Des Moines Register 11-25-07

Des Moines Register
Doak: Seize moment of calm in Iraq - and bring the troops home
By Richard Doak • SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER • November 25, 2007
Has anyone noticed that the war in Iraq is essentially over?
The United States won. President Bush has been vindicated, sort of.
Violence in Iraq has sharply declined. What the United States said it wanted stability - has been more or less achieved.
So what are we hanging around for?
There is simply no reason to keep troops in Iraq any longer. Schedule the victory
parades. Bring the troops home as quickly as an orderly redeployment allows.
The troops have done everything that could reasonably be expected of them.
Don't ask them to do more.
The Bush administration is strangely reluctant to claim success in Iraq. Perhaps
the president is afraid to declare "mission accomplished" too soon, as he did four
and a half years ago. In addition, there is a legitimate fear that the decrease in
violence is only temporary.
Everyone is waiting for the vicious cycle of sectarian killing to erupt again, and
perhaps it will.
But that's no reason for the United States to continue its military occupation.
Given the sectarian and ethnic divisions in Iraq, violence might break out
whenever the U.S. troops depart, be it now or 10 years from now. Violence might
erupt again even if U.S. troops remain in the country.
The point should be to seize the moment. Use the relative calm in Iraq now as a
ticket home.
Every objective of the war has been achieved. Consider:
- There are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and no capacity to produce
- The dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein is history.
- An elected government is in place in Baghdad.
- Relative peace has been established.
What else is there is keep American troops in Iraq?
One excuse offered by the administration has been that Iraq might become a
haven for al-Qaida if U.S. troops leave. That claim was always overblown, since
al-Qaida is a Sunni movement and Iraq is a majority Shiite country. Moreover,
the Sunni tribes of Iraq are in the process of exterminating al-Qaida in Iraq. They
hate an al-Qaida invasion of their country even more than they hate an American
The other excuse for continued occupation is to prevent Iran from becoming too
influential in Iraq.
That's disingenuous, because it was an entirely foreseeable result of the U.S.
invasion. Shiite Iran was bound to exert influence among the majority Shiite
people of Iraq once the U.S. invasion freed them from Sunni domination.
If the United States didn't want Iranian influence in Iraq, we never should have
invaded in the first place.
There are no excuses left for continuing the U.S. military occupation of Iraq.
Perhaps President Bush's surge of extra troops did the trick. Or perhaps the
sectarian violence in Iraq simply ran its course to the point of exhaustion.
Either way, the United States has fulfilled its obligations to the country it invaded.
Conditions are right to let Iraqis take charge of their own destinies from here on.
It's true, as war critics say, that the surge did not accomplish its main objective to give the Baghdad government time to work out a reconciliation and powersharing agreement among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.
But maybe that isn't necessary. The country appears to be stabilizing without a
formal reconciliation.
What seems to be happening is a de facto division of the country into Sunni,
Shiite and Kurdish territories.
Ethnic cleansing - driving Shiites from Sunni neighborhoods and vice versa - was
a major feature of the sectarian violence. That process might now be nearly
complete, with Sunnis ready to rule their areas, Shiites ready to rule their areas,
Kurds running an independent country in everything but name, and a central
government that doesn't control much of anything outside of Baghdad.
From the beginning, some experts advocated the partition of Iraq into three
loosely confederated countries. That, however, was a decision that had to be
made by Iraqis, not imposed from the outside.
Now, it appears the Iraqis have made that decision, in fact if not in formal
declaration. The factions in Iraq have decided to go their own ways and appear
to have arrived at an informal accommodation that approximates stability.
If President Bush doesn't begin to bring the troops home now, it can only be
because he can't recognize victory when he has it.
The first units out of Iraq could be home by Christmas.
RICHARD DOAK is a retired Register editor and columnist and a lecturer in
journalism at Iowa State University.