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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.

RECOMMENDATION 5: The Support Group should consist of Iraq and all the states bordering Iraq, including Iran and Syria; the key regional states, including Egypt and the Gulf States; the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council; the European Union; and, of course, Iraq itself. Other countries--for instance, Germany, Japan and South Korea--that might be willing to contribute to resolving political, diplomatic, and security problems affecting Iraq could also become members.

These nations and groups have met in various forums on several occasions to discuss Iraq. It is unclear how attempting to mold them into a formal body--which several would probably resist at this stage--would be helpful.

RECOMMENDATION 6: The New Diplomatic Offensive and the work of the Support Group should be carried out with urgency, and should be conducted by and organized at the level of foreign minister or above. The Secretary of State, if not the President, should lead the U.S. effort. That effort should be both bilateral and multilateral, as circumstances require.

Secretary of State Rice has been party to several of these talks, and the president has made it clear that the diplomatic initiative is a priority for him. The effort has been both bilateral and multilateral.

RECOMMENDATION 7: The Support Group should call on the participation of the office of the United Nations Secretary-General in its work. The United Nations Secretary-General should designate a Special Envoy as his representative.

It is no more feasible to order the U.N. around than to order a sovereign state around. The U.N. Secretary General no doubt read this report. It is up to him to decide how to proceed.

RECOMMENDATION 8: The Support Group, as part of the New Diplomatic Offensive, should develop specific approaches to neighboring countries that take into account the interests, perspectives, and potential contributions as suggested above.

Surely--in other words, it should be an intelligent rather than stupid diplomatic approach. Agreed.

RECOMMENDATION 9: Under the aegis of the New Diplomatic Offensive and the Support Group, the United States should engage directly with Iran and Syria in order to try to obtain their commitment to constructive policies toward Iraq and other regional issues. In engaging Syria and Iran, the United States should consider incentives, as well as disincentives, in seeking constructive results.

The U.S. has engaged directly with both Iran and Syria, including just-completed talks between the U.S. and Iranian ambassadors in Iraq. So far, the results have been a dramatic escalation in Iranian support for violence in Iraq and continued Syrian support for al Qaeda. As for incentives and disincentives, this issue merits some more detailed consideration.

The U.S. has interests in contact with Iran in four main areas: Iraq, Lebanon (Iranian support for Hezbollah), Iran itself (the nuclear program), and Afghanistan. Iranian involvement in Afghanistan, initially trumpeted as evidence of Tehran's benignity, has become malignant. Iran is actively supporting all elements in Iraq that aim to defeat the United States, regardless of sect or political objective. Iran continues to support Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran continues to flout the international inspections regime (a violation of international law and norm even if it is not developing nuclear weapons). When a diplomat speaks of incentives in proposing such negotiations, what is meant is concessions. One would normally seek to trade one interest for a more important one, giving up, say, pressure on Iran to stop supporting Hezbollah in return for a reduction in Iranian support for violence in Iraq.

There are a number of problems with such an approach in this context, however. First, the U.S. is not and should not be prepared to abandon any of these objectives. As a matter of supporting two independent states, Israel and Lebanon, against continual armed attack and intervention in their domestic affairs, the U.S. cannot countenance Hezbollah's continued presence as an Iranian-supported armed force in Lebanon. As a matter of international law and the pursuit of nuclear non-proliferation, the U.S. cannot accept Tehran's violations of the non-proliferation treaty and refusal to participate fully in the obligations it imposes on signatories. As a matter of support to an ally (and upholding international convention as expressed by the U.N. Security Council Resolution by which the U.S. remains in Iraq at the moment), the U.S. cannot tolerate Iran's continued support to violence in Iraq. And as a matter of support to another ally (this backed by NATO commitments as well), the U.S. cannot accept Iranian negative interference in Afghanistan either. So the normal diplomatic process of trading lesser interests for greater will be very difficult to pursue in this context--unless advocates of the ISG report believe that we really can sacrifice one or more of these interests for the sake of ending Iranian involvement in Iraq.

There is yet another problem with this view, however. It supposes that all of these interests are of equal importance to Iran, and that we could, in theory, give up on, say, Afghanistan in order to save Iraq. The state resources Iran is allocating to these various efforts, and the level of risk the government of Iran is running in various theaters, strongly suggests that the nuclear program and Iraq are far more important to Tehran than its other interests. They also suggest that the current Iranian regime is willing to run the risk of triggering a U.S. attack rather than abandon either objective. Since these objectives are by far the most important two from the American perspective as well, it is hard to see not just how we come to an agreement, but even what we would discuss in negotiations. The Iranian stated position is that Iran has a sovereign right to unfettered and uninspected nuclear power--a position that is at variance with international treaties and norms--and that any U.S. presence in Iraq, even at the invitation of the sovereign Iraqi government, is a colonial occupation and inadmissible. The American positions are that Iran must adhere to international commitments and norms, and that the presence of American forces, which is, in fact, entirely legal and legitimated by the international community, is appropriate as long as the sovereign government of Iraq desires it. It is very difficult to see what the compromise position is moving from those two starting points.

This is not to say that discussions or negotiations with Iran are necessarily impossible or even unwise. It is simply to note that they are exceedingly difficult and extremely unlikely to be productive on any short time-line or without a change in the situation in the region. The ISG report dismisses as unrealistic proposals to use increased military force in Iraq to establish security, but offers instead a wholly unrealistic timeline for diplomatic negotiations that amounts to magical thinking.

