President George W. Bush is deep in consultation with a broad range of advisers in Washington and overseas for fresh options in Iraq. This week, he spent three days with military leaders. He heard recommendations ranging from a short term influx of troop reinforcements to an injection of dollars into crash training courses for Iraqi troops.
He has been gathering advice from current and former commanders, some of whom saw service in Iraq. Some thought he should remove Marine General Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
But the US president announced to the media Wednesday, Dec. 13, that he would not be rushed into decisions or finalize any new strategy until the new defense secretary Robert Gates is in command and ready to offer counsel
That new strategy, he vowed, would not included giving up; the stakes are too high and the consequences too grave to turn Iraq over to extremists.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources disclose that president Bush has more than one weighty reason for not rushing into a decision on Iraq.
1. That decision will mark America’s endgame in Iraq; it will be the final, irreversible seal on Iraq’s fate and leave no room for more steps. For instance, if he decides to come down on the side of Iraq’s Shiite Muslims, there can be no going back from the consequences of that decision.
2. Bush is deeply reluctant to embrace the Iraq Study Group’s prescriptions as formulated by its 10 members co-chaired by former secretary of state James Baker and ex-congressman Lee Hamilton. But he is wary of turning them down. He is not entirely sure how much clout Baker, Hamilton and Gates wield in the corridors of power.
3. It is obvious to the president that he will have to work with the Democrats who dominate both houses of Congress on both the Iraqi and Iranian issues. But he has still to decide with which faction to cooperate. Much will also depend on how the internal debate within the Democratic Party turns out on how the party wants to work with him.
4. But there is also a key outside element the US president is bound to consider before making his decision.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources report that Bush’s decision about what to do next about Iraq is being held up by threats from Ankara.
Turkey has notified the US that its army will invade Iraqi Kurdistan shortly after US troops are seen to start leaving Baghdad on their way out of Iraq.
Western observers in Iraq and across the Middle East note the irony.
They held up the US invasion, now they delay its exit
In 2003, Tayyep Erdogan refused after some hedging to allow US invasion forces to mass in southern Turkey and invade Iraq through Kurdistan in the north. American forces were thus prevented from opening a second warfront which would have accelerated the conquest of Baghdad.
(The outgoing US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld calculated at the end of 2003 that Turkey’s denial of a second front against Saddam Hussein prolonged the first phase of the war by three weeks.)
The Erdogan government’s decision now is just as fateful if not more so.
He is not only holding up the evacuation of American troops from Iraq, but tossing a spanner into the White House’s review of its next moves in Iraq in the form of five obstacles:
One: Ankara will not tolerate any symbols of Iraqi Kurdish independence or even limited self-government.
Two: The Turkish army will cross the border and march into Iraqi Kurdistan once US troops begin withdrawing from Baghdad at the start of their exodus from Iraq.
Three: To prevent misunderstandings, Ankara is giving Washington advance notice of its intention to capture the Iraqi Kurdish towns of Irbil, which has been declared capital of Kurdistan, seat of the Kurdish government and parliament and location of its only international air port; the most important northern oil town, Kirkuk, and the cities of Mosul and Tal Afar.
Turkey’s war plan includes the deployment of special forces to control the Kurdistani-Syrian border regions and seal them against the smuggling of weapons and fighters from Syria into Iraq, which US forces failed to accomplish in nearly four years of combat.
Four: Erdogan government planners estimate that, aside from the Americans, there is no Iraq military force between southern Turkey and Baghdad, capable of halting the Turkish advance. They believe Turkish troops need no more than three to four days to subdue the Kurdish peshmerga.
Five: Ankara is fully aware that a Turkish invasion of Iraq may well call forth an Iranian push into eastern Kurdistan but is not put off its own plans. In Washington, it is suspected that Turkey and Iran have come to an arrangement over how to divide Kurdistan between them.
Because all this was going on, Bush mentioned Wednesday that before consulting with the generals, he conversed with the two Kurdish leaders, Jalal Talabani, president of Iraq, and Masoud Barzani, president of Kurdistan. He was unable to shake their resolve to mark the American exit from Iraq by proclaiming an independent Kurdish state and separating it from the Iraqi republic.