By K. Riva Levinson
The Baltimore Sun
October 29, 2006
Regardless of past mistakes, the new Iraq still can be saved.
In my opinion as an adviser to the Iraq Study Group, any rescue plan should focus on basic measures, including U.S. troop redeployment, prevention of oil theft and corruption, training of Iraqi troops, recognition of the influence of Iran and Syria, and promotion of democracy.
- Redeploy troops. Coalition forces should redeploy around critical infrastructure. They should have a defined space to defend instead of being sitting ducks for insurgents on the streets. They should not be caught in the crossfire of sectarian strife. By critical infrastructure, I mean airports, ports, key points in the Kurdish areas and, most important, around Iraq’s oil infrastructure. There are an estimated 20 working fields in Iraq. This brings me to the next point: oil.
- Control oil flow. The theft of Iraqi oil is denying Iraq much-needed funds, requiring U.S. taxpayers to make up the difference. It is estimated that 200,000 barrels per day are stolen. At $50 per barrel, that is approximately $10 million per day that goes to petty thieves, corrupt politicians, criminal gangs and insurgents.
A senior government official involved in counterinsurgency said to me, “The terrorists have realized that oil is a much safer bet than kidnapping, which once was historically the enterprise of choice.”
Therefore, we need to cut off the blood supply to the insurgents. In doing so, we must secure the oil installations and force meters on Iraqi exports. There are no flow meters in Iraq since Saddam Hussein removed them to skirt the oil-for-food program. Iraq needs a comprehensive flow-metering solution coupled with remote telemetry monitoring. Oil needs to be protected as part of the critical infrastructure.
- Stop corruption. Corruption in Iraq is a threat to the Iraqi government’s credibility with its people and, I would argue, has much to do with Iraq being a failed state. It is not just oil that is fueling the insurgency, but corrupt politicians who are using their seats of privilege to rob the Iraqi people.
Ministries were doled out not based on experience or competence but based on a political formula that the United States helped draw up. Some ministries, such as the Ministry of Health and Transportation, which are controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr, have become the personal fiefdoms for America’s enemies.
I have been working in Liberia for 10 years as an adviser to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, now the president, and I believe Liberia may have a lot to offer the U.S. as to how a failed state is incorporated into the community of nations.
In Liberia, the donor community enforced the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program, or GEMAP. This program essentially put a controller in every ministry; financial decisions, including procurement awards, had to be approved by both the controller and the Liberian official. This program, while controversial and by no means perfect, gave confidence to the donors that they could re-engage.
- Train Iraqi troops. No one disputes that Iraqi troops need to be intensely trained and that they need to be able to stand up for their country.
The issue is not whether we have enough trainers, but the loyalty of the troops we train; corruption filters into this. You can wear an Iraqi uniform by day, collect your salary, and lay IEDs at night.
Corruption is just one issue, but statistics (we have trained 100,000 troops now) argue it is not the only problem. We must make sure that the training of security forces takes into account the communitarian balance. You can’t have a security force that is overwhelmingly Shiite to defeat an insurgency that is overwhelmingly Sunni. With a security force that reflects Iraq’s balance, the possibility of penetration by sectarian militias would be much diminished.
The U.S. role, again, should not be on the front lines but a residual one: providing logistical support, intelligence, weapons, communications and, most of all, training.
- Recognize the destructive influence of Syria and Iran. Iran and Syria are not part of the solution but a fundamental part of the problem. In May 2003, I saw a few U.S. troops in Iraq, largely on their way back to Kuwait, but I saw evidence of Iranian political activity everywhere. The Iranians were smart. They knew that the coalition was coming. While the coalition fought the war, the Iranians conquered the territory, much as the Soviet Union did after Hitler’s defeat.
As far as Syria is concerned, it was rumored that Mr. Hussein undertook the largest bank heist in history – nearly $1.5 billion. He allegedly drove this money with senior Baath Party leaders to Syria for safety in order to begin the “post-defeat strategy,” which many observers are now convinced he planned all along. We are fighting a proxy war in Iraq against Iran and at times Syria. If we buy stability, we give these terrorist states exactly what they wanted all along.
- Don’t give up on democracy. In January, more than 9 million Iraqis went to the polls and voted for their future. They did not choose the insurgency, but a political process grounded in the belief that an elected, representative government, whatever that may be, is the future.
All of these recommendations point to a reconfirmation of the U.S. commitment to Iraq, from a U.S. national interest perspective as well as from a regional and global security perspective. However, commitment is not equal to entanglement.
These recommendations call for a smarter, leaner, more-focused approach that moves the United States from an implementation role to one of monitoring and safeguarding. We are facing enemies with a long-term game plan, while our tolerance and attention move in political cycles. We need to be able to respond in ways that do not exhaust our forces or our will to stay engaged.
K. Riva Levinson, an adviser to the Iraq Study Group, also advises the Iraq Memory Foundation on its efforts to document Saddam Hussein’s crimes. She was an adviser to the exiled Iraqi opposition for four years.