Congress Hears Some, But Not All, of Jones Commission Report
Skeptics might call it a typical congressional hearing: it involved commissioners of a prestigious report who appear not to have read and fully understood it contents and members of Congress who invent evidence and pile onto it. It also showed an understanding of Iraqi sovereignty that some might find a little curious. Straus Military Reform Project Research Associate Valerie Reed describes the hearing in her latest report.
House of Representatives Armed Services Committee
Hearing on the Independent Commission on the Iraq Security Forces
Thurs. Sept. 6, 2007 – 2:30 p.m., Rayburn 2118
The House Armed Services Committee convened last Thursday afternoon to hear testimony on the Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq. The Independent Commission (also called the Jones Commission) was established by Congress to assess the progress and capabilities of Iraq’s security forces; it was given a 120-day mandate, but the commission was able to complete its report in 90 days. The commission was made up of 20 retired senior military officials, chiefs of police, and a former deputy secretary of defense. Four members of the commission served as witnesses at the hearing: Chairman Gen. James Jones, USMC (ret.); Hon. John Hamre (former deputy secretary of defense); Gen. George Joulwan, USA (ret.); and former D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.
Last week, many media outlets reported that the Jones Commission found the Iraqi Army was making significant progress toward handling internal security independently, but that sectarianism had bred corruption in the Shiite-dominated Ministry of the Interior. Because the National Police Force is under the Ministry of the Interior, this force has become weak and ineffective as an arm of law enforcement, and is often involved in sectarian violence. According to media reports, this led the commission to recommend disbanding and remaking the National Police Force.
The Department of Defense (DOD) rejected this recommendation, arguing that the National Police Force is improving and that disbanding it would create a dangerous security vacuum. Jones’s opening testimony confirmed the report’s recommendation to disband. However, when questioned by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. (who suggested that the media skewed the story), if the commission recommended disbanding the police, former D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey was adamant that disbandment was not recommended. Rather, he asserted that “redefining the mission” was proposed. Ramsey’s assertion could be interpreted as his effort to minimize the divergence between the DOD and the Jones Commission report, the facts notwithstanding.
It is very unclear why any discrepancy between the report’s contents and Ramsey’s testimony could exist as the report’s text is very clear; an excerpt from it reads:
The National Police have proven operationally ineffective. Sectarianism in its units undermines its ability to provide security; the force is not viable in its current form. The National Police should be disbanded and reorganized.
One possible explanation was offered by Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., who suggested that the George W. Bush administration had an influence on the commissioners. Shea-Porter cited a Los Angeles Times article as corroboration for her contention. However, when contacted, the Times’ Pentagon correspondent Julian Barnes stated that his article was “mis-referenced.” Moreover, Shea-Porter’s office did not respond to a request for a citation of any other article. Therefore, this line of argument cannot be confirmed.
Another possible but completely unconfirmed and theoretical explanation is that Ramsey’s comments were directed toward the development of the Iraqi Police Force, as opposed to the Iraqi National Police Force. In this case, there would be no discrepancy, as the commission did not recommend disbanding this organization. Concerning the Iraqi Police Service, the report states:
To be effective in combating the threats they face, including sectarian violence, the Iraqi Police Service must be better trained and equipped. The Commission believes that the Iraqi Police Service can improve rapidly should the Ministry of Interior become a more functional institution.
Republicans at the hearing seized on the incongruity, declaring it evidence that, according to Rep. John McHugh, R.-N.Y., some “imposters” in the media had undermined and skewed the report’s recommendations. They contended the media was to blame for giving an impression the report was more critical of Iraqi progress than it actually was.
However, the reality is that the media reports are substantiated by the actual contents of the Jones report and charges of the media’s skewing the story with a presumed agenda appear to be based on a failure on the part of the accusers to actually read the report or listen to Jones’ testimony.
To understand other issues addressed at the hearing, it is important to comprehend the overall mandate of the Jones Commission, which was to grade Iraqi security forces on their readiness to provide four things:
1. an ability to resume responsibility for maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq;
2. the ability to deny international terrorists safe haven;
3. the ability to bring greater security to Iraq’s 18 provinces in the next 12-18 months; and
4. the ability to bring an end to sectarian violence and to achieve national reconciliation
The commission reported that though Iraqis are improving internal security missions (such as denying terrorists safe haven), they are not able to provide security against external threats. They can make progress on bringing greater security, but likely not for at least two more years. Also, the commission stressed that an end to sectarian violence can only be achieved if the Iraqi Central Government initiates actions to end to sectarianism. Overall, Iraq was assessed to have made “measurable, though uneven progress.”
