By Colin Foster
The USA's Iraq Study Group, led by Republican old-stager James Baker, is due to present its ideas on 6 December.
In the run-up, another leading Washington think-tank has put out a report on Options for Iraq (29 November). The New York Times has published two leaked top-level memos: one (29 November) written on 8 November by new US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley on ideas for a "major adjustment" of US Iraq policy; the other (3 December) written by Donald Rumsfeld on 6 November, shortly before he was pushed out as Defense Secretary.
No-one outside the White House, and possibly not many people inside the White House either, can tell which of the welter of different expedients in these documents the US government will adopt.
All that's clear is that US policy is in flux; and that none of the options on the table shows good prospects of bringing freedom, self-determination, and democracy to Iraq, nor deserves the endorsement of socialists.
The backdrop is a continued worsening of the simmering sectarian civil war in Iraq. According to Iraqi Interior Ministry figures, the number of Iraqi civilians killed increased 44 percent from October to November. UN figures for killings are roughly twice the Iraqi Interior Ministry figures, and show 3,709 killings in October (no figures yet for November). The Beirut Daily Star reports Baghdad morgue figures more in line with the higher UN estimates.
Only 30% of Iraq's 3.5 million students are currently attending classes compared with 75% last school year.
The Options for Iraq report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies reckons that things will get worse in the near future whatever the USA does. "The US", it concludes, " cannot simply 'stay the course'... It needs new options to reverse the drift towards a major civil war". What new options? "There are no truly good options".
The Hadley memo is in tune with US attempts over the last couple of years to restrain the Shia sectarianism of the current Iraqi government and to draw at least sections of the Sunni "resistance" into negotiations. It lambasts the Baghdad government for "nondelivery of services to Sunni areas, intervention by the prime minister's office to stop military action against Shia targets and to encourage them against Sunni ones, removal of Iraq's most effective commanders on a sectarian basis and efforts to ensure Shia majorities in all ministries..."
Hadley's cure is to push Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki into breaking his links with Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army movement and basing himself on "a new parliamentary bloc" of "moderate politicians from Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other communities".
But Maliki was able to become prime minister only through a political alliance with Sadr. The other (Shia) political force that might conceivably sustain him - SCIRI - is as guilty as the Sadrists of sectarian violence, or more so. Hadley's postulated "bloc of moderate politicians" across the communities does not exist. If the US pushes Maliki into military conflict with Sadr, it is more likely to worsen the violence and chaos than to mend it.
In any case, Hadley got his answer three weeks later, when Maliki, bowing to Sadrist pressure, refused to join a scheduled meeting with Bush on 29 November.
Rumsfeld's options for "a major adjustment" took as precondition a need to "recast the US military mission and the US goals (how we talk about them) - go minimalist..." He suggested that the USA use carrots with Iraqi politicians rather than the sticks suggested by Hadley: "provide money to key political and religious leaders (as Saddam Hussein did), to get them to help us get through this difficult period..." (In fact the USA has already been doing this - financing Allawi's movement, for example - but without much success).
Rumsfeld suggested "a massive program for unemployed youth. It would have to be run by US forces, since no other organisation could do it". But mostly he put forward options such as:
• "An accelerated draw-down of US bases... from 110... to 5 bases by July 2007"
• "Withdraw US forces from... cities, patrolling, etc... and move US forces to a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) status, operating from within Iraq and Kuwait..."
• "Begin modest withdrawals of US and Coalition forces..."
• "Transfer more US equipment to [the currently very under-equipped] Iraqi Security forces (ISF)..."
He proposed "no more reconstruction assistance in areas where there is violence", a more-or-less exact opposite to Hadley's wish to force the Baghdad government to reverse its current denial of services to heavily-Sunni areas.As a possible but "less attractive option". Rumsfeld postulated: "Set a firm withdrawal date..."
At the end of November, the USA did announce that a second division of the Iraqi army had been handed over to nominal Iraqi government control (the other eight still remaining under US control).
ABC News on 28 November reported that "Pentagon officials are considering a major strategic shift in Iraq, to move US forces out of the dangerous Sunni-dominated al-Anbar province".
But back in mid-2005 the USA was already trumpeting "handovers to the Iraqi army" in some areas, and talking about troop withdrawals, to be "balanced" by a greater use of US airpower. The US ambassador in Iraq reportedly promised Arab governments that US troops would be pulled out of Iraq by November 2007. (See Solidarity 3/85). That strategy failed.
In summer 2006, mounting chaos pushed the USA to put large numbers of US troops on the streets of Baghdad to "reclaim" the city - a small version of the policy "put in a lot more US troops for a short time to sort it all out" proposed by leading Republican John McCain. That failed too.
Wouldn't Rumsfeld's "less attractive option" of a "firm" and presumably close "date for withdrawal" at least grant the peoples of Iraq the freedom of self-determination? More likely, to a full flaming-up of sectarian civil war, the disintegration of Iraq, and, along the way, the crushing of the Iraqi labour movement - the opposite of self-determination.
The US/UK invasion of 2003, and the brutal, arrogant, clumsy occupation which followed, in a country already shattered by years of totalitarianism, war, and sanctions, has created an intractable mess from which there is no plausible way out by way of "better" US policy. The only hope, and a flickering one at present, lies with the new Iraqi labour movement, and international working-class support for that movement against both the US/UK and the sectarian militias.
James Baker's "Iraq Study Group" is expected to suggest that the USA somehow enlist the help of Iran and Syria since, whatever their conflicts with the USA, they cannot want chaos and collapse on their borders.
But then, according to the Beirut paper Al-Hayat, at the meeting in Amman at the end of November, Bush's Arab allies (Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt) strongly opposed the USA offering Iran or Syria any concessions of the sort that would be needed to make such cooperation even thinkable.
Meanwhile, Lebanon has lurched - maybe not decisively, but lurched - towards civil war between the Lebanese constituencies aligned with Iran and Syria, and those aligned with the USA. The interaction between the USA and Iran and
Syria looks more likely to start civil war in Lebanon than to stop it in Iraq.