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Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007 05:50 am

The courageous thing to do in Iraq

We broke it. Let others fix it.

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Untitled Document The U.S. strategy in Iraq is failing, and it is time for something new. Withdrawing American troops would not leave the vacuum that many suppose or the consequent bloodbath they fear. Getting the United States out would open the door for two other powerful groups to enter and lead the peacemaking effort. One group is the world community. The other is the Iraqi people themselves. It will take strength and courage for the U.S. to leave Iraq. It’s not only Bush-administration stubbornness that resists a changed course but also American pride and a cultural imperative to finish what we have started. Even the Democratic candidates for president say that they plan to leave American troops in Iraq for years to come. When former Secretary of State Colin Powell said of Iraq, “We broke it, and now we have to fix it,” he was not only taking responsibility but also perpetuating the problem. The responsible thing to do is get out of the way. Writing in the New York Times on “The War as We Saw It,” a group of Army infantrymen and noncommissioned officers who have spent the last 15 months deployed in Iraq said that the U.S. military is the problem, not the solution. “To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched.” They describe the confusing array of actors: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals, and armed tribes. “In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. . . . a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.”
The soldiers continue: “In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal. Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit.”
The Iraqi people have experienced tremendous violence, bloodshed, and displacement. Their educated and affluent are fleeing the country. But there are 20 million Iraqis still living in Iraq, continuing to hope for a better future. “Iraqis continue on,” says Mary Trotochaud, an American peace activist who worked in Baghdad with the American Friends Service Committee from 2003 to 2005. “Their faith is what sustains them. It’s amazing to see the spirit that people have. The hope for Iraq lies in the people of Iraq.” Iraqis can ward off terrorist cells themselves; the most effective counterinsurgency is homegrown. Whatever faction quells violence and restores electricity will win support. Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur sooner if the U.S. stops telling Iraqis what’s good for them. If the United States steps back, other nations may step forward. True, there has been no visible movement toward international leadership on peace lately. But if the U.S. begins withdrawing troops, space will open up for the rest of the world to enter the peace process. The U.S. will be a party to any peace talks, but it can’t initiate them. The broker role must fall to a more neutral and disinterested power, one that could claim independence from the United States. A coalition of Iraq’s neighbors in the Middle East might well fill that role. The point is, George W. Bush’s rhetoric to the contrary, the world is full of nations that value justice and leaders who want peace in Iraq. Leadership will emerge.
Contact Fletcher Farrar at ffarrar@illinoistimes.com.
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