US think tank urges retreat from Iraq

By Dave Clark

An independent think tank warned that the situation in Iraq was beyond repair and urged that US forces should be pulled out whatever the result of the current "surge" of troops into Baghdad.

02/09/07 "AFP" -- -- A report from Washington's Council on Foreign Relations  (Full report: PDF ) concluded that a US military victory was impossible in Iraq, where "amateurish" post-invasion rule by American officials had seen Iraq collapse into civil war.

The respected institute's stark assessment comes at a time of collapsing public support for the war in the United States and mounting opposition to President George W. Bush's strategy within Congress.

"The United States has already achieved all that it is likely to achieve in Iraq... Staying in Iraq can only drive up the price of those gains in blood, treasure and strategic position," wrote Steven Simon, author of the report.

"The time has come to acknowledge that the United States must fundamentally recast its commitment to Iraq. It must do so without any illusions that there are unexplored or magic fixes, whether diplomatic or military," he warned.

"Some disasters are irretrievable," he continued, calling for troops to be pulled out by the end of 2008.

Simon, in a paper entitled "After the Surge: The Case for US Military Disengagement from Iraq," said troop levels are still too low to quell the fighting but more reinforcements would make little difference in any case.

The US invasion "plunged the country into a civil war that brought about the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, wrecked the country's already debilitated infrastructure, and spurred violent sectarian rivalries."

"The crisis has now moved beyond the capacity of Washington to control on its own... The United States lacks the military resources and the domestic and international political support to master the situation," Simon warned.

Bush and his commanders have pinned the success of his Iraq strategy on sending 21,500 additional US troops to secure Baghdad and allow the embattled Iraqi government and US reconstruction teams to rebuild the country.

But Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's so-called unity government is wracked by sectarian rivalry and much of the country is prey to illegal Shiite militias and roving bands of Sunni anti-US insurgents.

In addition, Simon warns, Washington has been unable to contribute enough personnel for a sustained counterinsurgency and nation building effort.

He notes that the US civilian agencies have been only able to find 116 staff to fill a planned 167 positions on "provincial reconstruction teams," compared to the 1,700 who were thrown into a similar failed effort in Vietnam.

And even accounting for the extra troops in the ongoing "surge," the new US commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General David Petraeus, has only half the number of soldiers he would need to follow his own counterinsurgency doctrine.

In addition to destroying the Iraqi state and plunging the country into crisis, the US invasion has strengthened the hand of Washington's enemies in Iran and tied down troops that could be more usefully used elsewhere.

"By siphoning resources and political attention away from Afghanistan, a continuing military commitment to Iraq may lead to US losses in southwest Asia," Simon warned starkly of NATO's ongoing operation against the Taliban.

American failures since the March 2003 invasion had cost Bush public support at home, making military disengagement inevitable, the report warns.

"It is now just a matter of time," Simon wrote. "Better to withdraw as a coherent and somewhat volitional act than withdraw later in hectic response to public opposition to the war in the United States."

Full report: [PDF]

Copyright 2007 Agence France Presse.

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