Friday, December 01, 2006
Anticipation is building ahead of the release next week of a report by the Iraq Study Group, which will likely make recommendations for major shifts in US strategy in the war-torn country. Many Americans, having grown increasingly frustrated with the deadly and costly war, are probably hoping that the group will recommend an early withdrawal of US troops.
But pulling out US troops will not solve Iraq's problems, nor will it provide any long-term benefits for Americans, although it will probably provide a minimal sense of satisfaction to the vast majority of Iraqis who want the people they call occupiers to leave. On the contrary, US troops can still play a constructive role in maintaining security if they stop running roughshod over the human rights of Iraqis and implement a total shift from a combative role to a supportive role in the country.
What's more important than getting US troops out of Iraq is the need for Americans to withdraw their iron fist from that country. Despite the highly publicized official ceremony in which sovereignty was handed over in April of 2004, the Americans are still pulling nearly all of the strings. More than two years after the United States "granted" this so-called sovereignty, Iraqis still do not have the exclusive right to the control over their territory without any outside interference. For example, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki still cannot order the Iraqi military to conduct any major operations without securing US permission ahead of time. Yet American officials openly blame Maliki for his failure to quell the violence, despite the fact that they created the mess and then tied his hands.
President George W. Bush, on the other hand, still blames "terrorists" for the turmoil, and recently identified the February bombing of a mosque in Samarra as a crucial turning point that "started off this new phase of violence." The president was correct to say that the attack, which in all likelihood was carried out by Al-Qaeda or militants affiliated with the terrorist outfit, provoked an increasingly brutal cycle of sectarian revenge killings. But what Bush did not admit is that his own administration basically made Sunni provinces like Anbar a springboard for Al-Qaeda by launching one deadly military campaign after another, pounding the province repeatedly with air strikes, slaughtering thousands of innocent Iraqis, arbitrarily rounding up and detaining hundreds of civilians in prison camps such as Abu Ghraib, and committing countless other unconscionable acts that effectively alienated entire communities. Such activities make places like Anbar fertile ground for producing new terrorists. It is no wonder that even senior US military officers now concede that Anbar is politically lost and that the chances of securing it are less than remote.
There is still time to reverse the trend, and a glimmer of hope was provided this week when Bush announced that he will speed up the transfer of security responsibilities to the Iraqi government. One hopes that he will do this quickly and will follow up by scaling back his administration's level of deadly meddling in Iraq. The sooner Iraqis are allowed to manage their own affairs, the sooner the Americans will be able to find a noble exit.