Monday, February 11, 2008

Politics & Reconciliation In Iraq

Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi spoke of the surge, stating that the "gains" in secuirty "have not produced the desired effect, which is the reconciliation of Iraq." She then pronounced her verdict on the surge: "This is a failure. This is a failure." That is not a typographical error, she said it twice for effect. The Long War Journal is in the midst of examining Iraqi politics and the process of reconciliation. Their analysis is a bit more nuanced than Speak Pelosi's and does not support her conclusion. Reconciliation is continuing in the face of massive systemic and practical challenges of creating a functioning nation out of ashes. And it must be emphasized that the Iraqi government has only been extant for a little more than one year and a half.


The Long War Journal is running a series of articles analyzing the politics of Iraq. They are well worth a read. Iraq is a going through political birth pangs as it attempts to create a functioning governmental structure. LWJ examines the systemic and practical problems the Iraqi nation is facing as well as the state of progress. This from "Inside Iraqi politics – Part 1. Examining the executive branch:"

Security gains in Iraq have maintained momentum for five months and the focus has turned to spurring and gauging the country’s political progress. The ultimate goal of the troop surge executed by the military was for improved security to provide “breathing room” for such progress, which can be simplified to three fronts: “ground-up” political progress, executive political progress by the federal government, and federal legislative progress.

“Ground-up” political progress largely consists of fostering relationships with local leaders – often tribesmen and former insurgents – who now wish to work with the Coalition and Federal Government of Iraq against the insurgency. This effort empowering local institutions – such as neighborhood watches, Provincial Security Forces, and city and tribal councils – is considered integral to durable security and stability.

Executive political progress by the federal government includes, at least in the short term, effectively delivering reconstruction and security resources to all provinces regardless of sectarian make-up, and integrating predominantly Sunni neighborhood watch programs into government employment. These actions will facilitate reconciliation and cement decreases in both insurgency and sectarian conflict.

Legislative political progress by the federal government is measured by the passage of proposed legislation immediately essential to executive functions, such as the 2008 budget; laws stipulating the long-term design of the Iraqi government, like the distribution of federal and provincial authority; and laws crucial for sectarian reconciliation, such as reform that allows more former Baathists into government service.

The first and arguably most important area of political progress, the “ground-up” aspect, has been a linchpin of US military strategy and is significantly responsible for the large security gains since August 2007. These rapidly successful grassroots reconciliation efforts were driven by the emergence of local leadership, budding relationships between the federal government and tribal leaders, quick application of US funds and reconstruction efforts, and local relationships forged across sectarian lines.

Despite such significant regional progress, however, many have questioned the will and ability of the Iraqi federal government to meet its end of the bargain: delivering services and resources, reconciling with former Sunni insurgents, and passing essential legislation. And most media coverage has focused on implacable sectarian interest as the primary reason for the Iraqi government’s underperformance in these areas, a sentiment shared by some American officials.

Colonel Martin M. Stanton, Chief of Reconciliation and Engagement for Multinational Corps–Iraq, is quick to praise the remarkable progress in ground-up reconciliation he’s seen in his job coordinating Iraqis who want to engage with the Coalition and Iraqi government. But he is also candidly skeptical about the willingness of the “Shia [federal] government” to reconcile with Sunnis, in light of sectarian hostility.

“What haunts me is the prospect of wasting all these opportunities,” said Stanton. “It’s encouraging at the bottom, at the tactical level, and then you deal with the people in the Iraqi government who are so paranoid and so reticent, and it’s a real emotional rollercoaster.”

But while most officials acknowledge a heavy atmosphere of mistrust stoked by sectarian carnage that peaked in 2006, many cite other elements that impede action on key political benchmarks. This Long War Journal series on Iraqi politics – involving more than a dozen interviews with American and Iraqi officials – will attempt to examine the factors, including but beyond sectarianism, that have affected political progress by the Iraqi federal government.

. . . The lion’s share of influence lies with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, a Shia with the Dawa Party, and the Council of Ministers, which has its own powers, like debating proposed legislation before it’s forwarded to the legislative branch.

