Explore Harvard's Nieman network Nieman Fellowships Nieman Lab Nieman Reports Nieman Storyboard
A U.S. army soldier stands guard as Iraqis queue to sign up as security volunteers in Diyala Province. (AP)

Just how is this drawdown supposed to work, anyway?

ASK THIS | January 04, 2008

How do you pull out of a country that lacks a functioning national political process? Harvard security expert Sarah Sewall proposes some disturbing and provocative questions reporters should be asking the State Department, the Pentagon and Congress about how the United States will minimize the humanitarian consequences of drawing down American ground forces and promoting 'Iraqi solutions to Iraqi problems.'

By Sarah Sewall

Q. The Bush Administration increasingly defines its goals in Iraq in terms of Iraqi solutions. Yet the fracturing of national institutions and emergence of violent sectarianism raise questions about what this now means in practice.  Are there limits to the type of “Iraqi solutions” the United States can tolerate or support? 

Q. U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine assumes a functioning host nation government.  American officials increasingly express frustration about the ability of Iraq’s national government to act in a unified or decisive manner on critical issues. What happens to the other elements of U.S. strategy in Iraq when the center cannot hold?

Q. The “flipping” of former enemy tribes in Anbar province, the transition of Basra to local Iraqi security forces, and other vaunted security successes in Iraq are predicated on an assumption that the local armed actors have an interest in a unified and peaceful Iraq.  In the absence of a functioning national political process, is it realistic to see these as more than tactical alliances or transitions?

Q. How can the United States prevent or deter human rights abuses by the Iraqi forces that the United States is training and equipping?  What expectations or limits are currently communicated to those receiving U.S. assistance?  What oversight mechanisms are being used? Will they be strengthened or weakened as the U.S. reduces its role in providing Iraqi security?

Q. Could the threat of future international prosecution augment efforts to deter crimes against humanity in Iraq?  Has the U.S. government thought about the potential utility of the International Criminal Court to prevent human rights abuse?

Q. As the United States reduces its ground troop presence, will it be forced to rely more heavily on airpower both to augment Iraqi security forces and to protect U.S. forces?   What are the likely implications for civilians on the ground? With diminished presence in country, how can the United States prevent local Iraqi forces from exploiting American air assets toward their own ends as appears to have been the case in Afghanistan?

Q. If the political and institutional dynamics in Iraq make the transition of security particularly challenging in terms of both human rights and stability, should the U.S. accelerate its withdrawal so as to avoid complicity in outcomes it opposes or should it redouble its military and non-military efforts and commit to the longer term to shape the outcomes differently?

Posted by Jerome Dobbins - citizen
01/10/2008, 07:37 PM

Here is a bad sign, The US military is conducting probably it's last big offensive in Iraq against Al Q. They didn't tell the Iraqi troops involved what was going on until they were already at the front line. Speaks well for the future.

Carr Center for Human Rights Policy

The NiemanWatchdog.org website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.