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How the U.S. Can Find a Way Through in Iraq?

by Sedat LACINER, U.S.A.K. (Ankara)

The politicians in the U.S. have focused their attention on Iraq after the mid-term elections in November 2006. The pressure has increased for the U.S. as the troop casualties have been increasing and the civilian death per day have exceeded one hundred in Iraq. However, there haven’t been any ‘real’ suggestions for a solution yet. None of the alternatives can present a genuine and promising strategy for a way through.

MORE TROOP DEPLOYMENT: Some officials in the Bush Administration claim that the number of troops in Iraq is insufficient and that this is the basic reason for the U.S.’ failure. The former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, has been the scapegoat on this issue. Some circles maintain that the failure was due to Rumsfeld’s resistance to the idea that the number of the U.S. troops in Iraq should be increased. For this reason, some officials suggest that the number of troops should be increased by thousands, or even ten thousands. Bush also maintains that the U.S. will go till the end for the ‘victory’ in Iraq and that they will do whatever needed for that. But the military failure is not the main reason of the U.S.’ failure in that country. There will not be a success with more and more troops. On the contrary, the main reason for the Washington’s failure in Iraq is that it sees the issue only from the military perspective. As a result of use of excessive force and a militarist perspective, the U.S. has failed to understand the Iraqis and problem here. The U.S. should have increased the civilian missions and decreased the military existence after the short-lasting invasion operation in 2003. On the contrary, the number of troops has never decreased in Iraq and the streets have become a battleground. But no security concern is a reason for more troops on the streets for the mentality of the military is based on elimination. It sees the other side as the enemy and it considers every method as legitimate, including destruction to eliminate the ‘enemies’. It is for this reason that the New York and Washington streets are patrolled by the police, not by the soldiers. By the same logic, the military perspective should have gradually given way to a criminal (policing) one in Iraq. In other words, the U.S. troops, wearing sun glasses, carrying rifles and protected by the armored vehicles, increased the security problems in Iraq, let alone alleviate them. And the main reason for the terror and resistance in Iraq has been these very military existence and activities. The American soldiers, lacking in proper training, qualifications and sufficient knowledge on the country’s society, even attempted to search women, contravening the local traditions in the first months of the occupation. The U.S.’ existence in Iraq has been undermined by night assaults, maltreatment to the local population, reckless killing and wounding, torture and maltreatment in prisons. The arrival of new recruits who are lacking in professionalism has made the situation in Iraq even worse.

The U.S. has been unable to underpin its military establishment in Iraq by civilian experts. Even the American experts in economy working under the protection of many guards due to the security concerns have not been that much effective. And many U.S. companies and Americans have abused their rights in that country. Iraq is one of the most corrupted countries in the world now and the American officials and businessmen have played an important role in corruption. It is hard to account for the corruption in the projects taken without tenders. Should the U.S. have distributed the construction works more fairly and by giving more shares to other countries instead of contracting only with the U.S. companies, the economy and the infrastructure of Iraq could have been much better now. As a matter of fact, the tendering system in North Iraq has been relatively successful. Most of the investments in the north are carried out by the Middle Eastern businessmen, in particular Turkish companies and one can see that they have been more effective and economic when compared with the investments in the other parts of the country. The U.S. has been unable to reflect its civilian expertise in economy and infrastructure as well as in other issues in Iraq. For instance, on issues like mass psychology and political communication Washington has acted as if it was an inexperienced, small and newly emerged state rather than a global power.

Another important point is that Iraq has changed considerably under the occupation of the U.S. Had the number of troops been higher in 2003 and had there been civilian establishments in other areas, one could have expected a better outlook now. That is to say, Rumsfeld might have committed a mistake by keeping the number of troops low at the very beginning. But, as discussed before, the troop number is not an element for success alone. The U.S. wouldn’t have been successful even with a million soldiers when one considers the mistakes of the Washington. The occupation has made Iraq an uncontrollable country and the task of the U.S. is much more difficult now. The basic reason for the failure in Iraq is the use of excessive force and the inability to devise policies other than military ones. For this reason, increase in the number of troops will bring neither a military nor a political success for the U.S. Contrary, the U.S. will be disliked more and it will sink deeper in the quagmire. The more weight one carries, the faster he/she sinks into the quagmire. Similar to this basic example, success with more troops in Iraq is impossible. What needs to be done is to decrease the pressure on and reaction to the Washington. Assistance from the surrounding countries comes as the U.S. decreases its burden. In short, more soldiers and power means more troubles in Iraq for the US.

