Tags: time | to | leave | iraq

Iraq: Time for an Exit Plan

Monday, 14 Jul 2008 04:04 PM

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The U.N. resolution authorizing the U.S.' presence in Iraq runs out at the end of this year. The United States and Iraq are now negotiating a new agreement to govern U.S. relations and conduct when the U.N. agreement expires.

The prime minister of Iraq, Nuri Kanal al-Maliki, according to The New York Times, "was leaning toward concluding a short term security pact with the United States instead of a broader agreement that would last for years."

The Iraqi people and their government do not want a permanent U.S. presence in their country. John McCain has said that the U.S. may end up with permanent bases in Iraq, agreed to by the Iraqi government. I don't think permanent bases are necessary. We already have bases in Kuwait and Qatar, etc., and a base in Diego Garcia provided by Great Britain, more than enough to serve our needs as the protector of the area and its oil wealth.

The Kurds and Sunnis, who together represent 40 percent of the Iraqi population, may, in large part, want a continuing U.S. presence to protect them from the 60 percent Shiite majority, but the Shiites do not want us to stay long term. The U.S. has pledged to withdraw from Iraq at the Iraqi government’s request. The likelihood that we will be asked to leave grows with each passing day.

Instead of waiting until we are asked to leave, we should notify the Iraqi government that we intend to begin our withdrawal at the end of the U.N. mandate. If Iraq requires further military assistance to protect their internal security and borders, they should ask the U.N. to provide it with troops from the region and other countries acceptable to Iraq, including a contingent from the U.S. If the Sunni countries — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states — do not want to assist Iraq and prevent an Iranian hegemony, we should not offer American soldiers to do what Iraqi soldiers and their neighbors decline to do.

We have given Iraq the opportunity to be free of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Many of those freed from tyranny turned on us, particularly surprising, the Shia. The Sunnis, major supporters of Saddam Hussein, were among the first to attack us, which was not surprising after Paul Bremer threw the Sunnis out of government posts and demobilized the Sunni-led Iraqi army. But now, they see us as their protectors from the Shia and have surprised many by making accommodations with U.S. ground forces in their areas against al-Qaida and other jihadists.

The Kurds, who have been victims no matter who controlled Iraq, see the U.S. as their friend, and wonder what their fate will be when the U.S. leaves Iraq. After we exit Iraq, we should provide the Kurds the air power and arms needed to defend themselves from both the Sunnis and the Shia.

We have done all we can to save Iraq from being overwhelmed by outside forces, e.g., al-Qaida, other jihadists and Iran, as well as the forces of Shia and Sunni terrorists seeking to ethnically cleanse different areas of Iraq, particularly Baghdad, its capital. We have stayed too long.

Both President Bush and President Malawi have said the goal is for American forces to stand down when Iraqi forces are able to stand up and take their place. Here we are, more than five years after the U.S. first occupied Iraq and at least three years after the U.S. began its retraining of the Iraqi army.

If the Iraqi soldiers, many hardened by an eight-year war with Iran, are not ready to defend their country now, they will never be ready. The surge was a success. It is now up to the Iraqis to make the most of it.

While the war in Iraq appears no longer to be the issue of first priority in our election because of the success of the surge and the reduction in U.S. casualties, the war goes on with continuing American casualties, and of course, Iraqi civilian casualties. The U.S. is assailed every day by countries all over the world because of our presence in Iraq. Let's put those countries to the test, and see if they will offer to help Iraq when we leave.

In Afghanistan, the situation is worse and we should prepare to leave as soon as possible, perhaps by the end of the year. For all practical purposes, there is no national government in Afghanistan. The president, Hamid Karzai, is really the mayor of Kabul, and the writ of the Afghan government is not the law in the rest of the country, which is governed in large part by local clans and warlords.

Very few people in Afghanistan are gainfully employed and the largest number of those, I believe, are involved in the heroin trade, including the farmers who grow the poppies, the processors who refine the drug, the truckers who distribute it and the dealers who sell it.

I wrote this commentary before the latest American casualties of nine dead and 15 injured over last weekend. Those deaths and injuries make it more imperative that we leave. It makes no sense that the Afghan army cannot defend Afghanistan's borders from Pakistani brigands, terrorists, and the Taliban. If they can't or won't, we shouldn't.

My advice — let's get out of Afghanistan even more quickly than Iraq. There is nothing there to defend.

The USSR was driven out of Afghanistan. We can walk out now, head held high, knowing we did all we could to help the Afghans and they simply were unable or unwilling to unify their country.

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