The panel discussion "Reconstructing Afghanistan and Iraq" took place at the 59th annual conference in November, 2005.
David Mack, Larry Goodson, Ali Jalali, Samir Sumaidaie, Phebe Marr
The overthrow of the governments of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein was the easy part. The dominance of US military power in offensive warfare against any other state in the Middle East is clear. But US political, economic and diplomatic strength has been inadequate for the tasks of stabilization and reconstruction. The supposed power of US ideas has been challenged. Leadership, we know, depends upon a skillful combination of hard power and soft power. The US is still struggling to find the mix of tools and partners on the ground whom we should be supporting. Unless we succeed in helping the people of Afghanistan and Iraq rebuild their institutions, we can hardly expect them to be effective partners in fighting terrorism, maintaining global stability, or helping us deal with the other challenges that we share with them.
We have four speakers this morning who bring perspectives that may help us answer these questions.
The Honorable Ali Jalali is a professor at the National Defense University Near East and South Asia Center. He’s a former Minister of the Interior in Kabul, as well as a former executive of the Voice of America.
His Excellency Samir Sumaidaie is the Permanent United Nations Representative for Iraq. He is a former Minister of the Interior in Iraq and for many years, even decades, a prominent figure in the Iraqi opposition to the government of Saddam Hussein.
They’re joined by two American scholars. Dr. Larry Goodson, who’s going to be our leadoff speaker, is a professor of Middle East studies at the Army War College. He’s an authority on Afghanistan and recently served with the United Nations in that country.
Dr. Phebe Marr is this country’s leading historian of modern Iraq. She is now attached to the US Institute of Peace and recently spent several months in Iraq doing fieldwork.
We have a limited amount of time available to us. We will try to leave time for questions afterwards. Larry, I will ask you to lead off.
First Panelist's Remarks
Larry Goodson, Director of Middle East Studies, Army War College
Thank you, David. Good morning.
I’ll begin with the ritual disclaimer that we all do when we’re in the government. I do work at the US Army War College but the views I’m going to articulate now are my own, not those of the War College, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, et cetera.
I should also add, in the interest of full disclosure, that last year I worked at US Central Command as a CentCom fellow. I did a lot of work primarily on Afghanistan and Pakistan, so my views are not those of John Abizaid or any of those folks necessarily either.
Let me also offer a sort of non-ritual disclaimer. I am a War College professor. Therefore I had prepared a long and wonderful slide presentation this morning. But try as I might, I just couldn’t get it down to the time allotted. So I have thrown the whole thing out, with apologies to the technicians who prepared for it, and I’ve distilled what I want to say to six basic points, which I’m going to try to say in about ten minutes. So let me go straight to those.
First, the Bush Administration, I think, came to Operation Enduring Freedom quite conflicted over nation-building in general. Afghanistan was very much the first case of this for the Bush Administration and of course the approach that we eventually settled on was quite at odds with what the Administration came to office saying about nation-building in the first place. Indeed, within the Administration – and I think this is now fairly well documented – it was clear that some preferred a strategy of capture/kill of high-value targets; some, even from early on, saw the center of gravity in the global war on terror to be Iraq, not necessarily Afghanistan or the border areas of Pakistan or whatever. So we started out with what one writer has famously called “nation-building-lite” in Afghanistan, and what Mr. Brahimi used to call a “light footprint” in Afghanistan. That’s what we got in Afghanistan.
Precisely because of this, some two years initially were lost, especially on economic reconstruction, while we primarily grappled with what we were all about in Afghanistan.
Secondly, when we got to Kabul, what we found and indeed at times enhanced were some powerful entrenched realities on the ground. There were and there remain today significant warlords, although of course we don’t always call them warlords; ethno-linguistic sectarian divisions; profound destruction of physical infrastructure due to the long war that had already existed there; the rise of a sort of blend of conservative/radical Islamism, especially powerful in certain parts of the countryside. All of these forces and some individuals and so forth we found profoundly resistant to our efforts to change.
Third, and despite these first two points I’ve articulated – I told you these were points, they don’t necessarily fit together as nicely as my slides – we have had some success, and some enduring challenges remain, in our nation-building efforts in Afghanistan. Both of these exist, it seems to me, side by side in all the major nation-building pillars of our approach there. That would mean in security provision, in state building, in economic reconstruction, even in the relief and resettlement of refugee populations or displaced populations, although I think that area has been less problematic.
For example, the Bonn Accords of December 2001 provided a good framework for basic political transition from the Taliban regime to the current regime or current government in Kabul, but they could do little to address institutional capacity development or the extension of Kabul’s sway throughout the countryside. Likewise, we have seen mixed progress on the security sector reform pillars with, for example, the training of a new Afghan National Army being perhaps further along than, say, counter-narcotics efforts.
Fourth, it seems to me that the window is closing for the international community’s focus on Afghanistan as tsunami and earthquake relief in Asia, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and hurricane relief and war-weariness in the United States exacerbates a sort of natural progression or tendency toward donor fatigue after several years. So I don’t want to say we have reached the high-water mark in Afghanistan. The last donor conference was a fairly successful one. But nonetheless it does seem to me, and certainly within the US government, that Afghanistan is now very much sort of on the back burner while Iraq and other things are on the front burner.
That leads me to my fifth point about US exit strategy. Really, in my notes here I have a question mark. What is or should be US exit strategy? Of course, in some respects this also would apply to Iraq as well.
