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New Iraq Plan Taking Form

Prepared by: Lionel Beehner
Updated: October 16, 2006

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A widely anticipated bipartisan study group (LAT) on Iraq cochaired by James A. Baker, III, continues to generate some controversy. The former secretary of state has dropped hints his findings will not recommend a “stay-the-course” strategy and will contain “some things…the administration might not like.” The group is expected to publish its assessment in December after the midterm elections.

The sour mood on Iraq was also echoed at a recent CFR symposium on the war by CFR Senior Fellow Steven Simon, who asserted that Iraq has emboldened terrorists and not made the United States safer. “Movements like the jihad thrive on powerful imagery,” Simon said. “Iraq has provided a plethora of these images.”

Meanwhile, Bob Woodward’s latest exposé, State of Denial, continues to generate criticisms of the White House's handling of the war in Iraq. The book depicts Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as poor administrators who ignored the bad news from Iraq. Woodward says President Bush continues to present a rosy picture of the war, despite evidence to the contrary (Spiegel Online): “The president is out saying that terrorists are in retreat, which is really the opposite of what the [intelligence] reports say.” Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post has also published a critical account of Washington’s management of postwar Iraq that stretches back to the establishment of the Coalition Provisional Authority, alleging the politicization of crucial U.S. posts in Iraq.

Three years later, experts warn a low-level civil war may be underway and a bloody insurgency shows no signs of abating. Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution tells Bernard Gwertzman that "we’re headed toward in Iraqis that it’s going to be even worse off than it was under Saddam Hussein.” The U.S. Army and Marines are drafting a new counterinsurgency strategy (NYT) that emphasizes the safeguarding of civilians, something military experts say was lacking in the first three years of the occupation. As a result, a growing number of Iraqis—Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds alike—say Iraq is now heading in the wrong direction, according to a recent poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes. A new study (The Lancet) (PDF) by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in conjunction with the School of Medicine at Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad finds that more than 600,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the U.S. invasion, dwarfing previous estimates but drawing criticism from some experts about its accuracy. Even the top British general in Iraq has called for pulling his soldiers out of Iraq "because our presence exacerbates the security problems." (CSMonitor)

Solutions to the current crisis in Iraq range from splitting up the country into three de facto autonomous zones, to convening a regional conference—loosely modeled after the UN-sponsored “Six-Plus-Two” talks on Afghanistan—that would increase Iraq’s neighbors’ role in its evolution into a functioning state, to installing a more authoritarian yet stable regime in Baghdad—“Saddam Hussein without the mustache,” as Ronald Steel of the University of Southern California, said at the recent CFR symposium on Iraq.

Perhaps the most hotly debated issue is the future deployment of U.S. forces in Iraq. Ahead of November’s midterm elections, some Democrats are calling for a redeployment of American troops by next summer. Meanwhile, military experts say U.S forces in Iraq are overstretched. "Trying to be strong everywhere will lead us to being strong nowhere," Andrew F. Krepinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments told the Associated Press. Several Republicans say a graduated pullout of forces would only abet the terrorists fighting in Iraq and spark greater sectarian tensions there. Some critics of the U.S. campaign in Iraq have pointed to four new so-called “enduring” military bases in the works as a sign Washington intends to keep a substantial military presence in Iraq for years to come.

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