From the 'Long Slog' to a 'Descent Into Hell' in Iraq
A Washington think tank dedicated to conflict resolution has released an unremittingly grim report on a workshop it sponsored looking at the future of Iraq's insurgency and the U.S. presence there.
The most optimistic scenario in the summary issued by the U.S. Institute of Peace this week was titled "The Long Slog to Overcome Ethnic and Sectarian Politics." The other possibilities were much uglier, including one in which ethnic and sectarian politics derail any positive progress. Another, called "Lebanonization," described a future in which militias wage a civil war in the capital.
The worst, envisioning a regional war, was simply titled "Descent Into Hell." This scenario, which looks at most of Iraq's neighbors being drawn into open warfare, ends with Iran conducting strikes against Saudi Arabia's oil industry.
The report was drawn from a series of workshops with Iraq experts and covers the period up to April 2006, before the latest deadly surge in sectarian violence of the past few months. The report is particularly striking because the USIP's mission is to devise positive solutions to complicated problems.
"Although encouraged to develop positive scenarios, the workshop participants struggled to do so," the report concludes. "But even the less-negative scenarios, such as the 'Long Slog to Overcome Ethnic and Sectarian Politics,' required some leaps of faith and carefully coordinated cooperation of the many actors (any of whom could have derailed the positive process)."
The Bush administration's goals, including democracy, "if possible at all, are attainable only in the very long term," the workshop participants found. Instead, they found that much more realistic goals are "avoidance of disaster and maintenance of some modicum of political stability in Iraq."
The USIP is also supporting the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton. Created by Congress, the high-powered panel has spent the past year trying to devise new policy alternatives for the United States in Iraq.
The two groups are not connected, but the latest study could foreshadow the tone of Baker's upcoming report, which is due out after the election. Baker's group has become a political football. Democrats have called for him to issue his findings immediately, while an increasing number of Republicans are hoping his group will help the Bush administration shift policy and stem the surging violence.
During a press conference last month, Baker and Hamilton warned that the next three months would be critical for Iraq. This month has been one of the deadliest yet for U.S. soldiers, who are caught between a persistently strong Sunni insurgency and spiraling sectarian violence spurred by Shiite militias. At least 89 U.S. soldiers have been killed so far in October.