A plan to launch a ‘new era’ in Iraq

By Ayad Allawi, Special to The Washington Post

Next month, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will report to Congress on the situation in my country. I expect that the testimony of these two good men will be qualified and nuanced, as politics requires. I also expect that their assessment will not capture the totality of the tragedy — that more than four years after its liberation from Saddam Hussein, Iraq is a failing state, not providing the most basic security and services to its people and contributing to an expanding crisis in the Middle East.

Let me be clear. Responsibility for the current mess in Iraq rests primarily with the Iraqi government, not with the United States. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has failed to take advantage of the Iraqi people’s desire for peaceful and productive lives and of the enormous commitment and sacrifices made by the United States and other nations. The expected “crisis summit” in Baghdad is further evidence of the near-complete collapse of the Iraqi government. The best outcome of the summit is perhaps a renewed effort or commitment for the participants to work together, which may buy a few more weeks or months of cosmetic political activity. But there will be no lasting political reconciliation under al-Maliki’s sectarian regime.

Who could have imagined that Iraq would be in such crisis more than four years after Saddam Hussein? Each month 2,000 to 3,000 Iraqi civilians are killed by terrorists and sectarian death squads. Electricity and water are available, at best, for only five to six hours a day. Baghdad, once evidence of Iraq’s cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, is now a city of armed sectarian enclaves — much like Beirut of the 1980s.

It is up to Iraqis to end the violence and bring stability, security and democracy to our country. I am working with my colleagues in parliament to build a nonsectarian majority coalition that will support the following six-point plan for a “new era” in Iraq and replace through democratic means the current Iraqi government.

— Iraq must be a full partner with the United States in the development of a security plan that leads to the withdrawal of the majority of U.S. forces over the next two years, and that, before then, gradually and substantially reduces the U.S. combat role. The United States is indispensable to peace and security in Iraq and the greater Middle East. But we owe it to America — and, more important, to ourselves — to start solving our own problems. This will not happen as long as the present government is in power.

— I propose declaring a state of emergency for Baghdad and all conflict areas. Iraq’s security forces need to be reconstituted. Whenever possible, these reconstituted forces should absorb members of the sectarian and ethnic militias into a nonsectarian security command structure. Empowering militias is not a sustainable solution, because it perpetuates the tensions between communities and undermines the power and authority of the state. A state has no legitimacy if it cannot provide security.

— We need a regional diplomatic strategy that increasingly invests the United Nations and the Arab world in Iraqi security and reconstruction. Washington should not shoulder this diplomatic burden alone, as it largely has until now. Prime Minister al-Maliki has squandered Iraq’s credibility in Arab politics, and he cannot restore it. In addition, Iraq needs to be more assertive in telling Iran to end its interference in Iraqi affairs and in persuading Syria to play a more constructive role in Iraq.

— Iraq must be a single, independent federal state. We should empower local and provincial institutions at the expense of sectarian politics and an all-powerful and overbearing Baghdad. Religion should be a unifying — not divisive — force in my country. Iraqis, both Sunni and Shiite, should take pride in their Islamic identity. But when religious sectarianism dominates politics, terrorists and extremists emerge as the sole winners.

— National reconciliation requires an urgent commitment to moderation and ending sectarian violence by integrating all Iraqis into the political process. We should recognize the contribution of the Kurds and the Kurdistan Regional Government to Iraq’s democratic future. Reconciliation requires the active engagement of prominent Iraqi Shiite and Sunni political and religious leaders. Al-Maliki has stalled the passage of legislation, proposed in March, to reverse de-Baathification. That proposal should be passed immediately.

— The Iraqi economy has been handicapped by corruption and inadequate security. We must emphasize restoration of the most basic infrastructure. There can be no sustainable economic development and growth without reliable electricity, running and potable water, and basic health care. Over time, Iraq needs to build a free-market economy with a prominent role for the private sector.

It is past time for change at the top of the Iraqi government. Without that, no American military strategy or orderly withdrawal will succeed, and Iraq and the region will be left in chaos. The writer was interim prime minister of Iraq from 2004 to 2005.