Consequences of US Commitment to Iraq

Article excerpt

President Bush speaks bravely about the need to "finish the job" in Iraq. The consequences of leaving that violence-torn country in the grip of a messy civil war are indeed grave. But reality suggests that he is taking a risk for the last time on any major US military involvement there.

The surge of some 21,500 new US troops into Baghdad will take place, but unforthcoming seems the political solution from the factionalized Iraqi government that many argue must go hand in hand with the military operation.

At home, too, in the United States, politics are not going the president's way on Iraq. The Demo- crat-controlled Congress is demanding a specific end to the US military presence. Some Republicans, especially those facing reelection challenges next year, are tetchy and rebellious. Antiwar rallies such as the one we witnessed in the nation's capital this past weekend are somber reminders of the clamor against the Vietnam War in its last phases.

Public confidence waning

Polls show that public confidence in the president is sharply down. American will on the war is waning. Even columnist David Brooks, installed on The New York Times Op-Ed page as the paper's token conservative successor to William Safire, has just written a couple of columns forsaking unity, and promoting "soft partition" of Iraq between Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites.

In order to avoid a political debacle for the Republican Party in next year's elections, Mr. Bush will almost surely slash the US troop presence in Iraq to a modest force by mid-2008.

Of course, there are some slender straws to grasp at. In a speech to his parliament last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed that his crackdown in Baghdad will leave militants nowhere to hide.

Then a representative of the Mahdi Army, the largest military force in Iraq after the US military, is reported to have put out feelers to senior British and US commanders for a kind of stand- down. Rahim al-Daraji, mayor of Sadr City, the Shiite militia's stronghold, reportedly declared militiamen could be instructed not to carry their weapons in public, if the US military could guarantee better security for Sadr City.

Though this sounds marginally interesting, does it mean that the Mahdi Army is in a more cooperative mode? Or does it mean that the Mahdi Army is fearful of engaging the US military machine, commanded to clear Baghdad of insurgents, and will simply fade into the woodwork, reemerging once the American soldiers have gone? …

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