the coming year. In addition to this training, Iraqi combat units need supervised on-the-job training as they move to field operations. This on-the-job training could be best done by imbedding more U.S. military personnel in Iraqi deployed units. The number of imbedded personnel would be based on the recommendation of our military commanders in Iraq, but it should be large enough to accelerate the development of a real combat capability in Iraqi Army units. Such a mission could involve 10,000 to 20,000 American troops instead of the 3,000 to 4,000 now in this role. This increase in imbedded troops could be carried out without an aggregate increase over time in the total number of troops in Iraq by making a corresponding decrease in troops assigned to U.S. combat brigades. (71)

The actual numbers required are beyond my expertise but the premise here is right. The problem, though, is that it’s a lot easier said than done. This is a mission best performed by Special Forces, which are in very short supply.

RECOMMENDATION 43: Military priorities in Iraq must change, with the highest priority given to the training, equipping, advising, and support mission and to counterterrorism operations.

As opposed to what?

RECOMMENDATION 44: The most highly qualified U.S. officers and military personnel should be assigned to the imbedded teams, and American teams should be present with Iraqi units down to the company level. The U.S. military should establish suitable career-enhancing incentives for these officers and personnel.

As already noted, we don’t have enough SF to go around. That’s not going to chance by the end of 2007, either. (Pedantic nitpick: Officers are personnel.)

The Iraqi National Police pursue a mission that is more military than domestic in nature—involving commando-style operations—and is thus ill-suited to the Ministry of the Interior. The more natural home for the National Police is within the Ministry of Defense, which should be the authority for counterinsurgency operations and heavily armed forces. Though depriving the Ministry of the Interior of operational forces, this move will place the Iraqi National Police under better and more rigorous Iraqi and U.S. supervision and will enable these units to better perform their counterinsurgency mission. (78)

Having police perform commando-style operations is more than a problem of bureaucratic organization, it seems to me. Then again, if the police are transfered to the military, who’s going to handle policing?

RECOMMENDATION 57: Just as U.S. military training teams are imbedded within Iraqi Army units, the current practice of imbedding U.S. police trainers should be expanded and the numbers of civilian training officers increased so that teams can cover all levels of the Iraqi Police Service, including local police stations. These trainers should be obtained from among experienced civilian police executives and supervisors from around the world. These officers would replace the military police personnel currently assigned to training teams.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has provided personnel to train the Criminal Investigation Division in the Ministry of the Interior, which handles major crimes. The FBI has also fielded a large team within Iraq for counterterrorism activities.

Building on this experience, the training programs should be expanded and should include the development of forensic investigation training and facilities that could apply scientific and technical investigative methods to counterterrorism as well as to ordinary criminal activity.

RECOMMENDATION 58: The FBI should expand its investigative and forensic training and facilities within Iraq, to include coverage of terrorism as well as criminal activity.

One of the major deficiencies of the Iraqi Police Service is its lack of equipment, particularly in the area of communications and motor transport.

That actually makes some sense. It sounds like a mere ramping up of an existing program, though, rather than something radical.

RECOMMENDATION 60: The U.S. Department of Justice should lead the work of organizational transformation in the Ministry of the Interior. This approach must involve Iraqi officials, starting at senior levels and moving down, to create a strategic plan and work out standard administrative procedures, codes of conduct, and operational measures that Iraqis will accept and use. These plans must be drawn up in partnership.

RECOMMENDATION 61: Programs led by the U.S. Department of Justice to establish courts; to train judges, prosecutors, and investigators; and to create institutions and practices to fight corruption must be strongly supported and funded. New and refurbished courthouses with improved physical security, secure housing for judges and judicial staff, witness protection facilities, and a new Iraqi Marshals Service are essential parts of a secure and functioning system of justice.

Organizations this new don’t need to be “transformed” but “instituted.” Perhaps the greatest failure of the mission to date is the failure to create strong institutions before willy nilly handing them off to unprepared Iraqis under the guise of “sovereignty.”

Skipped over economic sections to prevent eyes glazing over.

RECOMMENDATION 73: The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Director of National Intelligence should accord the highest possible priority to professional language proficiency and cultural training, in general and specifically for U.S. officers and personnel about to be assigned to Iraq.

A blinding flash of the obvious that, sadly, has been universally called for and all but totally unheeded. Indeed, I’ve been calling for this since, oh, 1992 when it was obvious to even a lowly grad student that we would be needing boatloads of Arab speakers for decades to come. (Then again, I haven’t learned Arabic, either.) Of course, it’s too late to do this in time to matter for this particular mission if we’re going to timetable our way out in a year.

RECOMMENDATION 74: In the short term, if not enough civilians volunteer to fill key positions in Iraq, civilian agencies must fill those positions with directed assignments. Steps should be taken to mitigate familial or financial hardships posed by directed assignments, including tax exclusions similar to those authorized for U.S. military personnel serving in Iraq.

