Twenty Questions on Iraq

America's leaders in Congress need to ask the tough questions to help get America's Iraq policy back on the right track.

America’s leaders in Congress need to ask the tough questions to help get America’s Iraq policy back on the right track. Here are twenty questions:

1. How does the Bush administration define precisely what it means for the Iraqi security forces to “stand up?”

President Bush says repeatedly that when the Iraqis stand up, American troops will stand down. The Pentagon’s August 2006 report to Congress states that more than a quarter of a million Iraqi security forces—Army and police—had been trained and equipped, a sign that the Iraqis are “standing up.” Over the past few months, the Iraqi government assumed greater control of its own territory and parts of its armed forces.

Yet the overall American troop presence in Iraq increased by more than 10 percent since late July, from 127,000 to 140,000. American troops are not standing down, even as the Iraqi security forces as standing up.

2. What incentives exist today for the Iraqi leadership to take greater responsibility for its own affairs?

President Bush recently indicated that American troops will be in Iraq as long as he is in office. This open-ended commitment risks creating a culture of dependency among Iraq’s leaders and may serve as a disincentive for them to take control of their own affairs. What programs does the Bush policy for Iraq have to create incentives for Iraqis to take control of their own affairs?

3. What’s the status of a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s instability and the possibility of civil war?

In late July, Congressional leaders requested that the Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte prepare a National Intelligence Estimate that includes an assessment about whether Iraq is in a civil war. Negroponte ordered an update of the NIE in early August. What is the status of this updated report, and will a declassified version be made available to the public?

4. Has “Operation Together Forward” in Baghdad achieved sufficient progress in stabilizing Iraq’s capital?

Nearly three months ago, the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi government announced a joint military operation to quell the violence in Baghdad called “Operation Together Forward.”

After some initial claims of progress, there were conflicting reports this week about whether the violence in Baghdad had declined.

5. What is the status of the efforts to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq?

After eliminating Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq in June and capturing some other leaders of the terrorist group, the Iraqi government and U.S. military forces are still being attacked and receiving threats from the terrorist group in Iraq.

6. What is the Bush administration’s cost-to-completion estimate for its Iraq policy?

A July report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office criticized President Bush’s “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” stating that it does not fully outline the current and future costs of implementing the strategy.

7. Which agency has primary responsibility for each of the action items outlined in the Bush administration’s Iraq strategy?

The same July GAO report said the Bush administration’s Iraq strategy did not fully outline the agencies responsible for implementing key aspects of the strategy. In addition, National Security Presidential Directive 36 outlines a divided chain of command between the Pentagon and State Department, a management structure that results in continued implementation problems on the ground in Iraq.

8. What are the Bush administration’s contingency plans for helping address the growing problem of internally displaced Iraqis?

Earlier this year, the United Nations estimated that 1.2 million Iraqis have been internally displaced and require assistance, and recent reports demonstrate that this problem continues to grow because of sustained sectarian cleansing. In addition, nearly a million Iraqis have left the country since the start of the war in 2003.

9. What is the status of the efforts to disband militias that operate independently from the Iraqi government?

The August Pentagon report on Iraq states that militias are more entrenched than ever before. In the past three months, the Iraqi security forces and the American military have stepped up operations against these militias. What is the status of this effort? How much progress has been achieved to date, and what are the major challenges ahead?

10. Does the Bush administration stand by its original certification that Iraq has not undermined the effort against terrorism?

The law authorizing the use of force in Iraq requires the President to consider the impact of an invasion on the ongoing war on terrorism. Specifically, before making the decision to invade, Congress required the Bush administration to certify that the Iraq war would not undermine the effort against terrorism. On March 18, 2003, President Bush submitted a letter to Congress in which he made clear his analysis that invading Iraq “is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorist and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.”

