RAND Report Calls for Reassessment of U.S. Priorities and Efforts in Iraq

For Release

August 8, 2007

The United States should focus its political, security and economic efforts in Iraq toward the single goal of reducing sectarian strife and other violence, but should also start planning now for the possibility that these efforts will not succeed, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

The report, which recommends the United States to reassess its efforts in Iraq, concludes that the single biggest issue in Iraq is the daily violence faced by the nation's population. That violence is now caused primarily by sectarian fighting, rather than from insurgents or criminal violence, according to researchers.

“You cannot proceed with recovery and building a stable society when people fear for their lives,” said Olga Oliker, lead author of the report and a senior policy analyst at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “The United States needs to reassess its strategies in Iraq and make plans for its next steps.”

The RAND report was completed before the recent military surge and is based on more than a year of research, which included travel to the region and extensive interviews with analysts and officials from Iraq and the United States. In addition, several members of the research team have worked in Iraq as advisors to U.S. and Iraqi officials. The report was produced by RAND Project AIR FORCE with support from the U.S. Air Force.

Researchers outline five often-discussed policy options for the United States in Iraq and discuss the significant shortcomings that are seen with each approach. The options are: 1) mounting an overwhelming military force, 2) partitioning Iraq along ethnic lines, 3) maintaining current troop levels, 4) backing one side over another in the current sectarian strife, and 5) withdrawing U.S. forces.

The RAND report recommends that U.S. officials reassess political, security and economic efforts to assure that as long as U.S. forces remain in Iraq, all policies are focused on improving security for Iraqis.

If the U.S. hopes to build and maintain a strong central government in Iraq, the researchers say, America must work to prevent a Kurdish takeover of oil-rich Kirkuk, prevent creation of additional autonomous regions that could lead to partitioning, and help the central Iraqi government maintain control over oil revenues.

If the U.S. is to strengthen Iraq's security forces and enable them to take the primary role in containing sectarian violence (rather than contributing to it), the U.S. must pursue strategies to make those forces less sectarian, more professional, and focused on protecting citizens. To achieve these goals, among other things, employees of the Ministry of Interior and security forces who have been implicated in sectarian and criminal violence must be fired and subject to criminal prosecution, according to RAND researchers.

The report recommends the United States redirect its economic policies in Iraq to focus on strengthening the central government, postponing long-term reconstruction initiatives until violence eases.

A key tenet of the United States' economic policy should be to press the Iraqi government to continue to raise fuel prices to market rates. This would help prevent sectarian militias and insurgents from profiting from the resale of gasoline and diesel on the black market and smuggling it outside the country. Such activity has been one of the primary means of funding violence.

Economic efforts should focus on improving and restructuring operations of the Iraqi oil ministry by providing technical assistance to create a professionally managed national oil company. Such a change in management would help boost oil production and generate more revenue to fund the government, according to the RAND report.

While the RAND report outlines U.S. policy changes that can support efforts to reduce violence in Iraq, the researchers also recommend that U.S. leaders begin planning for their next steps should those efforts fail.

Contingencies that should be studied include what measures would be necessary if the United States chooses to withdraw its troops from Iraq, according to the researchers.

Steps that should be taken before a withdrawal starts include: discussing the move with the Iraqi government and U.S. allies before a decision is taken; reassuring allies that the United States remains committed to its military obligations throughout the Middle East; and assisting the refugees who may flee Iraq after a U.S. pullout, according to the researchers.

Other authors of the report are Keith Crane, Audra K. Grant, Terrence K. Kelly, Andrew Rathmell and David Brannan.

The report, “U.S. Policy Options for Iraq: A Reassessment,” is available at www.rand.org.

Project AIR FORCE, a division of the RAND Corporation, is a federally funded research and development center for studies and analysis aimed at providing independent policy alternatives for the U.S. Air Force.

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