2 April 2004

A Response to Fallujah

The reality is that during the past month there has been a major increase in casualties, both U.S. and Iraqi, military and civilian, even as a troop rotation has reduced the number of U.S. forces by 20 percent and replaced many regular Army units with reservists. The turning point against Iraqi insurgents that U.S. commanders have been talking about for months simply hasn't happened in Fallujah or elsewhere in the Sunni heartland, and other parts of the country are growing more dangerous. The lack of security is not only blocking economic recovery: As June 30 rapidly approaches, the risk is growing that the end of the occupation period will be followed not by a transition to democratic government but by chaos or civil war.

Acknowledging the problem will help Mr. Bush summon the political will to reexamine the strategy of the Pentagon and the Coalition Provisional Authority and make necessary adjustments. It is critical that U.S. commanders respond forcefully to Fallujah and step up the counteroffensive against the Sunni insurgency. Militias operating elsewhere in the country -- particularly the Shiite Mahdi Army of Moqtada Sadr -- must be disbanded and disarmed before they, too, begin targeting U.S. troops and allied Iraqis. Are there now sufficient forces in Iraq to undertake these missions? Many outside experts believe there are not. They also point to the failure of the occupation authorities to adequately train or equip the Iraqi police who are supposed to maintain order in cities such as Fallujah. Mr. Bush must not hesitate to order more troops, more trainers and more equipment for Iraq, even it means disrupting the Pentagon's rotation plans. He also should renew the effort to recruit allies to share the burden.

The security response needs to be coupled with a more vigorous effort to forge a political consensus on Iraq's future. Administration officials are betting heavily that a single man, U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, will somehow produce a plan for a transitional government in the coming weeks that all sides will accept. But Mr. Brahimi is not a miracle worker, and his effort won't succeed unless more of Iraq's real power brokers, especially in the Shiite clergy, are persuaded to support the process. Sticking to the June 30 transition date will invite disaster if the government that takes power is, like the current Governing Council, seen by most Iraqis as illegitimate or as a U.S. puppet. Then the appalling violence of Fallujah will worsen and spread.

In ways this post follows from my thoughts about the interim constitution. The interim constitution just does not give the transitional government enough power to command any legitimacy, especially when you consider that the US will retain control of the security forces, the purse strings, and those parts of the government controlled by the continuing CPA appointees. The enormous patronage controlled by Ahmed Chalabi though the debaathification and property commissions will make him almost unstoppable except in the face of strong democratic institutions. An appointed executive operating without a parliament, and in control of elections to any future parliament, is a recipe for disaster. As is the cutback in US troop numbers.

Spain is withdrawing 1300 troops from Iraq. They are also sending additional troops to Afghanistan. The US is withdrawing around around 30 000 troops. I am unsure why the Spanish withdrawal is to be condemned but the US withdrawal is not. Time to scratch the 30 June obsession and see about building a new interim constitution that addresses Iraqi, not US, needs.

The latest US effort at retainig effective sovereignty while granting ceremonial concerns the defence ministry

A bigger concern for many Iraqis is how "real" the post June 30 sovereignty will be, particularly with the US making it clear that it will retain control over all security forces, and a current draft law on the table for the Ministry of Defense that seeks to give the US the power to appoint the minister, and hopefully keep him in for a five-year term.

I am unaware of any nation on earth that gives its defence minister a fixed term, or for that matter of any sovereign nation whose defence minister is appointed by another. Constitutional trickiness of this kind is not going to add to the transitional government's legitimacy.

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