I've finished reading the entire report, and I took fairly good notes. I've avoided the media and all you bloggers because I wanted to have my own opinion on it. So here we go.
Generally, I think the panel has it right. It isn't perfect, but the situation doesn't really allow for a perfect solution. The one thing I did pick up from the media by accident was that the report was "scathing" in it's assesment of the performance of the executive. I'd agree with that.
The main thrust of the plan is to increase diplomatic efforts internationally, scale down U.S. combat troops while increasing U.S. support for Iraqi troops and the Iraqi government in addressing the internal problems with thier own people. Iraqis must take a more active roll in rebuilding their country, with U.S. suppport.
Iran and Syria will have to be approached for help, according to the plan, and a timetable must be made. Iraq must understand that the committment is not open ended. These two basic points are in direct conflict with the Bush administration's policies to date, and will probably cause the most conflict on Capitol Hill.
The study points out that this is a comprehensive plan and the recommendations within "should not be seperated or carried out in isolation."
The first half of the report is a sober assesment of the situation on the ground. They paint quite a different picture than the one the White House and their minions have professed.
THE SUNNI INSURGENCY
Arms and financing are being supplied primarily from within Iraq.
This is the exact opposite of what the White House has been saying.
al-Qaeda is responsible for a small portion of the violence, although more of the most spectacular acts.
Again, the White House has blamed nearly everything on al-Qaeda which is clearly a mistake. Although al-Qaeda is perhaps the most horrific of the bombers, they represent only a very small portion of the problem. The idea that al-Qaeda is pulling all the strings in the insurgency is thouroughly discredited here.
They note that there are 1.6 million refugees inside Iraq and another 1.8 million refugees that have fled the country. That means that almost 15% of the population has refugee status.
They note that only 4 of the 18 provinces are affected by extremem violence, however those four represent 40% of the population. I couldn't help but to remember when the administration claimed that 14 out of 18 provinces were relatively secure and how misleading that rhetoric was. Years later those same four provinces are in worse shape than they were then, and as goes these four provinces, so goes the country.
They note that the entire appropriation for Iraqi defense forces in FY2006 is $3 billion, which is less than what the U.S. is spending every 2 weeks. This will have to change.
Regarding the "Facilities Protection Services" it is noted that al-Sadr controls the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, and Transportation and the armed units that protect them. Thus, al-Sadr must be brought into the political fold. Should he not, the members of these groups will simply assimilate into the wider insurgency.
OPERATION TOGETHER FORWARD II
The focus on Baghdad is deemed as a total failure in that violence in the capital has increased by 43% since it started. They note a lack of vision and a failure to change tactics.
Because none of the operations conducted by U.S. and Iraqi military forces are fundamentally changing the conditions encouraging sectarian violence, U.S. forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseable end.
They note the splitting of the Shia movement, both that al-Sistani is losing his ability to curb the violence and that al-Sadr's Mehdi army seems to be fracturing which makes it more difficult to control. Time, thus, is of the essence.
They note Maliki's public rejection of U.S. imposed benchmarks.
1. He ordered to remove blockades around Sadr city
2. He sought more control over Iraqi security forces
3. He resisted U.S. requests to disband militias
Maliki is praised for trying but is questioned largely for his lack of ability and committment in normalizing the militias.
The issue of Kirkut is very important to the ISG noting that the mixed population of Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen present a barrier to reconciliation. The Arabs and Turks do not want Kirkuk to be incorporated into the Kurdish zone.
They note that key leaders from both the Kurdish and Shia zones have shown little commitment to national reconciliation.
They paint a bleak picture of the oil infrastructure, and highlight the rampant corruption endemic in Iraq.
They call for an "International Compact" on Iraq. The goal is to provide greater debt relief from the gulf states (especially Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) as was given by the Paris club. In return for the debt relief, Iraq would work on anti-corruption measures and develop a fair legal framework for foreign investors. Perhaps then they could reach economic self-sufficiency by 2012.
This timeframe comes in stark contrast to the rosy scenario presented by Paul Wolfowitz who said that Iraq would be able to fund it's own reconstruction virtually immediately. We are now looking at 10 years in the best-case scenario for economic independence. Way to go Paul.
The panel gave very low marks to the neighboring countries who should be helping but are actually hurting Iraq. Iran and Syria top the list of trouble makers, but they also note that, for instance, Isreal's bombing of Lebanon undermined U.S. support in Iraq.
