The International Crisis Group today issued a report on Iraq -- After Baker-Hamilton: What to Do in Iraq -- that claims that the Iraq Study Group not only didn't go nearly far enough in it's recommendations for a new approach, but also misdiagnosed the political situation we are facing.
(C)ontrary to the Baker-Hamilton report's suggestion, the Iraqi government and security forces cannot be treated as privileged allies to be bolstered; they are simply one among many parties to the conflict. The report characterises the government as a "government of national unity" that is "broadly representative of the Iraqi people": it is nothing of the sort. It also calls for expanding forces that are complicit in the current dirty war and for speeding up the transfer of responsibility to a government that has done nothing to stop it. The only logical conclusion from the report's own lucid analysis is that the government is not a partner in an effort to stem the violence, nor will strengthening it contribute to Iraq's stability. This is not a military challenge in which one side needs to be strengthened and another defeated. It is a political challenge in which new consensual understandings need to be reached. The solution is not to change the prime minister or cabinet composition, as some in Washington appear to be contemplating, but to address the entire power structure that was established since the 2003 invasion, and to alter the political environment that determines the cabinet's actions. ...
In short, success in Iraq, if it still can be achieved at this late date, will require three ambitious and interrelated steps:
A new forceful multilateral approach that puts real pressure on all Iraqi parties: The Baker-Hamilton report is right to advocate creation of a broad International Support Group; it should comprise the five permanent Security Council members and Iraq's six neighbours. But its purpose cannot be to support the Iraqi government. It must support Iraq, which means pressing the government, along with all other Iraqi constituents, to make the necessary compromises. It also means agreeing on rules of conduct and red-lines regarding third party involvement in Iraq. This does not entail a one-off conference, but sustained multilateral diplomacy.
A conference of all Iraqi and international stakeholders to forge a new political compact: A new, more equitable and inclusive national compact needs to be agreed upon by all relevant actors, including militias and insurgent groups, on issues such as federalism, resource allocation, de-Baathification, the scope of the amnesty, and the timetable for a U.S. withdrawal. This can only be done if the International Support Group brings all of them to the negotiating table, and if its members steer their deliberations, deploying a mixture of carrots and sticks to influence those on whom they have particular leverage.
A new U.S. regional strategy, including engagement with Syria and Iran, an end to efforts at regime change, revitalisation of the Arab-Israeli peace process, and altered strategic goals: Polite engagement of Iraq's neighbours will not do; rather, a clear redefinition of Washington's objectives in the region will be required to enlist regional, but especially Iranian and Syrian help. The goal is not to bargain with them, but to seek agreement on an end-state for Iraq and the region that is no one's first choice, but with which everyone can live.