A Blueprint for Leaving Iraq Now


Following is an excerpt from the new book, Out of Iraq, by George S. McGovern and William R. Polk. This excerpt was published in the October edition of Harper’s Magazine and was entered into the Congressional Record by Rep. James McGovern.

Staying in Iraq not an option. Many Americans who were among the most eager to invade Iraq now urge that we find a way out. These Americans include not only civilian "strategists” and other "hawks” but also senior military commanders and, perhaps most fervently, combat soldiers. Even some of those Iraqis regarded by our senior officials as the most pro-American are determined now to see American military personnel leave their country. Polls show that as few as 2 percent of Iraqis consider Americans to be liberators. This is the reality of the situation in Iraq. We must acknowledge the Iraqis’ right to ask us to leave, and we should set a firm date by which to do so.

We suggest that phased withdrawal should begin on or before December 31, 2006, with the promise to make every effort to complete it by June 30, 2007.

Withdrawal is not only a political imperative but a strategic requirement. As many retired American military officers now admit, Iraq has become, since the invasion, the primary recruiting and training ground for terrorists. The longer American troops remain in Iraq, the more recruits will flood the ranks of those who oppose America not only in Iraq but elsewhere.

Withdrawal will not be without financial costs, which are unavoidable and will have to be paid sooner or later. But the decision to withdraw at least does not call for additional expenditures. On the contrary, it will effect massive savings. Current U.S. expenditures run at approximately $246 million each day, or more than $10 million an hour, with costs rising steadily each year. Although its figures do not include all expenditures, the Congressional Research Service listed direct costs at $77.3 billion in 2004, $87.3 billion in 2005, and $100.4 billion in fiscal year 2006. Even if troop withdrawals begin this year, total costs (including those in Afghanistan) are thought likely to rise by $371 billion during the withdrawal period. Economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, a former assistant secretary of commerce, have estimated that staying in Iraq another four years will cost us at least $1 trillion.

Let us be clear: there will be some damage. This is inevitable no matter what we do. At the end of every insurgency we have studied, there was a certain amount of chaos as the participants sought to establish a new civic order. This predictable turmoil has given rise to the argument, still being put forward by die-hard hawks, that Americans must, in President Bush’s phrase, "stay the course.” The argument is false. When a driver is on the wrong road and headed for an abyss, it is a bad idea to "stay the course.” A nation afflicted with a failing and costly policy is not well served by those calling for more of the same, and it is a poor idea to think that we can accomplish in the future what we are failing to accomplish in the present. We are as powerless to prevent the turmoil that will ensue when we withdraw as we have been to stop the insurgency. But we will have removed a major cause of the insurgency once we have withdrawn. Moreover, there are ways in which we can be helpful to the Iraqis – and protect our own interests – by ameliorating the underlying conditions and smoothing the edges of conflict. The first of these would be a "bridging” effort between the occupation and complete independence.

To this end, we think that the Iraqi government would be wise to request the temporary services of an international stabilization force to police the country during and immediately after the period of American withdrawal. Such a force should itself have a firm date fixed for its removal. Our estimate is that Iraq would need this force for no more than two years after the American withdrawal is complete. During this period, the force could be slowly but steadily cut back in both personnel and deployment. Its purpose would be limited to activities aimed at enhancing public security. Consequently, the armament of this police force should be restricted. It would have no need for tanks or artillery or offensive aircraft but only light equipment. It would not attempt, as have American troops, to battle the insurgents. Indeed, after the withdrawal of American troops, as well as British regular troops and mercenary forces, the insurgency, which was aimed at achieving that objective, would almost immediately begin to lose public support. Insurgent gunmen would either put down their weapons or become publicly identified as outlaws.

We imagine that the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi people, would find the composition of such a force most acceptable if it were drawn from Arab or Muslim countries. Specifically, it should be possible under the aegis of the United Nations to obtain, say, five contingents of 3,000 men each from Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt. Jordan and Syria might also be asked to contribute personnel. If additional troops were required, or if any of these governments were deemed unacceptable to Iraq or unwilling to serve, application could be made to such Muslim countries as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. Other countries might be included if the Iraqi government so wished.