It seems clear that the approach in both cases is to hand off the running of the country, the control of the country, the situation in the country completely and entirely to the local government, which we have helped to build in our image, so to speak. Handing off to the Afghans is a good idea but the last time we completely handed things off and left, things didn’t work out so well for either the Afghans, the international system, the neighborhood that Afghanistan is in and of course for the United States of America.
So it seems to me there are a lot of open questions about what our exit strategy toward Afghanistan is or should be. But given my fourth point that donor fatigue is here, we are in a mode where exit strategy needs to be strongly considered because we are beginning the hand-off to NATO and the drawdown of our own forces there.
Finally, my last point, which in some sense is unrelated to these first five points: It’s specifically about the US government and the US inter-agency and our own approach to nation-building operations.
It seemed to me as I was thinking about this panel – indeed it has seemed to me for some months now – that we have both inadequate institutional and individual preparation for nation-building operations within the US government and that this compounds the difficulties that complex and oftentimes very non-permissive environments like Afghanistan and Iraq pose for those people that we deploy there and hand this mission off to. There is a whole range of reasons for this. The military in general, the army in particular, has not really wanted these missions for a long time. The inter-agency is woefully unprepared for this. We’ve done nothing like the 1947 National Security Act to restructure ourselves to do these sorts of things. On the ground, this translates itself into very rarely sending people out with a sufficient grounding in Dari and Pashto or Arabic, Iraqi Arabic, where they can communicate even with the people that they’re working with.
Those are my six basic points. Thank you very much for your attention and I look forward to the questions.
David Mack: Thank you for that crisp, even military briefing. I appreciate that, having taught at the National War College and knowing the temptation when you’ve got a captive audience to go on.
Larry Goodson: And I’m a civilian college professor. I don’t know how I managed that.
David Mack: Let me turn to you now, Ali, to provide your perspective on this issue.
Second Panelist's Remarks
Ali Jalali, Former Interior Minister, Afghanistan
Thank you, David. Thank you, Larry. I think you highlighted many of the points that I wanted to include in my presentation earlier. However, we spoke yesterday and we decided that we will focus on different subjects. I’m happy that he provided an overview.
First, a disclaimer, the same disclaimer that Larry offered. What I say, I express my own personal opinion and not necessarily those of the National Defense University or the government of Afghanistan or anybody else.
With this disclaimer, I would like to focus on two main issues. First, look back at the Bonn process, what was achieved during this process, in very brief form. Then there is another topic that I wanted to discuss at length. However, because of the limited time we have, I will be short on how to extend the building of the central government to peripheries, to provinces. The central government has developed to a certain level that it can influence the situation in Afghanistan to a large extent. However, the development has not been equally extended to provinces.
Today, even as we speak, the results of the parliamentary elections are going to be announced in Kabul. This parliamentary election actually is the last act of the Bonn process, which started in 2001. The Bonn process – as it draws to a close, it’s time to look back and assess achievements and failures in order to identify ways to respond to immediate and long-term developmental challenges in Afghanistan.
However, no assessment would be accurate unless made in the political and strategic context of international engagement in Afghanistan, in the legacy of an extended period of violence and political turmoil in the country. Post-conflict peace building in Afghanistan proved to be a complex and lengthy process. A sustainable peace can be achieved only through a comprehensive and integrated approach toward building security, governance and economic development.
During the past four years, Afghanistan made significant strides toward reconstructing the country’s political, social and security institutions. These include adopting a highly regarded constitution in January 2004, holding a very successful presidential election in October 2004, and parliamentary polls in September 2005. Creating a national army and a national police force, dismantling major factional militia units, beginning of a national economy, expanding the formal education system, and improving the women’s status.
However, the progress is fragile and needs to be secured through further political, social and economic development at local and national levels.
During the past nearly four years, most of the efforts have been aimed at rebuilding the central government. A significant progress has been achieved. Obviously good governance is central to a sustainable reconstruction in Afghanistan. In reaction to the recent prolonged insecurity, there has been a widespread public desire for a strong central government that can provide security in the chaotic post-conflict environment and offer needed services to devastated communities.
However, the central government can effectively respond to the public demand only through a balanced development at national and local levels. Building national security institutions and infrastructure has contributed to overall stability but the lack of progress in local and provincial development has thwarted human security – that is, the key to peace.
The government has been hamstrung mostly by two interrelated problems: lack of capacity and the presence of alternative domestic and international sources of power. Implementation of international funds by entities outside government control and local assertiveness of the non-statutory forces have weakened Kabul’s influence in the provinces.
The lack of government influence in warlord-dominated areas, inadequate resources and prevailing poverty, competing demands for counterinsurgency operations and nation building, force the government to take an accommodations approach to deal with commanders, warlords and tribal figures. This contributed to clientalism, corruption and increasing reliance on a patron system. The worst of the terrorist activity takes place in districts where the government has a weak presence. Security has however significantly improved in some insurgency-ridden districts following the enhancement of government presence and the resumption of reconstruction.
In order for the government to strengthen its legitimacy, expand its influence and strategically manage the reconstruction, it needs to speed up administrative reform not only in the capital of Kabul but also in the provinces and districts, and reinforce human capital development, enhance its revenue collection capacity, fight corruption and improve the rule of law.
