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The Annotated Iraq Study Group Recommendations

What makes sense, what made sense then but doesn't now, and what never made sense.

12:00 AM, Jun 2, 2007 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
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The Iraq Study Group was established in March 2006 at the United States Institute of Peace. It released its report on December 6, 2006. The ISG was never intended to be an ongoing project, and its findings have not therefore been updated to account for changes in the circumstances in Iraq. Recent comments by members of Congress, members of the Bush administration, and the president himself, however, suggest a continued interest in "implementing" the recommendations of the ISG in some way. The ISG report itself declared that its 79 recommendations were part of a complete package rather than a menu. From the beginning, however, discussion of the report proceeded on the assumption that some might be implemented and others ignored. Any discussion of "implementing" the ISG today must proceed on such an assumption, since the changing situation on the ground in Iraq has made some of the original ISG proposals inappropriate or impossible; others have already been implemented or are in the process of implementation. What follows is a look at the ISG's proposals in light of current circumstances to help inform the consideration of these recommendations. My annotations, in bold italic, follow each ISG recommendation.

RECOMMENDATION 1: The United States, working with the Iraqi government, should launch the comprehensive New Diplomatic Offensive to deal with the problems of Iraq and of the region. This new diplomatic offensive should be launched before December 31, 2006.

This did not happen by December 31, and has not taken place in this form. The Bush administration and the government of Iraq have nevertheless begun a significant diplomatic initiative that has involved reaching out to all of the major players identified in the ISG report.

RECOMMENDATION 2: The goals of the diplomatic offensive as it relates to regional players should be to:

i. Support the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq.

ii. Stop destabilizing interventions and actions by Iraq's neighbors.

iii. Secure Iraq's borders, including the use of joint patrols with neighboring countries.

iv. Prevent the expansion of the instability and conflict beyond Iraq's borders.

v. Promote economic assistance, commerce, trade, political support, and, if possible, military assistance for the Iraqi government from non-neighboring Muslim nations.

vi. Energize countries to support national political reconciliation in Iraq.

vii. Validate Iraq's legitimacy by resuming diplomatic relations, where appropriate, and reestablishing embassies in Baghdad.

viii. Assist Iraq in establishing active working embassies in key capitals in the region (for example, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia).

ix. Help Iraq reach a mutually acceptable agreement on Kirkuk.

x. Assist the Iraqi government in achieving certain security, political, and economic milestones, including better performance on issues such as national reconciliation, equitable distribution of oil revenues, and the dismantling of militias.

These are generally good objectives for a diplomatic initiative, and they are clearly the aims of the current one.

RECOMMENDATION 3: As a complement to the diplomatic offensive, and in addition to the Support Group discussed below, the United States and the Iraqi government should support the holding of a conference or meeting in Baghdad of the Organization of the Islamic Conference or the Arab League both to assist the Iraqi government in promoting national reconciliation in Iraq and to reestablish their diplomatic presence in Iraq.

There have now been two meetings of the major regional and international players, one in Baghdad and one in Sharm el Sheikh. The purpose of both was as stated in this bullet.

RECOMMENDATION 4: As an instrument of the New Diplomatic Offensive, an Iraq International Support Group should be organized immediately following the launch of the New Diplomatic Offensive.

Efforts to do something like this were undertaken at Sharm el Sheikh. The sticking point is residual Sunni Arab distrust of the Shia government in Baghdad. The U.S. has been working to overcome it, but in this, as in many other ISG recommendations, there is a failure to understand that the U.S. cannot simply order, bribe, or threaten sovereign states into taking desired actions. There was no Iraq International Support Group waiting to crystallize around an American proposal. Working toward such an objective will take considerable time and effort, and may not succeed in the end, however desirable it might be.