RECOMMENDATION 75: For the longer term, the United States government needs to improve how its constituent agencies—Defense, State, Agency for International Development, Treasury, Justice, the intelligence community, and others—respond to a complex stability operation like that represented by this decade’s Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the previous decade’s operations in the Balkans. They need to train for, and conduct, joint operations across agency boundaries, following the Goldwater-Nichols model that has proved so successful in the U.S. armed services.

RECOMMENDATION 76: The State Department should train personnel to carry out civilian tasks associated with a complex stability operation outside of the traditional embassy setting. It should establish a Foreign Service Reserve Corps with personnel and expertise to provide surge capacity for such an operation. Other key civilian agencies, including Treasury, Justice, and Agriculture, need to create similar technical assistance capabilities.

All rather obvious and things that I’ve talked about at OTB at some point. Still, it’s one thing to call for something and quite another to actually work out the details.

We were told that there are fewer than 10 analysts on the job at the Defense Intelligence Agency who have more than two years’ experience in analyzing the insurgency. Capable analysts are rotated to new assignments, and on-the-job training begins anew. Agencies must have a better personnel system to keep analytic expertise focused on the insurgency. They are not doing enough to map the insurgency, dissect it, and understand it on a national and provincial level. The analytic community’s knowledge of the organization, leadership, financing, and operations of militias, as well as their relationship to government security forces, also falls far short of what policy makers need to know.

Granted that the insurgency is only about three years old, this is indeed a problem. The nature of bureaucracy in general and military bureaucracy in particular, though, is that success is rewarded with reassignment to positions of greater responsibility. One doesn’t move from being an O-3 or GS-11 analyst to 0-4 or GS-13 and continue doing the same job.

RECOMMENDATION 77: The Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense should devote significantly greater analytic resources to the task of understanding the threats and sources of violence in Iraq.

RECOMMENDATION 78: The Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense should also institute immediate changes in the collection of data about violence and the sources of violence in Iraq to provide a more accurate picture of events on the ground.

“More and better intelligence is needed” is axiomatic in any situation where we are not doing well. How to make that happen is, another matter.

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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. Anderson says:

    It strikes me that the situation in Iraq has nothing to do with the plight of the Palestinians and vice-versa.

    Well, that’s one reason we get in trouble in the Mideast — we think Palestine has nothing to do with A, B, and C, and the Muslims disagree with us on that.

    We need regional support for an Iraqi settlement, and that’s not forthcoming so long as we’re Israel’s fight manager.

  2. Cernig says:

    Our limited contacts with Iran’s government lead us to believe that its leaders are likely to say they will not participate in diplomatic efforts to support stability in Iraq. They attribute this reluctance to their belief that the United States seeks regime change in Iran.

    No sh*t, Sherlock! Their belief is a true one, based upon legislation of Congress and pronouncements of the current administration. If I remember my epistemology aright that makes it “knowledge”, not “belief”.

    This daftness is a single indication of the over-arching theme of the whole document – domestic fence-sitting while advocating the preposterous and undoable of foreign nations (including Israel – you’re right there, JJ). Then there’s that huge CYA caveat you mention…

    Sheesh. This is what everyone was waiting for and pretending would make a difference? Still, at least every politician in the nation will be able to pick and choose the bits he likes and present them to the voters as somehow “different” from all the other bits – all depending upon which bits he thinks the voters will like best, of course. And there will still be plenty of foreign scapegoats to blame when it doesn’t work.

    Truly, American foreign policy is domestic vote-grabbing that is then inflicted upon foreigners, often to their violent detriment.

    Regards, C

  3. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: I don’t disagree that fixing the Israel-Palestine problem would help our standing with the Muslim world, which would indirectly help us negotiate with third parties in Iraq. I just think the problems in Iraq would be there, regardless.

  4. spencer says:

    If you give the military sufficient resources and allow the professionals to do their job we could have a stable Iraq.

    But this administration has refused to do this for 3 years and insisted on trying to fight this war on the cheap.

    Until it changes this policy I would like a pony to go with my study group recommendations.

  5. Anderson says:

    Sheesh. This is what everyone was waiting for and pretending would make a difference?

    All it amounts to, in the real world, is probably that we can now talk about “getting out of Iraq” without being stigmatized as defeatist Democrat Osama-lovers.

    Whatever cautions the report has about *how* to get out will be ignored. It’s like giving your teen the car keys, and then adding, “btw, don’t speed, don’t do this, don’t do that,” while he can’t hear you b/c he’s peeling out of the driveway.

  6. Anderson says:

    If you give the military sufficient resources and allow the professionals to do their job we could have a stable Iraq.

    Not any more. Not with the pot boiling over. At most, we could shoot enough people to keep it simmering but not boiling over. “They create a desert, and call it peace.”

  7. RJN says:

    The problems in Iraq were there before Saddam Hussein took power, they were present, but controlled, while he had power and have been bursting their bounds, to their natural state, since our invasion.

    We should not have invaded. It was stupid. The people of the U. S., as well as the people of Iraq, have paid, and will long continue to pay, a heavy price.

    It was wolves in sheep’s clothing, ex lefties and ex Marxists, who adopted the deceptive name “neo con” and bamboozled the hapless – and the guy I voted for twice – Bush 43 into a disaster for us and disgrace for himself.