Iraq Study Group

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U.S. President George W. Bush with co-chairs of the Iraq Study Group Lee Hamilton (left) and James Baker (right). Wednesday, December 6. 2006.
The Iraq Study Group (ISG), also known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission, was a bipartisan panel charged with assessing the situation in Iraq resulting from the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of that country by a coalition of countries led by the United States. It was appointed March 15, 2006 and published its report, which included 79 policy recommendations, on its website December 6, 2006. The ISG was led by Republican James Baker, a former Secretary of State, and Democrat Lee Hamilton, a former U.S. Representative.

Members of the Iraq Study Group

In addition to the two chairs, the ISG was made up of eight members from public service, four from the Republican Party and four from the Democratic Party. The members were:

Republicans

Democrats

Republican Rudy Giuliani resigned as a member on May 24, 2006. He was replaced by Edwin Meese. Independent Robert Gates resigned November 8, 2006, after being nominated by President George W. Bush to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. He was replaced by Lawrence Eagleburger.

Summary of ISG report findings

The ISG Report appeared at a time when the situation in Iraq was, according to the opening sentence in the Executive Summary, “grave and deteriorating.” [1] The report noted that the US faced a complex set of challenges in Iraq and that if the situation continued to deteriorate at the rate it had been in 2006, consequences for the country itself, the Middle East, and the United States could be catastrophic. As the main reason why current US policy was not working in Iraq, the panel cited the lack of national reconciliation among Iraqis [2]. The panel provided in total 79 recommendations which they believed would strengthen Iraq, the Middle East, and the United States of America [3]

Assessment

In assessing the situation prevailing in Iraq in 2006, the Baker-Hamilton commission included the following aspects:

  1. Security: Security in Iraq had declined rapidly during 2006—one of the reasons why the ISG was formed in the first place. The commission concluded that peaking violence was to be ascribed to various different sources, including “the Sunni Arab insurgency, al-Qaeda and affiliated jihadist groups, Shiite militias and death squads, and organized criminality”. [4] While the highest number of attacks came from the Sunni insurgents, al-Qaeda was said to be responsible for some high-profile attacks.[5] The report also outlined the difficulties experienced by both US and Iraqi forces in combating the violence, including the strain suffered by military units because of the multiple tours of duty in Iraq and the incomplete or defective equipment. Iraqi forces, the report concluded, were nowhere near capable of securing Iraq. The Iraqi Army was not making enough progress, while the Iraqi police and the Facilities Protection Service were openly accused of incompetence, corruption, and subversiveness.
  2. Politics: The commission concluded that the functioning of the Iraqi government was hindered by the prevailing sectarian viewpoints among government officials. As a result, not enough progress was being made on a number of key issues, such as national reconciliation, de-Ba'athification, oil revenue sharing, federalism, security, and corruption.
  3. Economics: The ISG Report commented that insecurity, corruption and old infrastructure was impeding economic progress in Iraq.[6] It was believed that the oil sector would be the the driving force behind economic growth, but at the time, oil production was being hampered by old technology and targeted insurgent attacks on Iraq's oil transporting infrastructure.
  4. International Support: The panel expressed pessimism about the lack of international support for rebuilding efforts in Iraq. It accused Iran and Syria of collaborating with insurgents in Iraq and complained that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States were too “passive and disengaged”. [7] Jordan and Egypt were commended for their cooperation.

Policy alternatives

The panel assessed four policy alternatives on Iraq:

  1. Precipitate Withdrawal: This alternative was rejected as it was believed that this would lead to further deterioration and would almost certainly require a return of American troops in the near future.
  2. Staying the Course: This alternative was rejected as the ISG Report outlined that current policy was not working.
  3. More Troops for Iraq: This alternative was rejected because the panel did not believe increased military strength could solve the underlying problems in Iraq. The report also indicated elsewhere [8] that another reason for rejecting this alternative was that the panel did not believe the required troop levels, which they estimated between 100,000 and 200,000 troops, were available for sustained deployment, though a temporary “surge” was not rejected outright.
  4. Devolution to Three Regions: This alternative was rejected because the panel believed sectarian boundaries could not be drawn without causing “mass population movements, collapse of the Iraqi security forces, strengthening of militias, ethnic cleansing, destabilization of neighboring states, or attempts by neighboring states to dominate Iraqi regions” (p. 39).

