Asking for Help on Iraq Reconstruction

Brian Katulis and Lawrence Korb explain that Bush has the opportunity to use his speech to the U.N. to get much-needed help with Iraq reconstruction.

Once again, going it alone has not worked. But President Bush has the opportunity to make securing Iraq an international priority rather than strictly a national burden when he appears before the United Nations General Assembly tomorrow.

Heading into his final 16 months in office, this speech is President Bush’s last meaningful chance to gain support for a new diplomatic surge and prioritize a global framework for marshalling international support for helping Iraq’s leaders settle their differences peacefully so that they can begin rebuilding their country.

Iraq’s conflict will end only when Iraqis conclude that it is no longer in their self-interest to kill other Iraqis in their quest for power. The United States’ strategy of going it alone has not stemmed the violence, and it is time for President Bush to get other countries with influence and leverage on Iraq’s leaders to help strike power-sharing deals to stop the violence. It is time to take active steps to convince other countries that their national interests require them to do their share in Iraq.

Two decades ago, Lebanon’s civil war came to an end not because of U.S. military intervention, but primarily because of diplomatic efforts by members of the Arab League. The president needs to recognize that such bold diplomatic action and a change of course is necessary for four reasons:

  • Iraq’s leaders remain deadlocked over fundamental power-sharing questions. The objective of the surge—to facilitate Iraq’s national political reconciliation—has not been achieved, and there is little hope for progress on the horizon. Despite two elections and a constitutional referendum in 2005, the Iraqi political process is so dysfunctional that it is incapable of settling the key disputes at the heart of Iraq’s struggles for power.
  • The levels of violence inside of Iraq remain dangerously high. Violence is spiking between Shi’a factions in the south, ongoing tensions are pitting Sunnis versus Shi’a in the center part of the country, and Arabs are fighting Kurds in the north.
  • What happens in Iraq is not staying in Iraq. Already more than 2 million Iraqis have fled to neighboring countries, and both Iran and Turkey have conducted cross-border strikes in response to threats posed by Kurdish rebels.
  • An urgent call for increased international support is necessary because the so-called “coalition of the willing” is dwindling and U.S. ground forces are reaching a breaking point. The number of troops committed by other countries—at one point well over 50,000—has dwindled to a little over 11,000. And come next spring, the United States will not be able maintain the existing level of ground forces itself, even if it wishes to do so.

President Bush should use the impending expiration of the current U.N. Security Council Resolution on Iraq as the impetus for proposing a new U.N. mandate for Iraq that incorporates all of the different components of international commitments quietly assembled during the past year. A new resolution should connect the dots between initiatives already set into motion, including the International Compact for Iraq, a five-year plan with goals for Iraq’s national reconciliation and economic reconstruction. It should also seek to respond to offers from counties such as Pakistan and Indonesia that recently offered to send troops as peacekeepers to Iraq at the Organization of Islamic Conference meeting in May of this year.

President Bush has one last chance this week to send a clear signal to the world that while the United States is willing to lead on helping to solve the many problems facing Iraq, it is not able to go it alone. If Iraq remains a failed state it will not only affect the security of the United States but the international community as well.

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 (Brian Katulis)

Brian Katulis

Former Senior Fellow

Lawrence J. Korb

Senior Fellow