It would benefit both Iraq and the United States if we were to pay for this force. Assuming that a ballpark figure would be $500 per man per day, and that 15,000 men would be required for two years, the overall cost would be $5.5 billion. That is approximately 3 percent of what it would cost to continue the war, with American troops, for the next two years. Not only would this represent a great monetary saving to us but it would spare countless American lives and would give Iraq the breathing space it needs to recover from the trauma of the occupation in a way that does not violate national and religious sensibilities.

The American subvention should be paid directly to the Iraqi government, which would then "hire” the police services it requires from other governments. The vast amount of equipment that the American military now has in Iraq, particularly transport and communications and light arms, should be turned over to this new multinational force rather than shipped home or destroyed.

As the insurgency loses its national justification, other dangers will confront Iraq. One of these is "warlordism,” as we have seen in Afghanistan, and other forms of large-scale crime. Some of this will almost certainly continue. But the breakdown of public order will never be remedied by American forces; it can only be addressed by a national police force willing to work with neighborhood, village, and tribal home guards. Ethnic and regional political divisions in Iraq have been exacerbated by the occupation, and they are unlikely to disappear once the occupation is over. They are now so bitter as to preclude a unified organization, at least for the time being. It is therefore paramount that the national police force involve local leaders, so as to ensure that the home guards operate only within their own territory and with appropriate action. In part, this is why Iraq needs a "cooling off” period, with multinational security assistance, after the American withdrawal.

While the temporary international police force completes its work, the creation of a permanent national police force is, and must be, an Iraqi task. American interference would be, and has been, counterproductive. And it will take time. The creation and solidification of an Iraqi national police force will probably require, at a rough estimate, four to five years to become fully effective. We suggest that the American withdrawal package should include provision of $1 billion to help the Iraqi government create, train, and equip such a force, which is roughly the cost of four days of the present American occupation.

Neighborhood, village, and tribal home guards, which are found throughout Iraq, of course constitute a double-edged sword. Inevitably, they mirror the ethnic, religious, and political communities from which they are drawn.

Insofar as they are restricted each to its own community, and are carefully monitored by a relatively open and benign government, they will enhance security; allowed to move outside their home areas, they will menace public order. Only a central government police and respected community leaders can possibly hope to control these militias. America has no useful role to play in these affairs, as experience has made perfectly clear.

It is not in the interests of Iraq to encourage the growth and heavy armament of a reconstituted Iraqi army. The civilian government of Iraq should be, and hopefully is, aware that previous Iraqi armies have frequently acted against Iraqi civic institutions. That is, Iraqi armies have not been a source of defense but of disruption. We cannot prevent the reconstitution of an Iraqi army, but we should not, as we are currently doing, actually encourage this at a cost of billions to the American taxpayer. If at all possible, we should encourage Iraq to transfer what soldiers it has already recruited for its army into a national reconstruction corps modeled on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The United States could assist in the creation and training of just such a reconstruction corps, which would undertake the rebuilding of infrastructure damaged by the war, with an allocation of, say, $500 million, or roughly the cost of two days of the current occupation.

Withdrawal of American forces must include immediate cessation of work on U.S. military bases. Nearly half of the more than 100 bases have already been closed down and turned over, at least formally, to the Iraqi government, but as many as fourteen "enduring” bases for American troops in Iraq are under construction. The largest five are already massive, amounting to virtual cities. The Balad Air Base, forty miles north of Baghdad, has a miniature golf course, 2 PXs, a Pizza Hut, a Burger King, and a jail. Another, under construction at al-Asad, covers more than thirteen square miles. Although Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated on December 23, 2005, that "at the moment there are no plans for permanent bases. . . . It is a subject that has not even been discussed with the Iraqi government,” his remarks are belied by action on the ground, where bases are growing in size and being given aspects of permanency. The most critical of these are remote military bases. They should be stood down rapidly. Closing these bases is doubly important: for America, they are expensive and already redundant; for Iraqis, they both symbolize and personify a hated occupation. With them in place, no Iraqi government will ever feel truly independent. It is virtually certain that absent a deactivation of U.S. military bases, the insurgency will continue. The enormous American base at Baghdad International Airport, ironically named "Camp Victory,” should be the last of the military bases to be closed, as it will be useful in the process of disengagement.

