14 October 2005 - 16 October 2005

Iraq: the consequences for the region and for the wider international community

Chair: Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman CBE

As Iraqis prepared to vote in the referendum on their draft Constitution, Ditchley gathered to assess the strategic implications of the stage now reached.  The coincidence of events meant that, sadly, all our Iraqi invitees faded out of the picture, though former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi sent a warm message to our concluding session.  On the other hand it also meant that our largely North American and British participants were able to have a very frank discussion of the underlying situation.  While no startling new conclusions were reached, the debate served to clarify a number of important ingredients.

From the earliest exchanges it was clear that the room could be divided into those who saw the glass as half empty, or worse, and those who saw it as half full.  In spite of that, a broad consensus developed, with only one or two exceptions, around the importance of continuing Coalition support within Iraq and continuing international interest and backing from the wider global community.  The debate focused essentially on whether current policies were adequate or whether strategic failure was probable unless new elements were added.

The internal situation in Iraq lay at the heart of our analysis.  Iraq’s success so far in adhering to the political process established in March 2004 was set against the sense of a gradually deteriorating law and order situation and the increasingly unpleasant conditions of daily life.  Optimists and pessimists laid their emphasis accordingly, but the conference as a whole adjusted well to the realisation that both trends reflected reality.  There were moments in the discussion when participants attempted to establish whether or not a civil war was already in process;  but the discussion did not require a precise answer.  The central authority was being violently challenged and relations between the main communities were worsening, but people felt that, if a worse-case scenario developed, the outcome was less probably a large-scale confrontation between opposing forces than a collapse of confidence in the centre and the emergence of local defences and loyalties around a narrower sense of identity, even within the main communities.  If this was beginning to be the case already, some participants proposed that it might be necessary, in order to uphold the unity of Iraq, to do a series of deals in each locality rather than look for a comprehensive national solution.  To some extent the Coalition had already attempted that, but neither they nor senior Iraqi politicians had yet made much progress on it.

Although there was some sensible analysis of the political characteristics of each main community, the Shias, Sunnis and Kurds, the conference as a whole did not spend too much time on these aspects.  No-one presented a convincing case for the division of Iraq as being a more stable way forward than maintaining unity.  But neither did anyone think that unity was assured.  Central leadership remained weak and virtually all the senior politicians depended on a sectarian constituency.  Those with cross-community ambitions were to be encouraged, but had not yet achieved a marked breadth of support.  The valid comment was made that we might we expecting the ingredients of a democratic Iraq to emerge more quickly than was fair or historically justifiable.  Not only did insurgencies normally last for a decade or more, but the changes in society needed for the transition from autocracy to democracy took even longer.  This generated a complaint that the political process promoted by the Coalition was too rushed.  It was countered by the contention that neither the Coalition nor the current set of Iraqi politicians had the luxury of time for a gradual new construct.  Momentum had to be sustained even if the passage was rough:  in that respect, after the impressive impact of the referendum, the December elections and their aftermath were pivotal.  There were other encouraging signs:  a widespread sense amongst Iraqis of a national identity;  a manifest attachment to democracy, if the voting turnout so far was evidence of that;  indications that the Sunni community were re-thinking their options;  and the feeling that dialogue was by no means finished. 

In this context, we discussed whether parts of the insurgency might be more “biddable” than others, in which case communication might be established to see whether they could be drawn back into the mainstream of non-violence.  Foreign and extremist terrorism had of course to be excluded from any such approach, but they could be reduced to a minimum with no hope of strategic success.  To this extent, the majority of participants regarded the label of a “global war on terrorism” being pursued in Iraq as unhelpful to the overall effort, since it magnified Zarqawi and the al Qaeda franchise.  The overall solution had to be political, even if the irreducible elements needed to be contained or removed militarily. 

There was a consensus that popular perceptions were a key to eventual success.  The Iraqi population would increasingly support violence if they had no alternative.  People wanted to be on the winning side.  The battle for hearts and minds was therefore much more than a mantra, particularly while most Iraqis felt confused and scared by their experience of the past two years.  Who did the people feel would turn out to be most successful in providing security and the other necessities of daily life?  The political environment and trust in a competent government were essential elements.  Allowing militias to be part of the security structures was probably a mistake, even though there had been no practical way of getting rid of them once the early security vacuum had been allowed to develop.  The government also had to be seen to meet the basic needs of the population in terms of food, health facilities and utilities, another area of poor performance in the eyes of most Iraqis.

