Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Christopher Hill and the Iraq War Legacy

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 30 October 2011 19:42

In a recent opinion piece for CNN, Christopher Hill, the former US ambassador to Iraq who served there from April 2009 to August 2010, discusses the legacy of the Iraq War in light of the recent US decision to not seek a continued military presence beyond 2011. Among his key points is that it would be wrong to plunge into a discussion about “who lost Iraq”… Full story here.

22 Responses to “Christopher Hill and the Iraq War Legacy”

  1. Salah said

    Secondly, regarding the Iraqi nationalism of Nuri al-Maliki, Hill fails to differentiate between the two different faces of Maliki. There is the genuinely nationalist face focused on the establishment of a strong centralised state in all of Iraq except Kurdistan,

    It’s really intriguing these guys working very close to their bunch of Iraqi they cannot differentiate between real nationalist and Iranian proxy?

    The other point why Hill made Malikistan’s Nationalism not include Kurd when he said: “in all of Iraq except Kurdistan”
    What sort of Nationalism that forget part of Iraq?

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Well, it was actually me who said that and it referred to Maliki’s vision of a bi-national Iraq with autonomy for the Kurds which I think makes sense historically.

  3. JCM said

    This is my question: let’s say for a second that the US maintained sectarian policies in Iraq for rational purposes. If this were true, then what would these rational purposes be? It seems to have gone radically off course, but it makes perfect sense to me that the US would have opposed a nationalist government in Iraq. Hence, all of the political rhetoric trying to foster the idea of a cobbled together state.

  4. Salah said

    Well, it was actually me who said that and it referred to Maliki’s vision

    Reidar Visser , Yes you are right you said that, My point is to those worked closely and meet with Iraqis “oppositions” during the preparation for the war in 2003 and after, specially over the years of CPA & Allawi, Ja’afari time?

    That my point Hill and other US official they chose these guys to work with and they supported them after and well known fact and by Iraqis Da’awa and SCIRI other small block ,not more that Iranian proxy in Iraq if they come back, and that what we seen today for the last 8 &Half years.

    Did you have worked with them before 2003 and after Reidar Visser?

  5. Reidar Visser said

    JCM, I am unable to find any rational explanation for a deliberate US policy of divide and rule in Iraq – except of course if the goal was to keep forces there in perpetuity. That option pretty much disintegrated in 2008 and clearly is not the policy of the Obama administration.

    With ethno-sectarian identities up front the Shiites are bound to be more Iranian-leaning than they would have been under a more nationalist scenario. That means Iranian influence in the major oil-producing areas, which clearly isn’t in the best interest of the Americans. I know there is a theory that the USG is using Iraq as a carrot in a larger scheme to do a regional bargain with Iran. One could perhaps interpret the hands-off policy of the Obama administration in 2009 in this light, but in that case the whole strategy does not seem to have been particularly successful.

    Salah, prior to 2003, the Daawa wasn’t as Iran-friendly as you say. After all, they left Iran out of opposition to wilayat al-faqih. The US mistake was to give SCIRI such a prominent role in the opposition conferences in the autumn of 2002.

  6. JCM,
    My hypothesis is that the US in Iraq did not act in its own self interest but as a proxy for its perceived regional allies (the Kurds and Israel via the Neocons). I suggest that the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive strikes lays the ground for proxy act since it stipulates that a a perceived threat by a US regional ally is to be treated as a threat to the US, therefore abandoning (temporarily at least) an independent US sense of reality regarding its enemies.
    To my mind the Real American political value is elaborated by John F. Kennedy’s speach: I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act. The US in Iraq went in the opposite direction when it sponsored religious parties like SCIRI as Reidar said. Had the US acted like itself as in Kennedy’s speech, Iraq would have been in totally different ground.
    I would appreciate a link if you find my ideas worthwhile:)

  7. Kermanshahi said

    “in light of the recent US decision to not seek a continued military presence ” – wait a second, they made that decision? No they didn’t, they tried everything they could to keep more soldiers in the country, the Iraqi government just wouldn’t sign on to it and good job they didn’t.