We should of course withdraw from the Green Zone, our vast, sprawling complex in the center of Baghdad. The United States has already spent or is currently spending $1.8 billion on its headquarters there, which contains, or will contain, some 600 housing units, a Marine barracks, and more than a dozen other buildings, as well as its own electrical, water, and sewage systems. The Green Zone should be turned over to the Iraqi government no later than December 31, 2007. By this time, the U.S. should have bought, or rented, or built a "normal” embassy for a considerably reduced complement of personnel. Symbolically, it would be beneficial for the new building not to be in the Green Zone. Assuming that a reasonable part of the Green Zone’s cost can be saved, there should be no additional cost to create a new American embassy for an appropriate number of not more than 500 American officials, as opposed to the 1,000 or so Americans who today staff the Green Zone. Insofar as is practical, the new building should not be designed as though it were a beleaguered fortress in enemy territory.

Withdrawal from these bases, and an end to further construction, should save American taxpayers billions of dollars over the coming two years. This is quite apart from the cost of the troops they would house. America should immediately release all prisoners of war and close its detention centers.

Mercenaries, euphemistically known as "Personal Security Detail,” are now provided by an industry of more than thirty "security” firms, comprising at least 25,000 armed men. These constitute a force larger than the British troop contingent in the "Coalition of the Willing” and operate outside the direct control – and with little interference from the military justice systems – of the British and American armies. They are, literally, the "loose cannons” of the Iraq war. They should be withdrawn rapidly and completely, as the Iraqis regard them as the very symbol of the occupation. Since the U.S. pays for them either directly or indirectly, all we need to do is stop payment.

Much work will be necessary to dig up and destroy land mines and other unexploded ordinance and, where possible, to clean up the depleted uranium used in artillery shells. These are dangerous tasks that require professional training, but they should be turned over wherever possible to Iraqi contractors. These contractors would employ Iraqi labor, which would help jump-start a troubled economy and be of immediate benefit to the millions of Iraqis who are now out of work. The United Nations has gained considerable knowledge about de-mining – from the Balkans, Afghanistan, and elsewhere – that might be shared with the Iraqis. Although cleanup will be costly, we cannot afford to leave this dangerous waste behind. One day’s wartime expenditure, roughly $250 million, would pay for surveys of the damage and the development of a plan to deal with it. Once the extent of the problem is determined, a fund should be established to eradicate the danger completely.

These elements of the "withdrawal package” may be regarded as basic. Without them, Iraqi society will have little chance of recovering economically or governing itself with any effectiveness. Without them, American interests in the Middle East, and indeed throughout the world, will be severely jeopardized. These measures are, we repeat, inexpensive and represent an enormous savings over the cost of the current war effort. Building on them are further actions that would also help Iraq become a safe and habitable environment. To these "second tier” policies we now turn.

Property damage incurred during the invasion and occupation has been extreme. The World Bank has estimated that at least $25 billion will be required to repair the Iraqi infrastructure alone – this is quite apart from the damage done to private property. The reconstruction can be, and should be, done by Iraqis, as this would greatly benefit the Iraqi economy, but the United States will need to make a generous contribution to the effort if it is to be a success. Some of this aid should be in the form of grants; the remainder can be in the form of loans. Funds should be paid directly to the Iraqi government, as it would be sound policy to increase the power and public acceptance of that government once American troops withdraw. The Iraqis will probably regard such grants or loans as reparations; some of the money will probably be misspent or siphoned off by cliques within the government. It would therefore benefit the Iraqi people if some form of oversight could be exercised over the funds, but this would tend to undercut the legitimacy and authority of their government, which itself will probably be reconstituted during or shortly after the American occupation ends. Proper use of aid funds has been a problem everywhere: America’s own record during the occupation has been reprehensible, with massive waste, incompetence, and outright dishonesty now being investigated for criminal prosecution. No fledgling Iraqi government is likely to do better, but if reconstruction funds are portioned out to village, town, and city councils, the enhancement of such groups will go far toward the avowed American aim of strengthening democracy, given that Iraqis at the "grass roots” level would be taking charge of their own affairs.