. . . Ministers, representing various parties, are ostensibly granted great latitude in carrying out the function of their ministry, and have a practical say in overall executive decisions via their membership in the Council of Ministers. These features of the Iraqi Constitution that place a significant amount of power in a collective, rather than in one person, necessarily slow executive action, even as they prevent the dictatorial abuses of Iraq’s past.

“It’s not an easy structure,” said Phil Reeker, Counselor for Public Affairs at the American Embassy in Baghdad. “Different parties have different ministries, and [ministry] relationships with the prime minister’s office are different.”

. . . But while many note the high degree of prime ministerial authority under a decentralized structure, the complexity of the executive branch makes mapping the government’s progress more complicated than exclusively blaming or lauding Maliki. “Orders of the Prime Minister” are considered the leverage needed to get many things done, but Maliki’s issuance of orders favorable towards reconciliation is tempered by his management of the competing interests within his ruling coalition. In addition, the intent of individual ministers has historically influenced reconciliation issues not explicitly addressed by the prime minister.

For an extreme example, former high-level Sadrist officials in the Ministry of Health were indicted on charges of diverting government funds to the Mahdi Army and allowing the use of Iraqi hospitals and ambulances in sectarian killings during 2006. A more subtle example is the same ministry’s prioritization of opening medical facilities in Shia neighborhoods during 2007, according to a report by General David Petraus' staff. Maliki's awareness of such activities has been debatable, and his willingness to prosecute such crimes has been historically weak, but many officials do not consider such actions sanctioned by the Prime Minister. . . .

While Americans and Iraqis still note significant flaws in Maliki’s leadership, many believe it has improved over the past year, citing his willingness to prosecute rogue elements (Shia as well as Sunni) outside of and within the government, and decisions on reconciliation and security issues that have caused political discord, including the various defections from his government coalition. At least one Iraqi politician offers more unqualified praise.

“Give Maliki a lot of credit for not looking at the polls, as they say in the US,” said Entifadh K. Qanbar, former Deputy Military Attaché for Iraq and former member of the Iraqi National Congress, a political party. “He makes decisions that might not be popular at first, but [later] people start to realize he’s a strong man who does not get dragged left and right by people threatening him. Maliki is probably not an intellectual, but he’s a street guy, he knows [politics] well.”

. . . While divisive politics and naked sectarian interest receive most of the blame for Iraq’s political inertia, government inefficiency, corruption, and administrative inexperience arguably pose larger problems.

. . . As an example, a paper-based system of requisitions adds layers of difficulty for various provincial police headquarters getting equipment from the Ministry of the Interior. Thus, both Western observers and police officers in a Sunni province like Anbar might view equipment shortages as the product of sectarian hostility by the Shia-dominated federal government, when much of the delay is really administrative.

“An extremely small percentage … of equipment shortages would be attributed to some sort of deliberate effort to deny somebody something,” said Major General Michael Jones, Commanding General of the Coalition Police Assistance Training Team. In fact, Jones had not seen this occur in the four months he had been in Iraq. He believes that a combination of complex administrative rules and inexperienced bureaucrats is responsible for many delays.

. . . Inefficiency is exacerbated by the drastic growth of the young government. A primary focus of American advisers is “building the capacity” to govern and administer, at all levels, in rapidly expanding institutions headed by Iraqis with varying levels of experience, honesty, sectarianism, and patriotism. For example, the Ministry of the Interior’s authorization for the police force in al Anbar has grown from 11,000 to 24,000 in six months. Any organization that makes decisions to grow at such a rapid pace is “going to have huge problems” because of the inherent logistical and hiring challenges presented by such rapid expansion, said Jones.

This highly demanded growth compounds the overall disorganization of a fledgling Iraqi government that in many respects has been reconstituted from scratch.

“The destruction in Iraq was so severe that we don't have a proper staff … capable of proper planning,” said Ali al Dabbagh, Official Spokesman of the Government of Iraq, who notes improvement in the proportion of the government’s budget that was spent in 2007 compared to the previous year. “I think that in 2008 – we call it ‘the year of reconstruction’ – … the capacity of the government will be much, much … better than 2007.”

The US Government Accountability Office, however, recently reported that the Government of Iraq still only spent 4.4 percent of its investment budget by August 2007; 90 percent of that budget is dedicated to the capital projects behind reconstruction and the restoration of services.

If Iraq is to capitalize on security gains, the government must improve its efficiency, as well as mitigate a huge problem with corruption that is a major drain on these resources. An internal report by the US Embassy in Baghdad characterized corruption as “the norm in many ministries" and labeled Maliki’s government as incapable of “even rudimentary enforcement of anticorruption laws.” The corruption watchdog group Transparency International ranked Iraq as the third-most corrupt country of 180 countries measured in a September 2007 report.

While problems with massive theft diminish as security and oversight improve, corruption remains common and, to some degree, a culturally accepted facet of administration in Iraq. Many US officials set pragmatic goals of lowering graft to an extent where it does not interfere with accomplishing the mission of a given organization, from local police forces to national ministries. And some see corruption as a moderately reduced but persistent problem.

Qanbar asserts that the major corruption, the deals worth “hundreds of millions of dollars,” are a way of the past, yet he anticipates that the “middle to lower-level corruption will continue for a long time and will be a huge problem.”

“I think the only way to solve this problem is for the Iraqi parliamentarian system to work better, and it is,” said Qanbar, citing a recent example of Iraqi Parliament calling the Iraqi Minister of Trade to answer questions relating to corruption. He noted that this type of oversight is “unprecedented for this part of the world.” . . .

Read the entire article here. The next article in the series examined the efforts of the Executive Branch to provide services to the Iraqi people:

The Government of Iraq’s executive branch has several goals central to maintaining security gains and achieving sectarian reconciliation: effective hiring and management of the highly publicized Concerned Local Citizens (CLCs), the auxiliary security forces greatly responsible for the significant reduction in violence; the delivery of reconstruction resources, including basic services, to Baghdad and the provinces; and the creation of jobs and economic opportunity for average Iraqis.

The Concerned Local Citizens and the IFCNR

Many reconciliation initiatives are specifically championed by Iraq’s Implementation and Follow-Up Committee for National Reconciliation (IFCNR). It was formed by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki on June 22, 2007 to place special emphasis on issues affecting reconciliation between sects in Iraq. The small committee is headed by Dr. Safa Hussein, who also serves as Deputy National Security Adviser, and includes four primary members and an additional eight subordinate members, with no extended support staff. The IFCNR focuses on managing or advocating several matters within the federal government: the CLC program, the delivery of basic services, the stimulation of jobs, and the orderly return of refugees.

“This is a national-level organization working in Baghdad, but some of its members travel around and talk to tribal support councils, which are sort of their method of communication at the local level,” said Major Rouven Steeves, a former staff member of the US military’s Force Strategic Engagement Cell, which works closely with the IFCNR. “There are six tribal support councils that have been organized to communicate at the local level, to include communicating with the CLC organizations.” The committee continues to stand up more tribal councils in Baghdad and other provinces.

The IFCNR is an independent body within the government, but any progress on its initiatives requires obtaining prime ministerial orders and the cooperation of the specific ministry involved in managing any given activity. A specific example is its aggressive advocacy of the Concerned Local Citizens program.

An offshoot of the tribal “awakenings” that began in Anbar province, the CLCs, now also dubbed “the Sons of Iraq,” are comprised of local auxiliary police or neighborhood watches that initially were hired and managed by the US military. The strategy was designed to empower local citizens to take responsibility for security, as well as provide much-needed legitimate employment that drains the labor pool for insurgency. Because some of the security volunteers previously were associated with the Sunni insurgency in one form or another, there has been significant hesitation among federal government officials to sanction and eventually manage the program, considered a crucial reconciliation step by US officials and many Iraqis.

“The Committee has been focusing on the CLC issue because that’s been the hot topic, both for the Coalition and for the Iraqis,” said Steeves. “What we were trying to do is get the GOI [Government of Iraq] to take over both monetarily, by paying for contracts, and also coordination and control of these organizations. Additionally … putting some of these people to work for the ISF [Iraqi security forces] by hiring them as police.”

