The Carnegie Middle East Center held a seminar on Tuesday, February 27 entitled “The Situation in Iraq: Prospects for Ending the Crisis.”  The seminar featured a presentation by Dr. Faleh A. Jabbar, Director of the Beirut-based Iraqi Institute for Strategic Studies and was moderated by Dr. Paul Salem, Director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. The event was attended by a number of diplomats including the Iraqi Ambassador to Lebanon Muhammad Jawad Al-Ha’eri, the Indian ambassador to Lebanon Nengcha Lhouvum, First Secretary of the Iranian embassy Muhammad Reza Baba’i as well as members of other diplomatic missions, civil society organizations, journalists, and international organizations in Lebanon. Dr. Jabbar’s lecture addressed some of the key questions regarding the dire situation in Iraq.

He pointed out that the new U.S. security strategy, commonly known as “the surge,” was an acknowledgement of the failure of previous policies adopted.  Jabbar explained that such a strategy will confront a number of challenges, most importantly the military challenge.  Jabbar said “The timeframe set for the process of Iraqization of the security apparatuses which is due in November is not realistic.” According to Jabbar, another major challenge facing Nuri Al-Maliki’s government is whether or not he will be able to build up a political and parliamentarian consensus around the new U.S. security strategy. There is also the challenge of Iraqi nationalism which, Jabbar sees as growing ever more rapidly. “We have to admit that even among those who welcomed the Americans into Iraq, occupation remains unacceptable and continues to fuel hostile reactions.”  Jabbar argued that almost all Iraqis agree on the need for national sovereignty but they differ on the means by which to restore it.

National reconciliation among Iraqis remains the main stumbling block in the face of any attempts to change the political situation in Iraq. Jabbar explained that disputes over oil revenues and power sharing have now led to conflict both between different sectarian or ethnic groups as well as within the groups themselves.  Iraq is suffering from the fact that the old state has disappeared and a new one has not yet been born.

The introduction of sectarianism as an element which increasingly frames regional conflicts and alliances in the Middle East has further complicated the situation in Iraq. Jabbar said, “Today regional alliances are being organized along sectarian lines so we have an axis of the moderates which happens to be the Sunni regimes versus an axis of extremists which happens to be the Shiite ones.This is likely to further worsen the situation in Iraq because there are no guarantees that Saudi Arabia, for example, will cease to finance armed groups in Iraq and this could force both Syria and Iran to finance other groups. Regional powers are also sending very mixed signals.  Iran, for example, says that it supports Maliki’s government but on the other hand it feeds the very elements which undermine it.”

Commenting on Dr. Jabbar’s remarks, Ambassador Ha’eri made an intervention citing reasons for the worsening security situation. He put the brunt of the blame on the U.S. “who were asked to come as liberators but turned into occupiers.” He also criticized the U.S. insistence on keeping the security dossier in their own hands, refusing to hand it to the Iraqis. “While the political process has been successful because the Iraqis were running it, the security process failed because Iraqis were not fully involved in it from the beginning,” he said.

Adding to the challenges facing the new U.S. strategy, Alia Al-Dalli of the UNDP made reference to two key issues: the lack of an economic vision for the country and secondly, but most importantly, the hundreds of thousands of mercenaries hired by private security companies in Iraq. “There is an informal army of mercenaries in Iraq,” Al-Dalli said. She went on to explain that for every British soldier serving in Iraq, there are seven mercenaries. According to Al-Dalli, the British army has employed 47,000 personnel in security services; and in the Green zone, the number is as high as 100,000 and this is likely to pose a great challenge for efforts to pacify the situation in Iraq.

In concluding remarks, Jabbar thanked the audience and pointed out that their comments and viewpoints would be integrated into a paper on Iraq due to be published by the Carnegie Middle East Center next month.