We suggest that the United States allocate for the planning and organization of the reconstruction the sum of $1 billion, or roughly four days of current wartime expenditure; After a planning survey is completed, the American government will need to determine, in consultation with the Iraqi government (and presumably with the British government, our only true "partner” in the occupation), what it is willing to pay for reconstruction. We urge that the compensation be generous, as generosity will go a long way toward repairing the damage to the American reputation caused by this war.

Nearly as important as the rebuilding of damaged buildings and other infrastructure is the demolition of the ugly monuments of warfare. Work should be undertaken as soon as is feasible to dismantle and dispose of the miles of concrete blast walls and wire barriers erected around present American installations. Although the Iraqi people can probably be counted on to raze certain relics of the occupation on their own, we should nonetheless, in good faith, assist in this process. A mere two days’ worth of the current war effort, $500 million, would employ a good many Iraqi demolition workers.

Another residue of war and occupation has been the intrusion of military facilities on Iraqi cultural sites. Some American facilities have done enormous and irreparable damage. Astonishingly, one American camp was built on top of the Babylon archaeological site, where American troops flattened and compressed ancient ruins in order to create a helicopter pad and fueling stations. Soldiers filled sandbags with archaeological fragments and dug trenches through unexcavated areas while tanks crushed 2,600-year-old pavements. Babylon was not the only casualty. The 5,000-year-old site at Kish was also horribly damaged. We need to understand that Iraq, being a seedbed of Western civilization, is a virtual museum. It is hard to put a spade into the earth there without disturbing a part of our shared cultural heritage. We suggest that America set up a fund of, say, $750 million, or three days’ cost of the war, to be administered by an ad-hoc committee drawn from the Iraqi National Museum of Antiquities or the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, the British Museum, the World Monuments Fund, the Smithsonian Institution, and what is perhaps America’s most prestigious archaeological organization, the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, to assist in the restoration of sites American troops have damaged. We should not wish to go down in history as yet another barbarian invader of the land long referred to as the cradle of civilization.

Independent accounting of Iraqi funds is urgently required. The United Nations handed over to the American-run Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) billions of dollars generated by the sale of Iraq petroleum with the understanding that these monies would be used to the benefit of the Iraqi people and would be accounted for by an independent auditor. The CPA delayed this audit month after month, and it was still not completed by the time the CPA ceased to exist. Any funds misused or misappropriated by U.S. officials should be repaid to the proper Iraqi authority. What that amount is we cannot predict at this time.

Although the funds turned over to the CPA by the U.N. constitute the largest amount in dispute, that is by no means the only case of possible misappropriation. Among several others reported, perhaps the most damaging to Iraq has been a project allocated to Halliburton’s subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root as part of a $2.4 billion no-bid contract awarded in 2003. The $75.7 million project was meant to repair the junction of some fifteen pipelines linking the oil fields with terminals. Engineering studies indicated that as conceived the project was likely to fail, but KBR forged ahead and, allegedly, withheld news of the failure from the Iraqi Ministry of Petroleum until it had either spent or received all the money. Despite this, KBR was actually awarded a bonus by the Army Corps of Engineers, even though Defense Department auditors had found more than $200 million of KBR’s charges to be questionable. There would seem to be more greed than prudence in the repeated awards to Halliburton in the run-up to the war, during the war itself, and in contracts to repair the war damages. Especially given that Vice President Dick Cheney was formerly CEO of Halliburton, the U.S. should make every effort to investigate this wrongdoing, prosecute and correct it, and depart from Iraq with clean hands.

The United States should not object to the Iraqi government voiding all contracts entered into for the exploration, development, and marketing of oil during the American occupation. These contracts clearly should be renegotiated or thrown open to competitive international bids. The Iraqi government and public believe that because Iraqi oil has been sold at a discount to American companies, and because long-term "production-sharing agreements” are highly favorable to the concessionaires, an unfair advantage has been taken. Indeed, the form of concession set up at the urging of the CPA’s consultants has been estimated to deprive Iraq of as much as $194 billion in revenues. To most Iraqis, and indeed to many foreigners, the move to turn over Iraq’s oil reserves to American and British companies surely confirms that the real purpose of the invasion was to secure, for American use and profit, Iraq’s lightweight and inexpensively produced oil.

