Cease fire in Iraq

February 05, 2007|By David Cortright and Robert G. Gard Jr.

Rather than continuing to pursue an elusive military solution in Iraq, the United States should adopt a violence-reduction strategy that encourages cooperation among the country's embattled factions. What Iraq needs is not more U.S. troops, but a new approach that attempts to break the deadly spiral of violence.

The U.S. could lead the way by halting offensive operations and initiating a general cease-fire.

Given the dismal record of what has been accomplished in nearly four years of combat, it is doubtful that suspending military operations for a few months would make the situation worse or cause irreparable harm. A cease-fire process is the kind of bold gesture that could create a new, more hopeful political dynamic in Iraq.

First, U.S. and Iraqi security forces would halt all offensive operations for a three-month period and invite other armed factions to join in a general cease-fire.

U.S. forces would remain in their bases and stay out of urban neighborhoods, though they would retain the right to defend themselves against direct attack. They would continue to train Iraqi armed forces, but offensive operations and combat convoys would be suspended. Because most bombings and armed attacks are directed at U.S. and Iraqi forces, removing these units from roads and neighborhoods would lower the level of violence and reduce U.S. casualties.

At the same time, U.S. and Iraqi government officials would approach the main armed militias in Iraq - the Badr Brigade, the Mahdi Army, the peshmerga and others - as well as the major Sunni insurgent groups, to urge that they also halt military operations. Bringing the militias and insurgent groups into a cease-fire process could help facilitate political accommodation among the factions that sustain these forces.

If the cease-fire were to hold, the United States would suspend offensive operations indefinitely and begin a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces and the shutdown or turnover of U.S. bases to Iraqi officials. A timeline for U.S. military withdrawal would be an inducement for some of the armed factions to participate.

The cease-fire initiative would be accompanied by parallel national and international reconciliation efforts.

The U.S. and Iraqi governments would convene an immediate Dayton-style conference of all Iraqi parties to hammer out a domestic political settlement. This would be linked to an international conference of Iraq's neighbors and other countries to agree on measures to stabilize Iraq's future.

Both conferences would be organized under the auspices of the United Nations, with the resulting agreements placed under Security Council jurisdiction.

To encourage agreement, the United States and other countries would pledge billions of dollars to an internationally controlled reconstruction fund, which would be available to Iraqi groups that work together and refrain from armed violence.

White House and Pentagon officials would undoubtedly object to a cease-fire as giving in to terrorists and insurgents. Certainly there are risks in the proposed strategy. Militia forces and insurgent groups might not agree to participate. Al-Qaida-inspired groups would continue to wreak havoc, although Iraqis might well turn against them. Ethnically inspired revenge killings would persist, although, one hopes, at a lesser scale.

While the uncertainties of a cease-fire policy are real, so are the potential benefits. The overall level of violence in Iraq would diminish, especially if militias and major insurgent groups were to join the cease-fire process. If the Iraqi government and these armed groups could reach an accommodation, their combined forces would be sufficient to defeat jihadist terror and eventually restore order in Iraq.

No one can guarantee that any course of action will stop Iraq's continuing descent into violence and chaos. We know, however, that military solutions have not worked. It is time to pursue a different course, one that reduces the level of bloodshed and creates new opportunities for cooperation.

David Cortright is a fellow of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. His e-mail is cortright.1@nd.edu. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard Jr. is the former president of National Defense University and a senior military fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. His e-mail is rgard@armscontrolcenter.org.

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