Toward a Stable Iraq

by Lee H. Hamilton, former Congressman and Wilson Center President and Director

Sep 04, 2003

It is of vital importance that we secure a successful future for Iraq. The U.S. cannot afford to fail. At stake is the stability of the region; the relationship between the U.S. and the Islamic world; and the prospect for moderation and opportunity – rather than radicalization and alienation – for a new generation of Arab and Kurdish youth.

Success could mean a stable, democratic and economically vibrant country in the heart of the Middle East. Failure could mean a violent and chaotic country that destabilizes the region and reverts to authoritarianism and internal conflict.

Time is short. The coming months will be crucial in determining what kind of place Iraq will become.

Let me focus my remarks on the current environment in Iraq; the challenges we are faced with; and steps that we can take to improve our chances of success.

The Current Environment

It is now over one hundred days since the end of Saddam Hussein’s reign, and signs from Iraq are mixed. Progress is being made in the reconstruction and stabilization of the country, but every day brings new setbacks. Serious challenges abound.

On the positive side:

-- Iraqis have new freedoms. There is a remarkable burgeoning of political activity and expression unthinkable under Saddam Hussein;

-- Iraqi governance is expanding. An Iraqi Governing Council has been named, and Iraqis are assuming responsibilities for local governance around the country;

-- Iraqi police and armed forces are being trained.

-- and reconstruction is gaining momentum. Schools and hospitals are opening; some power is restored; and infrastructure is being repaired.

But despite these positive trends, many facts on the ground are getting ahead of the occupying authorities.

-- Attacks on coalition forces persist. More American soldiers have been killed since major combat operations ended than during the war.

-- Violent crime is rampant.

-- Terrorism is on the rise. Sabotage and attacks on “soft targets” are becoming more common – evidenced by the tragic bombing of U.N. headquarters.

-- There is a communication gap between coalition forces and the Iraqi people, many of whom feel humiliated and disenfranchised by the occupation.

-- and quality of life is not improving for many Iraqis. Basic power and services are lacking, and unemployment is widespread. Some Iraqis enjoyed higher standards of living under Saddam Hussein than they do today.

Challenges

These facts on the ground point to serious challenges that must be addressed in the coming months.

Security: The first and most significant challenge is security. To date, the coalition has not been able to ensure adequate levels of security for their own forces or the Iraqi people.

The barrage of attacks on coalition forces come from a variety of sources: remnants of the Baathist regime; disgruntled Iraqis unhappy with the occupation; foreign fighters; and several terrorist groups – Ansar al Islam and, perhaps, Hizbollah and al Qaeda.

These attacks are likely to persist for some time. Iraq is now the nexus where several issues come together: radical Islam vs. democracy; Arab nationalism vs. American intervention; and competing influences for power in the region.

The strategy for those opposing the occupation will include attacks on coalition forces and attacks aimed at sowing chaos. Recent acts of sabotage on pipelines and terror against the U.N. and Jordanian compounds indicate the magnitude of the task.

Another element of the security situation is lawlessness. The disastrous effects of looting have been followed by continued violent crime in a largely police-free environment.

People cannot get on with reconstruction and governance as long as they are afraid to move freely. Iraqis are insecure; aid groups are reluctant to send their people in; and coalition forces are constructing walls between themselves and the Iraqi people.

Security is the key to all efforts in Iraq. Iraqis must feel secure if they are to effectively get on with their lives and the business of rebuilding their country.

Governance: A second key challenge is restoring governance to Iraqis. While some progress has been made in this area, much more needs to be done.

The daunting task is to form an effective government in an ethnically diverse and divided society that has been ruled brutally by fear and repression for forty years. It will not be easy. Iraqis naturally distrust both political parties and foreign forces.

The creation of the Iraqi Governing Council – a broadly representative body – was an important first step.

But many feel that the Council lacks real powers; is subordinate to the CPA; and relies heavily on formerly exiled-Iraqis rather than those who suffered under Saddam. The occupying authority – and in particular U.S. troops – are still seen as the main governing force in Iraq.

Reconstruction: The third challenge in Iraq is reconstruction. The challenge is colossal – Iraq is a basket-case economically.

Many Iraqis lack basic services like water and electricity. The country’s infrastructure is devastated from war, sanctions, and years of misrule. Iraq owes hundreds of billions in debt. The oil industry is antiquated and damaged by looting and sabotage. And around 60 percent of Iraqis are unemployed. As one Iraqi put it: “I’m happy Saddam Hussein is gone. Now I need a job.”

What Needs to be Done

We still have an opportunity to turn Iraq into a stable, secure, democratic and prosperous place. But faced with these challenges, what must we do to succeed in Iraq? In short, we need:

1) more international cooperation;

2) more governance by Iraqis;

3) and more resources for reconstruction.

International Cooperation

Events in Iraq strongly suggest that more resources and troops – with the right mix of intelligence, police, and civil affairs officers – are necessary to stabilize the country.

The U.S. cannot credibly argue that we do not need more troops while asking much of the world to contribute more troops. But U.S. forces are already stretched thin around the globe; many American forces are not trained for peacekeeping; and Americans are already expending $1 billion a week in Iraq on security alone.

