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Iraq Four Years after the U.S.-Led Invasion: Assessing the Crisis and Searching for a Way Forward

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Abstract:

As the U.S. "surge" in Iraq enters its sixth month, a new Carnegie Policy Outlook reflects on the full history of the Iraq war and examines the viability of the current strategy.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq constituted the greatest nation-building challenge the United States has faced since World War II. As has become painfully clear, however, the realities of Iraq proved far more challenging than military planners had expected. Wars and sanctions only served to exacerbate stresses and tensions inherent under Saddam Hussein--there were no social forces to act as agents of change and no regional environment supportive of such change. The announcement of the surge in January 2007 revealed a sober recognition of how far U.S. strategy was removed from hard realities.

While this new U.S. strategy may have seemed plausible, it suffers from the same flawed assumptions and challenges that have plagued the entire war. The resolution of the Iraqi crisis can only come about through the construction of an inclusive, pluralistic, and federal polity with broad participation and strong political and security institutions. The Iraqi government must wean itself from U.S. military support, reinforce its own institutional and law-enforcement capacities, and take seriously the need for inclusive representational and decision-making institutions.