The external approach

The ISG recommended that the United States launch a diplomatic “offensive” in the Middle East to elicit help from Iraq's neighbors in quelling the rising violence in Iraq. In particular, the report proposed the Bush administration engage both Iran and Syria in direct negotiations, using both incentives and disincentives [9]. The report also stated that “the United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict” [10]. Finally, the commission noted that Afghanistan should not be forgotten and recommended that the US government provide additional political, economic, and military support, including shifting military troops from Iraq to Afghanistan [11].

The internal approach

The general tenor of the ISG Report with regard to the internal situation in Iraq was that the US government should force the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to take more responsibility. In particular, the report addressed the following nine areas:

  1. Performance on Milestones: Further political, military, and economic support of the Iraqi government should be made dependent on Iraqi willingness to make substantial progress on a number of milestones including national reconciliation, security, and governance (Recommendations 20-21). The panel also wanted President Bush to reiterate that the US has no desire to build permanent military bases in Iraq (Recommendation 22) or to control Iraq's oil (Recommendation 23). The ISG Report admits that the panel's suggested timeline on some key milestones may not be realistic (Recommendation 24) and also urges the US government to develop further concrete milestones (Recommendation 25).
  2. National Reconciliation: National reconciliation was considered essential to reduce the escalating violence in Iraq. The report addressed three facets of this process:
    • Steps for Iraq to Take: Iraq should conduct Constitution Review (Recommendation 26), progress on orderly de-Ba'athification without excluding qualified Iraqis unreasonably from national life (Recommendation 27), regulate oil sharing through the central government (Recommendation 28), hold provincial elections (Recommendation 29), resolve the tensions in and status of ethnically mixed Kirkuk (Recommendation 30), produce a generous amnesty regulation (Recommendation 31), protect the rights of women and minorities (Recommendation 32), and cease using onerous administrative regulations to harass individuals or groups in civil society (Recommendation 33).
    • Steps for the US to Take: The US should be willing to discuss the question of the future US presence in Iraq (Recommendation 34), make active efforts to talk to all parties in Iraq, except al-Qaeda (Recommendation 35), encourage dialogue between sectarian communities (Recommendation 36), and resolve not to interfere in any Iraqi amnesty regulation (Recommendation 37).
    • Militias and National Reconciliation: The US should support the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of the militias by allowing foreign experts to assist the Iraqi government (Recommendation 38) and by establishing a single office in Iraq to assist in this process (Recommendation 39).
  3. Security and Military Forces: The United States should make clear that there can be no open-ended commitment to Iraq (Recommendation 40) and communicate to the Iraqi government that the US could redeploy its troops even if Iraq does not implement proposed changes (Recommendation 41). The US should transfer more military responsibilities to the Iraq forces by increasing the number of troops imbedded with Iraqi Army units and reducing overall troop levels, and focusing more on training, equipping, advising, and supporting (Recommendation 43). The most highly qualified personnel and more and better equipment should be made available to the Iraqis (Recommendations 44-45). The training and equipping mission should finish by the first quarter of 2008 (Recommendation 42). At the same time, the US Military should be restored by improving the relationship between civil and military leaders in the Department of Defense (Recommendation 46), training and educating returning troops (Recommendation 47), appropriating funds to replace and restore equipment (Recommendation 48), performing a full budget review of the total costs of the war in Iraq and the financial impact on the future readiness of the force (Recommendation 49).
  4. Police and Criminal Justice: Iraq should restructure the different police services, by placing the Iraqi National Police and the Iraqi Border Police under jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense (Recommendations 50-51) and giving the Iraqi Police Service greater responsibility (Recommendation 52). The Ministry of the Interior should be reorganized to allow for more efficient oversight of the Iraqi Police Service and major crime unit (Recommendation 53) and it should register and control the Facilities Protection Service (Recommendation 54). The US Department of Defense should continue to train the Iraqi National Police and the Iraqi Border Police (Recommendation 55), the US Department of Justice should direct training of the remaining police forces (Recommendation 56), the imbedding of US police trainers should be expanded (Recommendation 57), the FBI should expand its training program (Recommendation 58). Also, the Iraq government should make more funds available to the police forces (Recommendation 59). Supervision of reorganizing the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior should be transferred to the US Department of Justice (Recommendation 60) and programs to train Iraqi justice officials and provide an infrastructure for the Iraqi judicial system should be strongly supported and funded by the US government (Recommendation 61).
  5. The Oil Sector: The report called for US assistance to the Iraqi government in the short term (Recommendation 62) by helping them write an oil law dividing oil revenues between local governments and by providing practical assistance in developing, repairing, and protecting oil infrastructure. The report also recommended that the US support long-term development of Iraq's oil economy and encourage international investment and support (Recommendation 63).
  6. US Economic and Reconstruction Assistance: The US should increase economic assistance to Iraq (Recommendation 64), international partners should be encouraged to actively participate in projects (Recommendation 65), and the US should lead in securing international funding assistance through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (Recommendation 66). The report recommends that the administration create the post of Senior Advisor for Economic Reconstruction in Iraq (Recommendation 67). Procedures to release financial assistance to projects should be streamlined (Recommendations 68-71).
  7. Budget Preparation, Presentation, and Review: The cost of the war in Iraq should be included in the government's normal federal budget as of financial year 2008 (Recommendation 72).
  8. US Personnel: The administration should improve linguistic and cultural training of US personnel in Iraq (Recommendation 73), direct civilian employees to serve in Iraq in the absence of enough civilian volunteers (Recommendation 74), improve cooperation between different agencies and departments to streamline operations in Iraq (Recommendation 75), and train personnel to handle situations outside of the traditional embassy setting (Recommendation 76).
  9. Intelligence: The Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense should devote more resources to intelligence in Iraq (Recommendation 77) and change procedures to gain a more accurate picture of the situation in Iraq (Recommendation 78). The CIA should provide more personnel to help train an effective Iraqi intelligence service (Recommendation 79).