What if the U.S. transfers more troops and intensifies its attacks as it has been doing for the recent months in Iraq despite these facts? The US , in such a case, will have to attack the Shi’ites (Sadr etc.) and the Sunnis in turns, just like today. However, it is not possible to eliminate the Sadr group and break the Sunni-Baas resistance. Moreover, some of the Shi’ite and Sunni groups, which don’t attack the U.S. troops for the moment, may one day turn against the U.S. In this case, the U.S. would be under fire in many fronts. Briefly, if the US continues its existing strategy in Iraq, the Vietnamization would be completed and the problem would be transferred to the next U.S. presidency. In the meantime, tens of billions of dollars would be spent not for the development and integration of Iraq to the international system but for a new school of terror and conflict zone. In this case, only after a bloody and exhausted war of attrition can the U.S. and other parties reach a deal under very heavy concessions. One should keep in mind that the more days pass with negligence, the harder it gets to do what must be done in Iraq.

TROOP REDUCTION-WITHDRAWAL OPTION: This option is voiced more by the Democrats; however, they cannot detail this so-called prescription. Some Democrats support troop withdrawal, but they don’t discuss its consequences and only draw attention to the current failure. However, a withdrawal or troop reduction without a plan and a strategy may increase the U.S. casualties and failures in Iraq. It is clear that there must be enough U.S. forces so that the soldiers can protect themselves. And in case of a full withdrawal, Iraq would be left in an enormous chaos. Until now, some Shi’ite groups and Kurds have succeeded to keep themselves out of the conflict. Both groups have thought that they could attain their objectives under the U.S.’ control and thanks to their advantageous positions as a result of the elections. If the U.S. fully withdraws from Iraq, then all the groups will fight for power and for their interests and the conflict will intensify in Iraq. In such a case, neighboring countries will also involve in the fighting and a great civil war will turn into a regional civil war. Moreover, it is quiet likely that micro civil wars could emerge among the groups in Iraq. One can also predict the result that fundamentalist groups like al-Qaeda may to involve in Iraq free conflict zone and use the Iraq as a base to get established in the neighboring countries. In addition to all these, the withdrawal of the U.S. will both encourage the anti-American groups and anti-Americanism will continue to rise in the region despite the withdrawal. The U.S. pullout from Iraq will be perceived as a victory of the resistance fighters and people will come to the conclusion that same methods should be applied against the U.S. throughout the world.

It is quiet obvious that the region and Iraq will face great challenges in case of an unplanned and sudden U.S. pullout. Moreover, Iraq is not Vietnam. Withdrawal from a country (Iraq) situated at the center of the oil ocean would mean withdrawal from the whole of the Middle East region. As the balance of power would shift against the U.S. in the Gulf region, other global powers would be willing to replace the U.S. in the region. In addition, the likelihood of a coalition between the Iraqi and Iranian Shi’ites would lead to the reshuffling of the regional balance.

In brief, withdrawal from Iraq might be more costly than staying there. Moreover, the attacks
of the resistance fighters during U.S. withdrawal may considerably increase American casualties. One should also keep in mind that withdrawal will cost billions of dollars.

SYRIA AND IRAN ALTERNATIVES: Another suggestion has been talking to Syria and Iran to ensure stability in Iraq. Some sources state that the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group particularly emphasizes this alternative. The British PM Tony Blair has also been among those insistently supporting the alternative. Both Bush and Blair have called these two countries to assist in Iraq and threatened them to face the consequences otherwise. This approach is hard to get. It is naïve to expect the two countries, whose regimes are threatened by military intervention, to assist the U.S. in Iraq at a time their interests lie in not helping the U.S. in Iraq. Furthermore, even if these countries want to help, they don’t have enough power to do that. In fact, if the support of these two countries could have been taken, then it could have been better. But at the current situation, Syria and Iran will push Iraq deeper into chaos if they involve, and in turn, they will get into chaos as well.