It is to the long-term advantage of both Iraq and the United States, therefore, that all future dealings in oil, which, after all, is the single most important Iraqi national asset, be transparent and fair. Only then can the industry be reconstituted and allowed to run smoothly; only then will Iraq be able to contribute to its own well-being and to the world’s energy needs. Once the attempt to create American-controlled monopolies is abandoned, we believe it should be possible for investment, even American investment, to take place in a rapid and orderly manner. We do not, then, anticipate a net cost connected with this reform.

Providing reparations to Iraqi civilians for lives and property lost is a necessity. The British have already begun to do so in the zone they occupy. According to Martin Hemming of the Ministry of Defence, British policy "has, from the outset of operations in Iraq, been to recognize the duty to provide compensation to Iraqis where this is required by the law. ….. [B]etween June 2003 and 31 July 2006, 2,327 claims have been registered …..” Although there is no precise legal precedent from past wars that would require America to act accordingly, American forces in Iraq have now provided one: individual military units are authorized to make "condolence payments” of up to $2,500. The United States could, and should, do even more to compensate Iraqi victims or their heirs. Such an action might be compared to the Marshall Plan, which so powerfully redounded to America’s benefit throughout the world after the end of the Second World War. As we go forward, the following points should be considered.

The number of civilians killed or wounded during the invasion and occupation, particularly in the sieges of Fallujah, Tal Afar, and Najaf, is unknown. Estimates run from 30,000 to well over 100,000 killed, with many more wounded or incapacitated. Assuming the number of unjustified deaths to be 50,000, and the compensation per person to be $10,000, our outlay would run to only $500 million, or two days’ cost of the war. The number seriously wounded or incapacitated might easily be 100,000. Taking the same figure as for death benefits, the total cost would be $1 billion, or four days’ cost of the war. The dominant voice in this process should be that of Iraq itself, but in supplying the funds the United States could reasonably insist on the creation of a quasi-independent body, composed of both Iraqis and respected foreigners, perhaps operating under the umbrella of an internationally recognized organization such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies or the World Health Organization, to assess and distribute compensation.

In the meantime, a respected international body should be appointed to process the claims of, and pay compensation to, those Iraqis who have been tortured (as defined by the Geneva Conventions) or who have suffered long-term imprisonment. The Department of Defense admits that approximately 3,200 people have been held for longer than a year, and more than 700 for longer than two years, most of them without charge, a clear violation of the treasured American right of habeas corpus. The number actually subjected to torture remains unknown, but it is presumed to include a significant portion of those incarcerated. Unfortunately, there exists no consensus, legal or otherwise, on how victims of state-sponsored torture should be compensated, and so it is not currently possible to estimate the cost of such a program. Given that this is uncharted legal territory, we should probably explore it morally and politically to find a measure of justifiable compensation. The very act of assessing damages – perhaps somewhat along the lines of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission – would, in and of itself, be a part of the healing process.

America should also offer – not directly but through suitable international or nongovernmental organizations – a number of further financial inducements to Iraq’s recovery. These might include fellowships for the training of lawyers, judges, journalists, social workers, and other civil-affairs workers. Two days’ cost of the current war, or $500 million, would ably fund such an effort.

In addition, assistance to "grass roots” organizations and professional societies could help encourage the return to Iraq of the thousands of skilled men and women who left in the years following the first Gulf war. Relocation allowance and supplementary pay might be administered by the Iraqi engineers’ union. Medical practitioners might receive grants through the medical association. Teachers might be courted by the teachers’ union or the Ministry of Education. Assuming that some 10,000 skilled workers could be enticed to return for, say, an average of $50,000, this would represent a cost to the American taxpayer of $500 million. Roughly two days’ cost of the war would be a very small price to pay to restore the health and vigor of Iraqi society and to improve America’s reputation throughout the world.