RECOMMENDATION 10: The issue of Iran's nuclear programs should continue to be dealt with by the United Nations Security Council and its five permanent members (i.e., the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China) plus Germany.

It is being addressed in this manner, with no progress to show.

RECOMMENDATION 11: Diplomatic efforts within the Support Group should seek to persuade Iran that it should take specific steps to improve the situation in Iraq. Among steps Iran could usefully take are the following:

Iran should stem the flow of equipment, technology, and training to any group resorting to violence in Iraq.

Iran should make clear its support for the territorial integrity of Iraq as a unified state, as well as its respect for the sovereignty of Iraq and its government.

Iran can use its influence, especially over Shia groups in Iraq, to encourage national reconciliation.

Iran can also, in the right circumstances, help in the economic reconstruction of Iraq.

These are all desirable things for the Iranians to do. Considering the discussion above, how can we persuade them to do them other than by surrendering our core national interests?

RECOMMENDATION 12: The United States and the Support Group should encourage and persuade Syria of the merit of such contributions as the following:

Syria can control its border with Iraq to the maximum extent possible and work together with Iraqis on joint patrols on the border. Doing so will help stem the flow of funding, insurgents, and terrorists in and out of Iraq.

Syria can establish hotlines to exchange information with the Iraqis.

Syria can increase its political and economic cooperation with Iraq.

The ISG offers virtually no examination of the motivations of Iran and Syria for their support of violence in Iraq. The Syrians at a minimum are responding to two dangers: the threat that their minority Alawite government will come under attack by the Sunni terrorists it is now funneling to Iraq if it hinders their movement, and the need to cleave to Iran, its principal ally in the region. So far, these threats have proven more powerful than the danger of a collapsing Iraq and more powerful than any threat or offer the U.S. has been able to present to Damascus. In addition, the U.S. has interests in conflict with Syria in Lebanon, which the ISG Report addresses. As in the discussion above, one might imagine a diplomatic negotiation aimed at trading one set of interests for another--abandoning Lebanon to Syrian control in return for Syrian help with Iraq. But, as the ISG report also notes obliquely, no U.S. president could accept such a deal. Since there is not much else that Syria really wants from the U.S., it is difficult to see how negotiations with Damascus can lead anywhere constructive.

RECOMMENDATION 13: There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon and Syria, and President Bush's June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is central to solving Iraq's troubles only if you imagine that they key problem in Iraq stems from Iran's involvement, that that problem would vanish if Iran changed its tune, and that Iran would change its tune if the Arab-Israeli conflict were resolved. In addition, going down this route implies that there is some easy resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict that has not already been thought of or tried. Alas, that is not the case. There is the further question of whether Iran really seeks a resolution to that crisis, or seeks instead the destruction of Israel, as its leaders have periodically declared. The ISG makes no evaluation of Iran's intentions in this regard, and therefore sheds no light on the likelihood that there is a resolution to the Israel-Palestine dispute that would suit Iran sufficiently to cause Tehran to abandon its efforts to destabilize Iraq. Still less is there any evidence offered in this report that the specific solution proposed is acceptable to Tehran. Without such evidence, it makes no sense to insist upon a particular solution to the world's thorniest problem as the essential basis for resolving a problem that is otherwise unconnected to it. After all, we should remember that Iraqi Sunni and Shia are not killing each other (or us) over the disposition of the Golan Heights.

RECOMMENDATION 14: This effort should include--as soon as possible--the unconditional calling and holding of meetings, under the auspices of the United States or the Quartet (i.e., the United States, Russia, European Union, and the United Nations), between Israel and Lebanon and Syria on the one hand, and Israel and Palestinians (who acknowledge Israel's right to exist) on the other. The purpose of these meetings would be to negotiate peace as was done at the Madrid Conference in 1991, and on two separate tracks--one Syrian/Lebanese, and the other Palestinian.

See above.

RECOMMENDATION 15: Concerning Syria, some elements of that negotiated peace should be:

Syria's full adherence to UN Security Council Resolution 1701 of August 2006, which provides the framework for Lebanon to regain sovereign control over its territory.

Syria's full cooperation with all investigations into political assassinations in Lebanon, especially those of Rafik Hariri and Pierre Gemayel.

A verifiable cessation of Syrian aid to Hezbollah and the use of Syrian territory for transshipment of Iranian weapons and aid to Hezbollah. (This step would do much to solve Israel's problem with Hezbollah.)

Syria's use of its influence with Hamas and Hezbollah for the release of the captured Israeli Defense Force soldiers.

A verifiable cessation of Syrian efforts to undermine the democratically elected government of Lebanon.

A verifiable cessation of arms shipments from or transiting through Syria for Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups.

A Syrian commitment to help obtain from Hamas an acknowledgment of Israel's right to exist.

Greater Syrian efforts to seal its border with Iraq.

This is pretty close to our maximum set of demands on Syria. What could we possibly offer the Syrians that would persuade them to make such concessions? The recommendation below suggests that the return of the Golan Heights would be sufficient, but it is very difficult to see any evidence for such a view (and none is offered in the report). In addition, Syria has repeatedly demonstrated that it has no intention of participating in the investigations of the assassinations its agents conducted, no intention of halting aid to Hezbollah, no intention of sealing its border with Iraq, and no intention of stopping the flow of arms through its territory. One might conceivably persuade the Syrians to accept such conditions under extreme duress, but the ISG does not propose such a course and rightly so--now is not the time to start or risk the start of another war to achieve all of our objectives vis-à-vis Syria.