11. What is the administration’s plan for rebuilding the damage done to the Army and Marines?

Several recent analyses demonstrate that operations in Iraq are exerting a negative effect on the strength of U.S. ground forces. The military operation in Iraq has eroded the strength of U.S. ground forces, causing equipment shortages for the Army and Marines. According to unclassified reports, two-thirds of the brigade combat teams in America’s fighting force are unprepared, and nearly every active Army combat brigade not currently deployed is not ready for battle. In addition, the Congressional Research Service recently estimated that the costs of Iraq represented nearly three quarters of all of the expenses for the offensive operations in the global war on terrorism, including operations in Afghanistan. Does the Bush administration have a plan and funding request to address the equipment shortages that have resulted from the extended engagement in Iraq?

12. What is the plan to support and protect the Military Transition Teams assisting Iraqi troops?

U.S. Military Transition Teams are a key part of the Bush administration’s strategy for offering support to the nascent Iraqi security forces, yet reports have surfaced that these teams are not receiving sufficient support and equipment. In addition, some of these teams are isolated from the rest of the force, raising concerns about force protection.

13. What are the Bush administration’s long-term plans for construction of American military installations in Iraq?

Earlier this year, the Bush administration requested more than $1.1 billion for new military construction in Iraq—double what it plans to spend in Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates combined.

14. What is the status of provincial reconstruction teams for Iraq reconstruction and what have each of these teams achieved thus far?

President Bush touted provincial reconstruction teams as a cornerstone to his plans for reconstruction in Iraq, with initial plans for 16 teams. The most recent report from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad indicates that only about half of the teams had been formed.

15. What are the specific priority action items for diplomatic and development assistance with Iraq’s political transition and democratic development?

In October 2005, Iraqis voted in a constitutional referendum with the understanding that there would be a four-month window for special revisions to the constitution. Nearly nine months after the December elections and three months after the formation of the Iraqi government, there have been no clear signs of progress on making constitutional revisions. A third of Iraq’s members of parliament were not present when the Iraqi parliament convened earlier this week, and so far the parliament has passed four minor laws, two of them concerning government employment.

16. What contingency plans does the Bush administration have in place if Iraqi leaders decide to set up a system that decentralizes power?

Leading Shiite lawmakers in Iraq’s parliament will introduce a measure to open the door for the creation of a semiautonomous region in Iraq’s southern Shiite-majority provinces. If Iraq’s leaders move toward a system of strongly decentralized federalism, how might this affect the U.S. strategy to provide security, political, and economic assistance? Much of the current U.S. effort is focused on building a national Army, but what if Iraqis decide to place greater power in the hands of regional and local governing authorities?

17. What is the Bush administration’s strategy to stabilize northern Iraq, which has seen cross-border strikes by Turkish and Iranian forces against Kurdish rebel groups, such as the Kurdistan Workers Party, and what plans does the Bush administration have to keep tensions from spilling over in Kirkuk?

During the last six months, both Turkey and Iran have attacked positions held by Kurdish rebel groups inside of Iraq’s borders. Both countries claim that Kurdish rebel groups have used Iraqi territory to stage attacks.

Moreover, the divided northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk is a flashpoint in Iraqi politics, with recent warnings emerging of ethnic and sectarian tensions threatening to erupt into open conflict. Last month, there was more violence between Arabs and Kurds over land and property disputes.

18. Why isn’t the administration rushing to field new technologies that can protect our troops from RPGs, the second-most deadly weapon used by the Iraqi insurgents?

Press reports say that an Israeli-designed system called “Trophy” is over 90 percent effective in tests against RPGs and could be fielded this year. But Pentagon bureaucrats have blocked its procurement in order to protect an American company’s design which won’t be ready until 2011.

19. What is the Bush administration’s plan to ensure that assistance pledged by other international donors is delivered?

Only about one-fourth of the money pledged by other international donors in the 2003 Madrid conference has been delivered. On Sunday, September 10, many of these donors will meet in Abu Dhabi to discuss international assistance to Iraq.

20. What is the status of the international compact for Iraq, similar to the one formed for Afghanistan?

In July, the U.N. and the Iraqi government launched an International Compact for Iraq, a five-year plan designed help rebuild Iraq’s economy and political institutions. What role is the United States playing in its formation, and what kind of support will it give the compact once it is promulgated at the end of the year?

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 (Brian Katulis)

Brian Katulis

Former Senior Fellow