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The tactics of U.S. forces have generated great hostility say Prof. Michael Byers - photo by Martin Dee
The tactics of U.S. forces have generated great hostility say Prof. Michael Byers - photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 2 | Feb. 2, 2006

UBC Expert Insight

Iraq Three Years Later: What Should Be Done?

March 19 marks the third anniversary of U.S. President George W. Bush launching the war in Iraq. Since then, the country has been savaged by insurgents, tens of thousands of people have been killed, and the infrastructure of one of the Middle East's richest countries lies devastated. We asked three UBC experts the simple but intensely difficult question: What should be done?

Baghdad With a Map

By Derek Gregory, Distinguished University Scholar and Professor of Geography. Author of The colonial present: Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq (Blackwell).

There's an old story about a tourist getting lost and stopping to ask for directions, only to be told: "I wouldn't try and get there from here..." The mess in Iraq is likely to produce much the same reaction, but telling the White House the same thing is pointless. Instead, we need to turn the map upside down. We should not be guided by how to get the United States out of the quagmire it has so maladroitly manufactured. We should stop appealing to the malignant calculus of domestic political advantage and economic profiteering. Instead, we should ask what can be done to help the people of Iraq. Like all compasses, this one has four cardinal points.

First, there must be a serious appraisal of the situation: not a Disneyesque fantasy (how many times has Bush identified a milestone that turns out to be a tombstone?) but a rigorous analysis of the political, economic and social damage wrought by Saddam, sanctions and the war combined. This means accepting that the present situation is a joint responsibility. Bush and Blair were in this together, and if their governments were to spend half the resources on critical analysis that they devote to spinning we might get somewhere.

Second, negotiations must be opened with the leaders of the nationalist insurgency. It is the height of madness to assume that opposition to the occupation is ungrounded in reason. Bush and Blair's mantra is that people resort to political violence because that is the sort of people they are, which conveniently means that the only solution is a military one: but in many (most) cases insurgents are responding to a series of real grievances that require other solutions.

Third, there must be a clear and proximate deadline for the complete withdrawal of all coalition forces from Iraq, and a complete cessation of the air war that has continued to devastate lives long after the vainglorious 'end of major combat operations'. To repeat: military violence is part of the problem, not the solution.

Fourth, there must be a major reconstruction programme that is not devoted to boosting the profits of foreign companies. The Iraqis must be allowed to determine their own economic policy and to benefit from their own skills and resources. The UN has been compromised by the sanctions regime, but it's still the best we've got: so I suggest a UN development agency that is not a creature of the Security Council, that works with a properly constituted Iraqi government, and that is supplied with funding adequate to the task.

Let's Help Bush Out of his Mess

By Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law. Author of War Law: Understanding International Law and Armed Conflict (Douglas & McIntyre).

Sept. 11, 2001 would have been the making of most U.S. presidents. The American people were united, sympathy for the United States was sky-high, and governments everywhere were terrified of further terrorist attacks.

George W. Bush should have seized the opportunity for global co-operation by framing the "war on terror" as a struggle against crime and engaging multilateral mechanisms such as the United Nations. Instead, he eschewed UN authorization for the intervention in Afghanistan, threatened other states and recklessly violated human rights. He then invaded Iraq, a country which played no role in the 9/11 attacks and posed no threat to America. More than 30,000 people have died as a result of the war, while the economic costs -- according to Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz -- exceed $1 trillion.

Resolving the situation will be intensely difficult. The tactics of U.S. forces have generated so much hostility that they must be withdrawn, not just from Iraq's cities but also from its oilfields and airbases. Yet the Iraqi army is hardly prepared to take over, not least because it remains grossly unrepresentative of the country's religious diversity. A large, well-equipped UN force is needed, drawn from a wide range of countries, including Muslim ones. Such a mission would be lengthy, dangerous and expensive, and would have to operate with complete independence from the United States.

Yet Washington would have to make some strong commitments before any UN mission could succeed. It would have to support unequivocally a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the mission. It would have to contribute financially, above and far beyond its regular UN dues. And it would have to become a team-player on other key issues such as climate change and nuclear proliferation. Creating the reciprocal political will within the international community would then require strong leadership by a widely-respected country not currently involved in Iraq. For a new Canadian prime minister intent on repairing this country's relationship with the United States and reclaiming our global influence, the mess in Iraq could provide a real -- if risky -- opportunity.

What's a Nice Way of Saying: "Cut and Run"

By Colin Campbell, Canada Research Chair in U.S. Government and Politics. Author of Preparing for the Future: Strategic Planning in the U.S. Air Force (Brookings, winner of the 2004 Brownlow Prize of the U.S. National Academy of Public Administration).

Apart from disseminating bogus claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction capabilities, George W. Bush and Tony Blair dealt cavalierly with the difficult of invading and occupying Iraq. They did not pursue adroitly enough efforts to gain access for the U.S. Army 4th Division through Turkey to Northern Iraq. And, they grossly underestimated the force required to establish security after the overthrow of Hussein.

The continuing insurgency resulted from the inadequacy of initial force structure and poor planning. Disconcertingly, the U.S. administration still has not made the requisite moves to reverse this debacle. Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld cannot agree on the structure and roles of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (a concept imported from the allied effort in Afghanistan). In the fall, the two top U.S. generals in Iraq locked in conflict over whether they should concentrate troops in urban centres or move them closer to the border with Syria. The Army and the Marines are grappling with two problems in responding to the ever-lethal improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Broken procurement procedures have produced persistent bottlenecks in provision of both armored vehicles and body armour. Perhaps more alarmingly, new body armour specifications would take troops beyond the load to bodyweight threshold of 30 per cent to 50 per cent.

Late last year, a British brigadier -- Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who recently served in Iraq -- lambasted the U.S. Army for "cultural insensitivity" bordering on "institutional racism." He also maintained that the Army simply has failed at the transition from conventional warfighting to counterinsurgency. The Army chief of staff must see an element of truth in this assessment. He has circulated Alylwin-Foster's critique to all of his generals.

I suggest that you divest your Iraq counterinsurgency shares -- including any in NATO and UN stocks. The U.S. military has to go through a massive transformation of its mind-set regarding its role in the world. Its entanglement, largely against its will, in the Iraqi quagmire has confounded this process. Without the U.S. operating effectively at the core, NATO and the UN would find little role in bringing peace to Iraq -- the job is that large and the curve that sharp. Does "Sell!" sound better than "Cut and Run?"

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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