National Security Network

President Dodges Responsibility on Iraq – As Spate of Violence Shows Many Challenges Ahead

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Report 3 December 2008

Iraq Iraq Intelligence Community Iraqi government kurdistan Maliki President Bush SOFA


This week has seen two contrary Iraq-related developments: a troubling spate of violence that has killed more than 50 Iraqis in bombings the last two days, and an attempt by President Bush to blame the intelligence community, members of Congress, world leaders and the previous administration, for the faulty intelligence presented to justify the war. His allies’ claims that the surge has achieved “victory” are not simply premature, but underestimate the many challenges confronting Iraq. The potential flashpoints include: rising tensions between Kurds and the Maliki government; the outcome and conduct of the provincial elections and the referendum on the Security Agreement; and the continuingly challenging integration of the Sunni Sons of Iraq into the Shia-dominated Iraqi state security forces. These are problems that our troops can’t solve and will represent a major challenge for the United States in the coming years. As Bush bequeaths this highly volatile situation to the next administration, he is now attempting to rewrite history and dodge responsibility for his role in starting the war. President Bush in recent interviews admitted that if he had a “do-over” he would “wish the intelligence had been different.” Yet despite this being “the biggest regret of all the presidency,” Bush seemed to suggest he would still have gone to war in Iraq – and leaves behind a daunting set of challenges in Iraq, the wider Middle East and around the globe for the next Administration and a rising generation of Americans.

Despite premature claims of victory and peace, violence continues to plague Iraq.  This week almost fifty people were killed and dozens more injured in bombings in Iraq.  On Monday, “Bombing attacks targeting Iraqi security forces in Baghdad and a U.S. patrol in the northern city of Mosul left at least 27 people dead and dozens more injured.” Then just the next day, “[b]ombings took the lives of at least 21 Iraqis on Tuesday, including 3 children and 6 adults when an explosive on a horse-drawn cart went off in an attack on a primary school in Mosul.”  “The other bombings on Tuesday were in Tal Afar, a troubled city west of Mosul, where at least 5 were killed and 30 wounded and in Iskandariya, about 25 miles south of Baghdad, where five Iraqi soldiers were killed when an improvised explosive device went off beneath their vehicle.”  These “attacks highlighted the fragility of Iraq's security situation as the country prepares for provincial elections early next year.”  The Washington Times wrote that neoconservative William Krisol and Karl Rove “both maintained that while the initial occupation was mismanaged, the surge of troops begun in 2007 has placed the U.S. on the cusp of victory in Iraq” ‘We've won the war,’ Said Mr. Kristol.”[Washington Post, 12/2/08. IHT, 12/3/08. Washington Times, 12/3/08]

The Status of Forces agreement accepted by Iraq’s parliament last week does not mean that we have achieved “victory” in Iraq – the resolution of potential flashpoints is necessary for sustainable stability. The American military has done all that it can do.  What is now needed is for Iraqi politicians to stand up and make the difficult compromises necessary to address lingering political cleavages.  There are four major issues that, if ignored, could send Iraq into a new round of violence (and in which the US can still play a constructive role).  First, the national referendum on the Security Agreement in 2009 could complicate withdrawal plans and throw Iraq into further political confusion.  The referendum has the potential to create a major wildcard in Iraqi politics, with a potentially heated vote happening in the run up to the next national elections in 2009.  This would create a new opportunity for spoilers such as Iran, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the Sadrists to try and derail the agreement and could dramatically raise tensions inside the country. A second, but related concern is the upcoming provincial elections – scheduled to take place early next year – which will be a highly precarious undertaking.  They must be free and fair and result in a more representative government; but even if the elections occur without incident “they will likely produce a muddled outcome rather than clear resolutions.”  Additionally, the unresolved status of the Sunni Sons of Iraq security forces have introduced a “discontinuity between governmental power and popular support,” which could have a destabilizing effect on the upcoming elections and beyond.  And finally, there are troubling indicators of “growing fault lines” between the Maliki government in Baghdad, and the autonomous Kurdish region to the north, “with officials clashing on issues that reflect the region’s growing power and autonomy.”  “Ethnic tensions between Kurds and Arabs are threatening again to become a serious political divide in the country,” and “one of the thorniest issues involved in the Iraq debate” – the status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk – “has yet to be fully resolved.”[NSN, 11/26/08. Center for American Progress, 9/08.  NY Times, 12/01/08. LA Times, 11/11/08]

No do-overs. In an interview this week, Charlie Gibson asked President Bush, if he had a “do-over,” what would it be? Bush responded, “the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn't just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. And, you know, that's not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess.” While Bush places the blame elsewhere, it was his administration that manipulated the intelligence and hyped the Iraqi threat with talk of mushroom clouds and false links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Furthermore, if the intelligence failures are the biggest regret of his presidency, it is then inexplicable that no senior officials were held accountable for these failures. In fact, Bush awarded the Medal of Freedom to CIA Director George Tenet. But Bush soon contradicted himself in the interview, suggesting that Iraq’s refusal to allow inspectors might still have been sufficient justification. Gibson followed-up asking, “If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?” Bush responded saying, “Yes, because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld. In other words, if he had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war? Absolutely.”  [ABC, 12/1/08]

Quick Hits

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The U.S. agreed to support a modest re-opening of NATO dialogue with Russia.
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