The Brookings Report on Iraq
The Brookings Institution Iraq Index for July 30, 2007 contains an update of the indicators measured since 2003. The overall summary, based on an examination of the trends is "On balance, Iraq at the end of July is showing significant signs of battlefield momentum in favor of U.S./coalition military forces, but there is nonetheless little good to report on the political front and only modest progress on the economic side of things." However the report itself is much more informative than its summary. The statistics collected by the Brookings Institution describe the shape of combat and politics in Iraq and give us a greater insight into why the the political front is struggling and what the connection is between combat operations and the political arena.
Of the 18 provinces in Iraq, 96.4 of all insurgent attacks take place in 8 of them, as shown in the table below (for purposes of administration, Baghdad is considered a province). Comparing the map of insurgent attacks with an ethnic map of Iraq makes it clear why the fighting is sometimes termed the "Sunni insurgency".
|Salah ad Din||14.9|
Not surprisingly, much of the burden of war has fallen on the Sunnis. Here is an extract from the Brookings Table detailing where refugees have gone. Again, it is the Sunni Arabs that have been fleeing westward to what they consider to be safer havens.
|Iraqi Refugees in Syria 600,000 – 1 million|
|Iraqi Refugees in Jordan 700,000 – 750,000|
|Iraqi Refugees in Egypt, Lebanon, Iran 175,000 – 200,000|
Predictably nearly all the Sunnis in a poll cited by the Brookings Institution are opposed to the Coalition presence in Iraq.
|Strongly/Somewhat Approve of Coalition Presence||Strongly/Somewhat Oppose of Coalition Presence|
But what's going on here? Much of the recent Surge, which the Brookings Report cites as being apparently successful, has taken place precisely in partnership with Sunni communities and/or former Sunni insurgents. How do we reconcile the apparent contradiction between the Sunni opposition to the American presence and their recent cooperation with Coalition forces in driving out al-Qaeda? The answer to this conundrum lies in the principle that the "enemy of my enemy is my friend"; when the same Sunnis are asked to rank their opposition to the US in relationship to the al-Qaeda and the Shi'ites, the Americans are apparently to be preferred. During World War 2 the French may have had no great fondness for the British and the Americans, but in a three way poll with the Nazis, the French categorically sided with the Allies. It is the ethnic conflict which makes the American presence in Iraq, while unwelcome, seem a necessary evil. By themselves the US might not be very popular with the Sunnis. But for keeping al-Qaeda killers and Shi'ite death squads away they very useful indeed.
Counterintuitively the majority of the Iraqis polled do not want to go their own separate ways but hold out hope for a single unitary or federated country. This is hardly what one would have expected to find in a country supposedly wracked by civil war. How can this persistent desire for some sort of political cooperation among ethnic communities which supposedly hate each other be explained?
|Year||Unified County||Regional States||Independent States||Unified Plus Regional|
There are two probably reasons for this desire for unity. The first is that Iraq is potentially rich and nobody wants to deal himself out of a rich country; and the second is that compared to Iraq's neighbors it is comparatively free. For all the problems that followed the removal of Saddam many people remember what a despot he was. First to the rich part. According to the table on page 43 of the Brookings Report, Iraq's GDP has been growing steadily. There was a huge increase right after the fall of Saddam and still more amazingly, a 4.0% increase every year thereafter. Oil production, despite attacks on the producing and pipeline facilities, stand at 2.1 million barrels per day, down from the pre-war peak of 2.5 million bbl according to a table on page 37. But increased oil prices mean that in dollar terms Iraq is earning a considerable amount of money from its mineral resource. This provides a powerful incentive for reaching a political solution. Second, Iraq is comparatively free. In the Brookings Index of political freedom on page 34, Iraq rated higher than any other regional country except Israel, Lebanon and Morocco and much ahead of Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
The basic realities of the insurgency, ethnic competition and the Iraq wealth potential directly drive the outstanding issues facing the political parties. The political questions facing Iraq are really re-statements of the what is being contested in the field today. This table of page 15 of the report clearly shows that politicians in Baghdad are talking about power-sharing between the sectarian communities, in terms of oil and the relationship between the central government and local government. And the resolution of these issues probably hinges on the outcome of the Sunni insurgency and efforts by the Shi'ite militias to become a political force. How these armed groups fare will determine the relative power of the different ethnic parties in the field, and hence their influence in Baghdad.
