Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

The Case for Staying in Iraq

Posted in Iraq by Dan on February 24, 2010

With Iraqi elections fast approaching, there has been a flurry of articles trying to predict what will happen.  Some, like Tom Ricks at the Center for a New American Security, believe that Iraqis will once again fall victim to the types of sectarian violence that plagued their lives for close to two years (check out Peter Feaver’s post for another perspective).  Others, like Marc Lynch of George Washington University, still have a small sense of hope that everything will be ok; Iraqis have gotten themselves into this mess, and they will get themselves out of it.

I don’t happen to be that optimistic.  For all of the surge’s successes in 2007 and 2008 (improved security, more Iraqi trust, building of Iraqi institutions etc), it failed in its main purpose: providing political breathing space for Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds to reconcile over contentious issues.  Getting all three main sects back to the table was the stated mission, yet all three remain highly skeptical of each other’s motives.  The Arab-Kurdish oil dispute is still on the front-burner, which could potentially destabilize a region (Kurdistan) that has normally been immune from bombings and assassinations.  Sunnis continue to remain on the sidelines of Iraqi politics, as Shia politicians cement their firm control over the election process by banning hundreds upon hundreds of candidates from participating.

And yet, President Barack Obama is still steadfast in his determination to withdraw all American troops by 2011, when Iraqi soldiers are legally required to regain full control over their country.  Perhaps the United States should reconsider its options in Iraq, as General Ray Odierno is currently doing on the battlefield.  Perhaps the President should jump on board and seriously consider a much more credible Plan B…staying in Iraq until some of these tensions are reduced to tolerable levels.

If the main goal is a stable and long-term U.S.-Iraqi relationship, shouldn’t the United States do everything in its power (both militarily and diplomatically) to make sure that Baghdad does not spiral into chaos once again? This would make sense, considering the fact that an Iraq with a fragmented ethnic environment runs contrary to what the United States is desperately trying to accomplish.

A secure state is the only way that a constructive partnership can occur. If the March election produces even more conflict between Sunnis, Shia’s and Kurds, the U.S. (and the west generally) runs the risk of wasting seven years and thousands of lives for absolutely nothing.

There is no doubt that Iraqis want Americans out of their country, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t blame them.  No one wants to live in a society that seems under siege or under occupation. But the United States has to be realistic here. Next month’s election is the pivotal moment for Iraq’s success. It is the make-or-break event that will either result in a somewhat stable Arab state or another Mideast cesspool for conflict and terrorism.

We got into this mess, and we should be damn well ready to fix it if things go sour.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Tom Ricks and Marc Lynch at FP.com**


8 Responses

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  1. smci60652 said, on February 24, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    So let me get this straight, now we actually have credible voices in the US saying we need to send troops to Iraq to PROTECT THE BA’ATHISTS?

    Now, I know we’re not literally ‘protecting’ the Ba’athists. But the push is because the outlawing of Ba’athists (as representatives of Sunnis) is a significant factor in producing this prognosticated ‘Unraveling.”

    What a clusterfudge!

  2. Tyrtaios said, on February 24, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Keeping such a conventional force in place has its pluses, but also has its minuses. One negative consequence of such an American force, besides seen as an occupier, is being directed to pick sides and thus alienating other competing factions. At that point all neutrality is given-up and the force becomes an enemy to some.

    There is a precedent for this harkening back to Beirut, Lebanon and the Marine presence left there without a clearly defined mission. I am not saying history need repeat itself, but politics in this region can turn a benign mission ugly.

    I would urge careful thought be given to leaving a conventional footprint in place after the withdrawl date.

  3. Jpwrel said, on February 24, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    as unbelievably stupid and unnecessary as this war was there obviously will be a residual American force left there to advise and train. As much as the American people have become skeptical, indeed, fed up with whole Iraq adventure I think they would be willing to have small to moderate US presence there not to do any heavy lifting but to bring the Iraq Army and Police up to a reasonable standard.

  4. Jwing said, on February 24, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    The elections have caused political disputes between parties, but not between the different ethnosectarian groups in Iraq. After the election, the new government will probably look a lot like the last one whether the U.S. is there or not or whether we’re pressing them about deBaathification, etc.

  5. janbekster said, on February 24, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    On al-Arabia channel, Dr. Chalabi claimed that the US intends to restore elements close to the Ba’ath or even Ba’athists back to power in Iraq, while the Sunnis would like the US to intervene in order to stem the tide of Iranian influence in the country. Consequently, the longer the US military presence remains in Iraq, the more both Iraqi sides are likely to direct their animosity towards the US rather than towards each other. I suppose by default, the US would be doing them a favor in this sense, but not itself.
    khairi janbek.paris/france

  6. Emrys56 said, on February 24, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Also check out Nir Rosen’s article at Rick’s site: http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/02/23/nir_rosen_stop_the_iraq_madness. If Maliki wins (likely outcome), then Iraq likely becomes a moderate dictatorship (a la Mubarak). The Americans will have muddled through, at great cost.

  7. Nur al-Cubicle said, on February 24, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Why do we never address the 5 permanent air bases and the thousands of US personnel who will staffing the sprawling Presidio (Embassy) for decades to come?

    • janbekster said, on February 24, 2010 at 6:05 pm

      One would guess, because the bases are not part of the plans to leave Iraq !!.
      khairi janbek.paris/france

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