The Iraq Study Group


December, the Iraq Study Group (also known as the BakerHamilton
Commission) published the most candid review of the crisis in Iraq
so far by an official U.S. policy group. The principal weakness
of its assessment is that it evades two central issues: (1) the
full extent of U.S. responsibility for the crisis; (2) the illegality
of the U.S. invasion and the resulting illegitimacy of the role
that the United States is now playing in the affairs of Iraq.  

U.S. responsibility for the crisis in Iraq is acknowledged three
times in this report: first, in the letter from the co-chairs; second,
in the introduction to the “Assessment” chapter; and,
lastly, as a justification for rejecting the option of “precipitate
withdrawal.” The cochairs, Republican James Baker and Democrat
Lee Hamilton, state in their introductory letter that, “Because
of the role and responsibility of the United States in Iraq, and
the commitments our government has made, the United States has special
obligations.” Instead of going on to explain the “special
obligations” of a country that has invaded another one in violation
of the United Nations Charter, such as withdrawal of its forces
and the payment of reparations, it asserts weakly that, “Our
country must address as best it can Iraq’s many problems.” 

This logic is repeated in the introduction to the “Assessment”
chapter: “Because events in Iraq have been set in motion by
American decisions and actions, the United States has both a national
and a moral interest in doing what it can to give Iraqis an opportunity
to avert anarchy.” 

follows is a damning assessment of the state of occupied Iraq, but
one that carefully avoids directly linking any of the specific conditions
it describes to “American decisions and actions.” 

The section “Sources of Violence” acknowledges “multiple
sources of violence in Iraq: the Sunni Arab insurgency, al Quaeda
and affiliated Jihadist groups, Shiite militias and death squads,
and organized criminality.” Unless it is meant to be included
in the last category, which would be valid but seems unlikely, there
is no mention of the primary source of violence in Iraq: the U.S.
invasion and military occupation of the country. 

The epidemiological study recently published in the


by researchers from Johns Hopkins and Columbia Universities found
with 97.5 percent certainty that at least 26 percent of violent
deaths since the invasion were attributed directly to “coalition”
forces. In another 45 percent of cases relatives were unable or
unwilling to say who had killed their loved ones. At an absolute
minimum this means that U.S. and other foreign troops have killed
at least 110,000 people in Iraq, though the actual number of people
killed is probably much higher. 

In discussing militia violence, the report notes that, “Many
Badr members have become integrated into the Iraqi police…”
and that “While wearing the uniform of the security services,
Badr fighters have targeted Sunni Arab civilians.” It does
not mention the U.S. role in forming and training the Interior Ministry
special police commandos; or the continuing role of U.S. advisors
working with these Interior Ministry forces after they were merged
with the Iraniantrained Badr Brigades and launched as death squads
against the Sunni population; or that the U.S. government is currently
negotiating with SCIRI and Badr leader alHakim to give them a larger
role in the next puppet government. 

In the section on Operation Together Forward II (a joint operation
to increase security operations and personnel in Baghdad last year)
the report notes a 43 percent increase in violence in Baghdad during
the period covered by this U.S. operation, but fails to explain
why it had this effect. In fact this operation targeted the same
Sunni neighborhoods that had been under assault by special police
commandos and other Shiite militiamen since April 2005, but which
had been resisting these attacks with some success. The nominal
goal of the U.S. operation was to eliminate both Sunni resistance
and Shiite militias, but the Iraqi auxiliary forces that were partnered
with the U.S. 4th Infantry and 172nd Stryker Brigade were comprised
of or allied with Shiite militias. It was entirely predictable and
therefore presumably intended that this operation would intensify
the ongoing attacks on the Sunni population of Baghdad. The recent
increase in violence in Baghdad is thus a direct and apparently
deliberate result of U.S. policy. 

When the report goes on to discuss “Some Alternative Courses”
in Iraq, the “role and commitments of the United States in
initiating events that have led to the current situation” suddenly
come to the fore as a reason to keep fighting and the need for withdrawal
is rejected as an article of faith: “We believe it would be
wrong for the United States to abandon the country through a precipitate
withdrawal of troops and support. A premature U.S. departure from
Iraq would almost certainly produce greater sectarian violence and
further deterioration of conditions.” No evidence is presented
to support this assertion and other sections of the report contain
ample evidence that the U.S. occupation is the primary source of
violence in Iraq. 

