What Iraqi Forces?
Elizabeth Spiro Clark is a retired career foreign service officer and writes extensively on issues of global democratization.
No one is playing with a full deck of cards on the great “withdraw from Iraq” game. To the American public’s ear, “training Iraqi forces” means training forces under the control of the “Iraqi government” with the aim of turning over to them the job of fighting jihadists and the insurgency so the U.S. can withdraw. But this is not the reality behind the words.
The Kurdish authorities exposed the fallacy when the press reported the Kurdish provincial government had entered into negotiations with a Norwegian company for exploration of new oil fields—without apparently informing the Iraqi government. The Kurds cited provisions in the new Iraqi constitution that split revenue from existing oil fields among the provinces but remains silent on any division of revenue from new finds. Gen. Wesley Clark, in a Washington Post op-ed Dec. 5, scolded the Kurds and the Iraqis who, he said “must” amend the constitution to change this provision.
As with oil revenues, so to with regional government’s control over security in the new constitution. Even with the four-month period we are entering for further revising the constitution, it seems unlikely the Kurds and Shiites would have any reason to give up powers granted them by the constitution—not only over oil revenues but also over internal security—however much the U.S. scolds.
Marine Brig. Gen. James Williams underlined this strategic flaw on security in reports he gave to The Washington Post on negotiations between tribal leaders and the U.S. military that took place on Nov. 29 in Ramadi. The Post reported the tribal leaders came to the meeting only to discuss American withdrawal. The Americans were there, Williams said, to persuade the tribal leaders to let their people join the Iraqi government forces, instead of tribal militias—which would allow the American forces to turn over security to the “legitimate” government. The tribal leaders, in response, insisted that Americans should let the tribal leaders build up their own forces. “It undermines Iraqi security,” Gen. Martin Dempsey later said, commenting on the Ramadi meeting, that “Iraqi leaders” want to maintain their own thinly disguised militias.
The reality is that the thinly disguised militias are going to be the regular units that are in charge of internal security, answering to the regional governments that are given dominant power in the Iraqi constitution.
Just how weak the federal government is going to be in the security area, and how strong the regions, is only slowly coming to light. The result of Rep. John Murtha’s call for withdrawal was the opening up of a “debate” on how well we were doing training “Iraqi forces.” The reality is still smothered in misleading talk of the “divided loyalties” of troops between their sectarian and regional militia commanders and the “Iraqi army,” and the “infiltration” of army and police units by militias. Reality is also obscured by taking problems with the Iraqi constitution out of the debate to be put down the road and labeled as yet another benchmark of Iraq’s march to democracy.
To read the Iraqi constitution , however, is to understand that if it survives, Iraq is going to be one of the weakest federal states in the world. The federal government has limited exclusive powers, among them signing treaties, receiving ambassadors, establishing weights and measures and allocating the broadband spectrum. The federal government is responsible for security on Iraqi borders and defense of Iraq. However, “All that is not written in the exclusive powers of the federal Authorities are in the authority of the regions. In other powers shared between the federal government and the regions, the priority will be given to the Region’s law in case of dispute” (Constitution, Article 111). As to the power of the regions: “The region's government is responsible for all that is required to manage the region, in particular establishing and organizing internal security forces for the region such as police, security and regional guards” (Constitution, Article 117).
It is extreme wishful thinking to suppose that the Shia and Kurds are going to compromise away the powers of autonomy they have won in this constitution. Why would they? If the constitution comes into effect as planned in April, we can help the Iraqis with their border security, but most internal security will be the responsibility of the regions—not the national Iraqi government we will have “stood up.” The Murtha plan at least takes reality as its starting point; the latest Bush “plan” takes no more account of reality than did the earlier ones.