RECOMMENDATION 16: In exchange for these actions and in the context of a full and secure peace agreement, the Israelis should return the Golan Heights, with a U.S. security guarantee for Israel that could include an international force on the border, including U.S. troops if requested by both parties.

It is worth noting that the ISG, for all its purported concern with the "long-term" commitment of U.S. forces in Iraq and the damage that is doing to the U.S. military, suggests on a number of occasions deployments of U.S. forces to other theaters that are certain to be at least as long-term as anything contemplated for Iraq. The scale would be much smaller, presumably, but the commitment in this case would be permanent.

RECOMMENDATION 17: Concerning the Palestinian issue, elements of that negotiated peace should include:

Adherence to UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and to the principle of land for peace, which are the only bases for achieving peace.

Strong support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to take the lead in preparing the way for negotiations with Israel.

A major effort to move from the current hostilities by consolidating the cease-fire reached between the Palestinians and the Israelis in November 2006.

Support for a Palestinian national unity government.

Sustainable negotiations leading to a final peace settlement along the lines of President Bush's two-state solution, which would address the key final status issues of borders, settlements, Jerusalem, the right of return, and the end of conflict.

The Palestinian Authority has collapsed into civil war, so most of these proposals are unworkable at this point. When and if the Palestinians get their act together again, it is unlikely that we will simply be able to revive the negotiations of fall 2006. Once again, we should recall that the U.S. has been actively engaged in seeking a solution to the Israel-Palestine problems for a generation, and no resolution has emerged. At a minimum, a wise observer would conclude that there remains no low-hanging fruit in such an endeavor.

RECOMMENDATION 18: It is critical for the United States to provide additional political, economic, and military support for Afghanistan, including resources that might become available as combat forces are moved from Iraq.

Yes, the U.S. should provide much more assistance to Afghanistan, particularly financial assistance in support of the Afghan National Army. More U.S. troops in Afghanistan would surely help, although the much-feared spring offensive of the Taliban proved weaker than anticipated. A thorough review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is in order. But the focus on fighting the global war on terror in Afghanistan is increasingly misguided. Al Qaeda has very few permanent bases in Afghanistan--many permanent bases in Pakistan. The ISG surely does not propose invading Waziristan or Baluchistan in pursuit of al Qaeda. In that case, we must recognize that both the stakes and the danger in Iraq are far higher than they are in Afghanistan. The allocation of U.S. resources prioritizing Iraq is correct at this juncture, although the ISG report is right to note that if and when it becomes possible to reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq, reinforcements should go to Afghanistan. But again, this call cuts against the insistence on reducing the pressure on the U.S. ground forces rapidly. If that really is the priority, then U.S. forces coming out of Iraq have to go home. If the ISG believes that the U.S. can sustain additional forces in Afghanistan for an indefinite period of time, then the arguments about the unsustainability of U.S. forces in Iraq become suspect.

RECOMMENDATION 19: The President and the leadership of his national security team should remain in close and frequent contact with the Iraqi leadership. These contacts must convey a clear message: there must be action by the Iraqi government to make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones. In public diplomacy, the President should convey as much detail as possible about the substance of these exchanges in order to keep the American people, the Iraqi people, and the countries in the region well informed.

The administration has been continually doing this since January.

RECOMMENDATION 20: If the Iraqi government demonstrates political will and makes substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should make clear its willingness to continue training, assistance, and support for Iraq's security forces, and to continue political, military, and economic support for the Iraqi government. As Iraq becomes more capable of governing, defending, and sustaining itself, the U.S. military and civilian presence in Iraq can be reduced. RECOMMENDATION 21: If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government.

These paired recommendations are highly problematic, considering the ISG's otherwise accurate depiction of what would probably happen if Iraq fails. If the U.S. both withdraws its forces from Iraq and cuts off aid to the government of Iraq, what will happen? The government will collapse, and Iran will take over in the midst of a vicious and bloody civil war. There really is no other alternative. One could imagine a strategy of withdrawing our forces and dramatically increasing our aid to the Iraqi government, although that is highly problematic for other reasons noted below. One could imagine keeping our forces there and cutting off portions of our aid package. But doing both will surely entail complete and rapid failure, with all the consequences described elsewhere in the report.

RECOMMENDATION 22: The President should state that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq. If the Iraqi government were to request a temporary base or bases, then the U.S. government could consider that request as it would in the case of any other government.

This recommendation is quite foolish. Iraq will be unable to protect itself against regional threats for many years, as the Iraqis increasingly understand. One might make this recommendation for one of three reasons: (1) Because the Sunni Arab insurgency at the time the ISG Report was written was insisting as a non-negotiable demand upon the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces; (2) Because the Iranians continue to insist upon such a withdrawal; or (3) Because other countries in the region want us to leave. The Sunni Arabs have largely turned around and are now by and large much more eager for us to stay in strength than any other group in Iraq. The Iranians want us to leave rapidly so that they can take control either directly or, more likely, by proxy. We should make no proclamation that encourages them to believe that they will succeed in this endeavor. And Iraq's neighbors have consistently indicated their fears not that we will stay too long, but that we will leave too soon. There is no longer any basis for such a declaration, and every reason not to make it. The promise of a long-term security arrangement with the United States that includes the presence of U.S. forces is essential to guaranteeing the long-term security and independence of a democratic, Shia-controlled Iraq. That promise can provide the U.S. with significant leverage in negotiations with the Iraqi government for other important desiderata. We should not throw away what is rapidly becoming the most powerful bargaining chip we have in order to pursue the delusions of late 2006.

RECOMMENDATION 23: The President should restate that the United States does not seek to control Iraq's oil.

