President Bush warned the nation Tuesday night of the "unthinkable" consequences of failure in Iraq. But amid escalating violence and a crackdown
by U.S. forces, Washington analysts expressed rising concern about the chances
"I think we run a serious risk of disaster in Iraq if what we find on
June 30 is a turnover of sovereignty to some kind of governing body that lacks
legitimacy," said Bathsheba Crocker, co-director of the post-conflict
reconstruction project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"I don't yet know what the plan is for avoiding that kind of disaster. ... We
need a Plan B, and I'm not sure we yet have a Plan B."
The list of problems is long and widely discussed in Washington. It
- The need for an estimated $70 billion in new funding, which Bush did
- The need for more U.S. troops and troops from France, Germany and
other big powers reluctant to lend aid.
- The U.S. public relations failure inside Iraq.
- The failure to train and equip Iraqi security forces.
- The slow progress on reconstruction and the lack of private
investment to jump-start the economy and suck support from the insurgency.
"The risks are far higher than the president suggested," said Anthony
Cordesman, a senior military strategist at the Center for Strategic and
"We really do face a much more challenging struggle than we heard
(Tuesday) night," Cordesman said, referring to Bush's news conference.
Most of the problems stem from two broad, early failures, an array of
analysts say: the inability to provide security, beginning with the looting
after the invasion more than a year ago, and the lack of international
political, financial and troop support.
Few analysts are prepared to declare failure, but the recent violence
proves that a political vacuum has opened in Iraq in the year since coalition
forces toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
Some political entity that carries credibility and authority inside Iraq
is needed to fill that vacuum, they say. It cannot be filled by military force
If the Iraqi moderates on whom Bush rests his hopes of bringing peace and
freedom to the country do not step in, extremists have proven they will.
The most serious current threat is the radical young Shiite cleric
Muqtada al-Sadr. But observers said many local militias besides Sadr's have
stepped in with security, offering safety to ordinary Iraqis that U.S. forces
have been unable to provide in many regions.
Analysts point to widespread evidence of sophisticated psychological
warfare aimed at isolating the United States and creating public pressure for
a withdrawal, notably hostage-taking of civilians from countries allied with
the United States and the mutilation and burning of bodies.
"We need more troops, we need a lot more troops than what Gen. (John)
Abizaid is requesting, everybody knows it and everybody knew it a long time
ago, even before the recent uprising," said an observer who asked not to be
identified but who has recently traveled in Iraq.
Events are moving quickly, and the administration already has missed many
opportunities to win the battle for popular opinion, analysts said.
People in the Middle East "draw clear parallels between occupations and
intifadas," the Arab word for uprising, said Jon Alterman, director of Middle
East studies for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently
back from Iraq. "And now there are two intifadas -- one in Palestine and the
Fallujah intifada in Iraq."
Bush insists that the June 30 date to transfer political sovereignty from
the United States to Iraqis remain, warning that to miss the deadline would be
seen by the majority of Iraqis as a betrayal and would fuel the insurgency.
Many observers, including U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, agree,
despite the lack of any credible Iraqi political body to assume sovereignty
until elections planned later in the year.
Larry Diamond, a democracy specialist at the Hoover Institution at
Stanford University who recently traveled in Iraq, said Iraqis "are really
looking to that date with intense national expectation. If we were to alter
that date for the handover of power, I think there would be a very bad
reaction throughout the country."
After the abandonment of a series of U.S. efforts, plans for a political
transition to Iraqi sovereignty on June 30 now rest almost solely in the hands
of U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, as Bush conceded Tuesday.
Brahimi offered Bush rare good news Wednesday, saying he is confident a
caretaker government can be set up then.
There are other positive signs, and analysts point especially to what
they say is the desire among a majority of Iraqis for peace and stability.
"I think this is something that actually we can take heart in," Diamond
said. "The majority of Iraqis do not want a violent blow up now. They want to
get back their sovereignty and have elections."
Yet the task facing Brahimi is herculean; the violence alone is
preventing his small team from visiting many parts of the country.
"The inability to provide security is the pervasive failure of Americans
more than anything else," Alterman said. "When I talk to Iraqis, they say the
old regime, at least they provided security. When you're terrified to go out
at night, when you don't want to leave your house, it has a horribly corrosive
effect ... Iraqis transfer all the blame for this to Americans, and what this
creates is the opportunity for a wide range of militias to do what the U.S.
Lack of security is severely hampering a reconstruction effort that
Cordesman said is in deep trouble. He said 20 percent of the $18 billion in
reconstruction contracts will be spent on security.
Cordesman also said the administration will have to make an enormous new
"Virtually everyone in Washington knows this, and it will be for the
military budget alone a minimum of $50 billion, and if you add aid and
external costs, probably $70 billion."
Administration supporters contend that things are not as bad as they
appear and warn that the worst thing the United States can do now is abandon
"What we had underestimated going in was the Iraqi fear of betrayal,
which was provoked by our abandonment of them in 1991," said Michael Rubin, a
scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who just returned
from eight months in the country. "The vast majority of Iraqis who generally
aspire to democracy and freedom are waiting to see if we're going to stick to
our guns before they stick their neck out."
©2004 San Francisco Chronicle