The conference heard some expert professional analysis of how the Iraqi army was being developed, more successfully so far than the Iraqi police force.  There was a sense of commitment in the senior ranks of the new army to the purpose of providing security for a new Iraq.  Police training, on the other hand, was less structured, not least because the Coalition had fewer policemen on the ground to help.  There was also a need for the Ministry of the Interior, even more than the Ministry of Defence, to develop a competence and a sense of purpose around which the new units could be built.  Even though this area had been identified in 2003 as a crucial one, the achievements of the post-conflict authorities so far had been very slim.  Everyone agreed that the synchronisation of effort and progress between security and political objectives was a necessary foundation for an improvement in the situation.

The relevant working group presented a number of ideas for accelerated capacity-building, many of which were probably already being attempted on the ground.  Civil servants across a number of ministries needed strengthened administrative skills.  The Coalition forces should, if possible, gradually become less visible on the streets, with an increasing accent on training and mentoring.  The new government, once elected, should take steps to win over the “biddable” parts of the insurgency, bringing them into the political and economic process.  As for the police, the best officers under training should be formed into a leadership core, with improved vetting procedures to minimise the infiltration of the militias or the insurgency.  This would mean mixing up police recruits from different communities.  It was right to focus on the identity and requirements of each locality, but not on the basis of local militia security and not without equal attention on the relationship between the centre and the provinces.  All of this would need to be accompanied by an improvement, at last, in the provision of services and utilities, first of all electricity. The poor record in power generation remained one of the most obvious marks of failure.

Around these vital points of internal evolution came a discussion of the contribution which could be made regionally and internationally.  Iran’s actions and motivations were thoroughly discussed and the probability was noted that the Iranian nuclear question would be at least indirectly linked with the situation in Iraq.  The majority of participants favoured a greater effort to develop regional security structures, though the valid point was made that discussions amongst regional leaders had so far produced very little.  The proposal was made that meetings of Iraq and its near neighbours should be enlarged to include the Permanent Five members of the Security Council and developed into a more active forum.  Others thought that this would be a process-driven approach which would not change many of the realities.  So far, the neighbours had been more disruptive than helpful and there was no clear indication of why this should change.  The fear of a wider Sunni-Shia division in the Islamic world was raised as a point to be watched, perhaps contributing to the inertia of the region.  There was also a confused perception  in the Middle East of the US role in Iraq and the region and a consequent reluctance to form a collective approach.

Nonetheless, those who favoured a “paradigm shift” in the complex of policies in and around Iraq thought it essential that a greater effort should be made to encourage Iraqis to feel support from outside and to regard themselves as part of a regional community.  This was relevant to the handling of the terrorist threat as well as to the political stabilisation of the area.  With some dissent from those who regarded the approach as unrealistic, most thought that a new Iraqi government in 2006 should look for opportunities to strengthen their near relationships.  There were mutual interests and common objectives which could be served by a regional dialogue and regional security structures.  The fundamental point was that a failure in Iraq would be destabilising for the whole region and that the perception of a higher common interest in restabilising their environment should be clear to all the governments concerned.

As for the wider international implications, discussion focused first on the role of the United States.  While it was acknowledged that the single superpower had not lost its central role in global politics and security and was an essential partner in one way or another for almost every member of the international community, Iraq had diminished the image of the US and had affected perceptions of its leadership role.  Even the UK-US relationship would probably be affected in the long term.  Most participants also felt that the limits of a policy which put the emphasis on a military response to terrorism were now much clearer.  Nevertheless there had been some successes in containing Jihadist terrorism in Iraq, stemming from a greater understanding of their methods and capabilities.  The basis for greater regional and international cooperation in combating terrorism had been laid and now needed to be developed further.  But a much greater emphasis on the political context was also necessary and was not yet clear enough in the American approach.

We also discussed whether the US Administration would be prepared to consider greater regional cooperation in coping with the situation in Iraq.  There would be no “paradigm shift” unless Washington saw the need for one.  Participants thought it would be difficult for the United States to engage with Iran in particular.  Nevertheless, with bad outcomes quite possible not only inside Iraq but also on the question of nuclear proliferation in Iran, some change of approach (short of Coalition withdrawal) had to be contemplated.  The conference discussed in this context whether the United Nations could play a significant role.  The invasion of Iraq and the handling of the post-conflict situation lacked legitimacy in the eyes of most of the international community and that had been damaging.  The main prescription for greater legitimacy had to be a bigger diplomatic effort to construct greater international engagement in the project.  The UN Security Council could provide an overall framework for such an effort, but it could not take over the security aspects, nor could it reach a political agreement on the detailed prescriptions for success in Iraq.  A great deal would still need to be done through ad hoc understandings and teamwork, again with the United States in the lead.  Without American willingness to attempt this kind of approach, and without American clarity of purpose, very little could be achieved in the international sphere.

