WASHINGTON – Iraq isn't easy.
That sentiment,shared by Gen. David Petraeus with the Senate Committee on Armed Services on Tuesday,is being echoed by foreign relations experts.
The testimony of Petraeus,lead military commander in Iraq,and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker,has experts questioning how Iraq will be unified and what role the U.S. will play in shaping the country's future.
Unification,if at all possible,is something that will not happen in the short-term,said Anthony Arend,director of the Institute for International Law and Politics in the Department of Government at Georgetown University. It will take at least 10-15 years to see the country begin coming together.
“The best short-term solution is a partition – a Kurdish entity,Shiite entity and Sunni entity,” Arend said. “I really don't see how things are going to be unified,short of using a significant amount of ground forces. Let's just face the situation and have some kind of patrician in the country.”
During his testimony,Petraeus lauded the accomplishments in Iraq's Anbar province,where locals have turned against al-Qaeda and are working with U.S. forces.
“We gave them the thumbs-up when they asked if they could point the weapons they did have at al-Qaeda,” he said during Tuesday's testimony.
Working with the citizens of Iraq and gradually winning their trust is a strategy the U.S. military could use to bring harmony to the country. By working from the bottom up,like it did in Anbar,the military could slowly unify the country,said Stephen Biddle,a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Biddle said the U.S. tried to jump-start Iraq by organizing its government at the highest levels and hoping that order would spread down. With the apparent success in Anbar,the U.S. could try using its troops to work with smaller groups instead of engaging in widespread missions,he said.
“If the Anbar model is going to spread outside Anbar,it's going to get harder and harder to do,” he said. “The U.S. is going to have to be more forceful to get people to do cease-fires.”
To achieve a cease-fire throughout the entire country,the U.S. could use its military to put pressure on different factions by stating it would fight against them if they didn't agree to join the new Iraq,Biddle said. Groups who didn't wish to join would then be subject of offensive military action.
Getting the Kurdish,Sunni and Shiite factions to come to a compromise is the only way Iraq will be reunified,said Thomas Keaney,acting director of strategic studies at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. The politics of Iraq need to be hammered out so there is a clearer vision of the future.
“Both Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus would agree the success will be based on some sort of political agreement of the major factions in Iraq,” Keaney said. “Without that,you'll have a federated state with little central control,which is not at all a recipe for rebuilding Iraq.”
On Tuesday,the committee was interested how soon the Iraqi government could be put in charge of its own security and military operations.
In a report given to the committee Sept. 7,the U.S. Government Accountability Office noted Iraq's failure to meet 11 of 18 goals it set for itself in June 2006. The country failed to meet several legislative and security benchmarks,among others.
Meeting these goals is no easy task.
Finding the right leadership for Iraq is complicated,because it is a nation with very few leaders,Biddle said. Legislators need to understand Iraq doesn't have the same minds shaping it that the U.S. did when it first formed.
“They think these darn Iraqis won't stand up and make the hard choices and if we could somehow channel Thomas Jefferson into the body of Nuri al-Maliki,then we'd have a solution in Iraq,” Biddle said. “I don't buy that because the idea of channeling Thomas Jefferson isn't just silly,it's unfair. Saddam Hussein very selectively decapitated the leadership class in Iraq.”
Some in Washington expect Iraq to rebound too quickly. Time is the one thing needed for the country to pull itself back together,Arend said.
“I don't think it's reasonable to expect the Iraqi government to operate again,” he said. “To claim,‘Oh,the Iraqis have to stand up for themselves,' is like somebody shooting a person and being like ‘Now you have to heal.' It doesn't work that way.”
As plans to begin bringing about 30,000 troops home by next summer are put into motion,Biddle cautions people who think the Bush administration is changing course. The removal of the surge troops has always been planned. Calling the decision to send more troops to Iraq a surge meant the move was temporary,he said. The 20 brigades on duty in Iraq will eventually be reduced to 15.
“The question of whether or not we go lower than 15 is open,” Biddle said.