WASHINGTON, March 9 (UPI) -- The Council on Foreign Relations warned in a report released Tuesday that election politics should not jeopardize U.S. staying power in Iraq.
At a conference in Washington, the council-sponsored Independent Task Force on Post-Conflict Iraq, titled, "Iraq: One Year After," asked for a bipartisan pledge to reaffirm commitment to security and reconstruction in Iraq. The council stressed the need to keep presidential election politics out of the Iraq situation.
"With the transition to democracy in Iraq at a critical juncture, and with the American presidential election nearing, President Bush, presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry, and senior members of Congress must reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Iraq," states the bipartisan report.
Noting "significant progress" in the post-conflict reconstruction and political transition effort, the Task Force reports that the planned transfer of sovereignty on June 30, combined with U.S. troop reductions from Iraqi cities and uncertainty about long-term U.S. funding, has created doubts about U.S. staying power.
To avoid destabilizing the effort and demoralizing Iraqis, the Task Force urges the Bush administration, the Democratic nominee, and congressional leaders to adopt the following steps:
-- Declare that coalition forces will continue to provide essential security in Iraq until the Iraqi security forces can do so on their own.
-- Emphasize that the transfer of sovereignty does not signal a diminished U.S. commitment to supporting stability, reconstruction and a peaceful political transition.
-- Affirm that the United States is prepared to sustain a multi-billion-dollar commitment to Iraq for at least the next several years.
-- Ensure broad involvement of Iraqis and promote a leading role for the United Nations in the political transition process.
The report states that a year after U.S. and coalition forces went to war with Iraq, "American officials continue to face questions about U.S. determination to stay the course and to sustain a robust commitment to security and reconstruction in Iraq."
The report stresses that security is critical for all of the coalition's goals in Iraq, and that "coalition forces must continue to play a key role in creating safe and secure environments where reconstruction and political transitional activities can take place." In addition to calling for a review of U.S. troop reductions from Iraqi cities, the Task Force recommends that the U.S. military:
-- Continue and accelerate their partnering with Iraqi forces.
-- Link the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals to clear criteria that includes ongoing risks to civilians.
-- Standardize security training efforts for Iraqis, increase resources for this objective, and recognize that training is a long-term exercise that should include a focus on institution-building.
-- Promote the recruitment of constabulary forces and civil police.
The Task Force also recommends that the administration take advantage of improved relations with the United Nations to promote a leading U.N. role in creating a transitional authority for Iraq to ensure "a more credible exercise that is accepted by most, if not all, important Iraqi actors."
This credibility is critical, the Task Force notes. If the United States is to help Iraqis "facilitate a political construct and process that has legitimacy, then the military challenges will be far more manageable. Conversely, if we do not skillfully address the politics, no amount of improved military measures will be able to quell unrest."
According to the Task Force, U.N. involvement in the creation of a transitional authority will also expand the possibilities for U.N. assistance in other important areas, such as the administration of justice, human rights, and economic reconstruction.
The Task Force report contains a range of recommendations for improving the coalition's effort to help Iraqis become more involved in the future management of their country, a critical measure, if Iraq is to succeed as a democracy.
The council's recommendations include: increasing incentives for U.S. government service in Iraq; improving management of U.S. assistance efforts; moving quickly to structure the administration and staffing of a new U.S. Embassy; promoting job creation; advancing the status of women; implementing a more effective public diplomacy effort; and ensuring transparent and accountable monitoring procedures for the oil industry.
The Task Force was chaired by former Defense Secretary and Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger and former U.N. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering. The independent, nonpartisan force includes a wide variety of regional, military and economic experts.
This is the Task Force's third report, each of which has focused on what the administration should do to ensure that battlefield victory in Iraq would not be lost by possible postwar failures.
Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that individual and corporate members -- as well as policymakers, journalists, students, and interested citizens in the United States and other countries -- can better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments.