National Security Watch: A postelection blueprint for Iraq's success
The early signs are that the Iraqi Sunnis have come out to vote in significant numbers in yesterday's critical election and that President Bush's speeches in recent weeks have dissipated some of the gloom surrounding U.S. handling of the Iraq war. But, experts say, U.S. officials in Washington and Iraq have to follow up this welcome turn of events with several decisive steps in the coming weeks if the relief is to be anything more than a passing respite.
Analysts argue that the real political goal is not merely getting Sunnis to vote but also assuring them enough of a stake in the new political order that they come in from the cold and lay down their guns and bombs. It will require negotiations over local security, a share of national power, and fair handling of the nation's oil revenue. Iraq's Shiite majority will have to be persuaded that such a bargain is the sine qua non for peace and stability. The forging of a grand compromise, including a broad amnesty, will require all the considerable diplomatic skills that U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad possesses.
Among other recommendations by counterinsurgency experts:
The U.S. military should cease offensive combat operations, except for precision counterguerrilla operations against high-value targetsand then only when the intelligence is rock solid. More damage is done by massive sweeps and killing the enemy in Sunni areas.
The focus should be placed squarely on population security and population control via policing and detective measures that were proven to work in Malaya and other successful counterinsurgencies. More manpower and resources need to be devoted to building Iraqi governing capacity and the critical infrastructure projects that will give Iraqis decent water, electric, and oil services. While these elements have been part of U.S. strategy, they have taken a back seat to the kinetic military operations that absorb most of the military manpower, planning, and resources, according to U.S. officials in Iraq. Yet these are precisely the elements, say the counterinsurgency experts, that will cause the Sunni population to embrace the government and turn in the insurgents.
Finally, as members of Congress have suggested to the president in his recent outreach meetings with them, the administration's new attitude of openness and frankness with regard to the state of affairs in Iraq must continue if public opinion is to support the level of effort needed through the coming year. If the political imperative of winning over recalcitrant Iraqis is embraced not only in word but in deed, the progress reports can't help but get better.