Four Months into the Iraq Escalation: America Mired in Iraq’s Violent Power Struggles

As more conservatives break with President Bush and skepticism grows among the American public about staying the course in Iraq, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs is holding a hearing today to ask outside experts whether the Iraq escalation is working. At the same time, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will release “Stand Up and Be Counted: The Continuing Challenge of Building the Iraqi Security Forces,” a devastating 200-page report about U.S. efforts to build Iraq’s security forces.

This report raises red flags about the wisdom of pouring more weapons and money into Iraq’s multiple internal conflicts. The Foreign Affairs Committee hearing offers an opportunity to question the conventional wisdom that arming and training Iraq’s security forces is part of the solution. Both the report and the testimony couldn’t be more timely given the unraveling security situation in Iraq.

Our new study, “Strategic Reset: Reclaiming Control of U,S, Security in the Middle East,” argues that U.S. security assistance to a bitterly divided Iraq is actually part of the problem, and that continuing these efforts in the absence of a political consensus among Iraq’s leaders is making Americans less secure. These efforts are quite possibly arming up different sides of Iraq’s civil wars as well as unwittingly strengthening the hand of Iraqis who are closely aligned with one of our greatest rivals in the Middle East, Iran. 

A quick review of the past week’s events in Iraq shows that the military escalation is doing little more than getting the United States mired more deeply in Iraq’s violent power struggles and draining resources away from the fight against global terror groups. In the four corners of Iraq, Iraqi factions are simply using U.S. military forces to play out their vicious power struggles and Iraq is becoming increasingly fragmented, not rather than unified.

  • In Western Iraq, some U.S. military sources expressed reservations about a new plan to arm tribal groups, with Lt. Col. Rick Welch saying that “not all in the coalition are thrilled to be working with people that we have fought, who are responsible for killing U.S. soldiers.” Former CIA official and Middle East and counterterrorism expert Bruce Riedel argues that this approach is fraught with risks. He says the “allies” the United States is buying off are not reliable and could quickly shift their allegiances against the United States and its allies in the region.
  • Northeast of Baghdad in the Diyala province, U.S. forces fought some vicious battles over the past week in an attempt that was largely portrayed in the media as a fight against Al Qaeda. But General Raymond Odierno, the U.S. operational commander, said that 80 percent of these leaders affiliated with Al Qaeda slipped away before the military operation even began last week, similar to what happened in Fallujah in 2004.
  • The end result of all of these sacrifices in Diyala may be to temporarily re-shift the Sunni-Shi’a balance of power in one Iraqi province. In other words, the United States has just helped the Shi’a- dominated Fifth Division of the Iraqi Army regain some degree of control over a Sunni-majority province. And some Sunnis who previously complained about a campaign of sectarian cleansing on the part of the Shi’a forces before raised renewed concerns about the return of Iraq’s security forces.
  • Demonstrating further how bitterly divided Iraq’s leaders are, this week the Iraqi government issued an arrest warrant for one of its own ministers, Culture Minister Asad Kamal al-Hashimi, a Sunni politician accused of ordering a 2005 assassination attempt on another Sunni secular rival—an attempt that resulted in the deaths of two bodyguards. This should raise serious questions about what sort of Iraqi government the United States is trying to defend in its current strategy.
  • In southern Iraq, U.S. and other Coalition forces battled with Shi’a militias, getting the United States more deeply embroiled in Iraq’s internal battles. One Iraqi provincial security official, Latif al-Tamimi, criticized the “occupation forces” for these operations in which no Iraqi security forces participated.
  • Finally, a new report from the International Crisis Group points out the bitter divisions among Iraqis in Basra, the country’s second largest city. These intra-Shi’a fractures show that simplistic partition solutions for Iraq are not viable and also raise questions about what the United States is ultimately trying to accomplish in Iraq.

The United States military simply cannot settle Iraq’s multiple conflicts. Instead of passively waiting for Iraq’s leaders to settle their differences, and instead of foolishly allowing our most precious national security resources to be used by different sides in Iraq’s internal power struggles, the United States should reclaim control of its security by setting a plan for completing the military mission in Iraq by the end of 2008.

  • To read the Center’s new report click here.
  • To view a video presentation of the new report click here.