We looked at the economic implications of continued instability in Iraq, not least because regional cooperation should also comprise an economic element.  The effect of Iraq’s continued failure to realise its potential in oil and gas production would be felt throughout the global oil market.  It would increase the tendency away from trust in the open oil market, and towards bilateral supply contracts.  It would also encourage the search for alternatives to hydrocarbons.  While there might be a feeling amongst other regional producers that the constraints on Iraq gave them more leverage on price and supply, as well as keeping Iraq weak, the overall interests of the oil producers might be served by greater oil market stability and a larger margin of supply over demand.  A complementary approach to production in the region, not least between Iran and Iraq, might in the long term prove a better policy. 

While the conference was naturally focused sharply on Iraq, participants were reminded that for most global players there were also other priorities.  The failure to resolve the question of Palestine featured prominently in this category.  The perspective of global security from, for instance, East Asia also suggested a different range of priorities.  The broad theme for everyone was rather the role and impact of the United States globally and in everyone’s home region.  The effect of success or failure in Iraq therefore had to be linked with a number of other complicated issues.  This left a general feeling in the world at present of a lack of direction in international affairs, with strategy focused on the short rather than the long term.  The full effect of changes in relationships, institutions and relative power still had to be measured.  From that point of view, as well as from the perspective of the people of Iraq, whose determination to reach a new stage of stability had not yet been proved or disproved, it would be a long time before the impact of the invasion of Iraq could be properly measured. 

This weekend brought together a number of people who had worked together in or on Iraq and the heightened sense of involvement in one of the great issues of the current age was a feature of the gathering.  The presence of Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, and his service to the United Nations and the international community ranging much wider than Iraq, were especially appreciated.  We also owed a great deal to our chairman for his wise and sympathetic handling of such an awkward issue.  If consensus on the way forward was missing, we all left with a broadened perspective and several new points to contemplate.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression



Chairman :  Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman CBE

Vice Principal (Research), King’s College, University of London (2003-);  Professor of War Studies, School of Social Science and Public Policy, King’s College (1982-);  Honorary Director, Centre of Defence Studies (1990-).  A Fellow, British Academy;  Official Historian, Falklands Campaign.  Author.


Ambassador John Dauth LVO
United Nations Permanent Representative (2005-).  Formerly:  Deputy Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs (1998-2005);  High Commissioner, Malaysia (1993-97).

Mr Michael Bell

Paul Martin Senior Scholar, International Diplomacy, University of Windsor;  Chair, International Reconstruction.

Dr David Malone

Assistant Deputy Minister (Global Issues), Department of Foreign Affairs (2005-);  President, International Peace Academy, New York (1998-2004).

Mr Robert Miller

Executive Director, Parliamentary Centre, Ottawa.  Formerly:  Research advisor, Foreign Affairs Committee, House of Commons.


Mr Douglas Brand

Head, EU Police Support Action.  Formerly:  Police Adviser, Coalition Provisional Authority (2003-2005).


Mrs Manal Omar

Regional Coordinator, Women for Women International, Amman, Jordan.  Formerly:  Country Director, Women for Women International, Iraq.


Dr Mike Daly

President, BP Middle East and Pakistan, BP Exploration and Production operations.              


The Hon Dominic Asquith
HM Diplomatic Service (1983-);  Director, Iraq, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  Formerly:  Deputy Special Representative, Iraq, (2004).

Mr Andy Bearpark
Adviser on Post Conflict Reconstruction.  Formerly:  Director of Operations and Infrastructure, Coalition Provisional Authority (2003-04);  UN Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General, Kosovo and EU Representative with responsibility for reconstruction and economic development (2000-03).

Mr Richard Beeston
Diplomatic Editor, The Times (2000-).  Formerly:  The Times, Foreign News Editor (1998‑2000).

Mr Nick Butler
Group Vice President for Strategy and Policy Development, BP;  Chairman, Centre for European Reform;  Secretary, Franco British Colloque.

Mr Edward Chaplin CMG OBE
HM Diplomatic Service (1973-);  Visiting Fellow , Centre for International Studies, Cambridge University.  Formerly:  HM Ambassador to Iraq (2005-2005).

Miss Julie Chappell
HM Diplomatic Service (1999-);   Head, NATO Section, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London (2004-).  Formerly:  Seconded to State Department, Washington DC (2004);  Member, Coalition Provisional Authority, Baghdad (2003-04).

