Friday, December 08, 2006

Iraq - a view from India

The South Asia Analysis Group comments regularly on Middle Eastern affairs. The writer, B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He writes:

"The US continues to find itself between the devil and the deep sea in Iraq. It is like a man who has unthinkingly mounted a tiger to ride. It is dangerous to continue riding and it is even more dangerous to dismount. How to save Iraq from the depredations of international jihadi terrorists of Al Qaeda brand on the one side and seeping Shia extremists of Iranian inspiration on the other? The victory of either will mean continuing instability and threat to peace and security There will be no peace and security unless and until both are countered effectively----politically, ideologically and professionally. Professionally does not necessarily mean militarily. It means through a mix of covert, para-military and military methods----with the military component more sophisticated than at present.

Unfortunately, the Iraq Study Group of the US, headed by Mr. James Baker, former US Secretary of State, has failed to address this question. Its report is a ill-cooked hotch-potch of suggestions lacking coherent analysis. The only new recommendation is the involvement of Iran and Syria in the search for a resolution. It is like Gen. Musharraf's suggestion for the involvement of the Neo Taliban in the search for a solution in Afghanistan.

Iraq is in the grip of a four-in-one war---- the US-led forces vs the Al Qaeda-led terrorists; the Iraqi opponents of the occupation vs the US-led forces; the Iraqi nationalists vs the Iraqi Quislings; and the Shias vs the Sunnis. There cannot be an end to the blood-letting in Iraq without the co-operation of the Iraqi Sunnis. The Sunnis might constitute only 20 per cent of the population, but they are responsible for nearly 75 per cent of the violence. They have shown a ferocity, self-motivation and determination much, much beyond their number. Their anger has to be mitigated and their co-operation enlisted to isolate the foreign terrorists on the one side and the Iranian cat's paw on the other.

The Iraq Study Group has left it to the present Iraqi Government led by Mr. Nuri al-Maliki to work for a reconciliation with the Sunni Arabs. It won't be able to do it. It is hated by the Sunni Arabs as strongly as they dislike the Americans. It is looked upon by large sections of the people---Sunnis as well as Shias--- as the Government of the Green Zone. An army raised, trained and controlled by it will not be able to either put down or placate the Sunnis.

Reducing the anger of the Iraqi Sunnis and making them part of the solution has to be the task of the international community in general and the regional Sunni powers in particular. More important than interaction with Iran and Syria is interaction with the Iraqi Sunni leaders including the leaders of the Baath party. The USA's original sin was to have prematurely transferred power to a group of Shia leaders, who are largely surrogates of Teheran. It will be compounding that sin by making the Shia-dominated Government responsible for dealing with the Sunnis. They will make a blood-bath of the Baathist leaders and their supporters.

While there would be no harm in trying to enlist the good offices of Iran and Syria, it would be an illusion to think that they would be able to deliver or even try to. This is the time to give the Sunnis of Iran a role in helping their Sunni brethren in Iraq. This is also the time to give the Mujahideen-e-Khalq a role in countering any over-ambitious role by Iran. This is also the time to encourage the reformist forces in Iran to re-assert themselves.

Unfortunately, US policy-makers and analysts have not been able to get out of the military box into which their minds have got stuck. Most of the so-called new ideas and suggestions coming out of them are permutations and combinations of various military options. They are juggling with troop figures and time-tables.

While briefing the media on their report at Washington on December 6, 2006, the members of the Iraq Study Group described it as the last available option to make Iraq work. Juggling with figures and time-tables won't make Iraq work. Nor will giving the present Government in Baghdad total responsibility.

Iraq is in such a mess that one is doubtful whether any exclusively military option can make Iraq work. At least non-military options plus a healthy dose of humility might. Humility means the US admitting its wrong-doings to the Iraqi Sunnis, particularly the Baathists, and seeking their co-operation.

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