Otoom home page

Back to Parallels


Notes on the Iraq Study Group Report

What follows are notes on the report under the perspective of Otoom. They are attached to direct quotes, and although these should not be considered as a substitute for a summary (the document is far more comprehensive than that) they nevertheless illustrate the views as they suggested themselves to the report's authors. Those views are often in agreement with what has been expressed in various contexts on this website.

The quotes are translated into the framework of functionalities that can be identified in cognitive systems. What is not dealt with here therefore are the actual numbers of entities as they relate to the military, the political and sectarian players, significant individuals here and there, and the precise conditions in relevant circles in the region and the United States. A knowledge of such object-related information would be essential as soon as the functional view is related back to the situation on the ground. It is impossible to enter into such considerations as a distant observer.

The page numbers refer to the pdf version available on the Internet (one site would be the United States Institute of Peace).

No one can guarantee that any course of action in Iraq at this point will stop sectarian warfare, growing violence, or a slide toward chaos. [p. 4]

This admission in the introductory letter by the report's co-chairs, James A. Baker III, and Lee H. Hamilton, hints not only at the situation per se, but at its dynamic nature. Since the report has as its aim to seek alternatives to the present policy, any continuation along similar lines offers that pessimistic view. The question that suggests itself between the lines becomes, by how much would an alternative have to differ for it to be still seen as a viable policy in the US' view - or, to put it bluntly, if the coalition would leave Iraq tomorrow, could the situation get any worse?

The United States has long-term relationships and interests at stake in the Middle East, and needs to stay engaged. [p. 4]

The "long-term relationships and interests at stake" is a sign of a progression lock, ie an instantiated set of concepts and actions that have configured their stage such that any subsequent developments are constrained in their potential. It is a common occurrence in thought structures as well as in the material world and leads to preset notions that run the risk of steering their owner away from reality.

The engagement in Iraq is one example on a grand scale. There are two major functional domains, the US on one side and Iraq on the other. They can be broken down into further subdomains at whatever scale. For the US they would be the different arms of government and their hierarchies, the military, and any non-governmental entities. In Iraq the constituent elements would be similar, although differing in content and scope.

The consequences of the progression lock are largely negative because the cognitive discrepancy between the two domains is too great. Since the discrepancy is not recognised the interests within both domains are being pursued regardless, and the cognitive distance between them prevents either side from becoming alert to the dangers procured by the other. At the same time the factions within Iraq have the advantage of being on home ground - geographically, historically, culturally, and spiritually.

Iraq is vital to regional and even global stability, and is critical to U.S. interests. It runs along the sectarian fault lines of Shia and Sunni Islam, and of Kurdish and Arab populations. It has the world's second-largest known oil reserves. It is now a base of operations for international terrorism, including al Qaeda. [p. 9]

It can be assumed the reason for the region being critical to US interests are the vast oil reserves. That in itself represents a dangerous progression lock for the US and therefore the West. Given the context of idealistic and ideological prerequisites in the West the ongoing entanglement with the Middle East is suffered to the tune of much blood and money, while there is a relatively minimal amount of funds directed towards undoing such dependency.

Mention of the major demographics is at least a recognition that the area is fractured to a high degree. In terms of functional dynamics the lesson is obvious: whatever the success of an engagement with one faction, it is being neutralised by measures necessary for linking with another. If there was no neutralising effect there would be no different factions.

Among such a multitude chances are terrorist organisations exist too. There may be real terrorists or those who need the tag for local purposes. In any case, for the West such entities only then become significant if their aims can be transposed into Western space. This is a major obstacle to any such operations but political weakness in the West makes the task of overcoming it that much easier.

Iraq is a centerpiece of American foreign policy, influencing how the United States is viewed in the region and around the world. Because of the gravity of Iraq's condition and the country's vital importance, the United States is facing one of its most difficult and significant international challenges in decades. Because events in Iraq have been set in motion by American decisions and actions, the United States has both a national and a moral interest in doing what it can to give Iraqis an opportunity to avert anarchy. [p. 9]

Quite true. The problem is, from Otoom's perspective the paragraph is a contradiction.

The events in Iraq are a function of a US belief system carrying out its vision. Any further involvement - under whatever banner - is merely bringing the self-same system to bear upon the region once more. So, if the US created the problems because it wanted to 'help', what hope is there for a solution if the US wants to 'help' again?

The insurgency has no single leadership but is a network of networks. [p. 10]

True again. It is in line with Otoom where the multifaceted nature of such demographics and therefore their endeavours has been amply described. The pervasiveness of religion, tribal culture, and familial links ensure that no official framework is needed to establish connections.

The West used to function in a similar fashion, but since the toning down of religion and regional cultures more official structures have taken over. When it comes to Islamic regions we need to recall our cultural memory.

The insurgents have different goals, although nearly all oppose the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. [p. 10]

In line with Otoom regarding conceptual intersections. The existence of multi-variant subcultures within the larger space of religion and history allows for overlaps if the conditions are right. No matter how averse the local factions may be towards each other, once they can agree on something the previous arguments disappear. The US has managed to unite disparate groups - it cost, but it managed.

Groups of Iraqis are often found bound and executed, their bodies dumped in rivers or fields. [p. 10]

Robberies, kidnappings, and murder are commonplace in much of the country. Organized criminal rackets thrive, particularly in unstable areas like Anbar province. [p. 11]

A region containing multifaceted demographics will show the signs of isolated characteristics, that is behaviour forms that did not have the luxury of being ameliorated through mixing with a wider standard. Therefore excesses are more likely, and the demonstration of just what such excesses entail has been a recurrent feature of this war.

It is yet another set of conditions that existed in the West's past but have been forgotten.

Significant questions remain about the ethnic composition and loyalties of some Iraqi units-specifically, whether they will carry out missions on behalf of national goals instead of a sectarian agenda. [p. 12]

The state of the Iraqi police is substantially worse than that of the Iraqi Army. [p. 13]

An objective analysis of the conditions within Middle Eastern demographics would have revealed their ethnic compositions and their consequences, and so Iraq would have been seen in a different light.

Naturally a particular faction in such a society will further the goals of that faction - if it didn't the people could not be identified as a faction to begin with nor would they identify themselves in a particular manner.

The over-arching purposes as envisioned by the US cannot be accommodated under such a system.

The Facilities Protection Service poses additional problems. Each Iraqi ministry has an armed unit, ostensibly to guard the ministry's infrastructure. All together, these units total roughly 145,000 uniformed Iraqis under arms. However, these units have questionable loyalties and capabilities. [p. 14]

An example of what factional demographics mean on ground level. It is obvious the average American bureaucrat cannot envisage conditions the West has surpassed long ago, otherwise services essential to the stability and reconstruction of Iraq would not have been put into the hands of such a conglomerate.

The Shia, the majority of Iraq's population, have gained power for the first time in more than 1,300 years. [p. 16]

A historical circumstance that should have been identifiable from a good history book. The ramifications of historical importance on any side and bolstered by religious fervour assume a major significance when it comes to massively interfering with a country's internal processes.

The cognitive dynamics of identity and self-preservation have driven the fate of humanity over the ages.

The Iraqi government is not effectively providing its people with basic services: electricity, drinking water, sewage, health care, and education. In many sectors, production is below or hovers around prewar levels. In Baghdad and other unstable areas, the situation is much worse. There are five major reasons for this problem. [p. 20]

The major reasons given refer to a lack of services, corruption, absence of skilled personnel, and a weak judiciary. Yet those reasons are themselves a function of the multiple demographic strands mentioned above. Therefore trying to address any one of the five without bothering with the greater picture does not lead to a solution but makes matters worse.

The policies and actions of Iraq's neighbors greatly influence its stability and prosperity. No country in the region wants a chaotic Iraq. Yet Iraq's neighbors are doing little to help it, and some are undercutting its stability. [p. 24]

The apparent dichotomy shows the interplay between conscious and subconscious thought structures, where both are active but going in different directions. It happens in individuals but also occurs on a large scale. The phenomenon is typical of religious societies (or ideologically influenced societies in general) where compromises between one's perspective and reality have to be made constantly.

The above also demonstrates the sheer opaqueness of Middle Eastern affairs, whether in a street market or across nations.

Iran appears content for the U.S. military to be tied down in Iraq, a position that limits U.S. options in addressing Iran's nuclear program and allows Iran leverage over stability in Iraq. ... "Iran is negotiating with the United States in the streets of Baghdad." ... Like Iran, Syria is content to see the United States tied down in Iraq. [p. 25]

Confirms what has been said before. It also demonstrates how the pervasive nature of religion and local culture can be used so effectively, even at a distance. There is no need for explicitly written assignments passing between Teheran and Baghdad, just as there is no need between people in a market place to overtly state their dispositions.