So far the national priority programs have developed with a top-down approach and concentrated on the longer-term strategy for development, while the local-level work has had a short-term relief focus. This needs to transform into a system where development at the local level becomes an integral part of the national development programs. The change would require a reallocation of financial resources and creation of a coordinating body at the provincial level, empowered to coordinate and organize government and external resources for highly-focused planning and implementation of development programs, projects and activities. The constitutionally-approved body is suggested to be called Provincial Planning and Development Council (PPDC). This is where the top-down development meets the bottom-up activities. Chaired by the provincial governor, the PPDC brings together all city and district governors, the representatives of the private sector, chairperson of appropriation committee of the provincial council – which is elected now, all members of the parliament from the province, heads of donor organizations and NGOs, and all heads of the ministries in the province, with also possibly participation of PRTs.
The project is being pilot-tested in Balkh Province now and is expected to be extended to other northern provinces. Consistent with the national development framework and Afghanistan’s national development strategy, every provincial government should prepare a comprehensive multi-sectoral development plan to be approved by the provincial council.
The extension of the national development program to provinces and districts contributes to reducing poverty and providing alternative livelihoods in poppy-growing areas. The key challenge facing reconstruction and development in Afghanistan today is poverty, which affects the governance and security. Implementation of an economic growth strategy is the key to reducing poverty.
So although Afghanistan has come a long way on the path of recovery and reconstruction, it still has a long road to go before it becomes self-sustaining. The Bonn process was neither a definitive transformation schedule nor did it envision the country’s long-term development process. It was the beginning of many projects but the ending of only a few. The struggle to secure the future of Afghanistan drags on and the country continues to be dependent on international support for many years to come.
Durable peace in Afghanistan without economic development cannot be achieved. The reconstruction will cost more than what is already estimated and more efforts are needed to explore the internal and regional opportunities for investment in economic development. Securing Afghanistan’s future requires long-term commitment of international community in the form of a post-Bonn framework that ties Afghanistan with the international community in a compact of agreed measures to ensure that the investment made so far is not lost, but to build upon achievements made in security, political and economic developments.
The problem is with the benchmarks. The benchmark set during the Bonn process was not [indiscernible]. However, some looked at it as targets and goals. In the future, again, the strategic aim should be making Afghanistan self-sustaining and stand on its feet – not setting benchmarks that you will create an army, you will create a police. But if you do not tie it with the overall development programs, it will not help provide security and stability.
Thank you very much.
David Mack: Thank you.
Third Panelist's Remarks
Samir Sumaidaie, Representative to the UN, Iraq
Thank you. Like my other two colleagues, I will start with the usual disclaimer. Whatever I say in this session does not necessarily represent the Iraqi government’s policy. But I feel as a person who took part in drawing up the architecture of the new Iraq, I’m entitled to at least air some ideas for debate and discussion and to help understanding.
I have not prepared a written statement. I thought I would just follow a few themes to help better understand the situation in Iraq and hopefully create some visions for which way we are likely to go and which way we should be going.
Iraq is, as we all know, a very old country. David reminded us of the traditions of democracy, at least in its basic elements, in the first half of the last century. I remember, I grew up in an environment, which was stable, relatively free, developing fast, peaceful and quite gentle, actually. Baghdad was a lovely city to live in. Schools were good. People had pride in what they did. There was hardly any corruption. That was actually quite a healthy environment.
Now, the country had, after so many decades of misrule, degenerated into quite a different kind of place. Baghdad now is a very difficult city to live in.
But let’s go even further back into history. In Sumerian times the city-states – which were, as we all know, the first states that existed that could be called states – the king was accountable to the people. Every year he would have to appear before the people and would go through a ceremony where the priests would perform a ritual humbling of the king by asking him, “Have you done well for the people?” and slapping him across the face three times. This is a demonstration that he has to account for his actions. These are the traditions a very long time ago that sprung up in the same land we are now dealing with. Some people say, how can democracy be applied to Iraq? Yes, democracy can and will thrive in Iraq. I can assure you of that, in spite of all the difficulties.
Iraq was torn apart by the years of misrule and dictatorship, which exacerbated ethnic and sectarian divisions. Although there is no tradition of conflict, Iraq is like a museum of religions, sects, and ethnic affiliations. It has such a great variety, which actually is very rich. People, I know as an Iraqi, have no difficulty in living with other people who are different.
But Saddam changed all that. Saddam oppressed heavily some specific segments of society, creating deep wounds. We all know that wounds take a long time to heal. From your own American experience, you know that. When this healing process moves forward, it’s not in months or years. It takes generations. In Iraq, it will take years for these wounds to heal. We have to have understanding of the tempo of change. We know that there are political imperatives here in this city, which requires progress at a certain pace. But this does not change the reality on the ground. Society has to move forward at its own natural pace and it has to be given the space to do that. Given the environment and the support, yes, but has to be given the space and the time.
I would like to make a few remarks about this environment and space in which Iraq moves forward. In the early days of the CPA, we Iraqis had to deal with administrators at the CPA who came to Iraq almost blinkered. We felt they almost wanted to implant a version of democracy, which is practiced in any small town in the United States directly without change. It doesn’t work. It cannot work. They had this idea, which they pushed with evangelical zeal, that central government must not be strong. We must have regional power. Fine. We are all for decentralization. Democracy is based on decentralized government. But again, the progress has to be paced and measured.
