Iraq: The Options Before the USA

The Iraq Study Group’s report is out. Surprisingly it has recommended a time line for the US pull out from Iraq.

The Economist, in its most recent issue has indicated the perils of such a policy. Well the options before the United States at this time is not a pull out based on a certainty of timing but one which is carried out after restoration of peace and stability in Iraq.

The chaos that is Iraq today has to be undone. While skeptics have blamed the US for the same, realistic appraisal would reveal that this was an event which was bound to happen. The dictatorial rule of a despot had to fall. The inequities within a society which was being controlled through dissension, a typical colonial mindset of divide and rule had to go.

America took the plunge and decided to set things right despite a history of outside powers having failed to bring about change in nation states. Now that this reality has dawned upon it, it has to ensure that when it leaves Iraq, the Iraqis are under a democratic administration, the infra structure is working, the economy is getting back on rails and the law and order is in place.

This is America’s moral responsibility as the sole global power today. Regrettably there will be more sacrifice required by the American soldiers, who have already suffered a lot in Iraq. But there are no options, or America will have a permanent blot of a global power having failed to restore order for perhaps what could be the third or fourth time in recent history.

Agreed the situation is not too favorable and American presence is not appreciated in Iraq. But this perception can be changed if the Americans play their cards right and are determined to ensure restoration of the situation in a holistic manner.

Security-economy-polity-social institutions and identity reductionism have to all go hand in hand and the strategy needs to be forged towards the same. The situation is grim no doubt, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

In a recent report, the influential British Medical Journal Lancet indicated that civilian casualties in Iraq crossed the total figure of 100,000. The media and particularly influential opinion makers as Fareed Zakaria have dubbed the situation in Iraq as a civil war.

The Iraq Security Group was provided a political impetus with Democrats having gained majority in the Congress and Senate during the recent elections according it the highest priority. Resignation of Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld has also opened scope for arriving at a broad based solution. The options are relatively limited with Turkey and other West Asian states with a Kurdish population having ruled out any scope for creation of a separate Kurdish state. Colloquially speaking the options are referred to as, “Go Home,” “Go Big” and “Go Longer.” These are discussed as follows:-

(a) Status Quo or “Go Big.” Continuance of military operations as hitherto fore with an increase in the level of forces. This is not likely to result in any substantial gains as the present policy is self defeating and does not address the core issue of law and order and security. An increase in force level will also be unacceptable to the people of Iraq.

(b) The “Go Home” Option. Immediate withdrawal of non-Iraqi forces to let the Iraqis resolve the problems internally. This is likely to create a power vacuum in much the same way after Saddam’s removal resulting in total anarchy. Thus it is not a viable option.

(c) “Go Longer” Review the present policy of conduct of operations; first create a blanket of security step by step and area by area handing over stabilized areas to Iraqi forces. This move could be carried out from populated to less populated areas assisting Iraqi forces to gain control. This will overcome the serious objections in the Iraqi population of the large scale presence of US troops in close vicinity while at the same time avoid the perils of a security vacuum.

The United States has to accept responsibility to see the Iraq operation through by restoring law and order which could be done selectively, province by province or by deploying more troops tackling a large number of areas simultaneously. A pull back would also leave Iran as the key player in the Middle East, a situation which is not to US liking.

Rahul K Bhonsle
Rahul K. Bhonsle is a Strategic Risk and Knowledge Management Consultant and writer with specific focus on defence and security, especially in South Asia.