Bush Says He Will Take Iraq Report Seriously in Deliberations
By David Shelby
President Bush addresses the press during a meeting with the Iraq Study Group Wednesday, December 6 in Washington. (White House photo)
Washington — President Bush welcomed the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG) December 6, saying his administration would take seriously the group’s recommendations for revising U.S. policies in Iraq.
“It is a report that brings some really very interesting proposals, and we will take every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion,” he told reporters after meeting with the 10-member group at the White House. He said the report offers “an opportunity to come together and to work together on this important issue.”
ISG co-chair Lee Hamilton welcomed Bush’s initial reaction to the report. In a press conference later in the day, he said that if this attitude prevails, the administration, the Congress and the American people will be able to unite behind a common policy. Fellow ISG member Leon Panetta underscored the importance of unity on this issue. “I think the president understands that he simply is not going to be able to proceed with whatever policy changes he wants to implement if we’re divided,” he said.
The report characterizes the situation in Iraq as “grave and deteriorating” and lays out three major recommendations to address the problem. First, it says the United States should change the nature of its military mission from a combat operation to a support operation. The report recommends embedding U.S. advisers at every level of the Iraqi army and allowing the Iraqis to take the lead. With that, it says, the United States should be able to withdraw the bulk of its forces by early 2008.
Second, the report says the United States must encourage the Iraqi government to make significant progress toward milestones on national reconciliation, security and governance. It says, “The most important questions about Iraq’s future are now the responsibility of the Iraqis” and adds that the United States should reduce its political, economic and military support for the Iraqi government if it fails to achieve these goals.
Third, the group calls for diplomatic efforts to bring all the countries of the region and major world powers together to act as an international support group aimed at reinforcing security and national reconciliation within Iraq. According to the report, this would include diplomatic engagement with Syria and Iran, a policy the Bush administration has resisted until now. The report says it is a matter of appealing to every country’s national interest. “No country in the region will benefit in the long term from a chaotic Iraq,” it says.
Hamilton defended the group’s recommendation of engaging with Iran. “Iran probably today is the national power that has the single greatest influence inside Iraq. … We will be criticized, I’m sure, for talking with our adversaries, but I do not see how you solve these problems without talking to them,” he said.
Fellow ISG co-chair James Baker said Iran might refuse to engage in discussions but added, “We ought to put it to them … so that the world will see the rejectionist attitude that they are projecting by that action.”
Congressional Democrats welcomed the report as a positive step toward a new strategy in Iraq. Incoming Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden said, “The most significant thing about the report is it has moved the debate in a fundamental way from not if, but when and how we move our forces in Iraq, and not if, but how we engage the region, knowing that the region has as much to lose as we do if there’s a complete collapse in Iraq and total chaos.”
Incoming Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin saw the report as a vindication of his call to reduce the number of U.S. forces in an effort to encourage the Iraqi government to resolve its political problems.
Biden regretted that the ISG did not recommend a devolution of authority in security matters to Iraq’s provincial governments, a proposal he has advocated for several months. He argues that this measure, provided for in Iraq’s Constitution, would take pressure off of a weak central government and improve the security situation.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Bush has an “obligation” to the country to implement the ISG recommendations. “And we’re going to be watching very closely after the first of the year, with oversight hearings … what the Bush administration does. On behalf of the American people, I certainly hope that the president follows the recommendations of this study group,” he said.
Not all members of Congress were equally enthusiastic about the report’s recommendations. Outgoing House Majority Leader John Boehner said, “We will not accomplish victory by setting arbitrary deadlines or negotiating with hostile governments,” referring to two of the group’s key recommendations.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
President Bush Meets with
Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki
“My consultations with the Prime Minister and the unity government are a key part of the assessment process. And that’s why I appreciate him coming over from Iraq so that we could have a face-to-face visit. The Prime Minister and I agree that the outcome in Iraq will affect the entire region. To stop the extremists from dominating the Middle East, we must stop the extremists from achieving their goal of dominating Iraq. If the extremists succeed in Iraq, they will be emboldened in their efforts to undermine other young democracies in the region, or to overthrow moderate governments, establish new safe havens, and impose their hateful ideology on millions. If the Iraqis succeed in establishing a free nation in the heart of the Middle East, the forces of freedom and moderation across the region will be emboldened, and the cause of peace will have new energy and new allies.”