Responses to the ISG report

The Bush administration

President George W. Bush attempted to communicate an open-minded approach when the ISG report was presented to him on December 7, 2006, saying, “This report will give us all an opportunity to find common ground.” [12] However, it was well known that the president did not agree with the report's proposals. A week before the ISG report was made public, portions of it were leaked to the press. On November 30, Bush said at a press conference in Jordan that “this business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever.”[13] After receiving the report, President Bush expressed resistance to several key recommendations and said that he would not act until he received reports from the Defense and State Departments.[14]

US Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice also rejected a key recommendation of the report, that the Bush administration engage in direct negotiations with Syria and Iran. She commented that the price for talking to the two regimes would likely be too high, referring to Syria's known meddling in Lebanese internal affairs and Iran's widely suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.[15]

U.S. politicians

On the whole, conservative politicians rejected the ISG Report when it was made public. Outgoing House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) rejected the recommendations for troop withdrawal and negotiations with Syria and Iran. [16] Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) criticized the report for rejecting his idea of increasing troop levels, saying this contradicted expert advice given by many uniformed officers.[17] Moderate Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) were more positive about the report, the latter saying she hoped the report would lead to a withdrawal from Iraq.[18]

Many Democrats agreed with the general conclusions of the report. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada), the incoming Senate Majority Leader, urged the president to implement the recommendations of the ISG. The newly-elected House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said that the report's recommendations closely echoed Democratic proposals made earlier in 2006 but which the president had ignored. “I hope the initiative today will move the president to be bipartisan,” Pelosi said. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) hoped that the report would finally convince the administration to talk directly to Iran and Syria.[19] However, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pennsylvania) said that the report did not represent a radical enough break with Bush policy on Iraq and did not push for a rapid enough troop withdrawal.[20]

U.S. media

Opinions in mainstream media were generally in favor of the report's conclusions. The editors of the New York Times welcomed the report and described it as a "deeply diplomatic document" that was written to provide political cover for President George W. Bush amidst the "quagmire" of Iraq where defeat was inevitable.[21] Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria wrote that the report proved the failure of the administration's policy to establish a democratic state in Iraq and that the only way to move forward in the attempt to promote freedom in the Middle East would be to abandon the attempt in Iraq.[22] Newsweek also reported results from a poll that showed that twice as many Americans supported the report's recommendations as those who disagreed with it.[23] Dan Froomkin wrote in the Washington Post that President Bush's rejection of the ISG Report was worrying; Froomkin sharply condemned the counter-proposal of the “surge.”[24]

But the editors of that newspaper, though generally in agreement with the thrust of the report, voiced concerns that the report went over too much old ground without providing any "evaluation of what should be done if the new strategy doesn't work." They argued that debate should continue.[25] Ralph Peters, a retired Army officer and member of USA TODAY's board of contributors, rejected the report as naive. In particular, he criticized the worldview presented in it as one that hearkens back to the Cold War era, calling ISG co-chairman James Baker short-sighted.[26]

Most liberal and progressive media enthusiastically endorsed the ISG report's findings. Highly critical of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, Daniel Levy of the liberal magazine The American Prospect urged Democrats to ensure the ISG Report did not suffer “crib death.” [27] Yet in the web version of the same magazine, Spencer Ackerman rejected the report as vague and the committee as lacking in real expertise, deriding the report's efforts to seek consensus where instead decisive about-face was needed.[28] Robert Dreyfuss offered a pessimistic commentary in the liberal magazine The Nation. He agreed with the report's assessment of the administration's Iraq policy as a “complete failure” and that withdrawal was the only way forward. Yet he chided the panel for proposing that the US government can in any way cooperate with the Iraqi government which, he believed, “doesn't exist,” and an Iraqi army “that is not a national army” but is full of sectarian divisions. Rather than waste time on trying to turn Iraq around, the Bush administration ought to have simply admitted that the War in Iraq was already lost and withdrawn immediately and completely from Iraq.[29]

Criticism from conservative media came among others from William Kristol, editor of the conservative weekly Weekly Standard, who called the report a “disguised surrender.” [30] The main criticism against the report was that the commission's understanding of the military and diplomatic realities of Iraq and the Middle East was shallow and naive. The Weekly Standard commented that the main recommendation of the ISG report—to gradually withdraw from Iraq and transfer authority to the Iraqis—was already White House policy but that the commission did not offer any solutions to the underlying problems that had repeatedly impeded efforts to implement it. The recommendations represented a consensus among the 10-member panel. “But this was presumably not the primary goal of this exercise.” [31] The conservative magazine National Review similarly opined that the report's recommendation to negotiate with Syria and Iran was unrealistic, calling it “less realpolitik than childishness.” [32] Instead, both magazines, in articles written by authors (including Frederick Kagan, Robert Kagan and Reuel Marc Gerecht, all associated with the American Enterprise Institute), promoted a strategy essentially identical to what later became known as “the surge,” that is, of increasing troop levels dramatically to control the security situation.

Iraq

The report was overwhelmingly rejected in Iraq. Shiites believed the report was biased in favor or the country's Sunni minority. The influential Shiite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim remarked the report was full of “inaccurate information based on dishonest sources.” Ayad al-Smmarai, a Sunni politician, commented that the report was designed "to solve American problems, and not to solve Iraq's problems."[33] Kurds also did not like the report because they feared its recommendations threatened the relative autonomy of the Kurdish region in Iraq. Massoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdistan region,said he did not want the central government to meddle in Kurdish regional affairs. He was angry that the panel never visited Kurdistan and said that the Kurds were “not abiding by this report.” The president of Iraq, a Kurd, also rejected the report.[34]

Foreign media and politicians

America’s two main allies gave the report a somewhat chilly reception. British Prime Minister Tony Blair approved of the commission’s recommendation to link the Iraq War to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, while Blair had already agreed to the withdrawal of British troops in Iraq, he did not approve of the proposal to threaten the support for Iraq’s government in order to enforce progress, or of setting a definite date for withdrawal of US troops. [35] Australian Prime Minister John Howard similarly approved of the general conclusions of the report while rejecting many specific recommendations, in particular setting a date for withdrawing Australian troops.[36]

European politicians overall welcomed the report, noting that it represented a much-needed correction of America's Iraq policy they believed had failed. Both the French and German Foreign Ministers expressed hopes that the American government would change course. French newspapers took the report as a belated admission of defeat in Iraq and a “stinging statement of failure” of the Bush administration's Iraq policy. The newspaper Le Monde noted that it was a “lesson in diplomacy for Bush.” However, some European intellectuals said that the report was no longer realistic at the time it was published, commenting that negotiations with Syria and Iran seemed impossible. [37]

The Israeli government rejected the ISG Report. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert criticized the report's finding that key to solving the problems in Iraq was to address the Israel-Palestine Conflict.[38]

In the Middle East, the report was widely welcomed. Both the Palestinian Authority and the Islamic fundamentalist movement Hamas, labeled a terrorist organization by the US government, indicated agreement with the report's conclusion that solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was essential to turning Iraq around.[39]