Efforts to begin integration of Concerned Local Citizens into the government recently succeeded in increments approved by Maliki. First, the IFCNR obtained a prime ministerial order that forced the Ministries of the Interior and Defense – responsible for the Police and the Army, respectively – to work with the local CLCs at the request of American forces. Maliki’s order was considered a huge step in the atmosphere of sectarian mistrust that surrounds this issue. And on Dec. 12, the Iraqi government officially agreed to take over funding and managing the program from American forces. Eventually about 20-25 percent of the approximately 85,000 CLCs are slated to be officially hired into the Iraqi security forces (mostly Iraqi Police) after proper vetting, with the remainder ideally diverted towards training programs and public-works projects headed by various ministries. To date, almost 9,000 of the volunteers have been screened by the government and are expected to enter police training.

Though the government’s hesitance in taking over the program was held up as an example of sectarian inertia by some US officials and many Western media and political observers, others argue that the delay was rational, given that many of the CLC groups include former insurgents. Iraqi government officials express a desire to avoid the insurgent and militia infiltration that plagued the Iraqi National Police over the past few years, for example.

“[H]iring people [who] were fighting you yesterday … is not an easy job,” said Dr. Ali al Dabbagh, Official Spokesman for the Government of Iraq. “[They] need definitely to … be checked thoroughly, and that is what the Iraqi government is doing. But nevertheless, we have accommodated more than 20,000. … We don't want to recruit [extremists] or … one more militia will be formed and they will fight the government from inside.”

Sunni leaders argue that their induction into the Iraqi security forces ensures government control. And the targeting of the CLC program by al Qaeda, they insist, is further proof that CLCs must have government support. In addition, some American officials argue that the Shia-dominated federal government already had displayed some willingness to engage with Sunni regions by hiring and consistently paying Sunni-dominated police forces in Anbar province, before either the Tribal Awakening or the spread of CLC programs throughout Iraq.

Brigadier General Terry Wolff, the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan Policy Implementation on the National Security Council, sums up a common US perspective well.

Listen, when you're over there working this with [the Iraqis], yes everyone is incredibly frustrated, trying to help them accomplish what is intuitively obvious to us. If these tribes have found men who are willing to be part of the local security solution, then why does it take so long to get them hired and … paid? It's a great question. So many people read into that slowness as 'Ah, Maliki is against this and there are conspiracies everywhere,' and so there is some distrust there, [but] the Iraqi government has gone on record as stating, 'Hey listen, we don't mind concerned local citizens, we just want to make sure that the demographics of the CLCs are reasonably balanced, and that people aren’t raising militias that are a threat to the government.’

But despite the government’s official acceptance of the CLCs and the IFCNR’s advocacy of the effort, there is still controversy over the eventual management of the program. As US officials check the backgrounds and catalogue biometric data of neighborhood volunteers slated to be integrated into the Iraqi Police, some in the government resist adding them to the rolls.

“[The] plan is still going ahead, but there is some pushback from GOI on how to move the CLCs to government control,” said Lieutenant Colonel Robert Friedenberg, the Multinational Forces-Iraq Liaison to the IFCNR. “It is arguable whether this comes from active resistance or just disorganized management and lack of capacity. Hiring the CLCs into the Iraqi Police is a slow process, and we have to work each time a list is ready for hiring to get the government to agree to hire the volunteers.”

With its recent progress on the CLCs, the IFCNR is now turning much of its attention to the idea of establishing job training and public works employment programs headed by various ministries. The hope is to divert some of the CLC volunteers to this employment as the need for the homegrown security forces abates. The committee also is addressing the property rights and pension claims of returning refugees, and coordinating some basic government services, like hospital improvements and the development of infrastructure. Many of these plans remain fuzzy, and minimal progress is a reflection of poor administrative capacity, a small staff, and disorganization, problems that plague many government agencies in Iraq.

“The IFCNR has advocated some jobs programs, building workers living accommodations near factories that are planned for refurbishment in order to house the workers in the Baghdad area” said Friedenberg. “Some of these plans are pretty ambitious, and out of the capability of the government of Iraq in my opinion. I expect the Coalition working with them on small projects initially and then picking up speed as momentum is gained.”

Reconstruction and the Services Committee

One area that reflects poorly on the government is its limited ability to deliver basic services like electricity, sewage management, and health care. The speed at which an acceptable level of service can be delivered to the population has implications for reconciliation, Iraq’s overall stability, and the odds of political survival for incumbents during the next national election cycle in late 2009.