REDEPLOYMENT IN THE NORTH: Another alternative is withdrawing troops to the north of the country, which is more secure, and to extremely well-protected “fortresses” in other parts of Iraq. In this way, the cities would be left and hot conflicts could be avoided. Though it sounds perfect theoretically, this plan is far from being successful too. As the U.S. soldiers cannot stay in their fortresses forever they will have to engage in hot conflicts. And their involvements will cause more reaction and casualties will still occur. Furthermore, they will have less legitimacy than they have today. Another consequence could be an increase in terror and conflict in the streets after the U.S. withdrawal. One must also expect the negative development that the redeployment to the north could cause concern not only for Syria and Iran but also for Turkey. The Americans think that Turkey is against an independent Kurdish state in the north and that’s why Ankara is not happy with the American-Kurdish ‘co-operation. As a matter of fact that, Turkey is not against or for a possible Kurdish state. The matter is not separation of Iraq or unity. The real matter is respect to the Iraqi peoples’ will, and a Kurdish state in the north means not to respect the rights of the Arab and Turkmen peoples in the north. Kurds desire a minority-free state. They cannot establish such a state without American (and Israli) support, and all of the actors in the region know that. If the Ameicans move to the north, Turkey, Iran and Arab world will see the operation as a clear attempt to establish a Kurdish state in the north. Apart from the Kurdish state, there are about 5.000 PKK terrorists in the north and the US has allowed the PKK terrorist to stay in Iraq since the occupation of Iraq, 2003. The US promised to remove all the PKK offices and camps in Iraq, yet has taken no concrete step yet. The PKK has military bases in the North, and they use these camps in their attacks against military and civilian attacks in Turkey. Not only the US but also Talabani and Barzani see the PKK as a tool to persuade Turkey for some policies in Iraq. It is also reported in the American media that the US backs the PJAK branch of the PKK against Iran though the PKK is a terrorist organization according to the American laws. In brief, if the Americans move to the north more, it will be perceived in Turkey, Iran and Syria as a strong American support for PKK terrorism.

EXPLOITING THE CIVIL WAR: Despite the lack of official statements, some rumors in Iraq note that civil war in the country is fueled and supported by the U.S. Washington is weakening the groups which are against the U.S. by letting them fight against each other. There are also claims that Israel is also helping the U.S. on this issue. Though there are no evidence regarding Iraq, one remembers the U.S.’ support to armed groups and coup supporters particularly in Latin America and the Middle East in the past. But one must also remind the U.S. that the situation in Iraq is different. Encouraging the ongoing strife in Iraq will only aggravate the problem. If the U.S., having had enough of Shi’ite and Sunni reactions, really wants to get these two groups fight against each other, it must also be prepared to see a big turmoil with grave consequences for Iraq, the region and the world. In other words, the world and the region should not be pushed into danger just to get out of Iraq.


1. It is apparent that the region is fed up with the so-called prescriptions and ‘secret agendas’ presented so far. Today, the U.S. frightens its friends more than it does its enemies. The long-time allies of the U.S. such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan perceive that they are the real targets of the current U.S. policies. There are countries concerned more with the U.S. than they are with Iran. Some countries even think that Iran’s rise is something positive as it balances the U.S. policies in the region. In this circumstance, the first thing the U.S. should do is to regain the full support of its allies in the region. Middle Eastern countries think that the U.S. has some secret agenda other than its apparent policies. These fears must be overcome and more emphasis should be given to open diplomacy.

