Washington Must Go Back to Square One to Forestall a Bleaker Future

Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s forthcoming announcement of a full amnesty for all Iraqi armed groups willing to lay down arms is the upshot of an intensive flurry of US-Iraqi diplomatic activity that occupied the first part of the week.

From Camp David, President George W. Bush held a video-conference with the Iraqi prime minister on June 12 accompanied by exhaustive consultations with American commanders in Iraq. The climax was the US president’s unheralded visit to Baghdad Tuesday, June 13.

Five days earlier, al Qaeda’s commander Abu Musab al Zarqawi was killed and the Shiite prime minister was able to fill in the last, vital spaces in his ruling cabinet – two coups that, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources, were grimly overshadowed by an alarming secret report put before the US president beforehand on the state of play in Iraq.

The White House has clamped a top-secret stamp on this report, the identities of its authors and its extremely grave findings which are couched in the bluntest terms ever put before the president.

Here are some of its contents as garnered by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources.

The report starts out with a piece of bleak advice: abandon all speculation on an exit strategy for US troops from Iraq, because this option is non-viable given the current situation on the ground.


No end in sight for the Iraq war


The United States and its leaders must accept that they are in for a long war that stretches out into the future with no end in sight. The unvarnished language is unusual in this type of official report to Washington’s highest echelons.

Furthermore, the picture of the situation in Iraq as presented to the administration, partly on the strength of data provided by the Pentagon and the CIA, is frankly termed misleading. The president has been given a garbled picture described in the report as a “fish eye” view, whereby progress in building the Iraqi army and security services is greatly overstated to overlay a far gloomier reality. US military and diplomatic officials in Iraq are accused of a tendency to play down the hazards and embellish Iraqi security forces’ capabilities and self-assurance.

Furthermore, all the estimates of Iraq’s progress towards economic reconstruction are grossly exaggerated.

Since the United States and its army cannot avoid a long-range presence in Iraq – even if it is reduced in numbers – three key courses are strongly recommended to Washington to make this prolonged stay feasible.

1. To prevent the country at all costs from breaking up into three entities ruled by Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis – in other words, a heavy brake must be applied to reverse a process already racing forward.

2. To build a political, military and economic support system for the central government in Baghdad.

3. To start rebuilding Iraqi’s military and security forces from scratch.

4. To get going on the reconstruction of Iraq’s economy and its oil industry.


The insurgency


According to official assessments, some 80% of all terrorist attacks are the work of the various al Qaeda components or allies. This is refuted in the report which points to a far grimmer reality: Al Qaeda is responsible for less than half of those attacks, whereas most are executed by indigenous Sunni insurgent and pro-Baathist guerrilla groups. Another finding is that suicide attacks cause less fatalities than routine strikes, such as roadside bombs, ambushes and assaults by large numbers of gunmen.

Although the total number of suicide car bombings and booby-trapped vehicular strikes has diminished, the death toll keeps on rising.

In 2005, the insurgents mounted an average 470 attacks per week; in last three months, the figure has leapt to 620.

Eighty percent of all attacks target American forces. Official US military planning and briefings are confined to dealing with violence in the four troubled provinces of Diyala, Anbar, Salah-e-din and Babel.

But insurgent activity is far more prevalent and widespread than the US military appreciates, say the new report’s compilers. A further 12 provinces which are peopled by half of Iraq’s population are well within the radius of terror. Therefore, 16 of Iraq’s 18 provinces – not just four – are prey to routine violence. As time goes on, the Iraqi army is expected to suffer from a rising tide of attacks.


Iraq‘s domestic politics


Iraq’s secular political grounding has been more or less swept away by the various stages of the democratic process the United States has applied in the last three years. The secular political grouppings  have fallen by the wayside of elections, referenda and American projects for building the post-Saddam ruling regime in Baghdad. So thoroughly have these structures, which the United States should have promoted in the body politic, been overturned, that only 9% of the Iraqi legislature’s incumbent members can claim to have no religious affiliation or dependency. This unhealthy situation must be reversed.


The Iraqi army and security forces


Three chronic problems plaguing the military and security establishment have still not been treated:

One, an extremely high desertion rate, which in some units is as high as 40-50%.

Two, Many of the army battalions are far from combat worthy. But even those who are, exhibit fighting ability only when they are supported by US forces. Without them, those Iraqi soldiers opt out of combat.

Three, Iraqi Special Forces, basically militias, are the only effective military forces in Iraq. Some of them are of very high quality, even on a par with US special forces. However, their main shortcoming is that their commanders and men lack commitment to a regular command structure and are therefore short on discipline. They are motivated entirely by partisan or self-interest.


The economy


The report directs a blistering attack on the CIA’s economic evaluations.

While the Central Intelligence Agency reported to the administration that the average per capita income in Iraq had risen in 2005 to $1,350 dollars, the truth is that it plummeted to below the $1,200 level. The CIA estimated that gross national product stood now at $46.5 billion, whereas it is down to $32 billion.

Iraq’s oil refineries are working at only 50% of their capacity.

The revenue from Iraq’s product of 2.2 million barrels of oil a day jumped because of rising world oil prices to $3 billion a month. New equipment and technology could quickly raise output , so that within three to four years, it could be doubled to 4.5 million barrels a day and yield an income of $6 billion a month at current prices.

This rosy prospect depends on the United States and Iraqi government putting a stop to the wholesale theft of oil by the militias, which smuggle increasing quantities of pirated oil across the borders to foreign agents. (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 254 of May 19: Wholesale Oil Plunder by Shiite Militias.)

No progress has been made in securing the Iraqi population regular supplies of water and electricity or repairing the national sewage system.

President Bush has often referred to improvements in these fields to demonstrate the great strides the Iraqi economy has made since the US invasion, whereas, according to the report, the entire reconstruction endeavor is a flop and the colossal $22 billion investment has gone down the drain.

For any hope of progress, this process too must go back to square one and start again.

The key recommendation offered in this chapter of the report for resuscitating the Iraq economy is for American-Iraqi efforts to focus on taking full control of the oil industry and putting it on its feet. Without this basic step, the Iraqi economy does not stand a chance.

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