Don't Forget America's Other War

By Zakaria, Fareed | Newsweek, January 4, 2010 | Go to article overview

Don't Forget America's Other War


Zakaria, Fareed, Newsweek


Byline: Fareed Zakaria

Remember Iraq? For months our attention has been focused on Afghanistan, and you can be sure that the surge will be covered exhaustively as it unfolds in 2010. But the coming year could be even more pivotal in Iraq. The country will hold elections in March to determine its political future. Months of parliamentary horse trading will likely ensue, which could provoke a return to violence. The United States still has 120,000 troops stationed in Iraq, and all combat forces are scheduled to leave by August, further testing the country's ability to handle its own security. How we draw down in Iraq is just as critical as how we ramp up in Afghanistan: If handled badly, this withdrawal could be a disaster. Handled well, it could leave behind a significant success.

Let's review some history. The surge in Iraq was a success in military terms. It defeated a nasty insurgency, reduced violence substantially, and stabilized the country. But the purpose of the surge was, in President Bush's formulation, to give Iraq's leaders a chance to resolve their major political differences. It was these differences--particularly between Sunnis and Shias--that were fueling the civil war in the first place. If they were not resolved, the war might well begin anew or take some other form that would doom Iraq to a breakup or breakdown.

Iraq's political differences have not been resolved. The most fraught remains the tussle between the Shias, the country's majority sect, and the Sunnis, a minority that has traditionally been the country's elite. The simplest indication that issues between these two communities are still unsettled is the fact that only a few of the 2 million Iraqis who fled the country between 2003 and 2007--the vast majority of whom were Sunnis--have returned. (Firm numbers are hard to come by, but they did not add up to more than a few tens of thousands as of this summer.) This month the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reaffirmed that Iraq remains a dangerous place for members of minority groups, and that they should therefore not be forced to return to Iraq.

Sunnis in Iraq remain marginalized politically.

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