Having noted Iranian interference, they are given some credit for getting involved at least. Compare the fact that Iran has an ambassador in Iraq, to the fact that Saudi Arabia didn't even send a letter when the Iraqi government was formed.
They note that Jordan and Egypt have particularly good records in helping with the process and that should be built on. Jordan currently has 700,000 refugees (equal to 10% of their population). Neither country wants to see the flood of refugees (and possible insurgents) continue. These countries have a great interest in reconcilliation.
Turkey is mentioned with regards to the problems they are having with the PKK and the potential for conflict with an autonomous Kurdish region. They too have it in their best interests to participate in the reconciliation.
They note that the current level of commitment cannot be sustained especially when progress is not being made.
1. Nearly 100 killed per month
2. Nearly $2 Billion spent per week.
This rules out the "Go Big" option. The military is stretched to the limit and further strain will jeopardize America's security.
They discredit the notion of splitting up the country for two major reasons. First, the mixed population makes this unfeasable as "regional boundries cannot be easily drawn." They note Kirkuk as particularly troublesome in this regard. Secondly, such a division would confirm suspicions that the U.S. invaded to break up a strong arab nation.
Essentially the panel agrees with President's rhetoric about a stable, united Iraq. They strongly disagree with the way the President has been acting to achieve that goal.
So what needs to be done?
First, a domestic and international consensus must be built and that means that the President must go on a "diplomatic offensive." This starts with Iran and Syria.
They favor the creation of a "Support Group" for Iraq, which would include all bordering countries, with Iran and Syria being key members. Permanent members of the U.N. Security Council would also be members as well as Germany, and also other Gulf States like Egypt and Libya. All of these countries have an interest in having a secure and stable Iraq, and thus their cooperation should be sought.
They highlight Iranian co-operation with the U.S. on Afghanistan and use that as proof that Iranian co-operation could possibly be enlisted on Iraq as well, especially if tied to other international issues that Iran wants discussed.
This leads to a very important point that is reiterated throughout. That is that the region must be addressed as a whole. You cannot address Iraq without addressing the Israeli/Arab conflict. So for instance, there is a laundry list of demands on Syria, but they are tied to Syria getting Golan Heights back from the Israelis and the Israelis being offered international support for security in that area once the handover is made. They note that there is no military solution to this problem and that Bush's two state proposal must be brought back to the table.
This is where the problems will likely start. Israel, Syria, Iran, (and a host of others) all have the ability to play spoiler here. Let us see who refuses to act first, should the recommendations even be taken seriously by the President and the Congress.
Looking at some of the specific recommendations, I found the following very interesting...
#34: Talk to everyone. Not just those in the government, but those who wield power which include al-Sistani and al-Sadr. So far the administration has refused to do this.
#35: A caveat on #34 is that al-Qaeda should not be negotiated with. Now I find this a little strange in that they are a force (although a minor one with only 1,300 members). I suppose the idea is to isolate them away from everyone.
#36: Amnesty. They favor amnesty for everyone except Saddam's top leaders. This will be a bitter pill for everyone to swallow, but it must happen if national reconciliation is to occur.
#37: Amnesty. Reiterates that neither the executive nor Congress shall undercut these efforts. I guess they are serious about this one. This is one of the few times that U.S. government is admonished directly.
MILITIAS AND NATIONAL RECONCILIATION
#38 and #39: Call on the U.S. to support the U.N. and NGOs like the "Organization for Migration" so that they can more effectively do what they do best: help the population at large, something the military is severely limited in doing according to its skill set.
#40: The United states should not make an open ended commitment to keep large numbers of troops deployed in Iraq for three compelling reasons.
1. No troops for Afghanistan and elsewhere.
2. Less than a third of U.S. troops are in a state of rediness.
3. So as not to break the compact made with the National Gaurd and Army Reserves.
#42: Timeline. All combat troops should be out by Q1 of 2008. Coincidently this is the date I have been talking about. 5 years is the limit of American patience in my view.
#43: Accelerate the training of Iraqi troops and police. Isn't this what Kerry said in the debates? I just had to notice.
#44: Pay the professionals to imbed themselves with Iraqi troops. They need to throw some serious money around here, perhaps hiring retired special forces soldiers from around the world.
#45: More equipment for Iraqi troops. This has likely not happened as the administration fears the equipment will end up in the wrong hands. This is a big risk as is the whole set of recommendations.