The president can and should restate this obvious truth, but it is unlikely to have any more effect the next hundred times he says it than it has had the previous hundred. It should be apparent to all rational people that America does not covet Iraq's oil, particularly since we have done nothing whatever to use our predominant position in Iraq to take control of it. Those who continue to discuss this are pursuing their own propaganda line--or al Qaeda's--and should not be taken seriously at this point.

RECOMMENDATION 24: The contemplated completion dates of the end of 2006 or early 2007 for some milestones may not be realistic. These should be completed by the first quarter of 2007.

Indeed, the initial milestone dates were unrealistic. So are those of the ISG Report. So are those embodied in the 2007 Supplemental. In fact, as one would hope that Congress might understand from its own difficulties, placing milestones on the progress of particular pieces of legislation is normally problematic. Political compromise takes time, is unpredictable, and does not happen on schedule--at least not on important and controversial issues. Congress has been debating immigration reform, Social Security reform, fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax, and many other issues for years--in some cases decades. Major reforms have yet to be completed. The tasks the ISG and others have set for the Iraqi Government are at least as large and controversial as these. The idea of putting milestones on them measured in months is simply absurd.

RECOMMENDATION 25: These milestones are a good start. The United States should consult closely with the Iraqi government and develop additional milestones in three areas: national reconciliation, security, and improving government services affecting the daily lives of Iraqis. As with the current milestones, these additional milestones should be tied to calendar dates to the fullest extent possible.

This recommendation reflects, again, a complete lack of understanding of negotiation and legislative progress, which is surprising considering the background of the authors of this report. They either learned very little from their own experiences in diplomacy and government or have written a highly disingenuous document.

RECOMMENDATION 26: Constitution review. Review of the constitution is essential to national reconciliation and should be pursued on an urgent basis. The United Nations has expertise in this field, and should play a role in this process.

See comments above. Note that international experts played an important role in the drafting of the original constitution and, more important, developing the basis for the electoral law that has created an extremely challenging political climate in Baghdad, to put it mildly. It remains to be demonstrated that the supposed expertise of international actors can be suitably harnessed and adapted to the conditions in Iraq.

RECOMMENDATION 27: De-Baathification. Political reconciliation requires the reintegration of Baathists and Arab nationalists into national life, with the leading figures of Saddam Hussein's regime excluded. The United States should encourage the return of qualified Iraqi professionals--Sunni or Shia, nationalist or ex-Baathist, Kurd or Turkmen or Christian or Arab--into the government.

The U.S. has been pushing this approach consistently for many months. It is an ideal to strive for, but something unlikely to be accomplished while violence remains high and for some time after that. Nor is it simple, since what we call "reconciliation" implies a settling of accounts with the many victims of Saddam's regime. We are unlikely to get any "reconciliation" legislation that does not include some sort of accountability program, which may well set back the process of integrating the Anbar Awakening and similar movements more than the passage of the de-Baathification law helps that process. We must stop enslaving ourselves to particular narrowly-defined legislative solutions to a complex and evolving process and instead remain flexible and adaptable to take advantage of every positive development and opportunity that occurs.

RECOMMENDATION 28: Oil revenue sharing. Oil revenues should accrue to the central government and be shared on the basis of population. No formula that gives control over revenues from future fields to the regions or gives control of oil fields to the regions is compatible with national reconciliation.

This issue has become much less significant since the ISG report was published, as current drafts of the hydrocarbons law address it adequately. The Kurds continue to negotiate for maximum benefit from what they feel is a strong position, and the likelihood is that the movement of this bill will be fitful for some time. As this recommendation seems to propose, it is more important to get a good bill than to get a bad bill quickly.

RECOMMENDATION 29: Provincial elections. Provincial elections should be held at the earliest possible date. Under the constitution, new provincial elections should have been held already. They are necessary to restore representative government.

This recommendation is extraordinarily naïve and dangerous in the current environment. Since the ISG report was written, the power of the Sadrist movement has grown in the south while that of SCIRI has weakened. Elections in the South today would almost certainly return a much larger Sadrist contingent to the legislature, empowering one of the worst enemies of reconciliation who is fast becoming the most effective tool of Iranian influence in Iraq. Again, the point is not to push for bad things to happen quickly, but to choose the timing carefully and prepare the groundwork skillfully to achieve a desirable goal.

RECOMMENDATION 30: Kirkuk. Given the very dangerous situation in Kirkuk, international arbitration is necessary to avert communal violence. Kirkuk's mix of Kurdish, Arab, and Turkmen populations could make it a powder keg. A referendum on the future of Kirkuk (as required by the Iraqi Constitution before the end of 2007) would be explosive and should be delayed. This issue should be placed on the agenda of the International Iraq Support Group as part of the New Diplomatic Offensive.

Yes, the referendum should be delayed if possible. But the problem is primarily one of inter-Iraqi negotiations. It is somewhat difficult to see how engaging it in a regional negotiation will help make an already challenging discussion easier.

RECOMMENDATION 31: Amnesty. Amnesty proposals must be far-reaching. Any successful effort at national reconciliation must involve those in the government finding ways and means to reconcile with former bitter enemies.

Obvious, but true. But we must keep in mind the flip-side. Even in South Africa, "reconciliation" involved accounting for criminality on the part of the former dominant minority. Can we afford to have a "truth and reconciliation" initiative running on a large scale in Iraq right now? Hardly. Timing is important, and so is being precise about what is both desirable and politically feasible within the context of Iraqi politics as it is today.