— President George W. Bush
November 30, 2006
Tentera Islam ke Iraq? — Indonesia mahu negara-negara Islam hantar askar
JAKARTA 22 Nov. – Indonesia menyatakan kesediaannya menghantar tentera ke Iraq untuk berkhidmat di bawah naungan Pertubuhan Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu (PBB) jika masyarakat antarabangsa bersetuju dengan penempatan pasukan itu.
Menteri Pertahanan Indonesia, Yuwono Sudarsono berkata, penghantaran tentera ke negara bergolak itu adalah sebahagian daripada penyelesaian yang dicadangkan oleh Presiden Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono terhadap konflik di Iraq.
Katanya, Susilo telah membincangkan beberapa cadangan untuk menyelesaikan konflik di Iraq dengan Presiden Amerika Syarikat (AS), George W. Bush semasa lawatannya ke Indonesia kelmarin.
Rancangan Susilo itu termasuk penglibatan negara-negara lain dan penempatan pasukan keselamatan yang berasingan dengan pasukan tentera yang sedia ada diketuai AS di Iraq.
“Indonesia bersedia menyumbangkan askar jika penubuhan pasukan pengaman antarabangsa itu dipersetujui oleh semua pihak,” kata Yuwono.
Indonesia sebelum ini menolak sebarang kemungkinan untuk menghantar tenteranya ke Iraq.
Bagaimanapun dalam pertemuan itu, Susilo menegaskan, sebarang penyelesaian jangka panjang untuk Iraq harus merangkumi langkah-langkah memperkukuhkan kerajaan Iraq dan penglibatan masyarakat global.
Sementara itu, Menteri Luar Indonesia, Hassan Wirajuda berkata, Indonesia bersedia memainkan peranan untuk meyakinkan negara-negara Islam yang lain supaya turut menyumbangkan tentera mereka.
“Indonesia bersedia membantu untuk memujuk negara-negara Islam yang lain supaya menyumbangkan pasukan tentera masing-masing untuk berkhidmat di Iraq.
”Sebagai negara Islam terbesar di dunia, Indonesia tidak akan mendiamkan diri. Indonesia bersedia membantu dalam usaha-usaha mencari penyelesaian untuk Iraq,” katanya.
Menurut beliau, isu itu juga telah ditimbulkan semasa pertemuannya dengan Setiausaha Negara AS, Condoleezza Rice di Vietnam minggu lalu.
Pentadbiran Bush sebelum ini menyatakan keinginannya melihat penyertaan negara-negara Islam bagi meringankan beban askar-askar AS dan juga sebagai menandakan kelulusan Islam terhadap usaha-usaha memerangi keganasan di Iraq.– AP
35 terbunuh serangan bunuh diri
18 Nov 2006
BAGHDAD: Dua penyerang meletupkan diri menyebabkan 35 orang terbunuh di pusat pengambilan latihan polis Iraq di Baghdad semalam, dalam siri serangan terbaru yang menjejaskan usaha Kerajaan Iraq dan Amerika Syarikat untuk mengukuhkan keselamatan negara itu.
Sumber Kementerian Dalam Negeri menyatakan, lebih 60 orang turut cedera dalam serangan itu selepas penyerang yang memakai jaket sarat dengan bom masuk ke pusat latihan komando polis itu. Polis di hospital menyatakan seramai 40 orang yang cedera dihantar ke situ.
Kumpulan pemberontak sering mensasarkan pusat latihan tentera dan polis yang menjadi sebahagian daripada pelan utama Washington untuk mengundurkan anggota tenteranya dari negara itu.
Amerika memberikan tumpuan terhadap latihan dan usaha mengukuhkan pasukan keselamatan Iraq dengan harapan dapat menyerahkan tanggungjawab keselamatan kepada negara itu dan mengurangkan jumlah anggota tentera Amerika di situ.
Bagaimanapun, pasukan keselamatan Iraq terus gagal diberikan kemudahan mencukupi serta sering diserang pemberontak menghalang usaha pengambilan anggota baru.
Serangan ke atas pusat latihan tentera dan polis Iraq turut dilancarkan di Kirkuk, Baquba dan Baghdad, kelmarin.
