Let’s talk about Iraq, since no one really wants to

Daniel Harju

The political season is upon us and the war in Iraq has become the major midterm election issue as the Republican Party fights to keep control over both the House and the Senate. In September, 2,600 Iraqis were killed in Baghdad alone, while Democrats and Republicans used the war to attack each other and score points with voters.

As the situation in Iraq becomes worse by the day, the Bush administration has addressed the need to change their tactics and, by doing so, acknowledged that “staying the course” has been a failed strategy. It is time for our political leadership to stop using simplified sound bite slogans, lay partisan politics aside and start to tackle the problems in Iraq. Finding a solution will require bi-partisan cooperation, which at this time probably does not make any sense for the Bush administration and the Democratic opposition. Continuing the partisan bickering will only lead to more people dying.

Instead of a constructive debate about the war, the public hears nonsensical slogans like “stay the course,” and unfair political characterizations like “cut and run,” both of which in reality do nothing to address the problems. Among the many problems, the U.S. death toll is most likely to affect public opinion as a cost measurement of the war effort. For U.S. troops, October was the deadliest month since January of 2005, with 103 U.S troops killed, compared to 71 in September. More than 2,800 have died since the start of the war in March 2003.

Amid talks of troop reductions, it does not seem likely that the U.S. will pull out substantial numbers of troops in the near future. The Iraqi government, led by a Shiite majority, recently pleaded to the UN Security Council for a one-year extension of the UN resolution on U.S. military presence in Iraq, which expires Jan. 1, 2007.

A quick withdrawal of U.S forces from Iraq would lead to chaos, leaving the fragile Iraqi government to fight for its survival. At some point the U.S will have to accept that a “complete victory,” whatever that means, is impossible. Until then, talk of a timetable for troop withdrawal is the only way to calm the opposition here in the U.S. Withdrawal is not a strategy for victory, but rather a first step toward a rather degrading military retreat.

The U.S. national security adviser recently met with Iraqi government leaders to discuss strategies on how to achieve stability and economic development. Whatever the plans may be, implementing them is difficult because the Iraqi government’s actual political power is limited and mainly exists within the fortified Green Zone. The Iraqi government’s policies cannot be successfully implemented outside the small Baghdad-fortified Green Zone, without a somewhat secure environment. Since U.S. forces, have been unable to guarantee real security, such an environment can only be achieved through a political consensus between the leaders of the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds.

The Bush administration’s outwardly positive assessments of the situation in Iraq, including the supposed advances of democracy, freedom and self-determination for the Iraqis, are overshadowed by the brutal chaos that rips through the country. As war supporters try to give Iraq a positive spin, they go to great lengths to dismiss reports that a civil war is already in full swing. Such a grim assessment would indeed be considered a sign that the situation is out of control. How long will the escalating sectarian conflict that kills about 100 people a day and in which U.S. troops are sitting ducks being attacked from both sides be described as a situation “slipping” into civil-war?

Advocates for the failed “stay the course” strategy, who named the war “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” claim that it is an important battle in the bigger “War on Terror.” Since we know now that there were no state-sponsored terrorists in Iraq before the invasion of Iraq, we can only conclude that they have increased in numbers and have become more determined in their fight. Defeating terrorism in Iraq is impossible because the U.S. cannot kill or detain every single terrorist. The “War on Terror” has, since it started, resulted in an increase in the number of terrorist attacks against the U.S. and its allies and is only strengthening the anti-American sentiments that fuel global terrorism.

In Iraq, the U.S. must put pressure on the Iraqi government to seize control of the country by gradually withdrawing its troops. Iraq could be divided into three semi-autonomous regions where Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are separated but receive an equal share of the country’s oil profits. Such a division is already taking place, but the Sunni minority is being left out politically, in the institutions of the new government, and financially, from sharing in the profits of the Iraqi oil production.

To win the “War on Terror,” the U.S. must assume a less invasive foreign policy toward the Middle East and try to reduce tensions by reducing its militaristic presence in the region.

The current U.S. Middle East policy amounts to throwing gasoline on the fire while trying to put it out. Instead of settling for nothing less than a complete victory over the “terrorists,” which are neither a cohesive identifiable group nor motivated by a single ideological interest, a more realistic goal would be to reduce worldwide anti-American sentiments.

America should try to establish a good reputation worldwide through diplomacy, financial aid and other non-invasive policies.