#46: Focus on rebuilding trust and respect between the military and the civilian leadership. This is a direct attack on Rumsfeld and hightlights the damage that has been done. If my readers think I am off on this one, just go to the document and read this one.
#50 and #51: Calls for the Border Police and the National Police to be incorporated into the Mininstry of Defense.
#53: Calls for the Ministry of the Interior to take complete control of the local police forces.
#55: Calls for the U.S. DoD to continue traning the Iraqi National Police and the Iraqi Border Patrol.
#56: Calls for the U.S. DoJ to direct the training of the local police.
#57: Calls for international civilian police experts to take over the training of Iraqi local police forces from the U.S. Military Police. This is again, a pragmatic and logical approach and a departure from the current policy.
OIL AND ECONOMICS
The panel calls for the privitization of the oil industry, but earlier had sad that all Iraqis should share the wealth. I see a conflict here. They stress that Iraqis should pay market prices for gasoline otherwise fuel shortages will continue. However, this could increase crime, black market activity, and general dissatisfaction. I think this is one of the weakest parts of the document.
The panel calls for the interest rate to be raise to 20% and the value of the currency to be increased by 10% to combat rapid inflation. This is good for stabilizing the economy but won't exactly thrill consumers.
As was pointed out by Kaplan and others, reconstruction efforts are seriously lacking. The panel calls for less actual U.S. involvement but more funding for reconstruction efforts. I.E. the United States should be funding local reconstruction projects by domestic players and assisting those players with the process of contracting, auditing and accounting.
Here one of the harshest assesments of the level of expertise and accountablility for reconstruction efforts is put forth. I couldn't help but to remember an article I read a while back that focused on the players in this field: young republicans with no experience but with great track records of supporting the president and his policies. These kids are to be replaced with experts.
#67: Calls for the position of "Senior Advisor for economic reconstruction in Iraq".
#68: Calls for the support of the Cheif of Mission for Iraq.
#69: Calls for the support of the Special Inspector General for Iraq: Mr. Stuart Brown. If the panel's recomendations are taken seriously, I think we will be hearing quite a lot from Mr. Brown in the months ahead.
Again, the focus is on paying and supporting the real experts. There are a few on the ground, like Mr. Brown, but there will need to be many more if we are to have any hope for success.
#72: This is a beauty, so I'm going to transcribe it.
Costs for the war in Iraq should be included in the President's annual budget request, starting FY 2008: the war is in its fourth year, and the normal budget process should not be circumvented. Funding requests for the war in Iraq should be presented clearly to Congress and the American people. Congress must carry out its constitutional responsibility to review budget requests for the war in Iraq carefully and to conduct oversight.
Ahmen! So much for those of you who live in the fantasy world that Bush is doing a great job with the budget. Give me a tax cut and fight a war and damn the grandchildren no more! It is about time that the budget figures get some credibility.
The lack of effective intelligence is again harshly criticized. While they give good marks for intelligence on al-Qaeda, they give very poor marks on insurgents and militias. Apparently there are only 10 people working on intelligence relating directly to the insurgency with at least 2 years of experience. I found this to be quite troubling.
#73-#76: These deal with personnel and assistance. Reading through these you will see that the panel views the current personnel as under-trained and inadequate for the task at hand. Earlier they highlighted that out of 1,000 embassy personnel only 6 were fluent in Arabic and only 33 spoke Arabic at all. I bet they all raised lots of money for Bush/Cheney 04 though!
#79: Calls for the CIA to train Iraqi intelligence agents.
As we have all know (those rational ones among us) the problems in Iraq are much greater than fighting al-Qaeda. International support for an Iraqi National Reconciliation is essential and that includes Iran and Syria. A much greater effort to help Iraqis help themselves must be embarked upon and soon. Much time has already been wasted. The current cronies in the U.S. embassy must be replaced with highly qualified, highly trained professionals. All of the major players in Iraq must be brought to the negotiating table except for al-Qaeda in an effort to build understanding amongst the various groups and power structures and to further isolate al-Qaeda.
Domestic reconstruction should be favored over the current (but waning) multi-national corporate reconstruction. Huge investments in the oil infrastructure especially and infrastructure in general must be made if Iraq is to have a chance. Corruption must be combatted with an effective judicial system and accountability in government. The United States should be taking the lead in supporting the Iraqis to undertake these very serious challenges.
If if works in Iraq, we might just try the same thing at home.