Official calls for an about-face in U.S. war policy

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The United States must make a strategic U-turn if it is to salvage the political situation in Iraq after four years of a botched occupation, a former top minister in Iraq’s transitional government said yesterday.

Ali A. Allawi, a former top Cabinet minister and now an adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said U.S. officials would have to curb the ambitions of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, offer new concessions to the country’s alienated Sunni minority and deal directly with neighboring countries Iran and Syria before Iraq can hope to become stable again.

“Since the 2003 invasion, I would say that U.S. policy in Iraq has been not only inappropriate but incoherent,” said Mr. Allawi, a secular Shi’ite and a cousin of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. “We need a U.S. U-turn in Iraq that focuses on the whole regional security architecture. The zero-sum mentality has to cease.”

Mr. Allawi’s memoir, “The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace,” is the first insider look by a top Iraqi official of the 2003 war and its troubled aftermath. It was published on the fourth anniversary of the capture of Baghdad by U.S.-led forces.

Mr. Allawi, an engineer and Oxford University instructor active among exile groups who opposed Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, served as defense and trade minister and in Iraq’s parliament as a member of the dominant Shi’ite electoral bloc.

His book is scathingly critical of U.S. policies since Saddam’s ouster and of the succession of Iraqi governments that have struggled to assert their authority.

“U.S. policy after the 2003 invasion has not only been inappropriate for Iraq, but it’s been incoherent,” Mr. Allawi said. “On a values-free basis, the Iraqi state under Saddam was much better and less corrupt than what we have now.”

U.S. policy-makers, he said, sharply underestimated the sectarian tensions among Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds. Policies such as disbanding the Iraqi army and purging even lower-level members of Saddam’s ruling Ba’ath Party from the new administration only contributed to the chaos.

He said U.S. priorities such as a new Iraqi oil revenue law and a partial pardon for some former Ba’athists will make little impact if the more basic divisions among the country’s warring factions are not addressed.

Mr. Allawi’s recommendations track the proposal put forward in December by the Iraq Study Group, which urged the Bush administration to open talks with Syria, Iran and other countries in the region to stabilize Iraq and reduce violence.

The former Iraqi minister said he would go further and appoint an internationally approved “super-ambassador” to deal with Sunni-Shi’ite tensions across the region.

He acknowledged that the U.S. troop presence was unpopular in Iraq but said Iraq’s leaders still support the American military presence as they struggle to reach a political accommodation.

He added, however, that the mismanagement, corruption and bloodshed of the past four years have destroyed another dream of the invasion’s backers: that Iraq would emerge as a democratic, reformist model for the Middle East and the Islamic world.

“I don’t think Iraq today would serve as a model for anything,” he said. “There is no way anybody sees the experience of the last four years as positive.”

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