We should also encourage the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and similarly established and proven nongovernmental organizations to help with the rebirth of an Iraqi public-health system by rebuilding hospitals and clinics. One reason for turning to respected international organizations to supervise this program is that when the CPA undertook the task, funds were squandered.

At last count, some seventeen years ago Iraq possessed an impressive health-care infrastructure: 1,055 health centers, 58 health centers with beds, 135 general hospitals, and 52 specialized hospitals. Many of these facilities were badly damaged by a decade of sanctions and by the recent warfare and looting. If we assume that fully half of Iraq’s hospitals and health centers need to be rebuilt, the overall outlay can be estimated at $250 million, one day’s cost of the current war. Equipment might cost a further $170 million. These figures, based on a study prepared for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals project, throw into sharp relief the disappointing results of the American "effort”: one American firm, Parsons Corporation, has been investigated for having taken a generous "cost plus” contract to rebuild 142 clinics at a cost of $200 million; although the company put in for and collected all the money, only twenty clinics were built.

Estimating the cost of staffing these facilities is more complicated. Theoretically, Iraq has a highly professional, well-trained, reasonably large corps of health workers at all levels. Yet many of these people left the country in the years following the 1991 war. The Iraqi Health Ministry has estimated that about 3,000 registered doctors left Iraq during the first two years of the American occupation. Hopefully these workers will return to Iraq once the occupation and the insurgency have ended, but even if they do so, younger replacements for them need to be trained. The UNMDG study suggests that the training period for specialists is about eight years; for general practitioners, five years; and for various technicians and support personnel, three years. We suggest that a training program for a select number, say 200 general practitioners and 100 advanced specialists, be carried out under the auspices of the World Health Organization or Médecins Sans Frontie`res, especially given that some of this training will have to be done in Europe or America. Even if the estimated cost of building and equipping hospitals turned out to be five times too low, even if the American government had to cover the bulk of salaries and operating costs for the next four years, and even if additional hospitals had to be built to care for Iraqis wounded or made ill by the invasion and occupation, the total cost would still be under $5 billion. It is sobering to think that the maximum cost of rebuilding Iraq’s public-health system would amount to less than what we spend on the occupation every twenty days.

The monetary cost of the basic set of programs outline roughly $7.25 billion. The cost of the "second tier” programs cannot be as accurately forecast, but the planning and implementation of these is likely to cost somewhere in the vicinity of $10 billion. Seventeen and a quarter billion dollars is a lot of money, but assuming that these programs cut short the American occupation by only two years, they would save us at least $200 billion. Much more valuable, though, are the savings to be measured in what otherwise are likely to be large numbers of shattered bodies and lost lives. Even if our estimates are unduly optimistic, and the actual costs turn out to be far higher, the course of action we recommend would be perhaps the best investment ever made by our country.

Finally, we as a nation should not forget the young Americans who fought this war, often for meager pay and with inadequate equipment. As of this writing, more than 2,600 of our soldiers have been killed, and a far greater number wounded or crippled. It is only proper that we be generous to those who return, and to the families of those who will not.

That said, we should find a way to express our condolences for the large number of Iraqis incarcerated, tortured, incapacitated, or killed in recent years. This may seem a difficult gesture to many Americans. It may strike them as weak, or as a slur on our patriotism. Americans do not like to admit that they have done wrong. We take comfort in the notion that whatever the mistakes of the war and occupation, we have done Iraq a great service by ridding it of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Perhaps we have, but in the process many people’s lives have been disrupted, damaged, or senselessly ended. A simple gesture of conciliation would go a long way toward shifting our relationship with Iraq from one of occupation to one of friendship. It would be a gesture without cost but of immense and everlasting value – and would do more to assuage the sense of hurt in the world than all of the actions above.

October 30, 2006

George S. McGovern, the United Nations Global Ambassador on Hunger, was the Democratic candidate for president in 1972. He is the author of numerous books, including The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in Our Time. William R. Polk was a member of the Policy Planning Council responsible for the Middle East and, later, professor of history and founder-director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago.