Outlook for Iraq Ain’t Good

During more than seven hours of testimony last week, a Senate committee heard that Iraq is in a low-grade civil war, that there are no additional U.S. or allied troops to help and that Iraqi soldiers are far from ready to take over.

From experts on the war in Iraq, senators heard that a new constitution could make things worse, and wouldn’t quiet the insurgency.

They heard that the oil industry is sabotaged for profit, not just politics, and that much of the billions of dollars spent on reconstruction so far have accomplished nothing.

“Discount half of what you said, it’s still damn disturbing,” Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., told the witnesses.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., told witnesses that it’s not too late to change the course of the war “by our conversations here.”

Lugar, in an interview after three days of hearings, said there’s “no reason for me to be overconfident” that the administration will take his committee’s advice on the war. “No more than all the advice we’ve given, starting before the war,” he said.

Yet, “I’ve found many members of the administration are interested in new ideas.”

Many of the experts’ ideas conflicted.

Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank, said the United States can’t end the insurgency by going to hot spots and then leaving when the fighting is over.

“The insurgents don’t stay to fight. They melt back into the population,” he said. He said the United States needs at least 30,000 more troops in Iraq, and 100,000 would work better.

Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey said there are no more troops to be had _ and in a year the United States will have to scale back because of rules on how often National Guard and Reserves troops can be called up.

“The Army and Marines are starting to come apart. The National Guard is in a stage of meltdown,” he said. “By the end of next summer, we’re going to be halfway out of Iraq.”

He said the country has an 80 percent chance “of pulling this off by next summer.”

Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said he thinks the chance for success is “50 percent and dropping.”

He wouldn’t predict how long the war would take. “I agree it will take years. I have no idea how many, five, 10 or 12.”

Lugar said in an interview, “I think the bulk of our forces will have left Iraq” in two more years, though there could be permanent bases there if Iraq asks for them.

Pollack said American troops will be in Iraq “at least a decade plus.”

Joy Baggett gasped when told what Pollack said. The Newburgh, Ind., home-day-care operator has two daughters in the Army National Guard. Stephanie Duncan, 24, has been in Iraq for seven months. Tiffanie Duncan, 21, just got home this week after a year in Afghanistan.

“That’s not what we signed up for,” Baggett said in a phone interview from Indiana. “I don’t like the idea of being over there that long. I think there’s too many young people killed as it is.”

Despite many pessimistic observations in the testimony, Lugar said he hopes the Iraqi people will overcome obstacles to democracy.

“The forces that bring them together seem to be stronger than the ones that would lead to civil war,” he said.

(Contact Mary Lee at leem(at)shns.com)