Why We're Not Ready To Leave Iraq

The evolving conventional wisdom: Baghdad isn't ready

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Seven years and 4379 American casualties after the American invasion of Iraq, our withdrawal might finally be around the corner. President Bush, and later President Obama, pegged the removal of American troops to the Iraq parliamentary election that, after several postponements, is scheduled for March 7. But could the difficult political and security situation in Iraq scuttle plans for withdrawal? A major Sunni political party is boycotting the election--a disturbing echo of similar boycotts in 2005. General Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in the country, suggested that the U.S. may be forced to stay if violence or political chaos follows the election. Defense Secretary Robert Gates quickly noted that only very serious security deterioration would alter U.S. plans. But the Iraq-watchers, ever wary of the country's fragile politics, are worried that the U.S. may not be able to meet its withdrawal goals.

  • Why We Have To Stay  In The New York Times, Iraq expert Thomas Ricks suggests that Obama keeping troops in Iraq "probably is the best course for him, and for Iraqi leaders, to pursue." Why? "For good or ill, this is likely the year we will begin to see the broad outlines of post-occupation Iraq. The early signs are not good ... The political situation is far less certain, and I think less stable, than most Americans believe." Ricks warns against "trying to pass responsibility to Iraqi officials and institutions before they are ready for the task." He argues the U.S. must keep between 30,000 and 50,000 troops in Iraq "for many years to come" to avert a return to total civil war.
  • How Iraq Could Go Wrong  The New York Times' Thomas Friedman explains, "The two scenarios you don’t want to see are: 1) Iraq’s tribal culture triumphing over politics and the country becoming a big Somalia with oil; or 2) as America fades away, Iraq’s Shiite government aligning itself more with Iran, and Iran becoming the kingmaker in Iraq the way Syria has made itself in Lebanon." Whatever American involvement is, it should prevent those two scenarios.
  • Iraq Matters Too Much To Leave Yet  Foreign Policy's Peter Feaver cautions, "The desire of the political community to put Iraq in the rear-view mirror is understandable, but misguided. The national security challenges that are receiving front-burner attention -- especially Afghanistan and Iran -- are integrally linked to the policy trajectory in Iraq. Since the fateful surge decision, the Iraq policy trajectory has been far more positive than anyone, academics or practitioners, thought likely. But the progress remains reversible and if Iraq unravels, then all of the other national security problems will get that much more difficult to address."
  • Iraq Will Become New Lebanon  The Atlantic's Brian Till foresees a situation similar to Lebanon, "a brokered democracy that, while subject to the occasional violent skirmish, somewhat frequent political assassinations, and a fractious government continuously dissolving and forming again from the ashes, somehow nobly endures." Till says Americans should realistically pursue a Lebanon-style Iraqi government and then get out.
  • Dissenting View: Iraq Doing Better Than You Think  NYU professor Nir Rosen writes in Foreign Policy, "the militias are finished, the Awakening Groups/SOIs are finished, so violence is limited to assassinations with silencers and sticky bombs and the occasional spectacular terrorist attack -- all manageable and not strategically important, even if tragic. Politicians might be talking the sectarian talk but Iraqis have grown very cynical." He states that "the sectarian phase is over" and with it the foreseeable possibility of sectarian conflict.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.