The concern now is how to leave. Of course, there’s been a lot of debate since that time and the constitution has now been debated and approved, at least in a form which is near final although subject to be modified by the next parliament. The concern now has to be, have we left enough power in the central government to keep the country together? It’s fine talking about developing a country, but first you have to have a country. To ensure that we will have a country, we need to keep it together and we need to have sufficient forces and binds and tools – constitutional tools – to keep that country together. That has to be to empower central government – not to oppress the regions but to have enough strength and authority to keep the country together.
Then of course, we have to deal with the insurgency and the terrorism and the crime. I was smiling only this morning, reading in the paper that France has decided to declare a state of emergency after less than two weeks of disturbances. In April last year, one year after the fall of Saddam Hussein, I was the Minister of Interior. I was pushing hard to persuade our friends that we should declare a state of emergency after one year of lawlessness in Iraq. They were unsympathetic.
We know that when there is a state of lawlessness, the people who suffer are the innocent civilians. The first duty of any government is to protect them and protect the property, and of course protect the stability of the country, because that is the foundation on which everything else is built. So there was this lack of understanding of what was necessary to do in the same way there was lack of understanding when Saddam was removed immediately to impose a curfew, get hold of the country and make sure that it is secure. We are suffering from that right now.
The insurgency represents a big challenge. Of course there’s considerable overlap between those who are resisting occupation and [indiscernible] and the terrorists, fundamentalists, al Qaeda types who have come from over the borders – some homegrown -- and of course, the organized criminal elements who benefit from this state of lawlessness. We have to separate, we have to drive a wedge between these segments and make sure we isolate the terrorists and draw out all the elements who can be drawn out and get them to share in the political process.
I would propose thinking seriously here of negotiating a status of forces agreement, which would for good remove the stain of occupation. It would demonstrate to the world that there is a sovereign government making a deal with another – or a series of sovereign governments, and that the presence of foreign forces in Iraq is based on mutual agreement. Only yesterday I was at the Security Council and we had a resolution passed to extend the mandate of the Multinational Force. That is necessary and this was in response to a letter from our prime minister requesting that. So this is important. But I believe that a status of forces agreement would help.
I think these are important issues. I sense that there still is a certain amount of lack of understanding of the situation in Iraq. Yesterday I attended a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York in which a prominent British journalist was pitted against an accomplished Marine commander. It was really amazing because the two contrasting views were so stark and so black and white, they had almost no overlap. There was no communication. They were talking past each other. The reality on the ground was totally somewhere else. That is not helpful. We need here more than anywhere else an understanding of what is required to complete the course.
Let’s not make any mistakes: a premature pullout by the Americans or by the Multinational Forces from Iraq would now precipitate a catastrophe. Iraq would descend into chaos. It would become a failed state. Civil war would almost be a given. It would be the incubator and the breeding ground for multitudes of terrorists who will plague our world. This is too awful to be contemplated.
But there is an alternative. The alternative is to go forward, but go forward not on the basis of pre-digested formula, but go forward in a sensitive way, in a way that responds to realities on the ground. This issue of sectarian division, I touched on it. Instead of always talking it up, we should be talking it down. Iraqis are not so strictly separated. I am a Sunni, I have always been against Saddam. When I was a young man, I married a very nice girl who happened to be Shi’a. At that time, we never thought of it and she never thought of it. I am not exceptional. There are a lot of people like that. Iraq cannot be simplified and reduced to this caricature representation of Kurdish, Sunni, Shi’a. It will never be reduced to such a caricature.
So we have to have the understanding and we have to promote the secular elements in Iraqi politics and help them gain the upper hand. One of the ways to help them is to play down the sectarian divisions and play up the affiliation to the country and the values of citizenship.
I believe the future for Iraq will be bright but it will take time. We have to understand that processes like these will take time. Fundamentally, society has to heal itself, with a lot of help and understanding from its friends abroad – which it is getting, by and large, despite all the hiccups and criticisms. It will get there and you’ve got to stand with us for the rest of the way because the benefit of completing this course is great for everybody.
I have not yet touched on the role of our neighbors and so on, because that would require a separate session by itself. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
David Mack: Thank you. Phebe.
Fourth Panelist's Remarks
Phebe Marr, Senior Fellow, US Institute for Peace
Thank you very much. At first I thought there might be a great deal of disagreement between the Ambassador and myself, but as the last speaker I may be repeating a few of his points. I find myself in a great deal of agreement on his own views in Iraq and certainly his description, as you’ll see we’re on the same wavelength. But perhaps my assessment of this ethnic and sectarian difficulty might be slightly different, for purposes of some drama and discussion.
I’m old enough to remember the period that the Ambassador talks about, when Iraq was more democratic, stable and had experienced lots of intermarriage between various ethnic and sectarian groups in Iraq. But I am myself, like the Ambassador, quite concerned – that is my concern; it’s the focus of my research – on what has happened to this in the current situation, particularly as I visited Iraq, as I talked to people. Let me say that I’m engaged in a project that may sound a little nebulous, looking at emerging political leaders and their visions of Iraq, to see if I can’t come to grips with how it looks to Iraqis in terms of their own sense of identity.
I too will try to make six points and try to stick to the very good job my colleagues have done in sticking to their time.
Let me just say that I think we’re engaged in Iraq in a high-risk/high-cost experiment that in my view is not going very well at the moment. Iraq has not failed. Anything is better than Saddam’s regime. But it could: a word of warning. Even success is going to be costly. I couldn’t agree with the Ambassador more: it’s going to take effort, time and even in the end is going to produce a good bit of uncertainty.