Tersentak dengan kekalahan Parti Republikan dalam pilihan raya Kongres minggu lalu, Presiden Amerika, George W Bush, berkata beliau kini sedia menerima idea baru mengenai Iraq dan pegawai tinggi tenteranya bersiap mengemukakan strategi baru.
Dengan peningkatan tekanan kepada Amerika untuk segera meninggalkan Iraq, usaha mengukuhkan angkatan keselamatan amat penting. Bagaimanapun, polis dan tentera Iraq saling tuduh menuduh pasukan pesaing mereka disertai kumpulan penentang atau mereka yang mahu memastikan kepentingan mazhab masing-masing terbela.
Kerajaan Perdana Menteri, Nuri al-Maliki yang dikuasai etnik Kurdis dan mereka yang bermazhab Syiah bergelut untuk memenuhi tuntutan anggota perikatan dan belum dapat menangani ancaman penentang yang menyokong sekutunya. – Reuters
US retreat from Iraq exposes weakness and strength of Iran’s regional aims
By Mahan Abedin
Tuesday, 14 November 2006
As the United States gradually retreats from Iraq, the stakes for Iran rise accordingly. The long-awaited Baker Report—which will likely shape US policy in Iraq for the next two years—will start this process in earnest.
The opportunities for Iran are numerous, but the potential risks could be calamitous. For nearly four years Iran has sat back while the US repeatedly blundered in Iraq, all the while exploiting the situation with almost breathless subtlety and precision. This is likely to change as the US presence fades, thereby exposing the Islamic Republic to the chaos that is tearing Iraq apart.
As the stakes rise in Iraq, Iranian policy-makers will finally have to clarify their position on Iraq and act accordingly. The true extent of Iranian influence in Iraq will also become clear as calls grow for the government in Tehran to use whatever leverage it has to ease the conflict between the Arab Sunni guerrilla movement and the Shia-dominated regime in Baghdad.
Iraq’s ability to surprise
Four years ago—as the United States and the United Kingdom were preparing to invade Iraq—this author explained that regime-change in Baghdad was more welcome in Tehran than Washington DC. Moreover, I argued that Iran would emerge as the outright winner of intervention in Iraq, both in the short and long term.  While Iran has clearly been the winner in the short-term, whether it will emerge as the ultimate beneficiary of the collapse of the Baathist regime is still debateable.
Recent developments in Iraq have taken everyone by surprise.
The sectarian terrorism started by al-Qaeda and the so-called Salafi-Jihadis immediately after the downfall of Saddam Hussein finally sparked off a wide-scale sectarian conflict, especially after the bombing of the Samarra Shrine in February 2006. For a long while it was hoped that the new Shia elites—comprised of influential elements in the government, the major Shia political parties and the religious establishment in Najaf—would use all their influence to ensure that Iraqi Shias did not retaliate for the extremely provocative attacks against them. The reason for this was simple: the Shias needed to focus on consolidating their hold over the country and not get sucked into a fratricidal war that would ultimately destroy Iraq and thus the Shias’ newly-found power.
The resolve of the Shia elites to resist retaliating faltered for two reasons.
First and foremost, the ferocity of the extremist Sunnis’ attacks on the Shias took everyone by surprise. The rhetorical venom of Zarqawi and his ilk was translated into grisly slaughter, as the breathtaking extremity inherent in the more reactionary forms of Salafism took hold over some sections of Iraq’s insurgent community. Notwithstanding the remarkable patience and self-control of the Shia elites, the instinct to respond to such gratuitous and mindless slaughter could simply not be suppressed indefinitely.
Secondly, the extent of Muqtada al-Sadr’s power and influence was consistently under-estimated. The so-called ‘Sadrist Movement’ has emerged as the only truly national and grassroots force in Iraq. The Sadrists, and their offshoots, effectively control southern Iraq (with the exception of Basra and the surrounding areas); their influence is deeply embedded in every institution, particularly the police and the myriad of security forces that have sprung up in the past three years.
