This is my conclusion of a three-part series about the Iraq Commission. Part 1 and 2 were highly complimentary on (a) its analysis of the situation in Iraq and (b) numbers of its interviews. This section is much more critical about its recommendations and its missed opportunities.
Like Boris, Use Your Weaknesses As Your Strength
When you have a serious weakness, it is sometimes appropriate to turn it into your greatest strength.
The weakness of the Iraq Commission is that it is an unofficial body and should, therefore, have avoided seeking to act as if it was the British version of the
Baker-Hamilton Commission which the United States Congress set up to produce their Iraq Study Group Report.
Yet the Iraq Commission ignored its great weakness and worked as if it could usurp the role of officialdom by producing grand schemes for the British Government, the United Nations and the International Community. In going for such an approach, they conveniently forget about the most important Government of all when it comes to the future of Iraq - the one in Baghdad.
Try Moving Lots Of Little Blocks
Instead of trying to move the policies of the main institutions such as the British Government and United Nations, I wish the Iraq Commission had directed its main thrust towards what it belongs to - civic society.
There is plenty to nibble at. Iraq has its own battered civic society bodies, there is an Iraqi diaspora who have developed its own structures and there are masses of voluntary groups in our own society. A few of the latter are organised specifically to help the needs of Iraqi Society, whilst many others would respond if they knew who they could help, with what and how.
Seeing That The Trees Make-Up The Wood
I know that the Iraq Commission interviewed Non-Governmental Officers and took a serious interest in the plight of the Iraqi people and its masses of refugees, but they only made recommendations in the area I have in mind in a small section of Recommendation No. 22 (out of a total of 34). They called for training and capacity building to be expanded to "non-sectarian civil society organisations like trade unions."
Unfortunately, this is the only reference in the whole of the report (and none in the broadcasted interviews I heard) to Iraqi Trade Unions. Not a single Iraqi Trade Unionist was called for interview, although the articulate and knowledgeable Abdullah Mushin, the International Representative of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers is based in this country.
There is, of course, much more to draw upon than Trade Unionism. Womens' organisations, student bodies, disabled people's structures and pressure groups for health and other improvements all abound. Some permanently and others on an ad hoc basis. If these would have been difficult to contact easily inside Iraq, they often have support groups amongst ex-pats in this country who could have been contacted.
The Iraq Commission could have played the role of being an opinion leader in directing public attention to the significance of the work and efforts of such bodies.
Replacing The Commissions Recommendations
A focus on the operations of the groups I have mentioned above, might also have made the Commission think twice before making some of its recommendations.
Is it wise, for instance, in Recommendation 16 to press for an "Economic Roadmap" confined to the stimulation of the private sector of the Iraqi economy? For whilst bodies such as the Kurdistan Regional Government seem keen to move beyond the traditional operations in Iraq of a form of command economy, they don't wish to throw the baby out with the bath water by letting in an alternative form of turbo capitalism. There are many Iraqi's who would like to discuss the possibility of an alternative to these extremes.
There are, of course, alternatives to the above extremes other than those of New Labour's Third Way. Some in Iraq might find approaches which marry together industrial democracy and a genuine mixed economy as having attractions.
Bringing Iraq On Board
The Baker-Hamilton Report was rejected in Iraq itself by President Talabani as being undue interference with the Iraqi Constitution and with the sovereignty of its people. Whilst the Iraq Commission stresses the federal potential of the Iraqi Constitution in ways that should have some appeal to Talabani as a Kurd, it still makes the mistake of issuing a series of ex-cathedra demands when viewed from an Iraqi standpoint.
It calls for a "Diplomatic Offensive" via the United Nations, involving the appointment of a "UN Envoy" who is to develop a remit over the major Governmental functions in Iraq and will issue terms for the drawing up of an "International Compact" with Iraq's neighbours and with bodies such as the Arab League.
These things are fine, if you can get them. But should not the first port of call be to seek to engage the involvement of the Iraqi Government in drawing up the specific plans for the area? Although there are difficulties about divisions of interest in the Iraqi Government, we need them to help shape and ratify what international actions need to be taken on behalf of their nation.
Troops In, Out Or Sideways?
Recommendations 7 to 14 on the Britain's military role in Iraq are the ones on which too many people will decide their attitude to the Commission's Report, without feeling a need to tackle the complexities of the matters I have touched on above.
Yet what these recommendations are, seem to me to be close to the line which is developing between the British and Iraqi Governments. Basra is the last of four Provinces which is still patrolled by the British Army. A hand-over in Basra is on the horizon. Our troops then stay at the Basra Airport to continue to train Iraqi Forces and for call-out when asked for.
Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, has indicated that our withdrawal could then be on the cards. The Commission wants this to happen when the training programme ends.
To Surge Or Not To Surge?
The complexity in all this, has more to do with what is happening to the insurgency in the territory outside of both the wider British zone of operations and Iraqi Kurdistan. There are three Provinces (out of these 11) in which the American Surge is centred. The Commission generally avoids making judgments on what the Americans should do, and on the impact of any British withdrawal on their position.
A possibility put to them by Ali Allawi is that the Organisation of the Islamic Conference which covers 57 nations, could replace the United States with troops from Islamic Nations other than Iraq's immediate neighbours and competitors, with the agreement of Iraq and the United Nations. But the USA would still need to supply the cash.
Such a prospect would work best, of course, if it was made clear that other nations would not have permanent bases in Iraq - especially the USA and the UK.
Where Do We Go From Here?
If the British Government were to be influenced by the Iraq Commission's Report, then I hope that their first move would be to engage with the Iraqi Government to let them produce the final package.
In the meantime, the Iraq Commission should re-establish itself to undertake the civic agenda which I argued for above.
A Postscript From Baghdad - here