Iraq could be heading for a far worse situation in weeks ahead, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) warns in its annual report published Tuesday.
The IISS, one of the world’s leading institutions for strategic relations, paints a bleak picture for Iraq and for the United States in Iraq.
Leading decision-makers are expected to take close note of IISS projections. The institute was correct last year in its assessment of the consequences of the invasion of Iraq.
“Our conclusions turned out to be accurate because we did not have access to intelligence,” Gary Samore, director of studies at the IISS told media representatives at the launch of the report.
The United States occupation forces are under threat from Iraqis themselves, not primarily from al-Qaeda, the report says.
Al-Qaeda could have up to 18,000 militants under its wing, the IISS says. It does not source the estimate, or indicate where they might be or in what state of readiness. But al-Qaeda is not the issue in Iraq, as U.S. officials have been suggesting, the report says.
“The efficiency of the attacks, their regularity and the speed with which they were organized in the aftermath of Saddam’s fall point to predominantly Iraqi involvement,” the report says.
“The shadowy organization behind these sectarian attacks is likely to be a hybrid, with elements of the old regime acting in alliance with ‘industrial scale’ criminal gangs operating in the urban centers of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul; indigenous Islamic radicals, and a relatively small number of foreign fighters,” it says.
“It is unlikely that there has been a ‘hidden hand’ centrally coordinating and funding the insurgency,” the report adds. “While foreign jihadists appear to be a comparatively minor source of anti-coalition violence in Iraq, Iraqi Islamists both Sunni and Shia are major sources.”
By November of last year, the U.S. forces had detained 250 foreigners, of whom only 19 were thought “probable” al-Qaeda fighters.
The report suggests that the Americans are a largely clueless lot in Iraq. “The lack of solid intelligence on the U.S. side means that American forces have only a partial understanding of who is attacking them,” the report says. And operations such as Operation Peninsula Strike, Operation Sidewinder and Operation Soda Mountain have only “perversely inspired insurgent violence,” the report says.
The Americans have brought trouble on themselves in a variety of other ways, the report says.
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator Paul Bremer’s decision to dissolve the Iraqi army a year ago “provided impetus to the coalescence of the insurgency.” The occupation tactics of heavily armed motorized patrols and large fortified bases “framed a target by making the foreign military presence detached and largely remote from the Iraqi population.”
And as the daily toll of U.S. casualties mounted, “American forces were increasingly perceived as weak and their presence in and commitment to the country as temporary.” Subsequently, loyalists from Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party and remnants from his security forces “began launching hit-and-run tactics with increasing frequency and skill.”
The summer of last year witnessed 10-15 attacks a day. By autumn that rose to 20-35 daily and the attacks became “better organized and more sophisticated.” What did not change was the CPA’s “relatively little knowledge about the country they are trying to control” in part because of a dearth of Arabic speakers on CPA staff.
But the most important task has yet to begin in which Iraqis could “see state institutions making a direct and positive impact on their everyday lives.” The decision to hand over power to Iraqis June 30 is “risky at the very least,” the report says. The exile-dominated governing council is “detached from the very people it is meant to represent.”
The report warns that “the gap between the political structures left by the departing CPA and the population itself does not bode well for the vanquishing of the insurgency or the growth of democracy.”
Col. Christopher Langton, editor of the Military Balance published by the IISS told media representatives at the launch that even in military terms the coalition forces are not up to the job.
The coalition forces needed about 500,000 troops to handle the post-conflict situation in Iraq “to bring short to medium term stability to the country.” There are present only around 150,000.
He said also that U.S. forces are not used to policing duties, though British troops are “as a result of bitter post-colonial experiences”.
Beyond Iraq, the situation in the country is a problem for the future of the United States itself, the IISS report says.
“If the U.S. is seen to fail in Iraq, America’s foreign policy will have to be rethought,” it says. “The long-term instability of Iraq would act as a potent symbol, highlighting the limited power of the U.S. to intervene successfully against rogue states.”
The present U.S. doctrine and regime change in Iraq is in any case “set to have major political and legal repercussions with respect to standards of international intervention and, more broadly, sovereignty in the developing world,” the report says.
And if the domestic situation in Iraq does not stabilize, “violence and unrest could spread over Iraq’s long and porous borders.”
IISS director John Chipman told media representatives that “problems with both security and politics set to continue and even increase in the six weeks to ‘hand over’ and then the six months to the proposed date for national elections.”
There seems to be little chance in the immediate future that “the security vacuum that has dominated Iraq since liberation can be filled by either coalition troops or by the nascent military and police forces hastily stood up since liberation.” These forces have so far either refused to act against insurgents, or joined them, Chipman said.
Chipman quoted British diplomat Harold Nicolson as saying once that though you cannot acquire prestige without power, you cannot retain prestige without reputation. “The U.S. today is finding it difficult to balance the exercise of its power with the retention of its prestige,” Chipman said.
“The present U.S. administration is becoming acutely aware of the fact that reputation, prestige and power can easily be squandered through mismanaged interventions and peacekeeping operations,” he said. “The next six weeks and six months will test U.S. and coalition power and reputation substantially.”