Though the commission’s mandate was fairly limited in scope, and generally the witnesses declined to speculate about future policy, they did make some specific recommendations and prognostications. The commission reported there could potentially be a “strategic shift” in 2008. This shift could mean a reassessment of strategy and a larger level of troop reductions. Also, they proposed:
1. creating an Iraqi transition headquarters to track a broad spectrum of progress and goals;
2. transferring all 18 provinces to Iraqi provincial control (only seven provinces currently have political control); and
3. engaging a status-of-forces agreement with the Iraqis.
A status-of-forces agreement would define the legal status of U.S. personnel and property in Iraq, and would set forth rights and responsibilities for the United States and Iraq on issues such as civil and criminal jurisdiction, the wearing of uniforms, carrying of arms, and resolving damage claims. It would also allow U.S. military bases to fly both American and Iraqi flags, which would be of symbolic significance to the Iraqis.
Many members’ queries addressed the issues of troop reductions and withdrawal. Similar to the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) Comptroller-General David Walker’s testimony, however, the commissioners steered clear of specifics, Hamre arguing, “Our charter was narrowly defined – we should stay at that.” There seemed to be some frustration from the members that both the GAO and the Jones Commission only regurgitated facts from their respective reports and did not offer strategic policy advice. However, though the commissioners would not give a time frame or reduction estimate, they agreed that the magnitude of U.S. troop commitment was essential for the present. Gen. Joulwan adamantly declared, “This is not May of ’75.” In other words, this is not the time to be formulating an immediate exit strategy, as occurred in Vietnam in 1975.
Joulwan also stressed the consequences on the international community if a stable Iraq is not achieved, and added, “We haven’t found anyone who wants us to leave soon.” Curiously, this is in direct contrast to a recent poll by ABC News and the BBC which reports that 65 percent of Iraqis say the surge is not working and 72 percent of Iraqis say that U.S. presence is making Iraq’s security worse.
Another theme of the Jones report, which echoed the GAO’s, was the necessity of political reconciliation. The commissioners asserted that this was an objective that must be achieved before any security goals can be met. Following this argument, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., speculated that “we’re asking the wrong question.” In other words, is the United States focusing on military strategies instead of facilitating essential political reform?
To the question of how to achieve that political progress, Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., inquired if the Iraqis understand “this cannot go on forever.” His concern was that U.S. protection was being used as a crutch to help Iraqis avoid making the necessary effort to solve their political and military problems. In response, Joulwan argued that more integration is evident, intelligence and security procedures are improving, and that the Iraqis understand the magnitude of American sacrifice.
Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., also indicated a concern for the Iraqi government’s ability to function and make responsible decisions. His question addressed the commission’s recommendation that each province be given full political control. If this were to occur, would U.S. troops be safe and would they be able to conduct necessary operations? Jones testified that “trust is growing and improving,” and that if full provincial authority is granted to the Iraqis, U.S. troops would still not need Iraqi permission for their military operations. Jones pointed out that Afghanistan maintains political control and U.S. troops are able to operate there under only U.S. control. However, it does not seem that full political control would really exist if Iraqis are not recognized to possess the right to approve or disapprove U.S. military operations on Iraqi “sovereign” territory. This apparent contradiction was not further considered at the hearing.
Overall, the Jones Commission report was received favorably by both parties. Shea-Porter made an exception, declaring that humanitarian problems cited in the Jones report are “a great tragedy.” Some Republicans hinted that the Jones report was better crafted than the GAO report – Rep. Joe Wilson, R.-S.C., called it “refreshing,” because it lacked “accusations and recriminations.” In contrast, the GAO report was perceived by Democrats as confirmation of the Bush administration’s blunders. Members of both parties appeared to give the Jones report particular attention and regard, whereas the GAO report commanded regard only from the Democrats. Both the GAO and Jones Commission witnesses stressed the necessity of Congress attaining additional information to make its policy decisions, and suggested the Gen. David Petraeus-Amb. Ryan Crocker hearing as a valuable resource.
1. The Report of the Independent Commission on the Iraq Security Forces:
2. Chairman Ike Skelton’s Opening Statement:
3. New York Times, “A New Report on Iraq Lends Ammunition to Both Parties.” http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/07/washington/07cong.html
4. Washington Post, “U.S. Military Rejects Calls to Disband Iraqi Police.”
5. Los Angeles Times, “Mixed Marks for Iraqi Security Forces.”
Winslow T. Wheeler
Straus Military Reform Project
Center for Defense Information
202 797-5271 in DC
301 840-8992 in MD