In Iraq–ISIS is Symptom, the Problem is Worse | Charles Duelfer

In Iraq–ISIS is Symptom, the Problem is Worse

In Iraq, Washington is treating a symptom and avoiding the underlying problem.  Washington is busy with ISIS in Iraq and reporting substantial progress. On June 28th, Ambassador Brett McGurk reported to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (http://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/062816_McGurk_Testimony.pdf) on progress the US and Iraq are making in taking back territory from ISIS control.  But, the problems of what goes on in territories “liberated” are glossed over.

A very different picture is presented by journalist Jane Arraf reporting from Falluja three days later for PBS NewsHour (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/humanitarian-crisis-looms-in-fallujah-after-isis-defeat/)

In discussions with many Sunni leaders, it is clear to me that there is a high probability of enormous turmoil in Iraq once ISIS is pushed back. Unreported in the McGurk testimony is the seething war between Sunni groups and the Iranian backed Shia militias who have the bulk of the weapons and have, in effect, been conducting sectarian cleansing in some territories they have expelled ISIS from. Prime Minister al Abadi does not seem to be able to deal with this. His actions are limited by the Iraqi parliament and Iran. And if he falls, a strong pro-Iranian actor, Hadi al-Amiri is positioned to be a strong contender to follow–which would make matters even worse.

The Administration is publicly focussing narrowly on ISIS. They are enjoying some success in rolling ISIS back in Iraq. But then what? Iraq is going to get much much worse on its current path. And Iran is positioned to expand its influence even more. It appears as though the Obama team is taking ownership of the ISIS problem, but trying to keep separate responsibility for what happens in Iraq–that was Bush’s problem. If Iraq does disintegrate into sectarian conflict in the next year, it will be hard not to see that as part of the Obama legacy.

At this stage the US needs to broaden its dialogue with more key Sunni players, including some not participating in Baghdad. The politics of Baghdad do not reflect the realities outside Baghdad (like Washington and the rest of country, but worse).

If we are on the precipice of “doing Mosul” as seems to be the case (reinforced by Ash Carter’s current visit to Iraq), then to avoid chaos after Mosul, Sunnis groups need to have a voice and consensus about who runs Mosul afterwards…among other things. Is there an answer to the question, then what?

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4 Responses to In Iraq–ISIS is Symptom, the Problem is Worse

  1. Eric says:

    Dr. Duelfer,

    Last week on Twitter (original tweet was July 6), @BrunoTertrais and @mraillet (Michel Miraillet) claimed that there is no evidence France was complicit in Saddam’s breach of the Gulf War ceasefire involving the Oil for Food scandal and UNSCR 687-proscribed procurement. Mr. Miraillet claimed insider diplomatic knowledge that UNSCOM found no evidence of French suppliers among Iraq’s WMD-related items. I cited the Regime Finance and Procurement section of the ISG report. They dismissed it out of hand. Mr. Tertrais says he’s a longtime friend of yours; I suggested he should ask you about French complicity in the Oil for Food scandal and UNSCR 687-proscribed procurement.

    I doubt Mr. Tertrais will actually reach out to you over a Twitter argument. Nonetheless, what do you think of their denials of French complicity in Saddam’s breach of the Gulf War ceasefire?

  2. Charles Duelfer says:

    Sorry for delay in response. First, yes I worked with M. Miraillet and Tertrais and have very high regard for both. In complicated technical and political circumstances, they were pleasant and talented representatives of their government. It is accurate to say we are long term friends.
    As for the substance, things are not so categorically clear. UNSCOM, to my memory, did not uncover French suppliers of WMD related items during the period Iraq was under sanctions. The Iraq Survey Group, which had access to documents and individuals reported some questionable matters (see p. 93 and p.111 of the Comprehensive Report in the volume for Regime Finance and Procurement. (note that the page numbering system for various editions of the report are different..these page numbers are the version I have on my computer). These are not headline items. However, I should point out that the Oil for Food Program which ISG published all the oil allocations, included several for French recipients. Iraqis were clearly (and they so stated) that they hoped to influence French policy via such allocations. Some were the basis for French legal action. (And I should add, some were subject of US legal actions against US citizens who were recipients of such allocations.)
    I would add that there are more transcripts becoming available of the RCC meetings of this period (we obtained them in 2003-4). There is one of Tariq Aziz reporting to Saddam on trips to New York and Paris in November 1995 in which he describes his political meetings and objectives in Paris (See Conflict Resolution Research Center CRRC Record Number: SH-SHTP-A-000-789, “Meeting between Saddam Hussein and the Revolutionary Council Regarding the Sanctions Placed on Iraq and Tariq Aziz’s Trip to the UN Security Council”.