2. The discourses such as “the New Middle East”, “Greater Middle East”, “new frontiers” etc. should be abandoned immediately and stability and current balance of power should be protected primarily. The great changes in the Middle East should be achieved with a transitional period rather than revolutionary expectations. The economic, political and social powers and capabilities of the regional governments and societies should be enhanced before consolidating democracy. The Middle East cannot afford to pass through rapid change with external interventions. As a matter of fact, none of the regions can achieve such a change. Moreover, the geography between North Africa and China (namely the Middle East) is not composed of only one region. If the U.S. will treat to North Africa, Gulf countries, Syria and Iran in the same manner, it will have committed a grave mistake. For the region called “Greater Middle East” is composed of many different regions and such a great geography cannot be considered in a single title.

3. There are three significant ethnic groups in the region in concern: Arabs, Iranians and Turks. But the U.S. has been unable to develop the necessary cooperation with any of these three great groups. In particular, these three nations have been neglected in Iraq case and their views have been overlooked by the Americans. The Arabs have experienced a disgrace in Iraq; Syria and Iran were threatened with invasion, and the Turks were punished and kept out of Iraq especially after the March 1 memorandum in 2003. As a result, apart from Israel, the only pillar of the U.S. policies in Iraq has been the Iraqi Kurds. An Iraq policy based solely on the Kurds could not have survived, as the failure of the U.S. shows. Worst of all, these policies also antagonize other nations against the Kurds and carry the potential to harm the Kurds.

4. The U.S. has an Israeli-centered policy in the region. But Israeli approach has already proved unsuccessful. The U.S., adopting the approach of a country which has been in a conflict since its establishment, has been in conflicts in the region so far. If this approach will still be implemented, this situation will continue to prevail. Today, there is very little difference between the U.S. soldiers in Iraq and the Israeli soldiers in Palestine. Contrary to the general belief, the U.S. support to Israel has worked against Israel rather than for it. It is difficult for Israel to get approved in the Middle East and to assure its survival in the long run in this way.

5. The U.S. should abandon the use of excessive force and terrorizing the densely populated areas for a handful of terrorists. One can remember that the entire quarters in Baquba and Fellujah were bombarded or hundreds of houses were searched just for 7-8 terrorists. During these searches, the U.S. soldiers are quiet impolite towards the civilian population and this causes ordinary people to sympathize with terrorists.

6. The problems in the Middle East cannot be evaluated one by one. For example, the Lebanon question cannot be grasped independently from the Palestine problem. Iraq and Afghanistan problems cannot be solved without understanding the nature of the problems in Palestine and Lebanon. The claim that there are four main battle grounds in the region is not correct. There is a grand war spread all around the region. And the U.S. and Israel are on the one side of this war. This is at least the way how it is perceived. The U.S. first needs to divide this grand war into small ones and should change the Israel-U.S. alliance perception.

7. None of the large-scale political conflict could be solved without solving the Palestine problem. This is also true for the Iraq problem. Terror, fundamentalism, extremism, violence, East-West distrust in the region all stem from the Palestine question. If the U.S. wants to succeed in Iraq, it primarily has to find a solution in Gaza and the West Bank.

8. The regional countries are seriously in need of a model country to trust to the U.S. and the West. Because the U.S. and the West have continuously disappointed the Middle Eastern people. Palestine, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq, Nagorno-Karabakh are only some of these. Abu Ghraib and the Guantanamo examples, the use of excessive force in Afghanistan and the murder of innocent people without any differentiation etc. have destroyed the confidence towards the U.S. and the West. The imbalance in Palestine and the disgrace in Iraq deliver no hope for the future. In this situation, it is not possible for the U.S. to cooperate with the hopeless masses and to base its policies on a solid ground in Iraq or in any other country in the Middle East. First and foremost, a success story is needed, that is, a model country cooperating in equal terms with the West. An EU-member Turkey is important in that sense. Moreover, being the 17th biggest economy of the world, Turkey can be the locomotive of change in the Middle East. Turkey could especially be the leader in the use of economic means in Iraq. Despite all the obstructions, nearly 12.000 Turkish trucks/lorries are working in Iraq providing logistical support for the U.S. and Iraqis. The volume of Turkish business and investments has reached $5 billion in North Iraq. This fact demonstrates that an investment initiative under the leadership of Turkey would be very useful primarily in Iraq and then in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Palestine. Of course, it is clear that an EU-member Turkey having achieved a considerable degree of success would be very effective in this campaign.