RECOMMENDATION 32: Minorities. The rights of women and the rights of all minority communities in Iraq, including Turkmen, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Yazidis, Sabeans, and Armenians, must be protected.

They are now protected in the constitution, but not on the ground because of ongoing violence. Coalition forces work every day to ensure that the legal protections granted to minorities are enforced; Maliki has repeatedly declared his desire to do so; making it happen will require bringing the violence under control as a first step.

RECOMMENDATION 33: Civil society. The Iraqi government should stop using the process of registering nongovernmental organizations as a tool for politicizing or stopping their activities. Registration should be solely an administrative act, not an occasion for government censorship and interference.

This is true, of course, but also somewhat naïve. Many governments, even in nominal democracies, misuse registration to politicize or hinder the activities of NGOs. If the standard in Iraq is no such interference at all, it will not be achieved any more than it has been in many other countries at similar or higher levels of development.

RECOMMENDATION 34: The question of the future U.S. force presence must be on the table for discussion as the national reconciliation dialogue takes place. Its inclusion will increase the likelihood of participation by insurgents and militia leaders, and thereby increase the possibilities for success.

Actually, Sunni insurgents have already participated even without a promise of the imminent withdrawal of U.S. forces. It seems likely, in fact, that the continued presence of U.S. forces will encourage them to participate more over time and the threat of a U.S. withdrawal will curtail that tendency. Among Shia groups, only Sadr continues to call for U.S. withdrawal. Considering his consistent anti-American position, the aid he is receiving from Iran, his recent sojourn in Tehran, and the shift of his rhetoric to support Iranian agendas rather than Iraqi interests, it is not clear that we should offer to yield up the country to him in return for his participation in negotiations.

RECOMMENDATION 35: The United States must make active efforts to engage all parties in Iraq, with the exception of al Qaeda. The United States must find a way to talk to Grand Ayatollah Sistani, Moqtada al-Sadr, and militia and insurgent leaders.

The U.S. is talking to all elements in Iraq willing to talk to us, including Sadrists if not Sadr himself, Hakim, Sunni insurgents, emerging Sunni leaders, and, of course, all factions of the Iraqi government. Sistani's influence appears to be declining as Sadr's grows, so the necessity of piercing his nominally apolitical stance appears less. Nor is it at all clear what direct negotiations with him might achieve that indirect approaches have not. Finally, Sistani's negative influence, such as it is, is dwarfed by Sadr's, and it is difficult to imagine Sadr willingly negotiating with us. If he wants to talk, of course, we should.

RECOMMENDATION 36: The United States should encourage dialogue between sectarian communities, as outlined in the New Diplomatic Offensive above. It should press religious leaders inside and outside Iraq to speak out on behalf of peace and reconciliation.

The U.S. government and the Iraqi government have done this to good effect since the publication of the ISG report. Sadr and Hakim have undertaken to do it on their own.

RECOMMENDATION 37: Iraqi amnesty proposals must not be undercut in Washington by either the executive or the legislative branch.

Indeed, they should not, and there is no reason to think that they will be at this point.

RECOMMENDATION 38: The United States should support the presence of neutral international experts as advisors to the Iraqi government on the processes of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration.

There are very few technical problems of DDR that the coalition is not now prepared to handle. The trick is convincing the militias to go through the process, which is the focus of major coalition efforts. If disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration were to begin on a large scale, it would require resources more than expert advisers to help in the transition.

RECOMMENDATION 39: The United States should provide financial and technical support and establish a single office in Iraq to coordinate assistance to the Iraqi government and its expert advisors to aid a program to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate militia members.

Yes, the program of assistance has been badly organized from the outset and continues to be badly organized. The abolition of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office and the subordination of the entire program to the Embassy is a good step. It is unlikely, however, that further changes to the wiring diagram will have an effect in a relevant time-frame at this point, especially considering that the U.S. assistance program is rapidly running out of cash.

RECOMMENDATION 40: The United States should not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq.

Why not, if it is for the purpose of defending Iraq from regional enemies? This statement is far too broadly drawn and addresses problems that have changed substantially since the ISG report was written, as noted above.

RECOMMENDATION 41: The United States must make it clear to the Iraqi government that the United States could carry out its plans, including planned redeployments, even if Iraq does not implement its planned changes. America's other security needs and the future of our military cannot be made hostage to the actions or inactions of the Iraqi government.

We have done so repeatedly. But since it is clear that the government of Iraq is incapable of handling the threats to its stability and security on its own now or in the near future, the threat of withdrawal is tantamount to the threat of unleashing unbridled violence throughout the country. The more the government of Iraq believes that threat, the more sectarian actors will hasten their own preparations for the civil war to follow. That is not in our interest in any way, since it also undermines their willingness to negotiate with each other and make meaningful compromises. We have seen more progress in reconciliation and cross-sectarian negotiations since the surge than we had seen for years previously. There is no proof-of-principle to support the idea that this threat can have a positive effect on the situation in Iraq, whereas there is evidence to the contrary. As for the pursuit of American interests, a much longer discussion than that offered in the ISG report would be required to show that it is likely to be in our interests in the near term to consign Iraq to catastrophe in order to keep options open in other contingencies. Lastly, the notion that our presence in Iraq is hostage solely to the "actions or inactions of the Iraqi government" is false and morally repulsive. There are significant enemies in Iraq whose actions are at least as important in derailing desired progress, and the continuing efforts to blame either the U.S. or the government of Iraq for every bad thing that has happened there are both factually flawed and morally reprehensible.