Mr Peter David
Foreign Editor, The Economist (2002-).  Formerly:  Political Editor, The Economist (1998‑2002).

Lt-General Sir Rob Fry KCB CBE
Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Commitments), Ministry of Defence (2003-).  Formerly:  Deputy Chief Joint Operations, Permanent Joint HQ (2002-03).

General Sir Mike Jackson KCB CBE DSO
Chief of the General Staff (2003-).  Formerly:  Commander in Chief Land Command (2000‑03);  Commander, Kosovo Force to Macedonia and Pristina (1999).

Mr Anton La Guardia 

Diplomatic Editor, The Daily Telegraph (2000-).  Formerly:  The Daily Telegraph, Africa Correspondent (1998-2000).

Mr Adam Leach

Regional Director, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Commonwealth of Independent States, Oxfam.

Ms Bronwen Maddox
Foreign Editor, The Times (1999-);  US Editor, The Times (1996-99).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.


Sir Kieran Prendergast KCVO CMG

Formerly:  Under Secretary General for Political Affairs, United Nations, New York (1997-);  HM Diplomatic Service (1965-1997);  Ambassador to Turkey (1995-97);  High Commissioner to Kenya (1992-95); to Zimbabwe (1989-1992).

Mr David Richmond CMG


Director General, Defence and Intelligence, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2004-).  Formerly:  UK Special Representative to Iraq (April-June 2004);  Alternate UK Special Representative to Iraq (2003-2004).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

Mr John Sawers CMG
HM Diplomatic Service (1977-);  Political Director, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2003‑).  Formerly:  British Government’s Special Representative for Iraq (2003);  Ambassador to Egypt (2001-03).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

The Hon William Shawcross
Author and Broadcaster;  Member, Board and Executive Committee, International Crisis Group.

Mr Simon Shercliff
HM Diplomatic Service (1998-);  Chief Press Officer, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2004-).  Formerly:  Private Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Iraq (2003=2004);  British Embassy Tehran (2000-2003).

Mr Philip Stephens
Associate Editor and a Chief Political Commentator, Financial Times.  Formerly:  Financial Times Economics Editor, Political Editor and Editor, UK Edition;  Correspondent, Reuters, London and Brussels.  Author.


Dr Andrew Rathmell
Director, Defence and Security Programme, RAND Europe (2004-).  Formerly:  Director, Office of Policy Planning and Analysis, Coalition Provisional Authority, Baghdad (2003-04).


Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi
Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, United Nations.  Formerly:  Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq (2003-04);  Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (2001‑2003).

Mr Ahmad Fawzi
Director, News and Media, UN Department of Public Information.  Formerly:  Spokesman for Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Afghanistan (2002-2003); Spokesman for the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Iraq (2003-04).


Ambassador Robert Blackwill
President, Barbour, Griffiths and Rogers International (2004-).  Formerly:  Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Planning (2003-04);  Presidential Envoy to Iraq:  Administration’s Coordinator for US policies, Afghanistan and Iran.


Mr Charles Duelfer  

CEO, Transformational Space.  Formerly:  Chief, Iraq Survey Group for the US Director of Central Intelligence;  Deputy Executive Chairman, UNSCOM (1993-2000).

Mr Robert Kelley
Advisor, Legislative Affairs, US Embassy, Baghdad (2003-).  Formerly:  Counsel to the Intelligence Committee, US Senate.

Mr Andrew Liepman
Director, CIA Iraq Analysis Program.

The Hon Christopher Makins 

President, The Atlantic Council of the United States.  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

Mr Roman Martinez
Yale Law School.  Formerly:  Advisor on Iraqi Constitutional Issues, US Ambassador to Iraq (2005);  Director for Iraq, National Security Council (2004-05).

The Hon John McLaughlin
Senior Fellow, The Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), The John Hopkins University.  Formerly:  Acting Director of Central Intelligence (2000-04).

Ambassador Thomas Pickering
Senior Vice-President International Relations, The Boeing Company.  Formerly:  Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, State department (1997-);  Ambassador, Russian Federation (1993-96);  to India (1992-93);  Permanent Representative to United Nations (1989‑92).

Ms Raghida Dergham

Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, Al Hayat;  Member, The Council on Foreign Relations.  Formerly:  President, The United Nations Correspondents Association (1997).

Dr Raad Alkadiri

PFC Energy Consultants, (Washington):  Formerly:  Assistant Private Secretary to UK Special Representative, Baghdad. 

Mrs Donna Kim-Brand

Managing Director, Corporate Creativity.  Formerly:  Advisor to Iraqi Ministry of Interior (2004).