There are signs of slow forward movement. Some of Iraq’s revenue is bypassing byzantine traditional channels and has been distributed directly to provincial governments, which are advised by US Provincial Reconstruction Teams focused on spurring local economies and the delivery of services. And the Iraqi economy continues to show significant momentum, with a estimated 2007 growth rate of 6.7 percent, while oil revenues have eclipsed budgeted expectations. Despite these advancements, reconstruction action at the Iraqi national level and in Baghdad specifically remains poor. This failure is seen in an improving but extremely low proportion of budgeted national revenue that has made it to the execution stage of reconstruction contracts, and the underperformance of national ministries.

. . . To improve communication and the delivery of services, Maliki has tried to coordinate the ministerial system by creating an independent Baghdad Services Committee. Headed by Ahmed Chalabi, the controversial former deputy prime minister and head of the Iraqi National Congress, the committee has a shifting membership that adjusts to its various agendas, and plays something like an ombusdsman role among the ministries involved in reconstruction. The body has met approximately weekly since last October and addresses a wide range of services, including electricity, health care, schools, trash removal, and traffic regulation.

For a specific example, the Baghdad neighborhood of Sab al Bor suffered a downed powerline that inactivated water pumps used for irrigation, forcing local farmers to tend their fields with drinking water. When the Services Committee learned of the resulting drinking water shortage and determined its cause, it brought the problem to the attention to the Ministry of Electricity, which repaired the powerline within a week.

Yet both the committee and the ministries have problems prioritizing finite resources, in terms of labor and money, for the delivery of services that will have the greatest impact on improving conditions. As with many Iraqi institutions, planning within these groups is not a strength. And American advisers have had their own difficulty with organization; an October 2007 report by the US Government Accountabilty Office lauded individual US efforts to build ministerial capacity, but assessed that they lacked overall direction, adequate performance measures and coordination with Iraqi goals. The flaws listed in this report were noted in a Petreaus’ last report to Congress, along with plans to address the problems.

. . . US advisers see enthusiasm for national reconciliation and reconstruction in quarters of the Iraqi executive branch, but the highly variable and often poor ability of the ministries and various committees will determine whether Iraqi citizens perceive the government's competence or willingness to reconcile all sects of Iraq.

“There’s been a lot of debate about … whether [lack of progress] is sectarian, whether there is true interest in reconciliation or not; our observations over the last six months in close operations on a daily basis with these folks [in the IFCNR] is a lot of it has a lot less to do with sectarianism than just pure inefficiency,” said Steeves. “That does not undermine the fact that as far as the GOI is concerned, that you probably do have sectarian actors at other levels of the government. You have a fragmented and fractured civil society, and there are a few good actors who are attempting to heal those rifts and overcome sectarian divides – not just Sunni-Shia [conflict] – but you’re also talking corruption, pure self-interest, and awareness of what it means to be Iraqi.”

US personnel are assisting Iraqis at most levels, from the prime minister’s office to the ministries to Provincial Reconstruction Teams and public works advisers in the provinces, but most agree that these advisory efforts will need time and persistence to have requisite effect on an inefficient and rapidly changing Iraqi bureaucracy. Assuming maintenance of improved security, 2008 will be a crucial year for Iraq’s executive branch, which must deliver more services and jobs, distribute oil revenue, spend and execute a much greater proportion of the budget than in years past, and effectively integrate local security forces into police and public works employment.

Some US personnel are optimistic that the development of Iraq’s administrative “capacity” will improve many of the conditions related to reconciliation. Most stress Iraqi solutions to Iraq’s problems. And all assert that “the way forward” is contingent on rapidly shifting conditions on the ground, while few are willing to venture firm predictions of success or failure.

“I think a sober assessment comes back to, we cannot dictate the outcome but we can dictate the means,” said Steeves. “And I think the means we are using now are some of the best we can utilize under the circumstances we find ourselves.”

When pressed, Colonel Martin M. Stanton, Chief of Reconciliation and Engagement for Multinational Corps–Iraq, was one of the few to hesitantly give odds of the Iraqi government accomplishing goals quickly enough to maintain recent stability:

“I’d say even,” said Stanton. “It’s all going to come down to reconstruction and employment, because at the end of the day people will put up with a lot if they just have a job and the standard of their living is improving.”

Read the entire article.

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