|Political Benchmark||Current Status||Potential Hurdles|
|Oil Revenue Sharing||
February 2007: Draft law passed in the Cabinet but not yet voted on in Parliament May 2007: During the week of May 21, officials from the Kurdish Regional Government will arrive in Baghdad to discuss differences with central-government authorities.
Iraq Federation of Oil Unions has come out against the draft, as has the Iraqi National slate, led by former PM Ilyad al-Allawi
|March 2007: PM Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani sent a draft law to the Cabinet for debate May 2007: Iraqi VP Tariq al-Hashemi announced that proposals for revising the law would be submitted to parliament during the week of May 21.||As of April 1, 2007, Falah Hassan, who heads the parliament's de- Baathification Committee, reported that his panel had not been given a copy of the draft law. In addition, prominent Shiite leaders, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have come out against the draft law|
|New election laws||No progress thus far|
|Schedule provincial elections||July 2007: PM Nouri al-Maliki stated publicly that provincial elections would be held by the end of calendar year 2007.|
|Disbanding militias||No political progress thus far, although Coalition and Iraqi security forces have engaged and detained militia members|
|Plan of national reconciliation||No progress thus far|
|Amending the Constitution to address Sunni concerns||The parliament’s constitutional reform committee voted on May 15, 2007, to submit a set of revisions to lawmakers the week of May 21. However, the controversial issues of the rights of provinces to form powerful regions (similar to that of the Kurds) and references to Iraq’s Arab identity are yet to be debated.|
|Increased Sunni governmental participation||A group of Sunni sheiks in Anbar province that recently formed a loose confederation of tribes opposed to Al-Qaeda in Iraq have announced that they will form a political party, called Iraq Awakening, that will partake in future elections|
Thus events in the field and politics in Baghdad are linked. Obviously, the US should attempt to alter conditions on the battlefield and the diplomatic attitudes of Iraq's neighbors to make these issues "break" in a desired way. I will not discuss diplomacy here. But in my guess the Surge was intended to achieve four political effects: 1) weaken the Sunni insurgency; 2) wrest the leadership of the insurgency from doctrinaire al-Qaeda to local chieftains who might be more pragmatic. One of the very subtle effects of turning the Sunnis against al-Qaeda has been to co-opt the Sunni fighters into the American fold; 3) weaken the Shi'ite militias; and 4) create political structures in the provinces which would be more susceptible to direct American influence than politicians in Baghdad. Despite its military successes, the Surge has yet to bear obvious political fruit. Perhaps a period must elapse before politicians in Baghdad come to terms with a changed reality. Time will tell whether the Surge has changed things enough or ever will.
Yet even if the Surge fails to deliver the ultimate goods, the political benchmarks laid out by the Brookings report are a useful way of assessing the wisdom of any proposed action before Congress today. Every proposal, such as a rapid withdrawal should be weighed against the effect it might have in achieving a goal such as disbanding of militias. It should be judged against the criteria of whether it will create an incentive for the Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'a to enter into a workable oil revenue sharing scheme or national reconciliation program. Whether it will encourage the diminished Sunnis to participate a future Iraq.
Carl von Clausewitz's dictum that "war is the continuation of politics" is an incomplete thought. Politics is also a continuation of war. Political settlements in particular are the culmination of war. The Brookings Report's summary that "on balance, Iraq at the end of July is showing significant signs of battlefield momentum in favor of U.S./coalition military forces, but there is nonetheless little good to report on the political front and only modest progress on the economic side of things," must mean that while the Surge and possible US diplomacy have had some effect, they have not yet reached the point where they can effect a desired political outcome. The question policymakers face is where do they go from here.