9. The corruption in the Iraqi economy is on the limits and the U.S. plays an important role in that. A more independent approach should be developed for tenders and contracts in Iraq and a more competitive tender system should be devised.

10. Iraq’s oil infrastructure has been considerably neglected. If rapid and sufficient investments don’t take place, Iraq will not be able to become an important actor in oil markets and it will not recover quickly.

11. The U.S. should not only get the regional support for economic and political initiatives, but also should include its allies, which have been in bad terms with the U.S. since the invasion. A joint initiative with the EU for development in Iraq not only affects the Iraqi economy but also contributes to the political agenda.

12. The U.S. has only encouraged the centrifugal groups in Iraq so far. However, it was the Sunnis which had kept Iraq intact during the Ottoman rule and thereafter. In addition, the Turcomans, whether Shi’ite or Sunni, have been another group supporting the integrity of the country. Despite that fact, the U.S. has assumed all the Sunnis as pro-Saddam since the invasion and punished them. And Washington has ignored the Turcomans. The U.S. has taken decision damaging the Turcomans’ position for the Turcomans, with an estimated population of 2-2,5 million in Iraq, were unable to voice their demands. On the other hand, Kurds and Shi’ites were supported and the political power was handed to these groups with the U.S.’ support. Today, Iraq is headed by a Kurdish politician, Jalal Talabani. Talabani had fought against the Saddam regime until the invasion and it has made every effort to secede from Iraq. This is to say that Talabani is a secessionist and his Kurdist policies cannot be explained only by Saddam’s bad leadership. To put it short, the person symbolizing the integrity of Iraq is actually a person aiming to divide Iraq. Similarly, the other Kurdish leader, Masoud Barzani, is the leading person demanding secessionism. He still pursues his father’s quest for secessionism. But North Iraq has been given, so to say, as a gift to him. Giving more power to the Kurds as they have been demanding a separate country for a long time, and leaving the entire north in the hands of the Kurds by neglecting the Turcomans and the Arabs have caused serious doubts on the real objectives of the U.S. The existence of some Israeli officials among the counselors of Talabani and Barzani, and the armament of the Kurds, including heavy weaponry, have led to the perception that the U.S. is not in favor of integrity in Iraq. If the U.S. is willing to divide Iraq, then all these can be understood. But if the objective is to form a unified Iraq, then the U.S. policy is totally wrong. The U.S. should give up encouraging the Kurds for independence. In addition to Kurds, the U.S. has allowed the Shi’ites to take actions that are damaging the Sunnis since the invasion. The power in Iraq has been granted to the Kurds and the Shi’ites. Benefiting the boycott of the Sunnis in the first elections, the Shi’ites and the Kurds have achieved overrepresentation and they have concentrated all the authority in their hands by abusing this situation. This, in turn, has caused permanent enmities. In short, the U.S. has excluded Sunnis, Turcomans and other groups, all of which may be considered as the pillars of integrity, while it has supported the groups that are aiming a division in Iraq. Within this framework, the break-up with the Sunni clerics has also been another factor that has accelerated division. In this context, the first thing to do should be setting up a genuine government in Iraq. And this government should not come to power by elections. Contrary to the U.S. considerations, the democracy in Iraq cannot be achieved by elections. Elections under this circumstance will cause more divisions and blood-shedding. Democracy doesn’t mean going to ballot boxes every time. What Iraq needs at the very moment are a constituent assembly and a government. And the Sunnis need to be overrepresented in that government. The balance of power in Iraq cannot be calculated based only on the voters or head counts. It is a necessity that people really defending the integrity of Iraq should take place in the assembly and the government. The success cannot be achieved with an administration including ministers and even presidents who has made division their ideals.