My first point in all of this is that almost everyone is aware that our military action was taken in Iraq to produce regime change, and we did that, but these words “regime change” scarcely capture the reality. I think when Americans look at Iraq, they really are unaware of how radical, even revolutionary that change has been in the polity and society. We have dug deeply into the foundations of what existed before. De-Ba’athification has eliminated the top four levels of the party, at least 30 to 35,000 people who ran the government and most of the education system. We all know about the elimination of the army, some 400,000, and so on. These removed not just the regime but the pillars of the regime. While it didn’t eliminate Iraq’s middle class and professionals who staffed the bureaucracy, many of whom were part of the Ba’athist system and were already weakened by a decade of sanctions, in fact it marginalized them.
Replacement of leadership in Iraq has always been one of the most difficult tasks of regime change and it remains the critical one today: developing a new cadre of leadership, which has a sense of Iraqi identity. Iraq is in the process of creating that almost from scratch. One shouldn’t underestimate how monumental this task is and our failure to recognize the difficulty of it in the beginning is one of the reasons for the quandary we’re in.
A second point I would like to make is to sort of look at the development of this process. As we know, this leadership gap has been essentially filled by three administrations, governments. The first was created by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which I find is interesting because it reflected two things. Everyone refers to the fact that that first Iraq Governing Council was an umbrella of every ethnic and sectarian group in the country as envisioned by the CPA. A majority of Shi’a and Kurds, Sunnis, Turkmen, women, men, et cetera – perhaps starting Iraq down this road of ethnic and sectarian politics. But we often forget that the government also was an umbrella group representing virtually every political party that existed prior to the Ba’ath – the Kurdish parties, the political religious parties of the Shi’a, the parties that were formed in exile, and parties going back to World War II.
The second government of 2004, the Interim Government headed by Ayad Allawi, brought new faces and change, but most important of course was the government formed after the election in January of this year. That really reflected much more Iraq’s newly emerging leadership. To my mind, we can sort of identify four different groups of political alliances that emerged here and they are likely to be the ones that we are going to be watching in the forthcoming election.
The first is the Kurdish bloc, led by the two main Kurdish parties. The second was the United Iraqi Alliance, which despite its name was a coalition of mainly Shi’a parties. The third group was what I’m going to call centrist and comes closest to what I think the Ambassador was describing as Iraqi- first, Iraqi-oriented, and more secular. A fourth group, Arab Sunnis, was essentially left out, boycotted the election or stayed home.
The upshot of that election, as we very well know, was to produce two blocs of winners – primarily the Shi’a political parties and secondarily the Kurds. The centrist Iraqis, on whom we’re going to sort of found an Iraqi identity, didn’t do well at the polls and got only about 14 percent of the vote. They decided not to join the government and hence it was mainly the Kurds and the Shi’a who put together the constitution. They did bring in individual Sunnis to keep some balance.
There are two conclusions I’d like to draw from the process so far. The first is that there is a real political process going on in Baghdad. That is the good news. While it can’t be called full-blown democracy yet, it probably comes the closest to it in any country in the Middle East. Where do you ever sit in the Middle East and really wonder what the outcome of the election is going to be? I was in Baghdad in April and May of this year, in the convention center where delegates were meeting, and watching them bargaining, talking to their colleagues and so on. In fact, you could see the process going on.
The second point I want to make, however, and it’s the one that concerns me, is that Iraq is now engaged in what I would call the politics of cultural identity. Here is where I may have some disagreement with the Ambassador. In the absence of strong parties based on interests or programs, politicians are falling back on ethnic and sectarian identity to mobilize votes. Although I agree Iraqi society is more diverse than these blocs suggest and Iraq is not divided in three parts like Gaul, parties and leaders are using ethnicity and sectarian appeal to win votes. The poor security of the situation, inability of candidates to go out and campaign, may be contributing to that as well.
I believe that Iraq is more complex; it’s more united than this tripartite division suggests. But the parties advocating more secularism and more Iraqi identity are either poorly organized or have inability to mobilize a robust constituency among the masses. Hence, in Iraq itself today this communal identity has tended to take over and bears watching.
A quick word about the insurgency, I don’t want to spend too much time on it. It is digging in. In my view, it will take some time to quell. It has had two impacts on Iraq that feed into the points that I’m making.
First, it has tended to isolate Baghdad from other areas of the country, thereby reinforcing the isolation of the Kurds in the north, isolation of the Shi’a in the south, and making normal interaction – family visits, commerce, et cetera – between and among these groups much more difficult. Anyone who goes to Baghdad, spends a little time in the Green Zone, understands this whole picture of how insurgency has impacted this. It’s also impacted people’s minds and how they think of each other as well.
Second, of course as we know, it has cut Baghdad off from the outside world, making it difficult for Baghdad to get the help it needs to move ahead economically. I don’t have to cite the costs of security of any company going in, how difficult it is to hire personnel, et cetera. This is helping contribute to economic stagnation and failing to provide jobs.
I don’t want to paint a totally bleak picture. Let me just give you a few positives. Salaries for government workers and teachers have increased. This has been spent on cars, electricity and so on. The economic stagnation is not universal. Kurds are doing better in the north, Shi’a in some areas are doing better in the south. But the insurgency is having these impacts.
