by Robert G. Gard
Transcript of remarks delivered on April 1, 2008
When President George W. Bush announced in January 2007 that the United States would “surge” 30,000 additional soldiers into Iraq, he said that the expected security gains would give Iraqis “confidence in their leaders” and provide the Iraqi government with “the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas.” Bush predicted that “Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace – and reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible.”
In a conference call with national reporters on April 1, Lieutenant General Robert Gard (USA, ret.), a former executive assistant to two secretaries of defense and former president of both National Defense University and the Monterey Institute for International Studies, set the record straight. “Iraq is more bitterly divided along ethnic, sectarian, and factional lines than it was before the surge began,” concluded Gard, who serves as the Senior Military Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
The transcript of Gard’s remarks follows.
TRANSCRIPT OF PREPARED REMARKS
I am not implying any criticism of General Petraeus. He was given a mission to go into Iraq with a new tactic, as General [William] Odom has explained, which is classical counterinsurgency, to try and protect the civilian population rather than chasing all over the countryside trying to kill all the insurgents. He’s done a good job. There has been a reduction of violence in certain areas.
But our focus on military tactics somehow obscures the fact that war does have its own grammar, but not its own logic. The purpose of the surge, as the president said, was to provide breathing space to get political reconciliation. We have not moved in any significant way toward achieving that end. We are not resolving the core power-sharing disputes that plague the country, as General Petraeus himself has said. And he has said there is no military solution. Indeed, his second in command, Lt. General Odierno, just before he departed, said without political progress it simply will not be possible to reduce the violence.
Iraq is more bitterly divided among ethnic, sectarian, and factional lines than it was before the surge began. There has been massive sectarian cleansing. Since the beginning of the surge, the number of displaced within the country has doubled, as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has stated, and also stated that some two million have left the country. We really have a crisis on our hands from a refugee standpoint.
The sahwa movement, that is the arming and paying of Sunni tribal elements $300 dollars a month, as General Odom noted, not only do they not pledge fealty to the government, they have spoken openly about their opposition to it. And the government authorities themselves have asked the Americans to cease and desist. And only about one-tenth of the 90,000 in that sahwa movement have been integrated into Iraqi Security Forces, but even that is not necessarily a desirable outcome because the Iraqi Security Forces and infused with people whose loyalties lie elsewhere than to the central government.
You just saw, of course, that intra-Shiite conflict has broken out in the south. The security situation in the country, while there has been less violence in certain areas, it appears that we are arming the Sunni side to be able to provide resistance against any attempt to disarm them, just as we saw what happened with the attempt to disarm the Mahdi Army in the south.
We simply must not allow a corrupt and divided Iraqi government to determine the timetable for U.S. deployment. We need to convene the Iraqis under UN leadership to resolve some of the outstanding issues, to include lines of authority at the federal, regional, provincial, and local government areas, do something about oil developments, revenue sharing, and to deal with the refugee situation which could explode in our face at any time.
Our strategy is strategic drift. Advocates of it are playing on our fear that a departure might fuel terrorism, promote regional conflict, and a humanitarian disaster. But as General Odom pointed out, the evidence is to the contrary. Focus groups conducted by organizations sponsored by the U.S. authorities in Iraq have revealed that the overwhelming majority of the Iraqis believe that the secular tensions are caused by the presence of U.S. troops, and those will be resolved when U.S. troops depart.
TRANSCRIPT OF Q&A
1. Do the events in the south last week, where [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al] Maliki had to send in forces and they in turn had to be supported by U.S. and British troops to try to fight what turned out to be an inconclusive battle against Shiite groups, does that call into question the strategic decision last year to leave the south to Iraqi Security Forces to try and maintain order?
GARD: When there had been an outbreak some months ago, General Petraeus said that it would be inappropriate to try and inject U.S. forces in refereeing between and among the various Shiite groups. My understanding is that Maliki didn’t have to send any forces in, it was an initiative that he took which turned out very badly, as we’ve seen. We now have Sadr criticizing the supreme authority in Iran because of his belief that they are supporting the Islamic Supreme Council at his expense. There are really three Shiite factions operating in the south: the Council, the followers of Moqtada al Sadr, and then forces loyal to al Dawa and the Fadhila party, and of course al Maliki is from the al Dawa party, the problem is Maliki doesn’t have his own militia
Even General Petraeus has said that this has turned into a competition for political influence and command of resources among the various factions.
2. What now is the most important dynamic in Iraq? It seems to shift almost by the week…
GARD: I think there are a number of red flags. Obviously the continued deadlock of national leaders, the increased instability in northern Iraq, the Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and the Turkomens vying over Kirkuk, the possible collapse of the Sunni awakening, they have already expressed dissatisfaction. Indeed, a poll taken several months ago, even in Anbar which we hailed as a great success, 75 percent of the Sunnis in Anbar province express no confidence in U.S. troops and a desire that they withdraw immediately. And then this time bomb of the plight of the refugees, our failure to support them, both in terms of admitting them to our own country and providing adequate assistance in places like Syria and Jordan where so many of them have settled in squalid camps
The problem is that U.S. military force cannot resolve these issues. And every commander that we have had there has said so. The commanders are doing what they’ve been told to do, they’re trying to improve security so that there can be political progress. But lacking political progress, we are simply employing military force for its own sake with no positive political outcomes.