By Vince Crawley
November 29, 2005
Washington - Iraq's three main ethnic groups appear ready to conduct successful elections December 15, creating a new permanent government that should defuse the insurgency and be ready to negotiate for a reduced U.S. military presence, a senior Pentagon adviser says.
"The component parts for a successful government are there," Ambassador Evan Galbraith said of Iraq's upcoming election. Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador to France, is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's representative in Europe as well as the defense adviser to the U.S. Mission to NATO.
Galbraith discussed the U.S. strategy for winning in Iraq during a November 28 panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy research organization in Washington.
"Sure we can expect some stumbles by the new government," he said. "God knows, the challenges are myriad. But the preponderance of evidence is for success."
Also taking part in the discussion was U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmet, deputy director for strategy at Central Command.
Kimmet said Iraqi forces are playing an increasingly important role in combat operations, which could allow the United States to achieve its goal of reducing the numbers of American troops throughout the region. Currently, 200,000 American troops are serving in the Central Command area, which includes Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and the Horn of Africa.
Iraq's election is expected to create a permanent government that would serve for four years under Iraq's new Constitution, which was approved in an October 15 referendum.
Galbraith said leaders of Iraq's main ethnic groups all have a stake in creating a working government.
"The three groups -- the Shi'a and the Kurds and the Sunnis -- all now clearly have a purpose in having this succeed, in having this government be created and being successful," he said.
For Shi'ites, the ethnic majority in Iraq, a successful representative government "gives them political power," Galbraith said. On the other hand, Shi'ites realize they need to share power with other minorities in order to maintain stability and international support, he said.
Ethnic Kurds, in Iraq's north, have held an autonomous position since the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, but neighboring Turkey, with a large Kurdish population of its own, strongly opposes the creation of a separate Kurdish nation.
"The Kurds need Iraq, the cover of Iraq, being part of Iraq to keep them in a balanced position, shall we say, with the Turks," Galbraith said. Remaining part of Iraq also gives the Kurds a stronger negotiating position for deciding who would control Iraq's northern oil fields, he said.
INCREASED SUNNI COOPERATION
Galbraith acknowledged that Iraq's Sunnis, who controlled the country under the former Saddam Hussein regime, have been involved heavily in the ongoing violent insurgency. However, Sunni leaders increasingly have cooperated with the democratic process to ensure that their people have a say in the new government and to help foster stability, he said.
"Sunnis were the business class under Saddam the guys that had the concessions that did everything, had quite good training and experience. It was a very sophisticated business community. And businessmen want -- and need -- law and order," he said.
Iraq's permanent government has been almost three years in the making, but it will be sovereign and independent, Galbraith said.
"If you think about it, it's going to be a pretty powerful instrument," he said. The government will be based on an established constitution and will have authority to amend the constitution, he said. And it will be "backed up by the military firepower of the United States," he added. "That's a fairly awesome thing to think about when you're plotting to engage in its overthrow."
The election of the permanent government might well be a turning point for Iraq, Galbraith said.
"It will act like a magnet and draw people in," he said. "People will want to get on the bandwagon. They will see that this thing is going to work."
An important but "underappreciated" point, he said, is that a sovereign Iraqi government will be in a position to negotiate on the size of the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq. In Washington, congressional leaders increasingly have called for a timetable for troop reductions in Iraq, and President Bush has said that he considers the debate on force levels in Iraq to be a healthy reflection of American democracy.
"The drawdowns that we will engage in will be negotiated," Galbraith said. "We'll negotiate with a sovereign government in their country about what it is the military forces should be -- in the best interests of the government and, of course, ourselves."
MILITARY SUCCESSES SEEN AS UNDERREPORTED
Galbraith also said military successes in Iraq have been under-reported.
"We are methodically wiping out in 'hotspots' in insurgent strongholds," he said.
In a strategy shift put in place about six months ago, Iraq forces now accompany U.S. troops on combat missions. After the combined forces have taken control of a town or village, the Americans withdraw but the Iraqi security forces remain on the scene, maintaining order and helping to coordinate humanitarian and reconstruction operations.
"We are making progress, but it would be unwise to suggest that that progress is at a point of irreversible momentum," said General Kimmet.
"We've built an army," he said of Iraqi security forces. "But it will be some time before that army fully matures."
Both Galbraith and Kimmet said Iraq is just one battlefield in a larger war against the ideology of militant religious fundamentalism.
"At Central Command, our strategy is for the long war," Kimmet said. One of the main challenges facing U.S. leaders, he said, is finding the right balance for American troop levels in the larger Middle East and Central Asian region.
"We've got to get our posture right in the region," he said. With about 200,000 Americans stationed in the area, "it is our view that that number is just too large," Kimmet said. "And it can't sustain itself over time."
In Europe, the United States kept hundreds of thousands of military personnel on duty for decades throughout the Cold War, but Kimmet said conditions are significantly different in the Middle East. "We cannot use that as a model for the future inside the Middle East," he said. "So as we talk about the long war, we talk about reposturing ourselves into a smaller, more expeditionary, more capable force."
However, reinforcements could be sped back to the region if needed, he said.
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