After the election of November 7th I flew to Amman Jordan with Dal LaMagna, Senator Maria Cantwell's campaign co-chair, who acted as my video cameraman. On the flight over we had a long conversation with an American personal security contractor who has been working in Iraq. He predicted most of what we heard. Once there we recorded 26 hours of interviews with Jacob Rosen, the Israel Ambassador to Jordan, Iraq Members of Parliament, Dulaymi tribal chiefs from Anbar province, the Jordanian Speaker of the House, two Jordanian Parliamentarians, two Lebanese including a Sunni Parliamentarian who flew to Amman to meet us, a Palestinian woman sent by Mustafa Barghuti, who is mediating the creation of a new unity government in Palestine, a group of Iraqi exiles living in Amman, George Hawatmeh, the former editor of the Jordanian Times. I had asked to meet with secular moderate legislators in order to see if there is a consensus on the way forward. I was there to listen.
There appears to be widespread perception that decisions under Paul Bremer led to the current chaos. His memoir has been widely read and was often quoted. Interviewees' explanation for the decisions made by Bremer was either 1) He didn't know what the outcome would be or 2) He knew the effects of his decisions and had followed the neo-con plan to destroy Iraq.
We heard more than once: "The US is giving a gift of Iraq to Iran so that there can never be a strong unified Iraq," and "Iraqis were never concerned about Shia and Sunni until the allocation of seats in the Parliament along religious lines set in motion the religious battle that appears on the surface." However, the reality is that antipathy between Arabs and Persians (Iranians) is a much deeper cause of the chaos that we are seeing on the ground. The Iraqis feel the violence is being created by the Iranian infiltration of the Iraqi political structure.
The underground resistance is fighting back on two fronts: 1) Against the U.S. to drive out the occupation and 2) Against Iraq becoming a weak province of Iran. The resistance is made up of Sunni and Shia Arabs who view Bremer's decision to allocate seats on the first council on the basis of religion (Shia 13, others including Sunni and Kurds 12) as a blunder, which fixed in place the beginnings of religious violence. The Arabs see the use of religion as a basis for political decision to be a ruse to create strife between religious groups, which is intended to lead to a break up of Iraq into three pieces. Iraqis believe that the neo-cons have won the day. By splitting Iraq along religious/ethnic lines Iran has become stronger in the region. From this point on, the "creative chaos" has two effects 1) The Arabs especially Sunnis have gone up in smoke and the whole Arab world is threatened by revolt, lessening the Arabs desire or ability to modernize and 2) The chaos requires the US to keep its permanent bases in the region indefinitely.
Given this grim overview and the election results in the United States demanding change what is the way forward? I assume that the administration's desire to conclude the war is genuine.
Here is what I heard. Four things must be done more or less simultaneously. First, the implementation of the Constitution must be frozen. To push forward will surely lead to partition of Iraq into three parts. Additionally, oil revenue distributions will be made in a way that is considered both unfair and unworkable. Some suggest one year of a freeze others four.
Second, the American troops must be removed from the position of being "occupation targets". IEDs, snipers, truck bombs, and etc. are the daily deadly experience of our troops and there is no Iraqi who believes that the U.S. Army can give security from death squads, militias and thugs. The proposal of strategic redeployment as suggested by Jack Murtha has much Iraqi acceptance. The deployment should put troops on the Iranian and Syrian Borders. The border closures will stop Iranian infiltration and the re-supply of Iranian leaning militias. Another area of redeployment can put the troops in the large bases in Iraq or in Kuwait. (My note: These moves will stop the killing of our troops. 3000 deaths are enough to prove that our present policy is not working and Iraqis think it will never work.)
Third, internal security must be provided for the Iraqis. By the American troops withdrawing to the borders the Americans will provide border security and make room for the Iraqi Army to be created by those who are presently underground and waiting. This requires repeal of Bremer's Order 2 to disband the Iraq Army. No amount of American training will create an Iraqi army for this situation. There are many Iraqi generals ready to return to command their old troops. Our intelligence agencies can make contact with the professional soldiers who were sacked and humiliated by Bremer. They want to serve Iraq - a unified Iraq. Everyone knows where the army is. They are waiting to be called. The Iraqi resistance can be mobilized if we want to succeed. If we stay the course of keeping our troops in cities and training camps we will fail. There is no Arab Iraqi who doubts this.
And finally, fourth we must allow the Iraqis to recreate their technocratic government. The Bremer decision to fire the Baathists civil servants destroyed the best civil service in the Middle East. Iraqis had clean water, sewerage disposal, electricity, schools and telephones before Bremer sent the Baath party members away. By a stroke of a pen he destroyed a functioning civil society. The Iraqi Arabs believe it was deliberately done to weaken and ultimately destroy Iraq for Iranian profit.
If we did these four things the Iraqis would have hope again that the country is not being given to Iran like John the Baptist's head on a platter. If we fail to do this, their worst fears will be confirmed. They will have neither peace, justice nor democracy.
The Iraqis expressed fear that the Democrats have already or will fall into trying to salvage the neo-con plan.
The way forward for the U.S. Congress should be to begin immediately by inviting a broad range of Iraqis to come to Washington DC so we can listen to them and then construct the change Americans are looking for which is neither immediate withdrawal or "staying the course" but a plan to protect our troops and fulfill our promise to the Iraqi people.
What I heard from the Iraqis, Palestinians, Jordanians and Israeli, these four points could be the skeleton of the new Democratic majority's plan for going forward in Iraq.