THE VIEW FROM IRAQ

Threats Wrapped in Misunderstandings

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By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 7, 2006

BAGHDAD, Dec. 6 -- The Iraq Study Group's prescriptions hinge on a fragile Iraqi government's ability to achieve national reconciliation and security at a time when the country is fractured along sectarian lines, its security forces are ineffective and competing visions threaten to collapse the state, Iraqi politicians and analysts said Wednesday.

They said the report is a recipe, backed by threats and disincentives, that neither addresses nor understands the complex forces that fuel Iraq's woes. They described it as a strategy largely to help U.S. troops return home and resurrect America's frayed influence in the Middle East.

Iraqis also expressed fear that the report's recommendations, if implemented, could weaken an already besieged government in a country teetering on the edge of civil war.

"It is a report to solve American problems, and not to solve Iraq's problems," said Ayad al-Sammarai, an influential Sunni Muslim politician.

The report arrives at a time of turmoil within the Iraqi government. Senior politicians from Iraq's two major sects, Sunnis and Shiites, have been assassinated or kidnapped in recent weeks. Entire ministries are under the control of sect-based political parties with their own militias.

Three weeks ago, as many as 150 employees were abducted from the Higher Education Ministry, run by a Sunni, by men in police uniforms who said they were from the Interior Ministry, which is controlled by Shiites. And last week, powerful politicians loyal to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr walked out of the government, and have yet to return.

U.S. diplomats have been urging Iraq's government to engage in a process of national reconciliation aimed at giving Sunnis a greater role, but the Shiite-led administration has been largely unwilling to do so. It is unclear whether increased pressure, as called for by the group led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former representative Lee H. Hamilton, will result in Shiite leaders moving forward with a new power-sharing agreement.

The mistrust and divisions within the weak unity government are so deep that it is not certain whether the study group's recommendations -- such as using outside powers to exert diplomatic pressure and building a well-trained Iraqi army -- can be effective, or might instead deepen the political and sectarian rifts.

"The main obstacle and challenge is the current government," said Wamidh Nadhmi, a political analyst in Baghdad. "The Baker-Hamilton report is insisting on national reconciliation. This has not been done, only in government propaganda."

For months, the Bush administration has pressured the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to take steps toward bringing the warring groups together and tackle Iraq's violent militias and corruption. But the Iraq Study Group recommends withdrawing U.S. support if the Iraqis fail to show advances.

"If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government," the report's executive summary says.

For some Iraqis, the statement suggested that the report's authors did not grasp, or refused to acknowledge, the diverse ambitions, rivalries and weaknesses that plague the government. The Kurds have dreams of creating an independent state. The Sunnis appear leaderless, yet seek a political voice. The Shiites are riven by feuds. There are disagreements over partitioning Iraq, over whether to restore members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to their old jobs, over whether amnesty should be given to opponents of the government and the U.S. occupation.


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