Last, the fear I have is that all of this indicates in slow motion a gradual disintegration of the state and the central government with concomitant buildup of the regions. As the Ambassador said, some decentralization is fine, but my fear is that this is taking place on ethnic and sectarian lines, whether we like to see it or not.
I’ll simply finish by saying that in the studies I’m conducting, I’ve been interviewing Iraqi political leaders on questions of their identity, their vision of the future. While I find some overlap, I find a lot of distinct differences that will need to be compromised and reconciled.
The Kurds, for example, put primarily Kurdish identity first now as they’ve been having their own government in the north, a younger generation has grown that doesn’t speak Arabic, hasn’t had much contact with Baghdad. Reintegrating the Kurds into Baghdad is going to be something of a problem.
The Shi’a never were separatists, always had an Iraqi identity. But as I interviewed many of these political religious Shi’a leaders, I find their sense of Iraqi identity, their identification with the state, there but weak. Frankly, they are more interested in something else – a vision of Islamizing society – which may put them in some sort of, if not conflict, difference with more secular Kurds and the centrists.
The centrists, as I’ve indicated, are there. They are directly interested in a united Iraq. They are more secular. They are Western-oriented. But frankly, as I’ve indicated, they are a weak component.
Last but not least, the Sunnis, some of whom were engaged in the insurgency, are more difficult to fathom. They probably have the strongest identification with the state, are more suspicious of federalism and want a unified Iraq. They are also strongest in wanting to get rid of the American occupation. The best thing we can do is to peel off layers of Sunnis and bring Sunnis into the government as soon as possible.
Interestingly, one last point: none of these people whom I talked to put economics and economic development at the top. That has to be reversed.
So let me finish with a couple of conclusions that are virtually the same as the Ambassador’s.
First, Iraq needs leaders – political leaders and let’s throw in the Americans here – with a new vision for Iraq, which seems to be lacking. One that brings Iraqis together rather than driving them apart. A second one is that we all need to turn our attention to economics.
I think the best contribution that the United States can make is to continue to encourage and push Iraqis behind the scenes for compromises, to work on rebuilding civil and political society across ethnic and sectarian lines, and above all – I agree most of all with the Ambassador – the United States must have patience. The reconstruction of Iraq, this healing process, is going to be long. If we pull out of Iraq prematurely or push it into unrealistic timelines like that of the constitution, Iraq could fail. If you don’t like Iraq and what you see now, just wait if you pull out, because it could get much worse. This is not for the sprinter but for the long-distance runner.
Attributions: Jennifer Mitchell, who is currently studying at Kings College in London transcribed this document. Laurie Kassman and Michael Jackson edited it.
Question & Answer:
Question: First of all, I have some questions on foreign policy issues, which I’m going to address to you, Mr. Ambassador, and to you, Ali. This regards in particular relationships between your two countries and Iran, as well as other neighbors like Syria that might be troubling in some way. One of the questions is from former Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Robert Pelletreau, on how the Iranian influences may be affecting developments. There’s also a question whether the Iraqi government will at some point include war crimes against Iran in the case against Saddam Hussein, as requested by the Iranian government. I’ll just let you handle that complex of foreign policy issues as you see best, and then I’ll turn to you, Ali.
Samir Sumaidaie: Iran is a complex society and a complex state. The official foreign policy of Iran is supportive to the transition and democratization of Iraq. They are aware that some of the leading political parties in Iraq have strong ties because they were in exile in Iran for many years. They feel that they can wield quite a lot of influence through Iraqi leaders.
However, there are other factions or forces in Iran who do not necessarily act in complete harmony with the stated foreign policy. They very often can, at least theoretically – and we believe practically – follow a different course. So there is some evidence of infiltration and interference in the security sense and in the intelligence sense. But generally, as I said, the official line is to go along with the political process.
Here we have to pose the question: to stop this interference, should we put more pressure on Iran, or Syria for that matter? Or should we put less pressure? If we put more pressure, some people say, this will put more pressure on them in different directions on other issues, such as the Lebanese issue for Syria and the nuclear issue for Iran. This might push them to make more mischief in Iraq. The other theory is that we’ve got to push them in order to stop them. I am much more in favor with the second proposition. We believe that we have to make sure that they’re accountable for any interference in Iraq, because they are actually hurting the political process in Iraq.
As an Iraqi government, we have to on the one hand extend a friendly hand to both our neighbors and say that we don’t mean them harm, we are not supportive of any policy for regime change in our neighbors. We have enough trouble in our own country to deal with and we are not hostile to them. But they must stop interfering. On the other hand, of course, we have to protect ourselves.
Ali Jalali: The official relations with Iran are good for Afghanistan. The Iranians officially support the political process in Afghanistan. Even privately some of their politicians supported the international involvement in Afghanistan.
At the same time, there are some common issues, which Iran is cooperating with Afghanistan, particularly in the drug trafficking. Iran in cooperation with the UNODC and also with the United Kingdom built several security posts along the Afghan-Iranian border in order to help Afghan law enforcement agencies to interdict drug trafficking, because Iran has lost many police officers fighting the drug traffickers. So this is a problem, which both countries are cooperating.