References

  1. "The Iraq Study Group Report": The Way Forward - A New Approach, U.S. Institute for Peace, p. xiii
  2. ISG Report, p. 38
  3. ISG Report, p. xviii
  4. ISG Report, p. 3
  5. ISG Report, p. 4
  6. ISG Report, p. 22
  7. ISG Report, p. 29
  8. ISG Report, p. 73
  9. ISG Report, p. 52; Recommendations 9-12
  10. ISG Report, p. 54; Recommendations 13-17
  11. ISG Report, pp. 58; Recommendation 18
  12. Democrats Say Report Shows Bush Must Alter Iraq Policy, David Stout, New York Times, December 6, 2006. Retrieved May 3, 2008.
  13. Bush Rejects Troop Reductions, Endorses Maliki, Michael Abramowitz and Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, December 1, 2006, Page A24. Retrieved May 3, 2008; Don't start planning 'graceful exit,' Bush says, Bill Nichols and Barbara Slavin, USA Today, November 30, 2006. Retrieved May 3, 2008. This article has the words “at all” instead of “whatsoever.”
  14. Iraq Study Group hasn't convinced the president, Mark Silva, Chicago Tribune, December 7, 2006. Retrieved May 3, 2008.
  15. US Won't Talk to Iran and Syria, Rice Says, SMD, Reuters, Der Spiegel, December 15, 2006. Retrieved May 3, 2008.
  16. THE IRAQ STUDY GROUP REPORT, Edward Epstein, San Francisco Chronicle, December 7, 2006. Retrieved May 3, 2008.
  17. Democrats Slow to Support Iraq Study Group Report Recommendations, Associated Press, republished by Fox News, December 11, 2006. Retrieved May 3, 2008.
  18. The Iraq Study Group: A Fatal Flaw, Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation, December 7, 2006. Retrieved May 5, 2008.
  19. THE IRAQ STUDY GROUP REPORT, Edward Epstein, San Francisco Chronicle, December 7, 2006. Retrieved May 3, 2008.
  20. News Analysis: Iraq Study Group's report is a rebuke to Bush and a blueprint for change, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, International Herald Tribune, December 7, 2006. Retrieved April 30, 2008; and Democrats Slow to Support Iraq Study Group Report Recommendations, Associated Press, republished by Fox News, December 11, 2006. Retrieved May 3, 2008.
  21. Welcome Political Cover, Editorial, New York Times, December 7, 2006. Retrieved July 8, 2009.
  22. Losing the War, as Well as the Battle, Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, December 25, 2006. Retrieved July 8, 2009.
  23. The Lone Ranger, Marcus Mabry, Newsweek (web only), December 9, 2006. Retrieved July 9, 2006.
  24. The New Way Backward, Dan Froomkin, Washington Post, December 15, 2006. Retrieved May 3, 2008.
  25. The Study Group Reports, Editors, Washington Post, December 7, 2006, Page A30. Retrieved July 8, 2009.
  26. Why they got it wrong, Ralph Peters, USA TODAY, December 11, 2006. Retrieved July 8, 2009.
  27. Curl Up With The Iraq Study Group Report, Daniel Levy, The American Prospect, Republished by CBS News, December 22, 2006. Retrieved May 3, 2008.
  28. No Middle Ground, Spencer Ackerman, The American Prospect (web only), December 6, 2006. Retrieved July 8, 2009.
  29. The Iraq Study Group: A Fatal Flaw, Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation, December 7, 2006. Retrieved May 5, 2008.
  30. News Analysis: Iraq Study Group's report is a rebuke to Bush and a blueprint for change, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, International Herald Tribune, December 7, 2006. Retrieved April 30, 2008.
  31. A Perfect Failure. Robert Kagan and Wiliam Kristol, vol. 12, no. 13, Weekly Standard, December 11, 2006, p. 12.
  32. Security First (Editorial)The Editors, National Review, November 30, 2006. Retrieved May 3, 2008.
  33. Threats Wrapped in Misunderstandings, Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, December 7, 2006. Retrieved July 8, 2009.
  34. Iraq's Talabani Calls Report Dangerous, Insulting, Corey Flintoff, National Public Radio (NPR), All Things Considered, December 10, 2006. Retrieved May 5, 2008; and Kurds Reject Iraq Report, Al Jazeera, December 8, 2006. Retrieved May 5, 2008
  35. Tony Blair on Iraq: ‘We Need to Act Urgently’, John Hendren, ABC News, December 7, 2006. Retrieved May 19, 2008; and Baker and Hamilton defend Iraq Study Group's report, Brian Knowlton, International Herald Tribune, December 11, 2006. Retrieved May 19, 2008.
  36. Australia Wants Its Troops Out of Iraq, Associated Press, republished in San Francisco Chronicle, December 7, 2006. Retrieved May 20.
  37. DEAD LINK - Europeans welcome commission's recommendations as sign of change in U.S. view of Iraq, Associated Press, International Herald Tribune, December 7, 2006. Retrieved April 30, 2008. The New York Times is moving all articles from their international publication International Herald Tribune. As a result, this link is now no longer active.
  38. Iraq Study Group report sees mixed response in Israel, Christian Science Monitor, December 7, 2006. Retrieved April 25, 2008.
  39. Iraq Study Group report draws mixed global response, AFP, Taipei Times, December 8, 2006. Retrieved April 30,2008.