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Old 07-27-2006, 01:28 PM   #1
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most of us are now able to acknowledge that the escalation of the ongoing Iraqi Civil War is pretty much inevitable. it seems clear that the scale of the task was greater than anyone foresaw, equalled only by the manifest incompetence of the administration. it's ironic that Beirut is back in the news, since Baghdad is now what Beirut once was - an urban battleground of vicious sectarian hate and violence perpetrated by a few who have been empowered by the incompetence in Washington.

so what do we do?

withdrawal could mean the establishment of a strong Al-Qaeda presence in the Sunni regions and a Shiite enclave in the South allied with Iran. Peter Galbriath -- a former highly enthusiastic supporter of the war -- proposes that perhaps the only hope for a half-way stable Iraq in the near term is among the Kurds.

he writes:

[q]WHAT is the mission of the United States military in Iraq now that the insurgency has escalated into a full-blown civil war? According to the Bush administration, it is to support a national unity government that includes all Iraq’s major communities: the Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds. O.K., but this raises another question: What does the Iraqi government govern?


The administration, then, must match its goals in Iraq to the resources it is prepared to deploy. Since it cannot unify Iraq or stop the civil war, it should work with the regions that have emerged. Where no purpose is served by a continuing military presence — in the Shiite south and in Baghdad — America and its allies should withdraw.

As an alternative to using Shiite and American troops to fight the insurgency in Iraq’s Sunni center, the administration should encourage the formation of several provinces into a Sunni Arab region with its own army, as allowed by Iraq’s Constitution. Then the Pentagon should pull its troops from this Sunni territory and allow the new leaders to establish their authority without being seen as collaborators.

Seeing as we cannot maintain the peace in Iraq, we have but one overriding interest there today — to keep Al Qaeda from creating a base from which it can plot attacks on the United States. Thus we need to have troops nearby prepared to re-engage in case the Sunni Arabs prove unable to provide for their own security against the foreign jihadists.

This would be best accomplished by placing a small “over the horizon” force in Kurdistan. Iraqi Kurdistan is among the most pro-American societies in the world and its government would welcome our military presence, not the least because it would help protect Kurds from Arab Iraqis who resent their close cooperation with the United States during the 2003 war. American soldiers on the ground might also ease the escalating tension between the Iraqi Kurds and Turkey, which is threatening to send its troops across the border in search of Turkish Kurd terrorists using Iraq as a haven.


other conservative, neo-con, Iraq War cheerleaders, such as David Frum, are nodding in agreement:

[q]Gradually, Baghdad will come to look like Basra, Iraq's Shiite-dominated second city, now effectively ruled by Iranian-backed Shiites with the tacit acquiescence of the British military authorities.

Baghdad - and therefore central Iraq - will in such a case slide after Basra and the south into the unofficial new Iranian empire. (Classically minded readers will remember that the pre-Islamic Persian empires of the Parthians and Sassanids were ruled from Ctesiphon, about 20 miles southeast of Baghdad. And here is a map of the boundaries of the Safavid empire in the 1500s, the last time the Persians counted for much of the history of the world: Pretty much all of present-day Iraq except Anbar is on the inside.) American troops will be free to stay or go, depending on whether we wish to deny or acknowledge defeat.

The consequences for the region and the world will be grim.

Averting such a fate means fighting to win Baghdad. But if the president decides against such a fight - either because it would be too bloody or too politically costly or even because he doubts that the US can ultimately succeed - then we need a backup plan. The present plan - "as the Iraqis stand up, we stand down" - has not worked to date, as the president admitted yesterday, and there seems little reason to hope it will work better over the next months than it has in the recent past.

This is not, as some American commentators argue, because the Iraqis refuse to fight for their country. Thousands of brave Iraqis, civil and military, have laid down their lives fighting or working for a secure and democratic Iraq. But Iraq has powerful enemies, inside and out. To date, the US has fought only a limited war against those enemies. Iran understands that the war in Iraq is a regional war. Syria understands it too. Only the US has tried to pretend that the war zone stops at the international border. In some horrible rerun of Vietnam, the US has let the enemy establish safe havens just on the other side of the line, from which it draws supplies and reinforcements with impunity. It's like some baby boomer nightmare: after decades of swearing that we would never repeat the mistakes of our parents, we are re-enacting the errors committed in Indochina in the 1960s and 1970s, every single one.

As I said, we may need a backup plan.

Peter Galbraith offered an interesting one on the NYT oped page yesterday. Galbraith it should be noted served as US Ambassador to Croatia in the 1990s and was a brave first-hand observer of Saddam's murderous extermination campaigns against the Kurds in the late 1980s.


so what do we think? a good plan? are there other plans? what would you do?
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