On the other hand, as the Ambassador said, Iran is a very complex society. There are forces in Iran who are not happy with some of the developments in the country. The Iranians are also at the same time suspicious of the presence of the United States and also particularly after the signing of the strategic partnership between Afghanistan and the United States. This is something that they look in a suspicious way on it and they also try to send some kind of overture to Afghanistan that Afghanistan should sign a kind of document with Iran of non-interference or not allowing any foreign forces to use Afghanistan in an attack on Iran. Afghanistan has made it very clear that the strategic partnership between Afghanistan and the United States is not going to be against any other country in the region. It is solely for the stabilization of Afghanistan, helping Afghanistan to eventually stand on its own feet.
There are some interest groups, of course, trying to create clients and proxies in Afghanistan through cultural and other activities. But they are trying to create a situation where they do not lose, rather to gain. They don’t want to lose in a situation where several actors are involved in the country.
With Pakistan, the two countries have a common challenge of fighting terrorism. The two countries are at the forefront of the war on terrorism. Therefore cooperation between the two countries to fight terrorism is an essential policy of both countries.
However, there are groups in Pakistan who are helping insurgents and terrorists. They have camps there. They have training camps. They have staging areas. People see that insurgents and terrorists are crossing the border into Afghanistan and fighting. The two countries are trying to find ways to establish mechanisms, with the help of the United States and other friendly countries, to increase cooperation and understanding in order to help and contribute to fighting this common threat.
Question: A question for you, Larry Goodson. Is the US government getting better at nation building after the experiences that you’ve talked about?
Larry Goodson: That’s a great question. It’s precisely why I threw in that sixth point that wasn’t really part of looking directly at Afghanistan.
We are getting, I think, better but we’re getting better incrementally. As all of my fellow panelists up here articulated – certainly it was articulated very strongly with regard to Iraq – patience is the coin of the realm in nation building. You really can’t do it overnight. By the way, I’m using the academically frowned-upon term “nation-building” because it’s what I found the average American best understands all of these activities as. So, my apologies to my fellow academics here in the audience.
But it seems to me, and specifically why I mentioned the 1947 National Security Act, is that it’s not clear to me that creating an Office of Stabilization and Reconstruction within the State Department or a new DOD directive is necessarily going to represent a substantial enough change if this is going to continue to be – let me say that a little differently – if this forward strategy of democratization is going to continue to be the American approach to the Middle East. In that sense, I’m not sure that the sort of incremental adjustments that we’ve made necessarily represent what we really need to do. As I suggested, perhaps somewhat dismally for Afghanistan, despite strategic partnerships and so forth I do think the window is beginning to close there.
David Mack: I’d like to share with you my real embarrassment at the riches of questions I have up here. Some of you have been kind enough to include an email, your name and email address. I’m going to portion these out to the four panelists and hope that some of the questions that don’t get asked today may get responses from them later on by email.
Question: I do have a question here for you, Phebe, from Ben Gilbert of National Public Radio. How can you develop the secular aspects of Iraqi society when sectarian divisions appear to be the main fallback as state and secular order have disintegrated in the past two years? If you can give us a good, crisp answer to that.
Phebe Marr: The magic bullet. It’s a very good question and difficult to answer. But, a couple of things: I would encourage and strengthen those parties, which are oriented toward secularism and Iraqi identity. I would emphasize what the Ambassador said again – it would help if we’d keep talking about Iraq and Iraqis rather than Shi’a, Kurds and Sunnis.
Last but not least, as I suggested, in this broad spectrum of working on civil society and institution-building, capacity-building, and so on – there are many people from the international community, including us, in there helping Iraqis work on all sorts of organizations and so on. You can fund those that reach across these boundaries and just sort of look the other way at those that don’t. So there are ways you encourage that.
Samir Sumaidaie: This is a crucial issue. People fall back onto their tribal or ethnic or sectarian affiliations when they feel that the state cannot protect them. That’s the first reason why people sort of go back into these shells, to protect them.
The other reason is political. If politicians, sensing that by pushing these affiliations they can get more votes and get more power, it’s an easy way to achieving power.
To counter this, we need to deal with it on two levels. One, we have to strengthen the state sufficiently to protect the citizens so that the citizen feels that he does not need his tribe or smaller affiliation. He is protected by the state, by law.
The other is to really support genuinely secular parties. We have to remember that Islamist parties and the Kurds in the north had tremendous amount of resources because they were – in the case of Islamist parties, they were supported by Iran or Saudi Arabia or others. In the case of the Kurds, they had a mini-state for a number of years. The secular parties had nothing and they had no support. So to have a level ground, they’ve got to get a lot of support in order to be able to compete with the others.
Question: I think that probably also deals with a question I have here from a foreign service officer, Steve Conlon, whether the development of a confessional system of representative government in Iraq is likely to lead to the same kind of long-term, entrenched sectarianism that we’ve seen in Lebanon. I think you’ve quite well answered that.
The next question I have for you is from National Public Radio, Corey Flintoff. Can the Iraqi government take over and run the reconstruction projects that may be left unfinished by the United States and how can your government overcome the climate of corruption that’s left over from Saddam Hussein?
Samir Sumaidaie: Before answering this, I’d like to just mention that in January 2004, I met the late former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, in Jeddah. We had a session for about one hour talking to each other. I was at that time a member of the Governing Council. His main point was this: Don’t go down the sectarian route as Lebanon did because if you do, you will never get out of it. So that answers the previous question quite directly.
In terms of finishing reconstruction projects, I hope that the Americans will stay with us to finish these reconstruction projects and will not leave them half-done.
