The Case for Staying in Iraq
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
**Comments courtesy of Tom Ricks and Marc Lynch at FP.com**