  8. Salah said

    Salah, prior to 2003, the Daawa wasn’t as Iran-friendly as you say

    Reidar Visser I think I should not put any blame on US officials unless you do not have knew or work with Iraqi religious parties before and after 2003.

    Reidar Visser , How long you knew or did you have relations with Da’awa Party/members?

    Seen and dealt with Da’awa members, watch them inside Iraq , some caught in criminal acts against normal Iraqis not regime as they calming from 1979 and on, most of them full and inspired by Iranians not as Iraqi nationalist at any degree.

    to add more Da’awa in Iran chanting Iranian slogans of “Death to the U.S. the great Satan”, before the conferences in the autumn of 2002, Ja’afry went to US and involved in meeting with US officials.

    Let not forgot Galabi job and his very affective PA ….Frances Brooke

  9. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, I’ve worked on Iraqi history and politics since the 1990s. The anti-Iranian stance I’m referring to dates from the mid 1980s and onwards, when Iran unsuccessfully attempted to make the Daawa loyal to the wilayat al-faqih platform and to be part of SCIRI as an umbrella for all Shiite Islamist parties. This the Daawa leaders refused and left Iran in large numbers.It is equally clear that Daawa (Tanzim al-Iraq) was an attempt by Iran to regain lost initiative when it was launched some time before the 2003 war.

    Chalabi has nothing to do with the Daawa.

  10. Salah said

    This worth reading….

    But Mr. Sadr is only a symbol of a much wider concern. The unremitting reality of the new Iraq is that America will be leaving behind a country that has failed to resolve any of the deep fissures that lay hidden, and suppressed, under the carapace of Saddam’s tyranny. Over the best part of a decade since America set out to engender the attitudes fundamental to the building of a civil society, perilously little has been achieved that promises to survive the American era: no abiding level of trust between rival sectarian, regional and political groups, rooted in the recognition of an overriding common interest; no ingrained willingness to compromise, on the division of power, and, in Iraq, on disputes over territory, division of the nation’s oil wealth, and other spoils; and no convincing commitment to forsake retribution and vengeance for past ills, real or imagined.

    A Complicated Close for U.S. in Iraq

  11. Santana said

    This was in the Wall Street Journal today by Max Boot….Good stuff !

    Obama’s tragic Iraq Withdrawl

    Friday afternoon is a traditional time to bury bad news, so at 12:49 p.m. on Oct. 21 President Obama strode into the White House briefing room to “report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year–after nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.” He acted as though this represented a triumph, but it was really a defeat. The U.S. had tried to extend the presence of our troops past Dec. 31. Why did we fail?

    The popular explanation is that the Iraqis refused to provide legal immunity for U.S. troops if they are accused of breaking Iraq’s laws. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki himself said: “When the Americans asked for immunity, the Iraqi side answered that it was not possible. The discussions over the number of trainers and the place of training stopped. Now that the issue of immunity was decided and that no immunity to be given, the withdrawal has started.”

    But Mr. Maliki and other Iraqi political figures expressed exactly the same reservations about immunity in 2008 during the negotiation of the last Status of Forces Agreement. Indeed those concerns were more acute at the time because there were so many more U.S. personnel in Iraq–nearly 150,000, compared with fewer than 50,000 today. So why was it possible for the Bush administration to reach a deal with the Iraqis but not for the Obama administration?

    Quite simply it was a matter of will: President Bush really wanted to get a deal done, whereas Mr. Obama did not. Mr. Bush spoke weekly with Mr. Maliki by video teleconference. Mr. Obama had not spoken with Mr. Maliki for months before calling him in late October to announce the end of negotiations. Mr. Obama and his senior aides did not even bother to meet with Iraqi officials at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

    The administration didn’t even open talks on renewing the Status of Forces Agreement until this summer, a few months before U.S. troops would have to start shuttering their remaining bases to pull out by Dec. 31. The previous agreement, in 2008, took a year to negotiate.

    The recent negotiations were jinxed from the start by the insistence of State Department and Pentagon lawyers that any immunity provisions be ratified by the Iraqi parliament–something that the U.S. hadn’t insisted on in 2008 and that would be almost impossible to get today. In many other countries, including throughout the Arab world, U.S. personnel operate under a Memorandum of Understanding that doesn’t require parliamentary ratification. Why not in Iraq? Mr. Obama could have chosen to override the lawyers’ excessive demands, but he didn’t.

    He also undercut his own negotiating team by regularly bragging–in political speeches delivered while talks were ongoing–of his plans to “end” the “war in Iraq.” Even more damaging was his August decision to commit only 3,000 to 5,000 troops to a possible mission in Iraq post-2011. This was far below the number judged necessary by our military commanders. They had asked for nearly 20,000 personnel to carry out counterterrorist operations, support American diplomats, and provide training and support to the Iraqi security forces. That figure was whittled down by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to 10,000, which they judged to be the absolute minimum needed.

    The Iraqis knew about these estimates: U.S. military commanders had communicated them directly to Iraqi leaders. Prime Minister Maliki was said (by those who had talked to him) to privately support such a troop commitment, and almost all Iraqi political leaders–representing every major faction except for the rabidly anti-American Sadrists–assented on Aug. 2 to opening negotiations on that basis.

    When the White House then said it would consent to no more than 5,000 troops–a number that may not even have been able to adequately defend itself, much less carry out other missions–the Iraqis understandably figured that the U.S. wasn’t serious about a continued commitment. Iraqi political leaders may have been willing to risk a domestic backlash to support a substantial commitment of 10,000 or more troops. They were not willing to stick their necks out for such a puny force. Hence the breakdown of talks.

    There is still a possibility for close U.S.-Iraqi military cooperation under the existing Strategic Framework Agreement. This could authorize joint exercises between the two countries and even the presence of a small U.S. Special Operations contingent in Iraq. But it is no substitute for the kind of robust U.S. military presence that would be needed to bolster Iraq’s nascent democracy and counter interference from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other regional players that don’t have Iraq’s best interests at heart.

    Iraq will increasingly find itself on its own, even though its air forces still lack the capability to defend its own airspace and its ground forces cannot carry out large-scale combined arms operations. Multiple terrorist groups also remain active, and almost as many civilians died in Iraq last year as in Afghanistan.

    So the end of the U.S. military mission in Iraq is a tragedy, not a triumph–and a self-inflicted one at that.

    By Max Boot
    Wall Street Journal

    Mr. Boot is a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

  12. Reidar Visser said

    It is quite remarkable how Obama apparently has taken a very orthodox approach to the question of “total withdrawal” in a context when most commentators said the American public wouldn’t care much about the exact numbers once they had got below the 30,000 mark and casualties were down anyway. Indeed, proponents of a 100% full withdrawal were openly complaining that this trend in public opinion would enable some Americans to stay behind despite the promises of withdrawal.

    Similarly, in August it really seemed that Pentagon might have been able to get from Iraq what it wanted and that Obama would still be able to talk about a “complete withdrawal” with some residual trainers left behind. Nonetheless he opted to bring matters to a head over the immunity issue.

  13. Observer said

    this is all monday quarterbacking. Regardless of who is to blame, fact is Iraq is now left to regional interference more than ever before.

    Now the way forward. What are the ramifications of US withdrawal? Increase regional interference. Are we heading to a Lebanon like state?

  14. amagi said

    We also have this, from the Kagans:

    I had not heard about those general getting sacked. Anyway, does this more or less read accurate to you?

  15. Reidar Visser said

    Amagi, I agree with much of that, and certainly with the bit about inaction in DC during 2009 – may I say unconsciousness?

    There are only two minor points that I would quibble about. Firstly, as I have said before, I think the idea of betrayal of Iraqiyya through an elastic interpretation of article 76 of the constitution by the federal supreme court has been overdone. I have seen evidence that Maliki was actually worried others (i.e. Kurds, Iraqiyya, ISCI) might use that interpretation against him and that he was genuinely shocked when the results emerged and he was not the winner. So the idea that he had been working on changing the rules for a year, as indicated in the article, does not quite square with the data that I have seen.

    Second, the suggestion that Abd al-Majid al-Khoei was tipped as a Sistani successor in 2003 was new to me. I really think he was considered too young at the time. What we all seem to agree is that the behaviour of the court looks scandalous.

  16. Observer,
    I started my little speculation yesterday on

  17. Jason said

    You guys are stretching reality way too far in an attempt to absolve Iraqis of sectarianism. In the same breath you claim Iraqis aren’t sectarian, then accuse Maliki of leading a completely sectarian coalition? It’s nonsensical.

    The USG had a rational strategy of keeping the different power-brokers in the political arena as opposed to withdrawing and taking up arms against each other, again. I completely agree with Max Boot that Obama didn’t make any effort to keep some troops. I also agree that there was really no good reason, as popular protest really died down when casualties subsided and with the announcement of far lower troop levels. It is an unnecessary gamble. If fighting breaks out again, then Obama will go down in history as having given away a hard won victory.

  18. Salah said

    Leaving Iraq?

    Texas Straight Talk with Ron Paul
    it will be one of the last things done before the critical re-election campaign gets into full swing. Better late than never, but, examining the fine print, is there really much here to get excited about? Are all of our men and women really coming home, and is Iraq now to regain its sovereignty? And in this time of economic crisis, are we going to stop hemorrhaging money in Iraq? Sadly, it doesn’t look that way.
    Can you imagine having foreign soldiers here, with immunity from our laws and Constitution, with access to your neighborhood?
    Some 39,000 American troops will supposedly be headed home by the end of the year. However, the US embassy in Iraq, which is the largest and most expensive in the world, is not being abandoned. Upwards of 17,000 military personnel and private security contractors will remain in Iraq to guard diplomatic personnel, continue training Iraqi forces, maintain “situational awareness” and other functions. This is still a significant American footprint in the country. And considering that a private security contractor costs the US taxpayer about three times as much as a soldier, we’re not going to see any real cost savings. Sadly, these contractors are covered under diplomatic immunity, meaning the Iraqi people will not get the accountability that they were hoping for.
    While I applaud the spirit of this announcement – since all our troops should come home from overseas – I have strong reservations about any actual improvements in the situation in Iraq, since plans are already being made to increase the number of troops in surrounding regions.

  19. bks said

    Vietnam seems to be doing more or less okay despite the sudden withdrawal of the armed forces of the USA. And they didn’t have 100-300 billion barrels of oil to sell.


  20. Santana said

    huh????? BKS are you for real?…Yeah- Vietnam is doing great….but they don’t share a border with Iran….nor do they have a buncha mullahs ruling and NO OIL either give em the same oil reserves as Iraq, a paranoid shiite population a seperatist Kurd population…. and see what happens.

    No similarities whatsoever !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. amagi said

    I think Bks was joking… I hope so, anyway. Tens of thousands of South Vietnamese murdered in purges and millions of boat people were not ‘more or less okay,’ and, by the same token, withdrawal of U.S. military in Iraq was not ‘sudden.’

  22. Salah said

    “Now, we didn’t go to Iraq to bring democracy to the Iraqis. And I try in the book to really explain that that wasn’t the purpose,”

    Condoleezza Rice’s Retrospect on Iraq

    Looks clear the motive doing to Iraq from mouth of those run the show.

    This raise question are US really care about democracy in Iraq?

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