Well, the report dropped yesterday, and as can be expected, reactions were all over the place. Some hailed it as a bold acknowledgement of mistakes and a call for change, some were offended by perceived threats, and some yawned and suggested that the report was exactly the kind of thing that would be produced by a large group of people with opposite ideologies who are forces to come to a consensus. That is to say, a painting brushed with broad strokes, a lot of stating the obvious. That is what I was expecting, but I had to read it for myself, and I would encourage you to do so as well.
Instead of running out to Borders or clicking over to Amazon to buy the ISG Report for $10.95, you can do what I did and read it online for free. At about 60 pages excluding appendices and surprisingly easy to read, the ISG report is helpful even for those who are not too familiar with the details of the situation in Iraq. The report provides background on the security situation, sectarian conflict, political and religious leaders, legislative and judicial issues, economic implications, and more.
All the news reports have focues on the two main recommendations from the executive summary, which are described below:
- The U.S. needs to ask its bitter enemies Iran and Syria for help in stemming the flow of insurgents and encouraging Iraqi national unity. This recommendation is already causing indigestion amongst many hawkish conservatives--a guest on the conservative blog PowerLine ridiculed the notion of getting "terrorists [sic] supporting countries involved in fighting terrorism." The ISG also generically recommends diplomatic initiatives to resolve tensions in Lebanon and provide a two-state solution to the Palestine-Israel dispute.
- "Significantly" more troops should be sent to Iraq temporarily to help with security, but most American forces in Iraq could be withdrawn by early 2008. I agree with this position, but I know it's bound to draw fire from both critics and supporters of the war. The former will not want to send more men and women to die in Iraq, and the latter will refuse to give up on the mission or abandon the Iraqi people.
- Props for not mincing words and stating the obvious from the get-go: the intro paragraph in the first section says "The level of violence is high and growing. There is great suffering, and the daily lives of many Iraqis show little or no improvement. Pessimism is pervasive." To its credit, the ISG denounced "staying the course," an acknowledgement that the war is going badly, and was equally disparaging to the idea of withdrawing immediately.
- How bad is the security situation? "Total attacks [against U.S., Coalition, and Iraqi security forces] in October 2006 averaged 180 per day, up from 70 per day in January 2006...Attacks against civilians in October were four times higher than in January. Some 3,000 Iraqi civilians are killed every month."
- On the sources of violence in Iraq: "Most attacks on Americans still come from the Sunni Arab insurgency...It has significant support from within the Sunni Arab community." The Bush administration, by playing up al Qaeda's role, does not acknowledge the fact that the main troublemakers are themselves Iraqis. To be fair, although al Qaeda plays a small role, "that includes some of the more spectacular acts: suicide attacks, truck bombs, and attacks on significant religious or political targets." Its goal is to incite all-out war between Shi'a and Sunni.
The main problem, though, remains sectarian violence, which "causes the largest number of Iraqi civilian casualties." Shiite militias/death squads include two prominent groups: the Mahdi Army (which has "as many as 60,000 fighters"), led by Moqtada al-Sadr, and the Badr Brigade, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, which is closely tied to Iran.
- How are Iraqis being affected by the war? "The United Nations estimates that 1.6 million are displaced within Iraq, and up to 1.8 million Iraqis have fled the country."
- We have trained and equipped 326,000 Iraqi security forces (police and Army). The Army is making "fitful progress"--it is described as "one of the more professional Iraqi institutions." That said, sectarian divisions run rife even here, and large parts of the Army apparently refuse to carry out their assigned missions. Then there's the whole lack of leadership, equipment, personnel, logistics, and support.
That's at least better than the police, who "cannot control crime" and who "routinely engage in sectarian violence, including the unnecessary detention, torture, and targeted execution of Sunni Arab civilians." The police forces are heavily infiltrated by militia members, assasins, and other thugs.
- The report on the political and religious leaders in Iraq is bleak: Prime Minister Maliki is beholden to Sadr, who has built a political party within government and maintains an outside armed militia in a manner reminiscent of Hezbollah in Lebanon. The leading Shiite cleric in Iraq, the moderate Ayatollah Sistani, wants a unified Iraq, but his influence is declining. Iraq's third major ethnic group, the Kurds, want their own state--their leaders certainly don't care much for the idea of the Iraqi nation.
- The Kurds already have their own autonomous regious, and the Shiites may press for one in the future. The Sunnis want a unified Iraq, but only with themselves as the rulers. There is no economically feasible independent Sunni state, because Iraq's oil reserves are all located in Kurdish or Shi'a areas.
- Do these guys make Ken Lay look tame? "Corruption is rampant. One senior Iraqi official estimated that official corruption costs Iraq $5-7 billion per year."
- Regarding the economy: "Growth in Iraq is at roughly 4 percent this year. Inflation is above 50 percent. Unemployment estimates range widely from 20 to 60 percent."
- The cost of war for the U.S.: $400 billion so far. We are currently spending $8 billion each month! The ISG says the final bill could be as high as $2 trillion.
Of the rest, they range from consequential to mundane, with some maddeningly generic. For example, they call for "significantly greater analytic resources to the task of understanding the threats and sources of violence in Iraq." In any case, I'm sure over the next week or two, we'll see more discussion and debate of the specific recommendations. At that time I might have more to say about them.