It was often assumed that the Sadrists could be a bridge to the Arab Sunni guerrilla movement, on account of their nationalism, which is wary of both Iranian and Arab influence in Iraq. This hypothesis was partially proven in April 2004, as the insurgents in Falluja made common cause with Muqtada’s fighters in Najaf. But the spectre of unity did not go beyond rhetoric and imagery, and in any case it collapsed altogether as the extremists in the insurgency significantly increased anti-Shia attacks in 2005. The Sadrists have since emerged as a sectarian force in all but name. It is quite possible that the majority of the sectarian slaughter (especially in and around Baghdad) is now the work of the multitude of militias operating under the banner of the so-called ‘Mahdi Army’.
The upshot of the argument here is that Iraq is unlikely to survive the current civil war. It may remain a unitary state for a considerable amount of time (effectively kept on life-support by US, Turkish and Iranian geopolitical considerations in the region), but it is highly unlikely to ever experience the cohesion and sense of destiny that it did prior to the invasion of March 2003.
Iran’s outdated aims
The near-inevitability of the fragmentation of Iraq requires a much deeper understanding of Iranian interests in Iraq. Moreover, it requires that some of these interests either be revised or relinquished altogether. In short, the matrix of interests and risks that informed Iranian attitudes towards the US-led intervention in March 2003, are now seriously outdated.
A brief overview of events since the invasion should clarify the complexity of Iran’s current position.
On the eve of the invasion, there was a convergence of Iranian and American interests. Both sides stood to benefit from the downfall of Saddam and the creation of a new Iraqi political society. This was reinforced by America’s willingness to work with pro-Iranian Shia parties to create new institutions in Iraq.
However, this convergence of interests was always hostage to long-standing and deep hostilities between the Islamic Republic and the United States. Indeed, neither side publicly acknowledged the quiet accommodation; in fact both parties ratcheted up the rhetoric, with the Americans accusing Iran of aiding the insurgency and the Iranians blaming the US “occupation” for all of Iraq’s ills.
In any case, events on the ground in Iraq reinforced the propaganda of both sides and helped incrementally to unravel the convergence of interests that had marked the early period of the occupation.
The rise of the Iraqi “resistance” was the single most important factor in this process. The Iraqi insurgency may have surprised the Americans but it was predicted by the Iranians, who have a far greater knowledge of Iraq. The Islamic Republic had been fighting Saddam’s regime for over two decades, enabling Iranian military and security institutions to develop an advanced architecture of knowledge, effectively giving them an unassailable advantage over other countries.
American accusations about Iranian complicity in the insurgency were driven by the humiliation of the knowledge that the Iranians were revelling in their difficulties, rather than any belief that the Islamic Republic was helping Iraqi rebels.
As for the Iranians, they have had an ambivalent attitude towards the insurgency from the outset. For the Iranians humiliation of the United States had to be closely balanced with the interests and security of Iraq’s new Shia elites. This intricate calculation became more burdensome as the Iraqi insurgent landscape grew more complex. In fact the Iranians may have made miscalculations of their own, not least in not anticipating the ferocity of the anti-Shia onslaught.
Understanding the jihadis
This miscalculation is partly rooted in misunderstanding al-Qaeda and the wider Salafi-Jihadi movement.
While the core of old al-Qaeda does not wish to spark a general Shia-Sunni civil war, it still went along with the anti-Shia plans of the Salafi-Jihadis in Iraq. This strategy is informed by a relatively good understanding of the sectarian fault-lines in Iraq which have always determined every aspect of that country’s national life. In short, if you are interested in defeating the Americans in Iraq, the best strategy is to start a civil war, and the only way to do this is to hit the Shias hard enough until they begin retaliating. It is a clever strategy that is becoming more successful by the day.
The start of serious sectarian conflict has destroyed much of the implicit Iranian-American understanding in Iraq. The Iranians are fearful that as Iraq sinks deeper into chaos the Americans will be tempted to align their interests in Iraq more closely with those of Arab Sunni states, in particular Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Certainly as the Americans begin their withdrawal in earnest, they will have less incentive to maintain their working relationship with the Shia Islamists who control the fledgling government in Baghdad. The collapse of this “functional” relationship will remove the last remaining link of Iranian-American detente in Iraq.
Iran in Iraq
Recently a senior Iranian diplomat who has almost 26 years experience of dealing with Iraq, told me: “Iran started with 0% in Iraq in 2003 and gradually reached 30% in terms of influence, whereas the Americans started with 90% and have come down to 20%”. This remarkable statement by someone who knows exactly what he is talking about is the surest insight into the graduated and subtle strategy of the Islamic Republic in Iraq.
