U.S. Expert Says Iraqi Election Could Trigger Civil War

By Ronald Brownstein

Los Angeles Times

5:15 PM PST, January 6, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The election scheduled for later this month in Iraq could further inflame the country's conflict and increase the risk of civil war, Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser to President Bush's father, said at a forum Thursday.

Rather than leading toward stability, Scowcroft said he feared the election would further alienate Iraq's Sunni Muslim population and "has a great potential for deepening the conflict."

He added: "Indeed, we may be seeing an incipient civil war (in Iraq) at the present time."

In one sense, the comments from Scowcroft, a retired lieutenant general and the national security adviser under former President Bush, were not surprising: Scowcroft has long been a critic of the Iraq war. But his stark warning about potential civil war marked one of the most ominous assessments about the implications of the upcoming election from a high-ranking former official.

Scowcroft made his comments at a luncheon sponsored by the New America Foundation, a centrist, nonpartisan Washington think tank. At the forum, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Carter, also offered a grim prognosis of conditions in Iraq.

Brzezinski said the United States could meet its goals of producing a reasonably stable Iraqi government "if we are willing to put in 500,000 troops, spend $200 billion a year, probably have the draft and have some kind of wartime taxation."

The White House did not respond to a request for comments about the remarks.

Scowcroft, now an international business consultant in Washington, also served as national security adviser to President Ford, also a Republican. Scowcroft recruited Condoleezza Rice, Bush's choice as secretary of State, to her first White House job, hiring her as a Soviet expert at the National Security Council under the first President Bush.

The Bush administration hopes the voting will help end the insurgency in Iraq by creating a government with broader popular support. Instead, Scowcroft said he believed there was "a distinct possibility" that the election could lead to the break-up of the country by prompting violence between Shiite and Sunni forces that convinces the Kurds to secede.

At the luncheon, attended by journalists and foreign policy experts, Scowcroft said the risk was that the election would deepen feelings of estrangement among Sunni Muslims, who constitute only an estimated 20 percent of the population but dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Scowcroft said he believed the insurgency in Iraq already "is gradually morphing" from a resistance by elements of the former regime into a broader "Sunni revolt" driven by fear that the Shiite Muslim majority will elect a government controlled by its own members.

The election, scheduled for Jan. 30, will elect a transitional national assembly to write a permanent Iraqi constitution and select a new government. The leading Sunni political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, has called for the election to be delayed until security improves in Sunni regions of the country. Interim President Ghazi Ajil Yawer, a Sunni Muslim, also suggested this week the election might need to be delayed.

But the Bush administration and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi have so far insisted that the election be held on schedule.

Scowcroft said that if the balloting produced an election dominated by Shiite Muslims, "that could in fact turn the Sunnis to revolution and civil war against a Shia government."

Some other experts, such as Larry Diamond, a democracy expert at the conservative Hoover Institution who advised U.S. authorities in Iraq, have recently raised similar concerns.

Scowcroft did not say at the meeting whether he believed the election should be delayed, and he could not be reached after his remarks. At Thursday's meeting, Scowcroft said that Bush should try again to convince European allies to contribute significant numbers of troops to Iraq and ask the United Nations to take a more prominent role in developing the new Iraqi government.

Reducing American visibility would improve the prospects for success in Iraq, he argued, because "we are now seen as the occupier."

Brzezinski agreed that Bush should make a renewed push for international troops that could significantly swell the overall security force in Iraq. If no other countries are willing to participate at meaningful levels, he said, the United States should begin withdrawing its troops from the country this year.

If large numbers of U.S. forces remain in Iraq in without more international support, Brzezinski said, "we will be viewed eventually as the other side of the coin of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians."