Stay or Not to Stay in Iraq?
By Adnan Gill
Stay or not to stay in Iraq is the question that may very well decide who will be the next American president? The Republican presidential candidate John McCain wants to continue Bush administration's Iraqi policy, while the Democratic hopefuls want to pull the American troops out almost immediately. The Republicans believe prematurely pulling out of Iraq would amount to giving in to the terrorists, who will follow the Americans to the United States. For their part, the Democrats argue that the Iraqi war is unwinnable that is eating up precious American resources. Before answering the question about staying or not staying in Iraq, it maybe helpful to glance over how Americans got stuck in the Iraqi war and what's at stake now?
Like a scene out of a Cowboy movie, one fine day in May 2003, the Texan cowboy dismounted his Navy S-3B Viking on the deck of USS Abraham Lincoln. In the background, the tower was adorned with a banner that read, "Mission Accomplished." Like a victorious emperor, the US President George Bush declared, "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."
From that day onward, in ironic twists after twists, the glorious victory in Iraq kept turning into violent chaos, and finally into what many called a ‘civil war’. The Anglo-American invasion was immediately followed by an Iraqi resistance, led by the Baathist and Shi’ite groups like Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia. It was a nationalistic response to a foreign occupation. Ominously, the resistance turned into a bloody civil war. Like an ostrich with its head in sand, the Bush Administration vainly tried to mask their failures in Iraq with clichés like "freedom is winning", “Freedom's untidy”, insurgency is in its “last throes,” and “staying the course.”
Neither attacking nor occupying Iraq made the Middle East a bastion of democracy, nor did Saddam’s death bring any respite to the chaos and mayhem spewing out of Iraq. Regardless of how sincere Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq was, the bitter truth is over $500 billion, half-million dead Iraqis, and some 4,000 American casualties later, the Iraqi misadventure could turn into a war of civilizations. By the virtue of Middle East being the major energy supplier, the Iraqi misadventure could even trigger the Third World War.
As bad as Bush’s mess is, everyone knows that if Americans would leave Iraq now, the country would be dismembered into at least three states. A Kurdish state in the north, a Shi’ite one in the south, and a Sunni state in the middle and west. While the oil-plush Shi’ite and Kurdish states would enjoy their "freedom", the Sunnis believe they would lose more than just the oil revenues. Sunnis fear, a Shi’ite Iraq atop the most prized oil reserves would create a Shi’ite rule in a broad crescent across the Middle-East. Shi’ite governments will stretch from Iran through Iraq and Syria into Lebanon.
Iran and Syria are said to be already turning Iraq into the first Arab-Shia state. Testifying before a House International Relations Subcommittee the (then) Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton insisted that there are strong indicators Syria is assisting the anti-coalition forces in Iraq.
A 40-page security report by the ‘Saudi National Security Assessment Project’ suggested Iran has effectively created a “state within a state” in Iraq, which is providing logistical support to the armed Shi’ite groups. The repot added, while monetarily supporting pro-Iranian Iraqi politicians, the Iranian military is supporting the Shi’ite militias with weapons and training too. The report described the armed wing of the Badr organization as the “key vehicle Iran is using to achieve its military security and intelligence aims.” The (Iraqi) SCIRI party even announced plans to set up a separate Shi’ite state in southern Iraq, modeled after the existing Kurdish state.
Likewise, Sunni states like Saudi Arabia announced, that in case the Americans left Iraq prematurely, they would support the Iraqi Sunni population, because they don’t want to see a contiguous Shia belt encircling them. In a Washington Post article Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi government adviser warned, if America prematurely left Iraq, "one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis." Month before that, the (then) Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Turki al-Faisal, in no-uncertain terms intimated the Americans, that "since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited."
The Kurds who live in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran have long aspired for a Kurdish state, but none of the regional states support their ambition. Turkey and Syria have made it abundantly clear that they will not allow creation of a Kurdish state carved out of Iraq. Ankara fears that an independent Kurdish state in Iraq could also engulf Turkey’s Kurdish regions.
Syria too shares the Turkish concerns. Kurdish state carved out of a fractured Iraq is a “red line” for Syria. In 2004, the Syrian Prime Minister Naji al-Otri warned, the creation of an independent Kurdish state in Northern Iraq would mean the violation of the “red line” for Syria. While visiting Ankara, the Syrian President Bashar Assad also cautioned, "We condemn all approaches that pose a threat to Iraq's territorial integrity."
Turkey blames the war in Iraq for rekindling separatist Kurdish aspirations throughout the region. It is disappointed over the US refusal to take on the PKK insurgents in Iraq, despite Washington's designation of PKK as a terrorist organization. When the Turkish Kurds in the Southeast abandoned the unilateral cease-fire and resumed their fight for independence, the Turkish military attacked the Kurdistan Workers Party insurgents in Kurdish-dominated Northern Iraq.
Turks have consistently warned against the division of Iraq. Its foreign minister warned, "There are those who think that dividing Iraq might be better, that this chaos might end... This is what we say: Don't even think of [such] an alternative because that would lead Iraq toward new chaos." Then he alluded to the possibility of Iraqi conflict turning into an international one, "It would become not only Iraq's problem but the world's problem."
The events unfolding in the Middle-East are matter of serious concern for the global community, but inevitably they are America’s problems as well. If Iraq breaks up, it will drive millions of refugees across its borders. The refuges will bring with them their grievances and weapons. Critiques argue, the Iraqi war has a potential of turning into a regional conflict that could draw Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and perhaps other regional powers as well into the madness.
Contrary to the suggestions of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, America cannot simply wash off its hands from Iraq and go home. It would be difficult to argue against the fact that the Bush Administration is squarely responsible for the Iraqi mayhem. But what is done is done. Now it’s in everybody’s interest to give a chance to the Americans to cleanup the Bush administration’s mess. American ‘Troop Surge’ and their realignment with the Sunni tribes are showing positive signs of stemming indiscriminate violence in Iraq. Reportedly, now there is notably less violence in Iraq than a year ago, particularly sectarian murders. According to the architect of the surge, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the number of Iraqis killed in sectarian violence has fallen by 80%, while the civilian killings are down by an estimated 65%.
If America leaves now, when for the first time since the Iraqi occupation the violence is in downward trend, the insurgents and foreign operators could be back within hours. It would be suicidal to pull the American troops out; as promised by the Senator Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Maybe, one day, the historians will be able to answer: what or who convinced President Bush to open the Iraqi Pandora’s Box? But for whatever its worth, he seems to be smart enough to understand the pottery barn rule, ‘you broke it, you bought it’. Hopefully, the next American president will give President Bush’s policy of troop surge a chance to work. After all, the alternative would be too dangerous, and this maybe the only Bush policy the historians may look upon with kindness.