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The New Way Forward in Iraq: The State Department Perspective

February 02, 2007 // 1:00pm2:00pm
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Ambassador Satterfield assessed conditions in Iraq and defended the revised U.S. strategy for dealing with the deteriorating conditions there. "The situation in that country is deeply, deeply troubled," he admitted. He said the National Intelligence Estimate report enforced the administration's concerns about the intensifying violence in Iraq and, following the administration's own intense review in recent months, the president responded by announcing the Baghdad Security Plan in January.

Last year, Satterfield said, the security threat in Iraq evolved from a lethal Sunni insurgency and Al Qaeda campaign—that mostly stayed confined to a small geographic area—to a larger fundamental threat: that of sectarian violence. He said the violence between Shias and Sunnis erupted following the February 2006 mosque destruction but had been orchestrated for some time prior by the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and his successors.

"Zarqawi's intent was to finally provoke the Shia from their quietest non-reactive position into attacking Sunnis," Satterfield explained. "Sunnis would then rise up and strike in a full-blown sectarian war. The Shia expelled them from Iraq and established a Sunni caliphate…that had been disrupted by the overflow of Saddam Hussein and Sunni dictatorial rule in March 2003." Al Qaeda continued to target Shias, provoking Shia violence against Sunnis, and thousands of Iraqis have been killed as a result.

Some 80 percent of the sectarian violence occurs within 30 miles of Baghdad's center, said Satterfield. "Baghdad is the center of gravity for the nation of Iraq," he said. "It is the place where reconciliation must exist or not, where the hopes of a unified, peaceful, stable Iraq can be achieved or not, and so Baghdad is the focus of this campaign." Further, he said, if sectarian violence does not come under control, "it will be very difficult to see how the space can be created for the necessary political and economic steps to be taken within Iraq, for the necessary external support—political and economic—to be attracted to Iraq that will be necessary for that country to succeed."

While external forces can help Iraq to stabilize and ultimately thrive, he said Iraqis are responsible for their nation's future. "Iraqis must want to see success as much as, or more, than anyone else," he said, and they must commit to major economic, political, and security reforms. "I believe that if Iraq doesn't want, and is not prepared, to take—their government, their political leadership—the necessary steps on all of these tracks, no amount of external help will ultimately prove successful."

Based on the assurances and ensuing dialogue between Iraqi security officials and the U.S. administration, the Baghdad Security Plan evolved. He said the plan's three basic phases are: clear areas of those responsible for violence; secure the areas, and build a sound, peaceful state. The additional commitment of U.S. and Iraqi forces, he said, requires parallel political and economic tracks. Politically, key elements include a national hydrocarbon law that provides for fair distribution and maximizes Iraq's oil resources, an amnesty proposal, disarmament and reintegration for militias, and de-Baathification thereby encouraging Iraqis to participate in national life. Economic efforts would be directed first toward areas most troubled by violence.

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki had presented a security plan for Baghdad to President Bush in November 2006 that suggested Iraqi forces take responsibility for Baghdad, and U.S. and coalition forces would provide a supportive role. But U.S. officials determined the Iraqi army is not yet capable of logistically taking on the enormous operation without additional U.S. military resources on the ground. He added, "No security plan would succeed in bringing down unending sectarian violence in Baghdad and no amount of additional U.S. forces would have a material impact" unless Iraq agreed to not interfere politically in security decisions and to even-handed treatment for those involved in violence. He defined even-handed treatment, saying that nobody, regardless of affiliation and location, should be exonerated for threatening or killing innocent Iraqis and no safe havens should exist for either side.

Satterfield said, "We were not prepared to simply say ‘how many more U.S. forces should we put in?' how many more taxpayer dollars?" But the Prime Minister offered assurances on these points and the United States opted to make the additional commitment.

He said the Iraqi government has some $12.5 billion of assets from unspent budget funds from prior years as well as from oil prices. Yet the administration is seeking additional economic assistance for Iraq "because Iraq does not have the budget execution ability or mechanisms to move monies to targeted areas on the timeframe that is required to succeed in stabilizing, in building upon what has just been cleared and secured through military activity."

The $20 billion U.S. taxpayers gave to Iraq is largely expended, he noted, and went mostly toward reconstruction efforts, a phase coming to a close. The additional money the administration requests would help build budget-execution skills and help Iraq with the transition toward taking full responsibility for the country.

Satterfield said success in Iraq is vital to prevent Al Qaeda's terror from spreading there and to prevent Al Qaeda from using Iraq as a base to project outward. "We have an interest in a stable, unified state rather than a fragmented, violent entity, or entities, arising," he said, as well as a moral obligation to prevent mass migrations, sectarian cleansing, and further bloodshed.

In addition to efforts in Baghdad, the United States has expanded its activities outside the Green Zone. New provincial reconstruction teams are intended to improve cooperation and move aid in a flexible manner to help build and stabilize in the countryside. Currently, the government is recruiting 400 more civilian staff to work on these teams to provide targeted and fast assistance.

"We believe the fundamental challenge in Iraq, as elsewhere in the region, is not a Shia-Sunni confrontation," Satterfield said. "It's not a right-left political conflict, or east-west. It is moderates broadly defined vs. extremists, very tightly defined."

U.S. allies in the Arab world agree on the stakes of a stable Iraq, Satterfield said, but disagree on whether a partner existed in Iraq and whether Iraq is committed to a national or sectarian agenda. He said, the Iraqi government must demonstrate "this is a national government that is committed to a national reconciliation agenda and it is a government that merits the strong support of Iraq's neighbors and the international community."

Satterfied said some Arab neighbors, particularly Syria and Iran, have a different intent. He said Syria has not helped control suicide bombers that flow across its border and continues to help finance the insurgency. Meanwhile, Iran continues to build its arsenal of lethal weapons targeting Iraqi civilians and coalition forces. But, he said, Iran's challenge in Iraq can and will be addressed.

And, he said, there are positive signs. Iraq's Council of Representatives endorsed the Baghdad Security Plan. Elements of Shia militias have been detained in recent months. But more must be done and success must be achieved, he said, as the price of failure is so high. "Ultimately, success will depend on what Iraqis do, whether they are willing in the end to be responsible, to make difficult decisions, to enable us to enable them to achieve success."

Drafted by Dana Steinberg,
Outreach & Communications

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