What Next in Iraq?
Friends Committee on National
Legislation - Washington newsletter, October 2004
When voters go to the polls this November,
the war and occupation of Iraq will be a major issue on their
minds. Candidates have made the war in Iraq, as well as the broader
"war on terror," a core issue in their campaigns. Many
voters want answers to still unaddressed questions: How long will
U.S. troops be in Iraq? How many more troops will be called up?
How much will it all cost? How many more lives will be lost? Can
a sovereign, peaceful Iraq really emerge from the current chaos?
What's the U.S. exit strategy?
No matter who takes office in January,
answers to these questions may be difficult to come by. At a September
15 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, senators
from both sides of the aisle expressed rising frustration over
the ongoing crisis and the lack of planning on the part of the
administration. Democrat Sen. Biden (DE) stated forthrightly that
the U.S. is "at the end of its rope" in Iraq. Republican
Sen. Hagel (NE) urged administration officials not to "delude
ourselves" with claims of progress on the ground.
What members of Congress, the U.S. public,
and even some in the administration are increasingly acknowledging
is that without significant policy change, violence in Iraq will
only continue to escalate, perhaps spiraling into civil war.
Transfer to What?
Despite President Bush's claims of "mission
accomplished" more than a year ago, violence and insecurity
drag on in Iraq. Following the June transfer of "limited
sovereignty" to an interim Iraqi government, attacks against
U.S. and other foreign troops, Iraqi security forces, and civilians
have escalated steadily, as have kidnappings and attacks against
international contractors and aid workers.
In early September, the U.S. marked the
milestone of 1,000 U.S. soldiers killed. It also began launching
more offensive operations in Sadr City, Fallujah, Mosul, and other
contested areas around Baghdad. Estimates of the Iraqi death toll
are difficult to confirm but range between 11,000 and 37,000 killed.
Thousands more have been wounded or left homeless.
Meanwhile, lack of security has brought
reconstruction to a near standstill. As of mid-September, only
around $1 billion of the $18.4 billion appropriated by Congress
for reconstruction had been spent. On September 15, administration
officials appeared before Congress to formally request approval
to transfer some $3.46 billion of reconstruction fundsoriginally
appropriated for water, sewage, and electricity infrastructure
projects-to pay for increased security and law enforcement, boost
oil outputs, provide debt relief, and create jobs. As one Republican
senator noted, the transfer request, however necessary, was a
clear acknowledgment that "we are in big trouble." The
same day, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned, "You cannot
have credible elections [in Iraq] if the security conditions continue
as they are now."
A recent study by the Center for Strategic
and International Studies concurs. Researchers examining five
areas of Iraqi life-security, governance and participation, economic
opportunity, services, and social well-being-found deteriorating
situations across the board, even in areas where some progress
had been made in the past year. The lack of public security is
only the most obvious problem. Food insecurity impacts 60% of
Iraqis, and 55% live below the poverty line. Between 30% and 50%
remain unemployed (estimates on unemployment vary widely). Interviews
with Iraqis found most people have only limited confidence in
the interim government or new Iraqi police and army. Polls show
a growing majority expressing open resentment and opposition to
the presence of U.S. troops, 140,000 of whom remain in Iraq.
What Does FCNL Advocate Now?
As the possibility for a democratic, peaceful
Iraq emerging from the churning chaos becomes increasingly remote,
many policymakers in Washington are looking for a way out of the
quagmire. Policy think tanks as diverse as the Center for American
Progress, the Institute for Policy Studies, and the CATO Institute
have been calling for an exit strategy. On September 10, an editorial
in The Financial Times announced, "Time to Consider Iraq
Withdrawal." While proposals differ on what a U.S. exit from
Iraq would look like, they all point to the same question facing
this and the next Congress and White House: In the midst of escalating
violence, how can the U.S. support the creation of a sovereign,
peaceful Iraq and bring its troops home safely?
Military solutions will not resolve the
dilemma. Policy solutions will not be easy to identify or implement.
Neither proclamations that the U.S. must be resolute and stay
the course -a course which has clearly failed-nor calls for immediate
withdrawal of all troops address the difficult realities of the
disaster that the U.S. has created in Iraq. No matter what choices
are made now, the long string of failures and mistakes by the
U.S. have done lasting, irreversible damage.
Still, significant policy changes now
could help reduce the violence, create space for Iraqis to build
their own future, and pave the way for full withdrawal of U.S.
Specifically, FCNL recommends:
* The U.S. immediately end offensive military
operations in Iraq and withdraw its troops from urban areas.
* The U.S. relinquish control over security,
economic reconstruction, and the political transition to the interim
* The administration submit to Congress
and the U.S. public a comprehensive plan for a responsible withdrawal
from Iraq. The plan should include a full accounting of the costs
and steps for fulfilling U.S. obligations under international
law while ending the occupation.
* Congress reallocate reconstruction aid
in Iraq away from large U.S. contractors toward Iraqiled projects
and local job creation.
o Congress establish an independent investigation
into abuses by U.S. military and civilian personnel and contractors
at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and other places of detentions
in the "war on terror."
* The U.S. state publicly that it has
no plans to establish long-tin or permanent military bases in
Iraq. Such a commitment is needed to alleviate fears in the region
that the U.S. is seeking new bases to secure access to Middle
* The administration redouble efforts
to establish and support an international protection force for
the UN elections team and other UN civilian staff.
* Congress use its power of the purse
to condition any future funding for operations in Iraq on these
Act Now: In this election season, urge
candidates to take a stand on these issues. Ask them whether they
will vote to escalate the war in Iraq, or to end it.