Appreciating Iran’s position in Iraq requires a proper understanding of the drivers of Iranian influence. Much clarity is needed here as Iran’s influence is often distorted, exaggerated or downplayed, according to the agenda of the analyst.
The greatest distortion has been from Arab Sunni quarters in Iraq who exaggerate ridiculously about Iranian influence in their country, to the point of accusing Iran of being the real occupying power. This neatly converges with the rhetoric of some insurgent groups in Iraq who bemoan an “invisible” Iranian occupation masked by the highly conspicuous US military presence. Unfortunately, less outrageous forms of such banal analysis have often coloured Western reporting of this issue. Iran is consistently accused of influencing the main Shia parties, penetrating Iraqi security forces and being generally intent on the insidious conquest of Iraq.
First and foremost, Iran’s influence on Hezb al-Daawa and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) is often exaggerated. While these organisations had considerable contact with Iranian military and security institutions prior to the March 2003 invasion, they have been Iraqi through and through from the outset, and have carefully developed a vast political constituency in Iraq since April 2003. Indeed, much of the propaganda against these organisations comes from people who are intensely jealous of their successes.
Not only are Daawa and SCIRI accused of being Iranian pawns, they also stand accused of facilitating the American occupation in Iraq. What seems to have been generally misunderstood is the very nature of elite Shia attitudes towards the United States. While these elites share their Iranian co-religionists’ deep mistrust of the US, they are mindful of the urgent “functional” value of a workable relationship with the Americans. This view was articulated to the author by senior SCIRI official and now deputy Iraqi foreign minister Hamed Bayati in May 2003, barely a few weeks after the fall of Baghdad. 
While the Islamic Republic clearly continues to maintain a good working relationship with Daawa and SCIRI, it appreciates these parties’ prioritising of careful political networking within Iraq – over and above trans-national links – as the key to long-term success. Therefore, the main bastion of Iranian influence is not found in the government in Baghdad, but in the Shia heartlands of the south.
Iran and the Sadrists
Ironically, the Iranians have managed to heavily penetrate the Sadrists, a movement that was originally the most anti-Iranian of all Iraqi Shia organisations.
The fragmentation of the Sadr movement over the past two years has reinforced Iranian influence over it. The Iranians have effectively exploited the divisions and points of friction inside the movement to build an impressive intelligence and influence-wielding architecture in the south.
This has served three strategic objectives: first it has made life difficult for British forces in the south; second, it has given the Iranians and their allies real influence over policing and security and, third, it has given Iran a very powerful armed leverage should the Iranian-American Cold War turn into a hot war inside Iraq.
More than any other factor, it is this deep Iranian penetration of militias and networks that are ultimately loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr and his circle that has made the Islamic Republic arguably the most important power-broker in Iraq. But if Iran’s influence in Iraq does indeed exceed that of the United States, in today’s chaotic Iraq this only increases the Islamic Republic’s responsibilities and risk portfolio.
Managing Iraq’s collapse
The key challenge for Iran in the years ahead is to manage its network of influence in a steadily fragmenting Iraq. Even if Iraq retains its status as a unitary state, its intrinsic constitutional features will likely change beyond recognition. The best that Iraqi nationalists can hope for is a weak federal state that will simply delay the inevitable fragmentation.
Long-term Iranian influence in Iraq requires a stable regime in Baghdad. This is why the Iranians should be deeply fearful of the sectarian slaughter that is tearing Iraq apart. Moreover, the Iranians would do well to appreciate the extent of anti-Iran feelings in Iraq. General distrust of Iran is widespread in Iraq, much of it the product of nearly 40 years of relentless anti-Iranian propaganda by the Baathists. Given the chaos in Iraq, much of what the Iranians have built can unravel very quickly. Furthermore, any brazen interference in Iraqi affairs risks provoking the ugliest forms of Iraqi anti-Iranianism.
More broadly, the success or failure of Iran’s strategy in Iraq will have serious implications for its ambitions in the region and beyond. The Islamic Republic aspires to a leadership position in the Islamic world. This realizable objective will be imperilled if it is seen to be acting on behalf of pure national or sectarian interests. The stakes are indeed very high and the upshot is that while Iraq has been an American problem up to now, it will soon be an Iranian one.