Middle East

Iraq 'Fatally Weakened': Report

Former Secretary of State James Baker (left) and ex-Congressman Lee Hamilton of the Iraq Study Group. (Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP-Getty Images)

Iraq today is "hollowed out and fatally weakened" and "prey to armed militias, sectarian forces and a [self-serving] political class," according to a study released this week by the Brussels-based independent think-tank the International Crisis Group (I.C.G.).

Titled "After Baker-Hamilton: What to Do in Iraq," the report criticized the recommendations recently delivered to President George W. Bush by the Iraq Study Group for being "not nearly radical enough" and questioned the Bush administration's ability to change its current policy direction in the strife-torn country.

Though endorsing the general thrust of the study group's report and congratulating it on initiating discussion on a change in policy in Iraq, the I.C.G. report found its recommendations to be not wide ranging enough saying its "prescriptions are no match for its diagnosis."

"What is needed today is a clean break both in the way the U.S. and other international actors deal with the Iraqi government, and in the way the U.S. deals with the region: in essence, a new multinational effort to achieve a new political compact between all relevant Iraqi constituents," the report said.

Appointed on March 15, 2006, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and ex-Congressman Lee Hamilton, presented its findings to the president on Dec. 6.

Charged with delivering alternative policy recommendations to President Bush on Iraq, the study group controversially recommended a pullback of American troops and the initiating of regional talks with long-term U.S. foes Iran and Syria.

Upon receiving the findings President Bush agreed that "a new approach" was necessary but has postponed any announcement of a change in strategy until the New Year. News reports from Washington have speculated that, far from implementing the Baker-Hamilton commission's recommendations, the Bush administration is preparing to send more troops to Iraq. The decision will undoubtedly be unpopular with American voters who rejected the administration's handling of the conflict in the recent mid-term elections.

Describing the U.S. strategy in Iraq as "disastrous … a magnet for deeper regional interference and a source of greater regional instability, " the I.C.G. analysis called for an multilateral approach that included "a conference of all Iraqi and international stakeholders to forge a new political compact," "a new U.S. regional strategy" and the initiating of talks with both Syria and Iran to prevent Iraq's descent into further conflict.

Though agreeing with the Baker-Hamilton commission that there was no magic solution to the Iraq conflict, the I.C.G. study warned that failure to resolve the problem quickly could result in the fragmentation of the state of Iraq and the spilling over of the conflict into a wider regional war:

An approach that does not entail a clean break … will postpone what, increasingly, is looking like the most probable scenario: Iraq's collapse into a failed and fragmented state, an intensifying and long-lasting civil war, as well as increased foreign meddling that risks metastasizing into a broad proxy war. Such a situation could not be contained within Iraq's borders.

… Given that rising sectarianism in Iraq is both fueled by and fuels sectarianism in the region, the more likely outcome would be a regional conflagration. There is abundant reason to question whether the Bush administration is capable of such a dramatic course change. But there is no reason to question why it ought to change direction, and what will happen if it does not.

Speaking to reporters following the release of the study, I.C.G. president Gareth Evans added, "We are looking at Iraq's complete disintegration into failed-state chaos, threatening to drag down much of the region with it.

"More troops in — or out — are not going to solve this. What is needed above all is a new multinational effort to achieve a new political compact between all relevant Iraqi players."

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