It is an example of a straight-laced foreigner becoming host to the local interests; he understands nothing but is led to do their bidding in any case.

The Turks are deeply concerned about the operations of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK)-a terrorist group based in northern Iraq that has killed thousands of Turks. [p. 26]

The links demonstrated here should be of concern not only to the direct participants around Iraq but to anyone who intends to connect from Europe eastwards. Turkey's entry in the EU would not only be a matter of balance of payment figures and human rights, but the potentially explosive connections binding Turkey one way or another to the affairs of the Middle East.

The United States has made a massive commitment to the future of Iraq in both blood and treasure. As of December 2006, nearly 2,900 Americans have lost their lives serving in Iraq. Another 21,000 Americans have been wounded, many severely. To date, the United States has spent roughly $400 billion on the Iraq War, and costs are running about $8 billion per month. In addition, the United States must expect significant "tail costs" to come. Caring for veterans and replacing lost equipment will run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Estimates run as high as $2 trillion for the final cost of the U.S. involvement in Iraq. [p. 27]

Otoom's dynamics may seem like philosophical gossamer to some, but they do stand for very real events which sometimes can be measured on the scale mentioned here.

The Iraqi people could be subjected to another strongman who flexes the political and military muscle required to impose order amid anarchy. Freedoms could be lost. [p. 28]

Exactly. In fact, in regions where multiple standards, religious intensity, and the need to uphold 'honour' across so many precarious connections are the norm, the only way a nation can be held together as a nation is through a strongman. Therefore the current situation in Iraq requires it already.

It could be said that directly or indirectly the US and its allies are actually playing into the hands of those interests. One does not engage within a strange land with strange customs!

We agree with the goal of U.S. policy in Iraq, as stated by the President: an Iraq that can "govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself." In our view, this definition entails an Iraq with a broadly representative government that maintains its territorial integrity, is at peace with its neighbors, denies terrorism a sanctuary, and doesn't brutalize its own people. [p. 31]

Given the conditions there the above is a contradiction in terms, and making such statements demonstrates the profound lack of understanding by the US.

To put it simply, all key issues in the Middle East-the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iraq, Iran, the need for political and economic reforms, and extremism and terrorism-are inextricably linked. [p. 33]

Confirms the type of complexity one encounters in the Middle East, enhanced by the current war. From that the degree to which the US can act unwittingly in the service of all those constituents can be imagined.


Summary on the 79 recommendations:

All the proposed measures would be valid under stable and productive circumstances, where the stake holders are cognisant of their validity. To achieve such a recognition many fundamental characteristics need to change which in itself is a near impossibility unless subsumed under a sufficiently effective power structure. Such a structure will naturally have its own goals and use its momentum to achieve them. Its power is used to override dissenters - the typical scenario of a strong-man state and one which can be observed wherever the conditions allow, if not demand, such an alternative.

What adds more than an element of uncertainty to the general thrust of the recommendations is the suggested involvement of adversaries, such as Iran and Syria. Not because they are adversaries - as the report says, "it is our view that in diplomacy, a nation can and should engage its adversaries and enemies to try to resolve conflicts and differences consistent with its own interests" [p. 37], but because they have their own agendas and as the present situation shows the degree of insight into another's motives and perspective is not one of the US' strong points. As the report notes, "All of our efforts in Iraq, military and civilian, are handicapped by Americans' lack of language and cultural understanding." [p. 60]

On that note the recognition that dialogue is necessary with effective parties, rather than official entities, is in line with the overall theme. "Violence cannot end unless dialogue begins, and the dialogue must involve those who wield power, not simply those who hold political office." [p. 46]

A diminished perspective makes for a preconfigured formality under whose terms the situation is then assessed. "For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals." [p. 62]


All in all the report shows a lucid assessment of the situation but is tragically tempered by the progression lock entered into by the US and its own ideological predisposition. The results are exacerbated by the US' lack of understanding when it comes to foreign demographics.

Read what 'the other side' has to say about the report: Dr. Khaled Batarfi writes on the Arab News website.

Note: The report was published in December 2006.

10 Dec 2006

© Martin Wurzinger - see Terms of Use