  3. Charles Duelfer says:

    Sorry for delay in response. First, yes I worked with M. Miraillet and Tertrais and have very high regard for both. In complicated technical and political circumstances, they were pleasant and talented representatives of their government. It is accurate to say we are long term friends.
    As for the substance, things are not so categorically clear. UNSCOM, to my memory, did not uncover French suppliers of WMD related items during the period Iraq was under sanctions. The Iraq Survey Group, which had access to documents and individuals reported some questionable matters (see p. 93 and p.111 of the Comprehensive Report in the volume for Regime Finance and Procurement. (note that the page numbering system for various editions of the report are different..these page numbers are the version I have on my computer). These are not headline items. However, I should point out that the Oil for Food Program which ISG published all the oil allocations, included several for French recipients. Iraqis were clearly (and they so stated) that they hoped to influence French policy via such allocations. Some were the basis for French legal action. (And I should add, some were subject of US legal actions against US citizens who were recipients of such allocations.)
    I would add that there are more transcripts becoming available of the RCC meetings of this period (we obtained them in 2003-4). There is one of Tariq Aziz reporting to Saddam on trips to New York and Paris in November 1995 in which he describes his political meetings and objectives in Paris (See Conflict Resolution Research Center CRRC Record Number: SH-SHTP-A-000-789, “Meeting between Saddam Hussein and the Revolutionary Council Regarding the Sanctions Placed on Iraq and Tariq Aziz’s Trip to the UN Security Council”.

  4. Eric says:

    Dr. Duelfer,

    Thank you.

    I don’t have a paper copy or paginated electronic copy of the ISG report. I refer to the on-line version of the ISG report at https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/general-reports-1/iraq_wmd_2004/, which isn’t paginated as such, so I can’t match pages 93 and 111 to content. Section title and key word to search should work.

    Since the supplier data isn’t public, Mr. Miraillet had the advantage of me when he said UNSCOM found no WMD-related materials of French origin. As a layman without his access to the subject material, I could only retort on that count with the 2nd-hand report at http://www.iraqwatch.org/suppliers/Iraq-oped-nyt-2003.htm:

    The [supplier] data was given to United Nations inspectors in the late 1990’s, and was reconfirmed in Iraq’s 12,000-page declaration last fall. But the statistical material on which it is based remained confidential until recently.
    The data reveals that firms in Germany and France outstripped all others in selling the most important thing — specialized chemical-industry equipment that is particularly useful for producing poison gas. Without this equipment, none of the other imports would have been of much use.

    I mainly cited to the suspect Iraqi-French diplomacy and, related, UNSCR 687-proscribed conventional and WMD-related procurement activity you described in the ISG report. I was particularly offended that France would trade anti-aircraft items to the Saddam regime in contravention of UNSCR 687 despite that American and allied craft enforced the no-fly zones pursuant to UNSCR 688 under threat of Iraqi anti-aircraft fire.

    My understanding of French complicity with Saddam’s noncompliance, the casus belli for OIF, is grounded in France’s opposition since the mid-1990s to the “hyperpower” US-led enforcement of the terms of the Gulf War ceasefire that was carried forward from Operation Desert Fox to Operation Iraqi Freedom. As you have explained, the opposition by France, Russia, and others to the US-led enforcement of Iraq’s mandated compliance factored prominently in Saddam’s calculation for declining to comply as mandated with the UNSCR 660 series, including and especially UNSCRs 687 and 688.

    I was moved to respond on Twitter because your friends and Ambassador Gerard Araud (who wrote the original tweet) were derisive of President Bush’s decision for OIF, and I was dissatisfied with Professor Eliot Cohen’s retort. The argument took on a different light when I clarified the casus belli was the Saddam regime’s evidential categorical breach of the Gulf War ceasefire and spotlighted French complicity with Saddam’s noncompliance which triggered enforcement with OIF.

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