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Has the Surge Prevented Peace in Iraq?
Republican presidential candidate John McCain has made his earlier endorsement of the "surge" strategy in Iraq a prominent feature of his campaign. By portraying the surge as a huge success, McCain poses as a foreign policy savant and depicts Barack Obama, who didn't favor the surge, as a candidate who "does not understand the challenges we face, and did not understand the need for the surge. And the fact that he did not understand that, and still denies that it has succeeded, I think the American people will make their judgment."
McCain might one day be embarrassed by his words. The surge might have diminished prospects for longer-term peace and stability.
The consequences of the surge are continually debated and will probably be debated until history becomes tired of the word. A large body of opinion declares that the surge decreased casualties, diminished the Iraq insurgency, brought stability to Baghdad and Basra, and assisted the Sunni Awakening movement to pacify Anbar Province. Another large body of opinion asserts that the surge has not created a definite direction for ethnic and political reconciliation.
Surge promoters, such as McCain, claim that political reconciliation will still take time and that the local pacifications due to the additional American fighting forces have provided a breathing space and set the stage for the eventual reconciliations. Unfortunately, the claim proceeds from an incomplete analysis. The surge has brought some stability to some areas, but that stability is only one aspect of the reconciliation process. Side effects of the surge have produced additional ethnic separations and sectarian manifestations—conditions that impede national reconciliation.
Ayad Allawi, the prime minister of Iraq from 2004 to 2005, was a strong voice from Iraq's opposition to Saddam Hussein, a shadowy figure among intelligence agencies that distributed false reports about Hussein's nuclear weapons potential, and a leading figure of the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority. On July 25, at an "on the record" Carnegie Middle East Center meeting, Allawi stressed that there can be no political stability without ethnic reconciliation and no reconciliation without a government that is non-sectarian. "Reconciliation is a must and the only way, but comes from institutions that are constructed with a nonsectarian base." Allawi, who is a secular Shiite, also said, "If there is no political gain, there will be a reversal in the military gain."
Allawi's contention that "reconciliation is a must and the only way, but comes from institutions that are constructed with a nonsectarian base," seems sensible, accurate and a prerequisite for Iraq to become a successful state. However, the opposite has occurred.
The surge battles, which started during February 2007, coincided with and contributed greatly to the formation of many of the two million internally displaced and another two million externally displaced Iraqis. Most of the displaced persons are of Sunni origin and many have lost their homes in Baghdad to rival Shiites. The surge constructed walls that separate Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, but did not stop the Shiite-dominated government from continuing its sectarian appearance by encouraging support from Shiite-dominated Iran. Sunnis reacted by fortifying themselves with American assistance, which began during the surge when the United States awakened to the allegiance between Iraqi and Iranian Shiites. Saudi Arabia's leaders, who shake at the mention of the word "Shia," have indicated a willingness to polarize the factions further by assisting the Sunnis "to prevent Iranian-backed Shiite militias from harming Iraqi Sunnis once the US begins pulling out of Iraq" (The Washington Post, Nov. 29, 2007). Add these surge-induced problems to unresolved problems—control of Kirkuk and Mosul, unceasing terrorist attacks, and lessening but still existing sectarian government militias—and surge success becomes questionable.
On July 28, Iraq was struck by a series of female suicide bombings and ethnic violence that shook the country and left the volatile northern city of Kirkuk reeling amid fears of further bloodshed between the Kurds who dominate the city and its large population of Turkmen.
"All told, at least 61 people were killed and 238 wounded throughout the country on Monday, nearly all of them Kurdish political protesters in Kirkuk and Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad," reported The New York Times (July 29).
According to the United States Institute of Peace, the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq stated in its Sept. 6, 2007, report to Congress "that Iraq's Interior Ministry was 'dysfunctional and sectarian' and the National Police should be 'disbanded and reorganized.' The report was consistent with press reports that sectarian militias were in control of the Ministry and the National Police were engaged in sectarian violence" (April 7).
Four million displaced persons, physical walls of separation, a strong Sunni militia controlling Anbar Province, and continued violence in several provinces don't suggest reconciliation or an approach for building nonsectarian institutions. A reduction in the number of militias has been accompanied by a shift in the strength and realignment of the militias. Much has been made of the cordial arrangement between American military forces and the Sahwa, or "Awakening," movement that has pacified Anbar province, and of its militia, the Sons of Iraq, which are being incorporated into the Shiite-led Iraqi army. Not well publicized is that
Realignment of forces without reconciliation of populations spells confrontation. A surge that made all this possible seems to have made reconciliation less possible, which translates into a surge that has provided additional obstacles to peace and stability.
Dan Lieberman is the editor of Alternative Insight, a monthly Web-based newsletter. In the last eight years, Dan has written many articles on the Middle East conflicts, which have circulated on Web sites and media throughout the world.