Reflections on the Wisdom of Those Who Took Us to War

Missing: a functional Iraqi state
By Howard LaFranchi | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

WASHINGTON – As President Bush weighs his options for forging a new Iraq policy, he faces this big conundrum: Many proposals call for greater reliance on and deeper development of the Iraqi state, but the reality is that the Iraqi state, in many respects, does not exist.

The state created by the iron fist of Saddam Hussein has been wiped away, replaced by a resurgent tribal society ruled by mutually distrustful political parties that find unity all the more elusive as sectarian violence rages. The result: More than three years after the invasion, the US is still looking for a reliable and effective partner to work with, experts say. US disappointment in the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is evident, and speculation is building over radical alternatives for forging a strong state.

“The problem is that institutions that did exist have been destroyed … and that leaves a large political vacuum that can’t be fixed short-term,” says Phebe Marr, an Iraq expert who consulted with the Iraq Study Group. The group’s report on “a new way forward” in Iraq was recently delivered to the White House, Congress, and the US public.

Embed more US military advisers with the Iraqi Army for training while the Iraqis carry out combat missions? Good idea, but that presupposes existence of a national army at a time when even Iraqi leaders denigrate their forces as weak, sometimes corrupt, and riven by sectarian divisions.

Renew a push for reconstruction, but use Iraqi money? What little Iraqi money is being spent on improving services is not being apportioned equitably among Iraq’s communities, the minority Sunnis say.

Create jobs for thousands of jobless young men? The state factories of the Hussein era closed after the US invasion, and much of the entrepreneurial class that might restart industry has fled.

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