13. The to-be-established government should train its own military and police force. A powerful government can easily achieve this provided that the U.S. doesn’t assist the Iraqis in doing this. The military and police training programs of the U.S. have been a total fiasco so far. The American trainers make use of enormous funds for the program. But they have knowledge of neither Iraq nor the Iraqi society. And the soldiers join the army only for money. In addition, because of the influence of the U.S. on this program, Iraqi soldiers and policemen have been the leading targets of attacks. Instead of this, the military and police training should be left to a strong Iraqi government. Countries such as Turkey and Egypt can assist Iraq in that sense. If the experience of Turkey in training the police and military in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Central Asian republics, Bosnia etc. is examined, one can see that a good knowledge of the region is essential for success.

14. There are many armies in Iraq at the moment. The illegal existence of the pashmarga of the Kurds, similar armies of the Shi’ites cause division of power. In addition to them, the existence of coalition forces in the country demonstrates how powerless the Iraqi army and police are against other groups. If the Shi’ite and Kurdish groups are dissolved and if the coalition forces trust the Iraqi military and police regarding Iraq’s security, it will take shorter time to end the chaos. It is quiet natural to see terror and civil war in a country with so many armed elements and with that much division of power.

15. The military power should be concentrated in a single authority to avoid the terror groups obtain weaponries. And the arms flow to other groups by the U.S. Army should be stopped. Strong security units that are working under the central authority should be set up to assure the border security.

16. The U.S. should give up its use of excessive force. From this moment on, any person killed in Iraq will cause the emergence of several new terrorists. That is to say, the U.S. cannot destroy terrorists by killing more and more of them. On the contrary, it will have nurtured its foes.

17. It must be the U.S. first to respect the Iraqi central authority.

18. No distinction should be made between terrorists in Iraq. All those possessing weapons illegally must be treated equally. For instance, there are 5.000 PKK militants in the north, but neither the U.S. troops nor Talabani and Barzani forces nor the Iraqi government take action. The PKK, considered as a terrorist by everyone, can open up offices in any Iraqi city. There are rumors that the U.S. is using the PKK against Syria and Iran. In such a case, combating terror becomes not convincing. A country sheltering at least 5.000 terrorists cannot be successful in any security issues, and cannot get the support of its neighbors.

19. Armament of Kurds in North Iraq and the undeniable role of Israel disturb the region, especially Turkey, Syria and Iran. In this situation, it is hard to get the sufficient assistance from and the needed cooperation of these three countries. Some people claim that the U.S. is giving concessions in North Iraq in order to not offend the Kurds. But the Kurds don’t have an important negotiation power. On the contrary, Syria and Iran has the power to damage the U.S. policies in Lebanon and Palestine, alongside Iraq.

20. The assurance of security is a primary necessity in Iraq. However, there has only been a military approach so far. But economic and social means should be used more in Iraq. This will be the only way for a permanent stability and the establishment of democracy. For this aim, the U.S. should begin to implement an aid program in Iraq similar to the Marshall Aid. Such a program can be achieved by a very small amount of what the U.S. has spent on its military establishment in Iraq.

21. The U.S. should immediately win the minds of its allies in the region again and it should take action together with these allies. While the U.S. operates together with the troops of countries such as Denmark, Poland, Italy in Iraq under the title “coalition”, the lack of any important regional countries like Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey has been one of the main reasons of the U.S.’ failure in the region.

22. The model of “weak government, decentralization of authority to many sects and ethnic groups” should be abandoned immediately. As the communication with the local groups is consolidated, negotiations should be carried out with the additional help of the neighboring countries. Turkey could be a perfect arbiter in that sense. Though overwhelmingly Sunni, Turkey doesn’t pursue a sectarian policy and therefore, it is respected by all parties. On the other hand, countries like Jordan, Syria and Iran are perceived as parties to the conflict in Iraq, and hence, they are rejected by at least one of the groups. In this context, the groups could be compromised by using shuttle diplomacy. The clerics especially may play a significant role in the cessation of armed clashes.

This list can be continued. But the solution for the U.S. in Iraq doesn’t lie in the general and simple explanations such as withdrawal, more troops, or less troops etc. All alternatives lead to catastrophe as the U.S. doesn’t stop staying on the course and if the US continues to ignore its allies in the region.

USAK - Trns. from Turkish by Noyan Ozkaya, USAK

By Sedat Laciner, I.S.R.O.



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