Simply put, the U.S. cannot sustain an effort of the magnitude of securing, stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq by itself. Internationalizing operations is the obvious step to address many of the challenges we confront.

The U.S. should begin by obtaining a new U.N. Security Council resolution outlining a greater role for the U.N. in Iraq. A new resolution would permit the participation of many key countries that are reluctant to contribute forces or aid without a new U.N. mandate.

It will not be possible for the U.S. to receive substantial assistance from major countries without giving them greater political participation in Iraq. The U.S. must be willing to share some responsibility if it wants to share the costs and burdens.

I am pleased that the administration is signaling a willingness to allow a multinational force under UN sponsorship with an American commander.

Pragmatism and not ideology should dominate the debate about U.N. participation. Supporters of the U.N. should recognize that the U.N. will not – by the fact of its participation – pacify Iraq; supporters of complete U.S. authority should recognize that we need more help to get the job done.

The U.N. and international participation serves pragmatic purposes. With a new U.N. mandate:

-- 1) substantial troop contributions from international partners can supplement coalition forces. These troops can focus on providing necessary increases in peacekeeping, policing, and security for aid organizations.

-- 2) donors will be more comfortable providing much needed aid;

-- 3) the CPA and Iraqi Governing Council will be seen as more legitimate to the international community; the region; and the Iraqi people;

-- 4) a war crimes tribunal can be established to try former Baathists;

-- 5) and U.N. expertise on civic organization, Constitution drafting, and transitioning to elections can be more effectively utilized.

Pre-war frictions must be left behind. It is in the interests of the U.S., the countries in the region, and the entire international community that Iraq becomes a successful country. Cooperation will make that success more attainable.

Governance by Iraqis

We must also transfer real governing power to Iraqis as quickly as possible. Governance in Iraq must have an Iraqi face.

Iraqis have been released from the grip of Saddam Hussein’s terror. They must now feel capable of channeling their newfound freedom into political participation and governance. More visible progress towards self-government is urgently needed. If not, the occupying forces will be blamed for all that goes wrong.

-- 1) The power of the Iraqi Governing Council should be expanded in every area of day-to-day governance. It needs to name a cabinet and focus on creating jobs.

-- 2) We should not rely too heavily on exiled leaders. Iraq’s leadership must include those who have influence and credibility with the Iraqi people.

-- 3) Iraqi control on the local and regional level should be expedited. Democratic governance must be built from the bottom up – Iraqis should assume control of everything from the rule of law, to civic organization, to independent press, to trash pick-up.

-- 4) We must accelerate the development of Iraqi police and military forces. Coalition forces are not trained for policing, don’t speak the language, and offend cultural sensibilities. The training of an Iraqi police force is an important first-step. The urgent goal is for Iraqis to be able to combat lawlessness and violent crime effectively on their own.

-- 5) There should be a timeline towards Iraqi rule and a vision of a sovereign Iraq. If Iraqis do not have a sense that they are moving towards full, sovereign self-government, then they are more likely to resist occupation.

We must always bear in mind that our goal is an Iraq governed by Iraqis for Iraqis. It is better to let Iraqis run things imperfectly than to maintain an occupying presence that is increasingly a source of resentment. Our goal is not to dictate Iraqi’s future, but to help Iraqis define it.

Reconstruction

We must invest more resources into economic recovery and reconstruction.

Iraqis are wondering why we can pinpoint precision missiles from the sky, but cannot get the lights turned on or get more Iraqis working.

The best thing we can do to win over a skeptical populace is to show them tangible improvements in their lives and communities – electricity in their homes; running water; gas at the pump; repaired roads; and a recovering economy.

Economic recovery in Iraq depends upon:

-- 1) providing law and order so that Iraqis feel safe getting on with their lives;

-- 2) increasing resources for reconstruction – both from the U.S. and international donors;

-- 3) dealing with the issue of Iraq’s debt, and working with the IMF and World Bank;

-- 4) repairing and rebuilding Iraq’s basic infrastructure, including roads, pipelines and energy sources;

-- 5) ensuring that salaries are paid to public sector employees returning to work;

-- 6) and rehabilitating Iraq’s oil industry. In this process, it is crucial that Iraqis manage their own oil exports and the revenues from their oil proceeds.

Iraq does have a tremendous amount of potential and key strengths to build upon – in particular, its vast oil reserves and a well-educated population. The key to paying for reconstruction will be restoring and boosting oil production. But other steps are necessary – agricultural development, investment, and banking.

The vital goal must be an Iraq that can support itself and provide its people with jobs.

Victory

The final judgment on our efforts in Iraq is yet to be rendered. Iraq could still go in several different directions – anarchy; authoritarianism; tribalism; or stable democracy. We do not have an infinite amount of time to get this right - the coming months are critical.

At the same time, we must realize that this is a long and challenging endeavor. The balance will be to transfer power to Iraqis as quickly as possible without walking away from our responsibility to leave Iraq a stable and better place. This will be a tricky course.

The focus must now be on the process. We should internationalize the process; we should spell out an enhanced commitment of resources; we should accelerate the transfer of power to Iraqis; and we should provide a vision for a stable and economically dynamic Iraq.

Working towards that vision will be an arduous process – there will be setbacks and costs. But we cannot afford to fail, and if we succeed the reward will be substantial.