The Way Forward in Iraq

About a year ago, I had a conversation with an old friend who had just returned from an 18-month tour of duty in Iraq. I asked Patrick if he thought the prospects for success in Iraq were really as bleak as American news reports make them out to be. His response was clear: “We can’t win unless the Iraqis want to win, and they are not taking responsibility.”

A year later this still appears to be the case. The U.S. has the brute force required to pacify Iraq and could bomb the country into submission if it wanted to. But, of course, the U.S. prefers a political solution over a “shock and awe” advance of its interests in Iraq. But the problem that the U.S. faces is this: absent a popular government that can mend the sectarian divisions that have bedeviled Iraq, there is only so much that the U.S. can do to secure and stabilize Iraq.

That is why the way forward in Iraq may involve doing something like what Charles Krauthammer has proposed in an Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post. He suggests a way to put pressure on the governing Shiite majority so that they will allow a more significant role for the Sunni and Kurdish minorities in a new government. Here’s Krauthammer’s advice:

The United States should be giving Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a clear ultimatum: If he does not come up with a political solution in two months or cede power to a new coalition that will, the United States will abandon the Green Zone; retire to its bases; move much of its personnel to Kurdistan, where we are welcome and safe; and let the civil war take its course. Let the current Green Zone-protected Iraqi politicians who take their cue from Moqtada al-Sadr face the insurgency alone. That might concentrate their minds on either making a generous offer to the Sunnis or stepping aside for a coalition that would (source).

I don’t know if Krauthammer’s timeline is feasible, but it may very well take the specter of an all-out civil war to get the Shiite majority to do the right thing. We’ll have to wait and see. In any case, there appears to be no prospect in the near term for the cessation of violence.

One of the questions before President Bush and U.S. policy-makers is how much bloodshed the U.S. military should have to endure while the Iraqis sort out their difficulties. Ideas like Krauthammer’s may be a way that the U.S. can shift the burden of responsibility to Iraqis and minimize its own casualties in the process.

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