By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 1, 2007
In an internal assessment given to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, a senior intelligence analyst and a military planner for the U.S. command in Baghdad call for shifting U.S. strategy in Iraq away from counterinsurgency and toward peace enforcement, and they suggest that the Shiite-led ruling coalition is involved in the country's "low-grade civil war."
The Aug. 15 briefing, titled "Resolving the Conflict in Iraq: An Alternative Peacemaking Strategy," offers an unusual glimpse into the intellectual debate within the U.S. military over the way forward in Iraq, and it comes just days before Petraeus, the top U.S. commander there, is scheduled to testify before Congress on the progress of President Bush's war strategy.
It also reveals how military officers in Iraq are wrestling with how to define the conflict -- whether as a counterinsurgency, civil war or some combination of several contests -- all with major implications for troop deployments and strategy.
Military officials say Petraeus welcomes such unsolicited views even from junior officers and receives papers proposing new ideas several times a week. This briefing, provided to The Washington Post by a third party, represents the authors' personal views and is not official policy.
The 19-page briefing casts doubt on a cornerstone of the U.S. approach in Iraq: the assumption that the Iraqi government seeks to build a multi-sectarian society. The report says that the U.S. troop increase this year has reduced violence and led many insurgent groups to seek reconciliation, but that in response the government has shown "little enthusiasm." Instead, it describes elements of the Shiite-dominated ruling coalition as at least tacitly supporting sectarian violence as a way to solidify its power.
"Rather than conducting a counterinsurgency that supports a sectarian driven Iraqi government, the coalition should focus all elements of power on activities that facilitate a long-term peace or we risk becoming/remaining a part of the civil war," the briefing says.
Col. Steven Boylan, Petraeus's spokesman, disputed that conclusion. "They make assumptions about the government of Iraq that are not valid," Boylan said. "Saying the ruling coalition is party to the civil war, that is not what we see."
The authors argue that a shift in strategy on the ground could help forge a new consensus on Iraq in Washington: "The peacemaking process should be well underway by January 2008 or we may find that we have tactically created the space and time necessary but there has been insufficient progress towards reconciliation and reintegration -- resulting in a total collapse of political support in both the domestic public and the US Congress."
The briefing calls for a shift to a strategy of peace enforcement, starting as early as this month, that would emphasize "balanced targeting" of fighters from all sects and protecting the population from "any and all threats," including, if necessary, Iraqi security forces. It describes the Iraqi local and national police as sectarian and untrustworthy forces that need overhauling or disbanding.
The briefing notes that U.S. brigade and battalion commanders in many Iraqi communities have already adopted tactics associated with peace enforcement -- including efforts to disarm militias, promote political reconciliation, reintegrate Sunnis into society and monitor the Iraqi security forces to prevent abuses.
To sustain the recent reductions in violence, the authors say, U.S. forces should adopt a more neutral stance toward the Iraqi government and focus on facilitating dialogue between the government and the disenfranchised Sunni population. As a result of such a change, "we are likely to find ourselves at odds with the current ruling coalition" in Baghdad, the assessment says.
The briefing's authors -- one military and one civilian -- emphasized that their unclassified report was intended for internal discussion only. They requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of their positions with the military division that oversees Baghdad, and they said their perspective is drawn from conditions in Baghdad rather than from Iraq as a whole.
A copy of the briefing was given to the U.S. commander for Baghdad, Army Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., and to Petraeus. "These are great academic exercises," Boylan said. "Some of the things in there we are already doing. But it's not a policy that is being implemented."
A campaign plan adopted this summer by Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker departed from the idea that the Iraq conflict is simply a counterinsurgency that requires wholesale support for the government.
"What we did with the campaign plan is recognize that you can't do unconditional support of the government," said a senior military official involved with planning in Iraq. "There are certain elements that are interested in a sectarian agenda."
The plan depicts the Iraq conflict as including elements of an insurgency, terrorism, and "a communal struggle for power and survival" between Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish groups, the official said.
Already, U.S. commanders and officials have succeeded in pressuring Iraq's government to investigate and replace sectarian leaders in the police, army and ministries, senior military officials said, but they noted that political reconciliation will take time and lag behind improvements in security.
Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised Petraeus, said he agrees with the briefing's authors that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government is a party to a civil war but added that if Washington endorsed that view it would make the efforts of Petraeus, Crocker and others to encourage Maliki to pursue reconciliation extremely difficult.