Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Opinions Vary on Iraq Troop Withdrawal Options

I know it's been awhile since my last posting (sorry about that). I have been traveling again, but it looks like that is slowly coming to an end. My pre-retirement medical exams, etc. may keep me in the Orlando area until I begin my terminal leave. We shall see.

Both Americans and Iraqis are debating when and under what circumstances American troops will begin to withdraw from Iraq. The following New York Times article offers some interesting perspectives, but some of the Iraqis who were interviewed have political agendas for their groups:

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New York Times
September 9, 2008
Pg. 6

Should U.S. Forces Withdraw From Iraq?

By Stephen Farrell

BAGHDAD — As Iraqi and American diplomats negotiate how long and under what circumstances American troops will remain in Iraq, Iraqis are also debating the issue.

For Iraqis, as for Americans, the answer is far more complex than a simple “stay” or “go.” For both it is about blood, treasure, pride, dignity and a nation’s sense of itself and its place in the world.

But a lot more Iraqi blood than American has already been spilled, and stands to be spilled again, if the politicians get it wrong.

On the streets of Iraq, the questions being asked about the continuing American presence are about sovereignty, stability and America’s intentions in Iraq’s past, present and future: How many American troops will stay? How quickly will they go? If they stay, where will they be based? To do what? With what powers? And under what restrictions?

For the most part, Iraqis’ views fall into three categories. One group, which includes many followers of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, and some intensely nationalist Sunni Arabs in parts of the country that have suffered the worst since the invasion, simply want the Americans to leave, period. They say no amount of American effort now can make up for the horrors of the occupation, including the destruction of society and the killing of innocent civilians.

A second group takes a similarly dim view of the occupation, but worries that the brief period this year of improving security in Iraq will be vulnerable if the Americans abruptly withdraws. They say that the United States has a moral obligation to remain, and that continued presence of the occupiers is preferable to a return to rule by gangs and militias.

A third group worries that without a referee, Iraq’s dominant powers — Kurds in the far north and Shiites in the center and south — will brutally dominate other groups.

The Americans are not the first to face such quandaries in Iraq. In August 1920, only two years after his declining colonial power had emerged from the devastation of World War I, the British secretary of war, Winston Churchill, wrote (but did not send) a letter to his prime minister that contained this assessment of Mesopotamia:

“It seems to me so gratuitous that after all the struggles of war, just when we want to get together our slender military resources and re-establish our finances and have a little in hand in case of danger here or there, we should be compelled to go on pouring armies and treasure into these thankless deserts.”

A millennium and a half earlier, in A.D. 694, the Umayyad provincial governor Al-Hajjaj also faced a fractious Baghdad. His response to one angry crowd was a speech learned by all Iraqi schoolchildren: “I see heads before me that are ripe and ready for the plucking, and I am the one to pluck them, and I see blood glistening between the turbans and the beards.” The turbans melted away.

Five years later, Al-Hajjaj faced a rebellion in a troublesome region to his east, which forced him to move troops from Iraq. That rebellion was in Kabulistan, now part of Afghanistan, a historical parallel that drew a wry smile from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of American forces in Iraq, when it was pointed out to him last month. General Petraeus will soon move up the chain of command to take over the Central Command region, making him responsible for an area that covers both Iraq and what was Kabulistan.

Names and governments change, but there is nothing new under the Mesopotamian sun.

The debate goes on. Following are some Iraqi perspectives on whether and how American troops should stay in their country.

Opinions of the Iraqis

The Choice Is Not Ours: America Wants to Stay

I don’t expect that the Americans will leave Iraq because they reached the maximum level of political influence in the region. America is controlling the future of energy, so I believe it’s not to America’s benefit for it to leave Iraq. -- ISMAIL KABABCHI, 38, a restaurant worker in central Baghdad

America will not leave Iraq. I think my grandsons’ grandsons will watch Uncle Sam and his blue jeans. The idea that America will depart is a kind of delusion because America came for its interests in Iraq. Iraq represents the most important treasure in the struggle among the superpowers for it includes plenty of wealth in addition to its important geographic location. In the long run, America will not leave Iraq because it reached the treasure of the world. -- SAID AL-MAJMAYI, 50, a painter in Baquba

Or Maybe It Doesn’t

I expect that the Americans will leave Iraq sooner or later because they can’t control the security situation. I expect their departure within the next few months because of the achievements of the Iraqi security forces and the Awakening in terms of security and stability. That will help the American forces leave Iraq and save the rest of their dignity before the situation turns bad again like between 2004 and 2005. -- ABU ABDUL QADER AL-JUMAYLI, 60, a retired army officer in Falluja

The withdrawal is coming, no doubt. America has lost its influence in Iraq to a very great and dangerous degree. The No. 1 country in the world didn’t imagine that it would become a toy in the hand of radical parties and armed groups, or some powers which will ally with America at daytime and conspire against it at night. -- MATEEN OMAR OJI, 32, a teacher in Kirkuk

America Must Leave Iraq Now

We want to push them out immediately. We don’t need them, and we don’t want them. We have two governments, the Iraqi and American governments. We are confused about who we need to obey, the Americans or Iraqis. And both the American and Iraqi governments are hurting the Iraqi people. -- ABDUL RAHMAN HAMED HUSSEIN, a social worker in Abu Dshir, south of Baghdad, who follows the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr

I want them to leave because they caused destruction for us, they have robbed us and they never gave us any of what they had promised to give us. If a civil war breaks out after their departure, it would be their doing. It’s going on now because of them. They are inflaming it. Iraqis have proved that they are not being seduced by the American actions. Their departure is the beginning of the road toward stability. What ever happens after their withdrawal, it will be finished within a year. -- MUHAMMAD SNAD, 36, an electrical technician in Mosul

We Don’t Love the Americans, But Withdrawal Is Worse

I am not with the coalition forces’ withdrawal from Iraq currently, because chaos and destruction will be all over Iraq. Even before the Americans came, we used to have genocide, destruction and wars. We know that the Americans came for their own benefit, yet they are our only solution. -- NISREEN HASSAN, 25, a teacher in Sulaimaniya

The presence of the American forces will make Iraq a regional and international power. If the Americans withdraw, Iraq will be subject to domination from neighboring countries which support terrorism in Iraq to protect their interests, so the departure of the American forces doesn’t serve Iraq’s interest. -- ABD MUHAMMAD AL-BEDEER, Samawa

If It’s Not the Americans, Someone Else Will Take Over

The coalition forces are the best solution to Iraq’s situation, they are just like a strong dam against the outside and the inside enemies and even the neighboring countries. They are all wolves — the Arabs, the Persians and the Turks. -- JALEEL MAHMOOD, 31, Sulaimaniya

Staying is the best thing for Iraq. If the Americans depart, half of Iraq will go to the Kurds and Iran will take the other half. We need a safety valve. America occupied Iraq and must solve the problems before its departure. America’s departure will increase the problems. -- AMJAD SALAH, 34, a driver in Basra

The Dream Deferred: Please Go, Just Not Yet

I don’t want them to leave right now, but I don’t want to see them here forever. Sooner or later the Americans have to leave Iraq or understand that our policy differs from their policy. They have to recognize the sovereignty of Iraq. I’d love to keep good relations with America rather than telling bad stories to my kids about it. -- HUDA HANI, 33, a Shiite employee of the Ministry of Higher Education in Baghdad

I’m against the Americans’ withdrawing before we have a fully independent government and security forces. I witnessed many terrible things with the Americans, and I don’t want the same thing to happen with the next generations. It would be better for both sides to have a scheduled withdrawal. -- MUHAMMAD MAHDI, 28, a Sunni graduate of the College of Arts who now works as a taxi driver in Baghdad

No one accepts the residence of the occupier, but the withdrawal should be studied well and not randomly. Things are getting better now, and we don’t want anything to affect that. The Americans are probably one of the reasons behind the previous chaos, but their quick withdrawal will generate bigger chaos. -- SALIM MUHAMMAD, 40, Najaf

Saying No and Meaning Yes

All of them declare in public that they are against the Americans remaining in Iraq. They demand Iraqi liberation. They always raise the same slogan: Independence for Iraq. But in private sessions or meetings they are always telling me and other reporters that the Americans must stay, and that if they leave right now it would be a big mistake. The reasons for this political hypocrisy are like a disease. Most of the Iraqi politicians suffer from it. Their aim is to maintain their reputation in the public eye. -- TAREQ MAHER, an employee of The New York Times in Baghdad

In public we say we do not want American troops, but our hearts say they should stay in Iraq until we become a state of institutions based on democracy and dialogue, not violence. Most of our recent leaders are tiny in the political world and the Americans want to teach them how to be leaders. Really we need them to stay more. They are a fence against Iran’s ambitions toward Iraq. -- AHMED HASOON, 38, a teacher in Basra

Never Mind the Troops, I’m Leaving Iraq

At night in all seasons, especially in summer, it is so very, very hot because we are suffering from electricity shortages and water shortages. So many times I have to buy my baby’s milk from the black market. The American forces have been here for such a long time, and still it is not stable and nothing is sure. Sometimes I feel that I should leave Iraq and claim asylum or refugee status, so that later on I would be lucky enough to get another nationality, which would make me feel respectable and that I have some rights. As an Iraqi now I cannot help my country improve. But maybe later on with a new nationality I would be able to come back and do something. Only then will my voice be heard. -- ANWAR ALI, an employee of The New York Times in Baghdad who is seeking asylum in the United States

Reporting was contributed by Richard A. Oppel Jr. from Kirkuk; Riyadh Mohammed, Ali Hameed, Mohamed Hussein and Anwar J. Ali from Baghdad; and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Mosul, Salahuddin Province, Falluja, Kirkuk, Diyala Province, Najaf, Karbala, Basra and the Kurdish-administered northern region of Iraq.

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We will continue to negotiate the terms of our troop drawdown. Hopefully the Iraqis will work with us to make sure that the pace does not risk losing the security gains we have made together.

However, in the end it is their country. When they decide they don't want us there, we will have no choice but to leave.

Charles M. Grist

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