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Baghdad Ablaze Iraq Press Conference - Press Conference

Baghdad Ablaze: How to Extinguish the Fires in Iraq and Consolidate Politically the Military Gains of the Surge

Washington, DC—In conjunction with the Petraeus-Crocker report to the President and Congress, the Iran Policy Committee (IPC) held a Press Conference on Tuesday, 11 September 2007, in the First Amendment Lounge of the National Press Club in Washington, DC to launch a book by the IPC—Baghdad Ablaze: How to Extinguish the Fires in Iraq. 

Professor Raymond Tanter, President of the Iran Policy Committee, set the stage for discussion and introduced senior officers from the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy, who are now members of the Iran Policy Committee. Lt. General Thomas McInerney (USAF, Ret.) said, “Those who blame the United States for unleashing sectarian differences in Iraq overlook the fact that sectarian violence did not erupt until well into the occupation. In fact, it is external actors, al Qaeda and the Iranian regime, which are responsible for providing oxygen to the fires burning in Iraq. As a result, Iraq has become the central front in the global war against radical Islam.”

Gen. McInerney concluded, “The Iranian regime is a gathering Shia threat to the Sunni Arab states of the Middle East. Iran’s drive to dominate the region presents a unique opportunity for the United States to forge a new regional alignment to isolate Tehran.”

Major General Paul Vallely (USA, Ret.) then took the podium and said of Tehran’s threat to Baghdad, “Iran’s 21st Century rulers have seized on the American-led invasion of Iraq as an opportunity to export their ideology through the support of violent militias and to stoke the fires of sectarian conflict that would have otherwise been manageable. An effective counterinsurgency strategy must take into account the essential role that Iran plays in exacerbating sectarian violence in Iraq.”

Having just from a private conversation with General Petraeus with General McInerney, General Valley turned to the surge of U.S. forces, “General Petraeus has also acknowledged the first priority of counterinsurgency: protection of the population to prevent their defection to insurgents or militias for security. Unlike in the past, when areas were cleared of insurgents and coalition forces left, General Petraeus plans to hold territory to consolidate gains. In the context of protecting local populations, it is conceivable that there could be enough popular support to disarm the militias.”

Captain Chuck Nash (USN, Ret.) then discussed the consequences of a precipitous United States withdrawal from Iraq: “Were the United States to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq in a manner that appeared to be politically motivated and not in consonance with the military and security situation on the ground, Iraq’s political parties would abandon working together in the same way investors abandon a stock when they see insiders unloading shares.”

Captain Nash said that following a precipitous U.S. withdrawal “Shiites, sponsored by Iran, would seek to impose a ‘tyranny of the majority’ over Sunnis and Kurds, Sunnis would abandon the government, and Kurds would seek greater autonomy, ripping the country apart. This would inevitably lead to a carving up of the country by neighboring states and the end of Iraq as a sovereign nation.”

Prof. Tanter then returned to the podium to discuss how the United States can forge a political reconciliation inside Iraq. He said, “Based on Iran Policy Committee research presented in Baghdad Ablaze, the Iranian opposition group based in Iraq—the Mujahedeen-e Khalq—can play an effective role in mediating between Sunni politicians with connections to the insurgency on one hand, and the U.S. military on the other hand. This organization has already persuaded additional Sunnis to participate in the political process, and could do more if engaged by the United States. Also, the MEK, using its appeal among the secular Iraqi Shiites, can help mobilize non-Islamist Shiites. They are increasingly vocal in resisting the high profile pro-Iranian regime Shiite leaders of Iraq.”

Following Prof. Tanter’s remarks, the Honorable Iyad Jamal al-Deen, a Shiite cleric from the Iraqi National List and member of the Iraqi National Assembly (Deputy Chair, Foreign Relations Committee), was invited to speak. Al-Deen said, “The problem in Iraq is not social. It is not strife among Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. Instead, the main problem is religion being harnessed to political parties and militias. In Iraq, we need to draw a clear separation between religion and politics.” Agreeing with several of the other panelists, al-Deen turned to the issue of Iran, “Unfortunately, the Iranian regime is one that has completely fused religion and politics, which is a dangerous precedent for the entire world.”

Another Iraqi politician, the Honorable Saleh al Mutlaq, head of the Iraqi National Dialogue Front and member of the Iraqi National Assembly, joined the press conference via teleconference from an undisclosed location in Iraq. Mutlaq said, “It would be a tragedy of the highest order were the democratic hopes that arose from the fall of Saddam allowed to be crushed by the ideological designs of the radical Iranian regime. It is my hope that with the help of America, most Iraqis who aspire to dreams of a free and independent Iraq, will have their aspirations fulfilled.”

A former President of Poland, the Honorable Aleksander Kwasniewski, then provided a European perspective on Iraq: “I stand by my decision to send troops to Iraq with the Coalition. The fight against terrorism is a personal responsibility for every citizen of the world. I fear the deep feelings of solidarity felt after the September 11 attacks in the United States have faded.”

Taking a historical perspective, President Kwasniewski said, “There were many European politicians at the beginning of World War II who said, ‘Why should we sacrifice to save the Polish city of Gdansk.’ By the end of the war, there were 50 million dead. When I hear people similarly dismiss the threat of global terrorism, I am reminded of the statement I made in Jerusalem at the holocaust memorial museum in March 2005, where I said ‘Let us always have the courage to take a stand against evil before it is too late. Evil must not be tolerated, appeased, or overlooked.’”

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