July 1, 2009
Number 07/09 #01
Today marks a major milestone in the Iraq conflict, with US troops turning over patrolling and security in all Iraq’s cities to Iraqi forces. This Update looks at the implications and possible pitfalls of this development.
First up, Michael Knights, a Washington Institute for Near East Policy specialist on military affairs in Iraq, examines the background and details of the changing role for coalition forces in Iraq. He particularly looks at whether the change is more symbolic or substantive, concluding there is a bit of both to the move. He also points to areas where a US role remains vital in Iraq – especially rural counter-insurgency and in helping control the borders with Syria and Iran. For the full analysis from Knights, CLICK HERE.
Next up, academic and former US government adviser based in Iraq Dr. Michael Rubin expresses concern that the draw down in Iraqi cities may be too early. He looks at the history of the growth of the insurgency in Iraq from 2004 to 2006, as well as why the “surge” ended up bringing it largely to an end. He argues that a premature withdrawal, motivated by American domestic politics rather than the situation in Iraq, risks returning to the days of insurgency, at the expense of Iraqis. For Rubin’s complete argument, CLICK HERE. Also commenting on this milestone in Iraq are American military analyst Ralph Peters, and former US official Peter Wehner, both of whom use this apparent sign of improvement to attempt to debunk some myths about the Iraqi situation.
Finally, we offer a unique perspective on the situation in Iran and how the West should react to it – from former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky. He draws parallels between Iranian dissidents and past Soviet dissidents, pointing out particularly that just as Soviet dissidents were once dismissed for predicting, correctly, that Soviet society was rotten and ripe for major change, the same is true of Iranians. He argues it is a fallacy to search for “stability” by dealing with the status quo when it is the forces of democratic change that are the best allies in creating peace and security. For Sharansky’s full exposition of his perspective, CLICK HERE. Some other particularly interesting perspectives on the Iranian unrest come from Canadian Muslim reformer Irshad Manji, former Spanish PM José Maria Aznar, and Parvaneh Vahidmanesh, an exiled Iranian human rights activist who attended school with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s daughter.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Additional opinion on the Iranian situation from the Lowy Institute’s Andrew Shearer, US columnist Charles Krauthammer, German academic Matthias Küntzel, recent visitor to Australia Emanuele Ottolenghi, and American editor Marty Peretz, while Israeli commentator Isaac Ben-Israel looks at why the Iranian regime singles out Israel for such hatred.
- Britain’s Spectator canvasses some good ideas coming from Iranians about how the West can help the Iranian protest movement. Plus, Gabriel Schoenfleld and Eli Lake both discusses the limited options Washington has with regard to Iran because of a lack of intelligence assets there.
- Some additional new round-ups of information from Iran here, here, here and here. Plus a particularly chilling video here.
- A report that Iran is starting to execute supporters of opposition leader Mousavi. Meanwhile, Iranians are reportedly moving their money out of Iran at record rates.
- Egyptian-born commentator Mona Eltahawy looks at why the Arab world has been pretty quiet about the Iranian unrest. However, as David Pollock and Mohammad Yaghi from the Washington Institute point out, the Saudi media appears to be the major exception.
- Some strong statistical evidence that the official Iranian election figures are the result of fraud, if any more were needed.
- New evidence that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have been directly involved in murdering Iranian dissidents in Austria in 1989.
- A report that Iran is stepping up support for Hezbollah and may sponsor additional Hezbollah attacks abroad in the near future, according to experts.
- How Iran’s Jewish community is faring in the current unrest.
- A piece on some political reforms being suggested in Iraq to relieve the political gridlock there.
- An interesting discussion of the claims being made about the advantages and history of Islamic Sharia financing.
By Michael Knights
PolicyWatch #1544, June 26, 2009
According to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), the U.S. military will complete its withdrawal from Iraqi cities on June 30, 2009. The redeployments have both real and symbolic importance, and will mark a milestone in the Obama administration’s cautious drawdown of Washington’s military commitment. Nonetheless, the U.S. military will continue to play a vital role in consolidating and extending security gains throughout the country, particularly in the rural provinces.
The Status of Forces Agreement
The SOFA was approved by Iraq’s cabinet, parliament, and presidential council during November and December 2008 and is supposed to be ratified in a national referendum by July 30, 2009, a date that may be allowed to slip to coincide with the January 2010 national elections.
