Tuesday, July 10, 2007

FT Editorial - Republicans start to call time on Iraq

Published: July 9 2007 19:27 | Last updated: July 9 2007 19:27

It was only a matter of time before the growing hostility among US citizens to the war in Iraq wormed its way into Republican ranks. A matter, in fact, of election time.

Although it has long been clear that the Bush administration’s Iraq policy has been a disaster, it is not so much the realities on the ground that have percolated into Republican consciousness as the prospect of defeat at next year’s congressional as well as presidential polls.

The erosion of Republican unity falls short of bipartisan consensus in favour of US withdrawal. But it has accelerated enough for Iraq’s foreign minister to warn on Monday that a premature pull-out would lead to civil war, regional conflagration and a failed state.

Those are, of course, real risks. The problem is that Iraq is already so far down that road – and the real question is whether the continuing presence of US (and British) troops in the country is part of the problem or part of the solution.

The US invasion that promised Iraqis freedom has deprived them of their security, smashed their state and fragmented their country into a lawless archipelago ruled by militias, jihadis, ethnic cleansers, bandits and kidnappers.

The continuing US military presence shows no sign of being able to resolve this. The so-called “surge” of troop reinforcements, like everything else Washington has tried in Iraq, is far too little, much too late.

What the US occupation has done, however, is to infantilise Iraq’s public life, encouraging its leaders to believe they can infantilise Iraq’s public life,continue to play sectarian, winner-takes-all politics while American forces prevent a descent into total anarchy.

Would a US withdrawal bring Iraq’s politicians to their senses, forcing them to seek ways of living together and rebuilding their country and institutions? There is no guarantee of that. But the democratic process in the US does pretty much guarantee that the troops will be brought home. It is time to start preparing for that and to use it as leverage in Iraq and the region.

The US should make support for Iraq’s government and army conditional on real efforts to promote national reconciliation and to defeat the jihadis by building alliances, including with nationalist insurgents. The prospect of the US pulling back should also be used to concentrate the minds of Iraq’s neighbours, including Iran, in ways that emphasise the benefits of a stable Iraq in a more secure region.

Measured against this administration’s fantasies of transforming the Middle East, this is not much. But it is a lot more than Iraq is likely to get under present US policies.


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