RECOMMENDATION 42: We should seek to complete the training and equipping mission by the first quarter of 2008, as stated by General George Casey on October 24, 2006.

The training and equipping mission is in the process of completion, and a new initiative to expand the size of the Iraqi Army is underway.

RECOMMENDATION 43: Military priorities in Iraq must change, with the highest priority given to the training, equipping, advising, and support mission and to counterterrorism operations.

RECOMMENDATION 44: The most highly qualified U.S. officers and military personnel should be assigned to the imbedded teams, and American teams should be present with Iraqi units down to the company level. The U.S. military should establish suitable career-enhancing incentives for these officers and personnel.

These are obviously the two recommendations that have received the most attention in the ISG, and the ones most people have in mind when they advocate "adopting" or "implementing" the ISG proposals today. They bear some considerable reflection for these reasons. To begin with, it is clear that at some point the U.S. will need to move into a purely advisory role in Iraq, supporting Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) that are maintaining stability that has been established and helping to defend Iraq against its neighbors and external terrorists. The question is when this transition can occur. The ISG proposed beginning it early this year. This proposal suffered from the following fundamental problems (which no doubt contributed to the Bush Administration's refusal to implement it):

(1) Sectarian violence in Iraq was rising steadily through 2006 and appeared to be reaching a crescendo, perhaps even a point-of-no-return, by the time the ISG report was published. Since every member of the ISF belongs to one or another sect, and since hostile elements had worked hard to infiltrate the ISF, it was inconceivable that that force could re-establish security on its own in such an environment. The ISF could not even recruit among Sunnis in most of Iraq in 2006, let alone police the Sunni Arab insurgency impartially. Turning responsibility for putting the sectarian genie back in the bottle over to the ISF in late 2006 would have led inevitably to rapid failure and large-scale civil war.

(2) Even if the ISF were equitably recruited, perfectly trained, well-behaved, and properly equipped, it was still far too small to suppress violence on the scale of late 2006 and early 2007. It was far more likely to be swept away by the wave of violence than to bring it under control.

(3) Because of the limitations of the ISF and the trend of steadily rising sectarian violence, it would have taken far too long to enlarge and improve the ISF. Focusing primarily on that mission without working directly to bring the violence under control would have led to failure long before the ISF's expanded capabilities came into play.

Since the ISG was published, the situation has changed significantly, but it is still far too early to revert to this proposal:

(1) One of the most important factors driving sectarian violence (which is continuing at a markedly reduced level from pre-Baghdad Security Plan levels) is the continued power of sectarian actors within the ISF. Simply building the capacity of these sectarian actors, as the ISG Report's recommendations would do, will only increase their ability to carry out sectarian cleansing. MiTT and NPTT teams are insufficient to cope with this problem. They do not have the ability or the mission to engage directly with local neighborhoods and develop their own understanding of the local situation independent of what they hear from the ISF units with which they are embedded. They are therefore at a substantial disadvantage in even identifying sectarian orders given to their ISF units compared with combat units operating independently of but partnered with ISF units. They have much less ability, moreover, to hinder the sectarian actions of units with which they are embedded, something that combat forces directly engaged in establishing security now do on a regular basis. The number one priority now is establishing security; the number two priority is eliminating sectarianism within the ISF. Neither goal can be achieved by pulling U.S. combat forces back from their current missions and increasing the number and quality of embedded trainers. This entire discussion in the ISG Report presumes a level of non-sectarianism and professionalism within the ISF and, above all, its leadership in the Ministry of Interior, that is simply not present yet.

(2) The ISF remains too small to establish security in the face of the current al Qaeda surge and ongoing sectarian tensions. It will take some time to increase the size of the ISF. We can wait longer until it is large enough to undertake the mission, or we can hasten the process by reducing the level of sectarian violence while we increase the size of the Iraqi forces and weed out sectarian actors. The fastest way out of the current conundrum is the current strategy. Shifting to the ISG's proposed approach will delay success, require a longer commitment of U.S. forces, and quite possibly lead to failure.

The faster the U.S. works to establish security in Iraq, combined with stepped-up efforts to increase the size and improve the quality of the ISF, the sooner we will be able to move into a train-and-transition program that has a chance of success. Realistically, it is almost impossible to imagine those conditions holding until late in 2008 at the earliest. At all events, the transition from a focus on securing the population to train-and-transition should be driven by the following conditions (rather than by any arbitrary timelines):

(1)The level of overall violence in Iraq has been sufficiently reduced that the ISF are capable of maintaining it and continuing to reduce it further with some continuing U.S. support.

(2) The key negative sectarian actors within the ISF, the MoI, the MoD, and other key institutions in the government of Iraq have been removed, and both Americans and Iraqis can be assured that the ISF will operate to maintain and improve security rather than to pursue sectarian agendas.

(3) The ISF has been increased in size and properly equipped not only to conduct ongoing operations, but also to defend itself in case of an escalation in violence driven by internal or external actors. The size of the ISF should be determined by a thorough staff analysis of the requirements to establish and maintain internal and external security--something that has not informed previous efforts at sizing the force, including the ISG's.

Until these conditions have been met, a strategy of train-and-transition (which had been the Administration's stated and pursued approach from late 2003 until January 2007) will lead to failure.

RECOMMENDATION 45: The United States should support more and better equipment for the Iraqi Army by encouraging the Iraqi government to accelerate its Foreign Military Sales requests and, as American combat brigades move out of Iraq, by leaving behind some American equipment for Iraqi forces.

This recommendation is being implemented, although more can and should be done. The limiting factor right now is the ability of the Iraqi MoD and MoI to spend money. The U.S. should be ready to provide significant foreign military assistance to support the ISF, reprogramming funds if necessary from some of the many less-deserving partners now receiving substantial aid, but providing far less assistance in the GWOT than Iraq does.

RECOMMENDATION 46: The new Secretary of Defense should make every effort to build healthy civil-military relations, by creating an environment in which the senior military feel free to offer independent advice not only to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon but also to the President and the National Security Council, as envisioned in the Goldwater-Nichols legislation.

This recommendation is sound. The secretary of defense and his assistants in Washington should keep constantly in mind, however, that while a war is going on their primary constituents are the commanders and soldiers in the field, not the staffs in Arlington. Goldwater-Nichols has created a conundrum within the military, whereby the senior military leaders in the Pentagon are not charged with winning the nation's wars, but with preserving the military institutions they head. It is no flaw of theirs if they focus on institutional well-being, but a statutory responsibility. In truth, the efforts of all senior military leaders and civilian national security personnel must be to provide all available support to fighting forces and only secondarily to worry about the welfare of the institutions they oversee. During major wars, preparing for possible future conflicts must be secondary to supporting those who are actually risking their lives on a daily basis.

RECOMMENDATION 47: As redeployment proceeds, the Pentagon leadership should emphasize training and education programs for the forces that have returned to the continental United States in order to "reset" the force and restore the U.S. military to a high level of readiness for global contingencies.

The costs of resetting the force will be high, and the ISG is right to insist that doing so properly be an urgent priority as soon as it is possible to begin reducing our commitments in Iraq.

RECOMMENDATION 48: As equipment returns to the United States, Congress should appropriate sufficient funds to restore the equipment to full functionality over the next five years.

This proposal is good, but it does not go far enough. Five years is too long. Moreover, there is better equipment available right now that would help our soldiers survive and succeed in the ongoing war, particularly vehicles that are more resistant to mines and IEDs than Humvees. Congress and the Pentagon should make it a top priority to re-equip our forces now fighting with such vehicles, and with any additional equipment that might assist them in the current struggle, giving precedence to such programs over the development of equipment aimed at more distant potential conflicts.

RECOMMENDATION 49: The administration, in full consultation with the relevant committees of Congress, should assess the full future budgetary impact of the war in Iraq and its potential impact on the future readiness of the force, the ability to recruit and retain high-quality personnel, needed investments in procurement and in research and development, and the budgets of other U.S. government agencies involved in the stability and reconstruction effort.

Transparency in the process of recognizing the necessary costs of this conflict would be a positive step. Recognizing that U.S. efforts in Iraq will have to continue over the long term would also be positive. But Congress must be an honest partner in this process as well, refraining from the temptation to use its budgetary powers to micromanage strategy and tactics in this conflict.

RECOMMENDATION 50: The entire Iraqi National Police should be transferred to the Ministry of Defense, where the police commando units will become part of the new Iraqi Army.

This recommendation is unwise. The INP were recruited on a different basis from the IA, and are trained and equipped differently. Simply moving the boxes around on the chart will not solve any of their problems. Nor are the Iraqis likely to accept such a recommendation at this point. The MoI functions as it does because of the powerful backing of sectarian actors in the government of Iraq. Those actors will prevent any move that threatens their control of the police, and, if the police were transferred to the MoD, would simply redouble their efforts to gain control of that organization. Attacking sectarianism now requires going after the sectarian actors themselves, a process that is ongoing daily in Iraq. As in other areas, the ISG's focus on the bureaucratic capacity of particular organizations has become far less relevant as the problem of sectarian agendas within the leadership of those organizations has come to the fore.

RECOMMENDATION 51: The entire Iraqi Border Police should be transferred to the Ministry of Defense, which would have total responsibility for border control and external security.

Efforts are underway along various lines to correct deficiencies in the control of Iraq's borders. Again, simply moving boxes around on the wiring diagram is not equivalent to solving any problem.

RECOMMENDATION 52: The Iraqi Police Service should be given greater responsibility to conduct criminal investigations and should expand its cooperation with other elements in the Iraqi judicial system in order to better control crime and protect Iraqi civilians.

Considering the concentration of bad sectarian actors in the police, especially the local police, this suggestion would be very harmful if applied across the board. It must be applied selectively to units, regions, and individuals who are performing properly, and the focus must instead be on identifying and removing those pursuing sectarian agendas.

RECOMMENDATION 53: The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior should undergo a process of organizational transformation, including efforts to expand the capability and reach of the current major crime unit (or Criminal Investigation Division) and to exert more authority over local police forces. The sole authority to pay police salaries and disburse financial support to local police should be transferred to the Ministry of the Interior.

See comments above.

RECOMMENDATION 54: The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior should proceed with current efforts to identify, register, and control the Facilities Protection Service.

Programs are underway to bring the FPS under control.

RECOMMENDATION 55: The U.S. Department of Defense should continue its mission to train the Iraqi National Police and the Iraqi Border Police, which should be placed within the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.

DoD should certainly continue to train INP and the IBP, although the INP should not be placed under the control of the MoD.

RECOMMENDATION 56: The U.S. Department of Justice should direct the training mission of the police forces remaining under the Ministry of the Interior.

This recommendation proceeds from the assumption that the MoI will lose control of its operational units. Since that is almost certainly impossible in the current Iraqi political climate, even if it were desirable, this recommendation is inadmissible. DoJ cannot oversee an organization that controls more than a hundred thousand national police organized into combat units and engaged in counter-insurgency operations.

RECOMMENDATION 57: Just as U.S. military training teams are imbedded within Iraqi Army units, the current practice of imbedding U.S. police trainers should be expanded and the numbers of civilian training officers increased so that teams can cover all levels of the Iraqi Police Service, including local police stations. These trainers should be obtained from among experienced civilian police executives and supervisors from around the world. These officers would replace the military police personnel currently assigned to training teams.

The actual numerical requirements for embedding U.S. trainers with every local police station would be staggering, and an extremely ineffective use of U.S. forces. This recommendation was poorly thought-out and offered with no consideration of the requirements of its implementation.

RECOMMENDATION 58: The FBI should expand its investigative and forensic training and facilities within Iraq, to include coverage of terrorism as well as criminal activity.

No doubt.

RECOMMENDATION 59: The Iraqi government should provide funds to expand and upgrade communications equipment and motor vehicles for the Iraqi Police Service.

This process is underway, but slowly. The U.S. should help, but always seizing every opportunity to use its leverage to drive out sectarian actors rather than simply empowering them with advanced weapons.

RECOMMENDATION 60: The U.S. Department of Justice should lead the work of organizational transformation in the Ministry of the Interior. This approach must involve Iraqi officials, starting at senior levels and moving down, to create a strategic plan and work out standard administrative procedures, codes of conduct, and operational measures that Iraqis will accept and use. These plans must be drawn up in partnership.

Significant progress is being made in the area of Iraqi jurisprudence. Efforts along these lines should surely continue.

RECOMMENDATION 61: Programs led by the U.S. Department of Justice to establish courts; to train judges, prosecutors, and investigators; and to create institutions and practices to fight corruption must be strongly supported and funded. New and refurbished courthouses with improved physical security, secure housing for judges and judicial staff, witness protection facilities, and a new Iraqi Marshals Service are essential parts of a secure and functioning system of justice.

The Rule of Law Green Zone is an excellent example of the good implementation of such a recommendation. It should be duplicated in at least one other area in Baghdad and the model should probably be duplicated outside of the capital as well, over time.

RECOMMENDATION 62: As soon as possible, the U.S. government should provide technical assistance to the Iraqi government to prepare a draft oil law that defines the rights of regional and local governments and creates a fiscal and legal framework for investment. Legal clarity is essential to attract investment. The U.S. government should encourage the Iraqi government to accelerate contracting for the comprehensive well work-overs in the southern fields needed to increase production, but the United States should no longer fund such infrastructure projects. The U.S. military should work with the Iraqi military and with private security forces to protect oil infrastructure and contractors. Protective measures could include a program to improve pipeline security by paying local tribes solely on the basis of throughput (rather than fixed amounts). Metering should be implemented at both ends of the supply line. This step would immediately improve accountability in the oil sector. In conjunction with the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. government should press Iraq to continue reducing subsidies in the energy sector, instead of providing grant assistance. Until Iraqis pay market prices for oil products, drastic fuel shortages will remain.

These recommendations are generally sound. Those that have not already been adopted probably should be.

RECOMMENDATION 63:

The United States should encourage investment in Iraq's oil sector by the international community and by international energy companies. The United States should assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise, in order to enhance efficiency, transparency, and accountability. To combat corruption, the U.S. government should urge the Iraqi government to post all oil contracts, volumes, and prices on the Web so that Iraqis and outside observers can track exports and export revenues. The United States should support the World Bank's efforts to ensure that best practices are used in contracting. This support involves providing Iraqi officials with contracting templates and training them in contracting, auditing, and reviewing audits. The United States should provide technical assistance to the Ministry of Oil for enhancing maintenance, improving the payments process, managing cash flows, contracting and auditing, and updating professional training programs for management and technical personnel.

All of these recommendations not yet acted upon should be.

RECOMMENDATION 64: U.S. economic assistance should be increased to a level of $5 billion per year rather than being permitted to decline. The President needs to ask for the necessary resources and must work hard to win the support of Congress. Capacity building and job creation, including reliance on the Commander's Emergency Response Program, should be U.S. priorities. Economic assistance should be provided on a nonsectarian basis.

This recommendation is dead-on. U.S. assistance to Iraq is now programmed to fall just at one of the most critical times in the entire effort. If Congress is serious about desiring to place the responsibility for Iraq's future on Iraqis rather than American soldiers, it should increase non-military efforts in Iraq rather than reducing them. Calling for reductions both in combat forces and in aid of all varieties is simply abandoning Iraq to its fate--something that is in the interest of no one but our enemies.

RECOMMENDATION 65: An essential part of reconstruction efforts in Iraq should be greater involvement by and with international partners, who should do more than just contribute money. They should also actively participate in the design and construction of projects.

Surely.

RECOMMENDATION 66: The United States should take the lead in funding assistance requests from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and other humanitarian agencies.

The issue of refugees within Iraq turns out to be rather complicated. So far, most Iraqi displaced persons have used their own resources and have not asked for or received assistance from any outside organization. This is not to say that the UNHCR should not be involved, or that the U.S. should not support it, but simply that actually doing so in Iraq will prove difficult in current conditions, not merely because of the lack of security. Americans will probably prove reluctant to send money to Saudi Arabia, Syria, or Iran to help with Iraqi refugees; only Jordan is a likely recipient of such aid, but Jordanian policy toward its Iraqi refugees is very complicated as well, and it is not clear how such aid would be welcomed. This issue requires more careful study before a concrete set of recommendations, appropriately nuanced for the vari