In discussing the “More Troops for Iraq” option, the report
states, “Sustained increases in U.S. troop levels would not
solve the fundamental cause of violence in Iraq.” The argument
for keeping exactly 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq is a Goldilocks
argument, that this number is not too few and not too many, but
“just right.” This is not a rational argument. Senator
McCain is correct that, if U.S. forces were really a force for stability
in Iraq, then more of them would bring more stability. The section
acknowledges that this is not the case, but its sound reasoning
has not been extended to the faith-based “Precipitate Withdrawal”

40 in the “Way Forward” chapter is prefaced by more discussion
of the role of U.S. forces: “Adding more American troops could
conceivably worsen those aspects of the security problem that are
fed by the view that the U.S. presence is intended to be a long-term
‘occupation’.” But then “the presence of U.S.
troops in Iraq is moderating the violence.” This last formulation
is an interesting allusion to what U.S. forces are really doing,
tactically applying their own destructive power against the Sunnis
in concert with the local forces of violence that the occupation
has unleashed while selectively attacking al-Sadr’s forces
to keep them in check when possible. 

This discussion outlines the basic dilemma facing U.S. policymakers
over Iraq. They are losing the war with the Sunnis whose level of
resistance is still increasing, while Muqtada al-Sadr has quietly
become the de facto leader of the Shiites throughout most of the
country. The Americans have tried to take on the Sunnis and leave
al-Sadr for later, but this has not worked. The result has been
that both the Sunni resistance and al-Sadr have grown stronger and
the U.S. and its various puppets are weaker than ever. 

The report’s prescription is to concentrate on training security
forces loyal to the puppet government, but the loyalty of these
forces can never be guaranteed. If it should come to a showdown
with al-Sadr, most of them would suddenly be on the other side and
the Kurdish peshmerga would prefer to fight for an independent Kurdistan
than for Baghdad. The word “invasion” does not occur anywhere
in this report. The word “legitimacy” occurs once, in
relation to diplomatic relations between Iraq and neighboring countries.

The “Security” section begins by explaining that U.S.
forces are part of the Multi-National Force authorized by UNSCR
1546. It does not explain that these were the same forces that invaded
the country in March 2003 in violation of the UN Charter  and
that, because of the United States’ role as a permanent member
of the Security Council, subsequent UN resolutions have been unable
to confront the reality of this situation. 

The United States has prevented the Security Council from fulfilling
its responsibility to restore international peace and security,
leaving the Council to act under this constraint to do what it can
under the circumstances. When the history books are written, we
will probably find that some members and some UN officials practiced
quiet diplomacy to try and reclaim the protection to which the people
of Iraq are entitled under international law, while most were governed
primarily by their own interests in maintaining a stable relationship
with the United States. 

Unresolved questions of legitimacy underlie the report’s discussions
of many issues: the status of Iraqi Kurdistan; “amnesty for
those who have fought against the government”; the flight of
the technocratic class from the country, including government officials,
academics, and petroleum engineers; the refusal of the Ministries
of Health, Agriculture and Transportation to work with U.S. advisors;
the uncertain framework for foreign investment; the growth of popular
opposition to the occupation; and the fact that 61 percent of Iraqis
approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces. 

on “Building an International Consensus” and the “New
Diplomatic Offensive” are clearly designed to engage other
countries in discussions that could strengthen the U.S. presumption
of legitimacy and the de facto position of the U.S. and its puppets
in Iraq. The tenuous position of the Iraqi puppet government is
also the theme of Recommendations 19 and 20, requiring closer cooperation
with U.S. officials to meet milestones on national reconciliation,
security, and governance. 

Recommendations 22 and 23 speak to the heart of the U.S. enterprise
in Iraq, asking President Bush to “state that the United States
does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq” and “that
the United States does not seek to control Iraq’s oil.”
The report does not ask Bush to take any concrete steps regarding
these issues, such as halting construction on U.S. bases or on the
104-acre U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone. 

Recommendations 62 and 63 provide a complex ten-part prescription
for the disposition of the oil sector in Iraq. They would “create
a fiscal and legal framework for investment” and commit U.S.
military forces to work with Iraqis and foreign mercenaries to protect
oil infrastructure and contractors.  

“The United States should encourage investment in Iraq’s
oil sector by the international community and by international energy
companies” and “the United States should assist Iraqi
leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial
enterprise.” These statements reveal continuing support for
the Oil Production Sharing Agreements that Western oil companies
have been eagerly awaiting since the invasion. Such agreements would
be a throwback to the time before the major oil-producing countries
nationalized their oil industries when Western companies could help
themselves to oil in exchange for the payment of small royalties
to national governments. Until World War II, Anglo-Iranian (now
BP) paid only a 16 percent royalty on oil production to the government
of Iran. 

Kevin Phillips reported in his book

American Theocracy

U.S. oil companies hoped to earn greater profits on Iraqi oil under
these new Production Sharing Agreements than they currently make
on the rest of their worldwide operations combined. The Iraq Study
Group’s inclusion of this item in their report shows that the
primary commercial goals of the invasion have not changed, even
if they mean destroying the country that has the misfortune to sit
atop these precious oilfields, city by city, block by block, life
by life.


J.S. Davies is a student of U.S. history and foreign policy. He lives
in Miami, Florida. This article was originally published by Online