Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Scholars call for regional diplomacy, military drawdown in Iraq

The U.S. should begin a drawdown of troops in Iraq and focus its sights on regional diplomacy, a set of three scholars asserted today in Washington – although each differed over the manner and rate with which such a plan should be executed.

“The situation in Iraq is dreadful and it’s going to get much worse,” Joost Hiltermann, a Middle East specialist at the International Crisis Group, told the audience at a public event at the United States Institute of Peace. “It can get a lot worse and believe me this will happen – the surge is going to fail…There is no way that this plan can succeed.”

Hiltermann also questioned the idea that Iraq’ government would ever meet the so-called benchmarks that the surge was ostensibly designed to facilitate. “The Iraqi government is so dysfunctional that it could not bring about these deals it wanted to, and so sectarian that it doesn’t want to.” He deemed the oil-revenue-sharing law the only benchmark with a reasonable chance of success, arguing that the now-Shia controlled state would not allow the reinstitution – however modest – of Sunni authority implicit in the other measures.

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, echoed Hiltermann’s sentiments on the failings of the U.S. plan, saying America’s military strategy “never had a chance to succeed” from the outset. But he differed from the both Hiltermann, and the other speaker, conflict prevention and human rights expert John Packer, in calling for a firm pull-out date. “If you don’t get out of the quagmire in Iraq, you’re not going to prevail in the global war on terror,” Korb said, arguing that a major withdrawal must be completed in a year’s time.

Korb was also skeptical as to the potential for national reconciliation, saying that the U.S. must stop the “unconditional training of Iraq security forces” because they will “turn on each other or U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia” once America leaves.

Packer was more tepid on the troop withdrawal issue, citing the potential impact that a rapid, large-scale pull-out could have on the West’s grip on regional energy resources. Rising oil prices would undermine the modest economic recovery achieved in parts of Europe, he said, citing one possible outcome.

While there was dissension over the terms of a military withdrawal, all three scholars struck the same basic chord on the importance of multilateral engagement with Iraq’s neighbors. Hiltermann was particular adamant, arguing that ignoring regional diplomacy would leave a “vacuum without an effective means of containment” that would result in a serious global threat. He added that Iran should be engaged as well, saying that the hard-line state would be motivated by the need to manage the turmoil raging beside its border. Packer, for his part, said that U.S. leadership on the Arab-Israeli conflict could do much to facilitate regional cooperation.

A so-called ‘soft-partition’ of Iraq into Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish regions was brought up in audience questioning, but roundly dismissed by all three scholars, who cited the lack of clear ethnic and sectarian demarcations within the country – Packer dismissed what he termed the “myth of purity.”

“It is not realistic...you would have to draw boundaries through living rooms and bedrooms,” Hiltermann said, referring to the significant number of inter-sectarian and inter-ethnic marriages in Iraq.


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