The issue of corruption is extremely serious. I believe that the challenge facing Iraq is now twofold. It is terrorism and corruption, and there is a considerable amount of overlap between them. That, I think, requires a whole session by itself. It is well engrained. Saddam has built a whole culture of corruption. He raised a whole generation on these values. So I’m afraid I have no good answer for this. It’s going to be long and retraining, reorientation, making people aware of the value of – weaning people away from these ways of corruption.
Question: A question for you, Ali. The parliamentary elections – this comes from the Voice of America by the way, your old employer. Now that you’re on the other side, you have to deal with the media. The parliamentary elections were on a non-party basis. How do you think the parliament will organize and shape up politically? From Gary Thomas of VoA.
Ali Jalali: This was a question that was discussed for a long time in Afghanistan, what system of voting should be adopted for this parliamentary election. Now many people were for proportional representation, through parties or open lists or closed lists. However, there are two problems with parties in Afghanistan that the government recognized. One, parties were discouraged in Afghanistan in the past, structured parties. Either they were leftist parties or fundamentalist Islamist parties. Both actually led to the destruction of the country, the leftist parties under the communist regime in Afghanistan from 1978 to 1992 and then when the mujahidin parties took over. Then the Taliban came, they also destroyed the country. So therefore, there’s no sympathy, the parties are not popular in Afghanistan. Secondly, the mainstream parties are very nascent, not mature.
Therefore there was an argument for adopting this single, non-transferable vote system. This has its own problems because in this case people stand as independents in elections. Now you do not have solid political bloc in the parliament, therefore political debate in the parliament will be very problematic.
However, there’s one thing that – although in the parliament elections about half of them are former mujahidin and then you have democrats, former members of the Communist Party and others. But the caucuses will be built in the parliament on the basis of issues, not on political programs or platforms. If the government has the possibility to create enough support for national programs by reaching out to all these factions – mujahidin, democrats and also the women – the women are going to play a moderating role in the parliament. So although there is going to be fragmentation, at the same time there is a possibility for the government to master enough support for major national programs. However, regional issues, ethnic issues are going to be also discussed in parliament and some interest groups will try to legitimize some of these issues in the parliament.
Question: Another question for you, Ambassador Sumaidaie, from Lydia Bosnos of the US Air Force. How does the Iraqi government view the Basij elements within its borders? You may have more information about this than I do but this indicates that there may be traces of Iranian Basij elements, that sort of volunteer storm troopers that have been infiltrated into Iraq. Are they a credible source of Iranian interference in Iraq?
Samir Sumaidaie: The government position is very simple. There should not be Basij elements within the Iraqi border. Any evidence to their presence should be taken up with the Iranian government.
David Mack: And ought to be brought to you by the US services if they have it.
Samir Sumaidaie: Absolutely.
Question: For you, Ali, from Elisa Martinez of the College of William and Mary, a university that sent a number of people here to this conference. Regarding economic development in Afghanistan, what specific strategies are you seeking to implement to help the country stand on its own two feet economically?
Ali Jalali: Recently the country adopted Millennium Development Goals. There are nine goals that the country tries to reach. The most important one is reducing poverty. Reducing poverty is at the same time going to help security and reduction of poppy cultivation and trafficking.
Therefore, in a country like Afghanistan where you have so many challenges in different aspects of life, you need to have a holistic and integrated approach. Progress only in one area isn’t enough. Sometimes lack of progress in one area can undermine progress in other areas. Therefore a holistic and integrated approach to actions that reduce poverty at the same time manages the available resources and provides a secure environment for development. So it is security, governance and reconstruction.
David Mack: I’ve got so many good questions here. As I say, I am going to pass them on to the speakers and those who have given email addresses can at least hope to get a response. But in any case, it gives the speakers an idea of these excellent questions that were raised by members of the group.
I’m going to give each one of the panelists no more than a minute to just restate one point that you want to leave in our minds. I’ll start with you, Mr. Ambassador.
Samir Sumaidaie: Thank you very much. When I accepted this invitation, I didn’t realize that I would go back with homework. Anyway, I’ll try to respond to any of these questions.
I really would like to leave you with the thought that policy should be designed to respond to reality. Not reality to policy. That’s all, thank you.
Ali Jalali: There’s one thing I would like to say here. In a situation like what we have in Afghanistan, only a strategic approach can get the country to the ultimate goal, which is to stand on its own feet. However, sometimes these different operations – counterinsurgency, drug trafficking, and other things – can come at a cross-purpose to the long strategic goal. Many times tactical priorities or operational priorities undermine long-term goals that are strategic.
Therefore, what is very important in Afghanistan today is everything should be integrated in an overall strategy and the ultimate goal will be to make Afghanistan pay for itself and also stand on its own feet.
Larry Goodson: Just to pick up on the excellent previous two points and say that the reality is that in both Afghanistan and Iraq the United States really needs to stay but can’t seem to afford to. In order to break through that conundrum, it seems to me we – leaving aside the question from the perspective of the Afghans or the Iraqis – we need to cultivate the virtue of patience, strategic patience.
Phebe Marr: To follow up on just that thought with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan, in Iraq the ethnic and sectarian situation is not hopeless but it’s declining. Unless we can put a floor on that and move ahead, the costs of failure are going to be very high. We need people in the United States to convey this message clearly to the public so that they will develop the patience.
David Mack: Thank you all.
About this Transcript:
"Reconstructing Afghanistan and Iraq" was the fourth panel at MEI's 59th annual Conference, which was held on November 7-9, 2005.