The agreement’s timeline is unfolding smoothly. Since its ratification, U.S. forces have begun to comply with its requirements to obtain an Iraqi warrant for military raids and to hand over new Iraqi detainees to the country’s security forces within twenty-four hours. The international zone and most Iraqi airspace were returned to Iraqi sovereignty on January 1, 2009.
Article 24 of the SOFA mandates the next stage of the U.S. drawdown. Clause 2 requires all U.S. forces to “withdraw from Iraqi cities, villages, and localities” by June 30, 2009. Clause 3 explains that the U.S.-Iraqi Joint Military Operations Coordination Committee (JMOCC) will define the bases at which U.S. forces will reside. Clause 2 of Article 5 allows the U.S. military to continue using any facility that the Iraqi government permits.
The June 30 deadline is seen as a waypoint toward a full U.S. military withdrawal. Although not required by the SOFA, the Obama administration has signaled its intent to draw down to a “residual” force of thirty-five thousand to fifty thousand personnel in Iraq by August 2010. According to Article 24, Clause 1, of the SOFA, “All United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.” Either side, however, can terminate the agreement at any time by simply providing the other party with written notification of its intent to do so (in which case the agreement would terminate one year after notification). If neither side exercises this option, the agreement expires on December 4, 2011, which means that long-term basing of U.S. forces and equipment in Iraq would need to be authorized by a new agreement signed prior to that date.
Symbolic or Substantive Change?
The U.S.-led Multinational Forces Iraq (MNFI) negotiated the SOFA and is also the lead planner for the Obama administration’s military drawdown in Iraq. Although many of the requirements of the withdrawal from the “cities, villages, and localities” were fulfilled weeks or even months ago, the real impact of the deadline will be felt in Iraq’s inner-city neighborhoods, where routine U.S. presence at vehicle checkpoints will cease. Iraqi forces at such outposts will operate without close U.S. supervision, as has been the case across large swathes of Iraq throughout 2009. “Unilateral” U.S. patrols will cease within these municipal areas, although local Iraqi commanders can approve joint patrols on a case-by-case basis. In many places, U.S. forces have already undertaken steps to reduce their footprint within Iraqi communities, including switching to nocturnal resupply missions, restricting daytime use of heavy vehicles, and surrendering the right of way to Iraqi civilian vehicles.
Despite these changes, much will remain the same. In some cases, the JMOCC’s definition of Iraq’s “cities, villages, and localities” means that U.S. forces have to move only one or two miles outside city centers; many U.S. forward operating bases were already located on the outer limits of Iraqi municipal areas. As a result of broad consensus between U.S. and Iraqi delegates on the JMOCC, U.S. forces can continue to send embedded trainers into the cities to support Iraqi battalion, brigade, and divisional headquarters. U.S. logistical, intelligence, medical, surveillance, and transport assets will continue to support Iraqi forces in urban areas. Such “detached” U.S. forces have “the right to legitimate self-defense” when operating within Iraqi cities, according to Article 4, Clause 5, of the SOFA. Some friction will undoubtedly result when militants — based within, or retreating into, urban areas — target U.S. forces.
Symbolically, the U.S. withdrawal has both positive and negative aspects. On the positive side, Iraqi resentment toward MNFI may be lessened by a lower U.S. profile. On the other hand, many Iraqis are concerned that their country’s security forces cannot be trusted to deliver services evenly to all communities, due to the forces’ ethnic and sectarian imbalances. Iraqis will need time to be convinced that Iraqi security forces can perform as effectively as their U.S. counterparts, such as with the screening of suicide bombers. In urban areas, U.S. forces have often been the “glue” that bound together different elements of the security system, including the provincial and district leadership, the police and police auxiliaries, the Iraqi army, the Sons of Iraq (Sunni militias), and the intelligence services.
A final negative consequence of the June 30 deadline is a problem inherent in any withdrawal timeline: adversaries will seek to ramp up their operations before the deadline in order to falsely claim credit for “pushing out” or at least “outlasting” U.S. forces. This phenomenon can be seen most clearly in Baghdad, where the situation is more dangerous today than it was three months ago. The number of reported incidents in Baghdad dropped as low as 191 in February 2009 — the lowest level since 2003. From March until the last week of June, the average number of reported incidents per month in Baghdad has been around 270.
An Evolving U.S. Military Role
The U.S. military still has plenty to do in Iraq’s provinces. In Mosul, Kirkuk, and Diyala, the U.S. military plays a significant peace enforcement role through its ability to embed units in Kurdish and Arab security forces, and to monitor and defuse tensions before they turn into violence. Without U.S. advisors on hand in September 2008, violence occurred in Khanaqin between feuding Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi army forces; in March 2009, the rapid embedding of U.S. forces with Kurdish and federal forces near Kirkuk prevented an even more serious incident from happening. The continuing commitment of U.S. forces to these areas would be a highly economical way of preventing a major erosion of political and security gains in Iraq.
The United States also has a key role to play in rural counterinsurgency and border enforcement, two vital missions in which Iraqi forces are currently unable to take the lead. Although urban counterinsurgency is difficult, the dense population of cities quickly becomes an asset once the population has turned against the insurgency. Rural counterinsurgency is slower: the population is sparse and susceptible to intimidation, and the maintenance of a permanent security force presence across large areas of rugged terrain is difficult. In such areas — for example, along the Iranian and Syrian borders and in rural Diyala, Anbar, and Maysan — U.S. forces will likely be a full operational partner to the Iraqi military beyond August 2010 and possibly into 2011.
Michael Knights is the Lafer International Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, specializing in the military and security affairs of Iraq, Iran, and the Persian Gulf states.
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by Michael Rubin
Wall Street Journal, June 30, 2009
Today is a milestone in Iraq. Under the terms of the Strategic Framework Agreement, U.S. troops will withdraw from Iraqi cities. In retrospect, however, June 30 will likely mark another milestone: the end of the surge and the relative peace it brought to Iraq. In the past week, bombings in Baghdad, Mosul and near Kirkuk have killed almost 200 people. The worst is yet to come.
While the Strategic Framework Agreement was negotiated in the twilight of the Bush administration, President Barack Obama shaped the final deal. He campaigned on a time line to withdraw combat troops from Iraq, and his words impacted the negotiation.
Iraq has shown us time and again that military strength is the key to influence in other matters. Just look at the behavior of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric.
Under Saddam, Mr. Sistani was an independent religious mind, but he was hardly a bold voice. Like so many other Iraqis, he stayed alive by remaining silent. Only after Saddam’s fall did he speak up. Though he is today a world-famous figure, the New York Times made its first mention of the ayatollah on April 4, 2003, five days before the fall of Baghdad.
Mr. Sistani is as much of a threat to Iran as he was to Saddam. In November 2003, he contradicted Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei when asked what night the holy month of Ramadan would end, a determination made by sighting the moon. Mr. Sistani said Tuesday, Mr. Khamenei said Wednesday.
To the West, this might be trivial, but it sent shock waves through Iran. How could the supreme leader claim ultimate political and religious authority over not only the Islamic Republic but all Shiites and be contradicted?
Perhaps this is why Iran bolstered its support for militias. When I visited Najaf in January 2004, I saw dark-clad militiamen on the streets outside Mr. Sistani’s house. Mr. Sistani quieted until the following year, when U.S. forces retook the city.
Militias are not simply reactions to sectarian violence, nor are they spontaneous creations. They are tools used by political leaders to impose through force what is not in hearts and minds.
Because of both ham-fisted postwar reconstruction and neighboring state interference, militia and insurgent violence soared from 2004 through 2006. The fight became as much psychological as military.
Iranian and insurgent media declared the United States to be a paper tiger lacking staying power. The Baker-Hamilton Commission report underscored such perceptions. Al-Jazeera broadcast congressional lamentations of defeat throughout the region. Iranian intelligence told Iraqi officials that they might like the Americans better, but Iran would always be their neighbor and they best make an accommodation. Al Qaeda sounded similar themes in al-Anbar.
Then came President Bush’s announcement that he would augment the U.S. presence. The surge was as much a psychological strategy as it was a military one. It proved our adversaries’ propaganda wrong. Violence dropped. Iraq received a new chance to emerge as a stable, secure democracy.
By telegraphing a desire to leave, Mr. Obama reverses the dynamic. In effect, his strategy is an anti-surge. Troop numbers are not the issue. It is the projection of weakness. Not only Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki but Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani have also reached out to the Islamic Republic in recent weeks.
In Cairo, Mr. Obama said the U.S. had no permanent designs on Iraq and declared, “We will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.” Indeed. But until the Iraqi government is strong enough to monopolize independently the use of force, a vacuum will exist and the most violent factions will fill it.
Power and prestige matter. Withdrawal from Iraq’s cities is good politics in Washington, but when premature and done under fire it may very well condemn Iraqis to repeat their past.
Michael Rubin, a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School.
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The West should listen to the dissidents in Iran craving freedom — they can feel the future
By Natan Sharansky
Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2009
Once again, the world is amazed. As with the seemingly sudden appearance of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s, or the gaudy, grand-scale collapse of the Soviet empire at the end of that decade, the massive revolt of Iranian citizens has elicited the unmitigated surprise of the free world’s army of experts, pundits and commentators. Who would have known? Who could have predicted this eruption of protest in a system so highly repressed, where a generally quiescent populace lives under such a deeply entrenched revolutionary regime?
And yet, just as in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, there were those in Iran who did know all along, who foresaw and even foretold today’s events. These were Iran’s democratic dissidents, some at home, some in exile, some having served long sentences in Iranian prisons or on their way to those prisons right now.
At various Western conferences and forums in recent years, some of these dissidents even succeeded in gaining the ear of leaders of the free world. They were greeted with sincere expressions of sympathy and support — but also with silent skepticism. Surely their assessments of the Iranian situation were unreliable at best. Heroic they undoubtedly were, but objective? After all, they lacked access to classified information, to satellite photography and the other tools of modern intelligence-gathering. They could not see the whole picture.
Now it turns out that, like their predecessors in the Soviet Union, they were right.
How is it that dissidents rotting in the gulag were able to predict, many years earlier, not only when but how the Soviet Union would collapse — something that escaped all the world’s scholars and intelligence agencies alike? Andrei Amalrik’s book, “Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?,” published underground in 1969, is only one of many examples of such predictions. How did the experts miss it? The reason is simple.
Every totalitarian society consists of three groups: true believers, double-thinkers and dissidents. In every totalitarian regime, no matter its cultural or geographical circumstances, the majority undergo a conversion over time from true belief in the revolutionary message into double-thinking. They no longer believe in the regime but are too scared to say so. Then there are the dissidents — pioneers who dare to cross the line between double-thinking and everything that lies on the other side. In doing so, they first internalize, then articulate and finally act on the innermost feelings of the nation.
People in free societies watching massive military parades or vociferous displays of love for the leaders of totalitarian regimes often conclude, “Well, that’s their mentality; there’s nothing we can do about it.” Thus they and their leaders miss what is readily grasped by local dissidents attuned to what is happening on the ground: the spectacle of a nation of double-thinkers slowly or rapidly approaching a condition of open dissent.
To see the telltale signs, sometimes it helps to have experienced totalitarianism firsthand. More than once in recent years, former Soviet citizens returning from a visit to Iran have told me how much Iranian society reminded them of the final stages of Soviet communism. Their testimony was what persuaded me to write almost five years ago that Iran was extraordinary for the speed with which, in the span of a single generation, a citizenry had made the transition from true belief in the revolutionary promise into disaffection and double-thinking. Could dissent be far behind?
This suggests another notable fact about present-day Iran. In Moscow in the 1970s, demonstrations organized by dissidents in an effort to attract the world’s attention would often consist of no more than five to 10 individuals. Otherwise, the KGB would find out about the demonstrations in advance. They would last no more than five minutes. That was the longest we could last before the KGB would come, arrest us and ship the less fortunate to Siberia. Our main objective was to make certain that at least one foreign journalist was present so that, the next day, at least one Western news source would come out with a story that could in turn elicit a chain reaction of more and greater press attention and, we hoped, a vocal Western response.
This week, there were hundreds of thousands on the streets of Tehran, with the entire world following them in real time. My assistant, sitting in Jerusalem, received daily updates on Facebook from two dozen Iranian friends before they set out to demonstrate and again on their return. One can only hope that, in the White House and at 10 Downing Street, the leaders of the free world are as well connected as my assistant.
But will those leaders act? With all their sympathy for peoples striving for freedom, Western governments are fearful of imperiling actual or hoped-for relations with the world’s ayatollahs, generals, general secretaries and other types of dictators — partners, so it is thought, in maintaining political stability. But this is a fallacy. Democracy’s allies in the struggle for peace and security are the demonstrators in the streets of Tehran who, with consummate bravery, have crossed the line between the world of double-think and the world of free men and women.
Listen to them, and you will hear nothing more, and nothing less, than what you your- self know to be the true hope of every human being on Earth. Listen to them and you may be amazed, but you will never again be surprised.
Natan Sharansky spent nine years in the Soviet gulag. He is chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.