Iraq: Going Forward

A rather good article in the British magazine “Prospect” takes a look at where we are currently in Iraq, and what we should do going forward:


[i]he great question in deciding whether to keep fighting in Iraq is not about the morality and self-interest of supporting a struggling democracy that is also one of the most important countries in the world. The question is whether the war is winnable and whether we can help the winning of it. The answer is made much easier by the fact that three and a half years after the start of the insurgency, most of the big questions in Iraq have been resolved. Moreover, they have been resolved in ways that are mostly towards the positive end of the range of outcomes imagined at the start of the project. The country is whole. It has embraced the ballot box. It has created a fair and popular constitution. It has avoided all-out civil war. It has not been taken over by Iran. It has put an end to Kurdish and marsh Arab genocide, and anti-Shia apartheid. It has rejected mass revenge against the Sunnis. As shown in the great national votes of 2005 and the noisy celebrations of the Iraq football team’s success in July, Iraq survived the Saddam Hussein era with a sense of national unity; even the Kurds�??whose reluctant commitment to autonomy rather than full independence is in no danger of changing�??celebrated. Iraq’s condition has not caused a sectarian apocalypse across the region. The country has ceased to be a threat to the world or its region. The only neighbours threatened by its status today are the leaders in Damascus, Riyadh and Tehran.

The mission in Iraq may be on the way to being accomplished, but it has clearly been imperfect and costly. At least 80,000 and perhaps 200,000 or more Iraqis have been killed since the invasion, almost all of them by Iraqis and other Arabs (although this should be weighed against the 1.5m people killed by war and political violence during the 35-year Baath reign). The Sunni insurgency has degraded the country’s utilities infrastructure, with the result that services remain patchy in much of the country and very bad in Baghdad: from April to June 2007, Iraq as a whole averaged 12.8 hours of electricity per day, while Baghdad averaged just 9.2. Oil production is down by 20 per cent since the invasion. Many of the country’s professionals�??doctors, teachers, academics�??have left. There has been much local sectarian cleansing, with around 1m people internally displaced since 2003 and up to another 1m externally displaced. The US-led coalition has lost almost 4,100 lives, with many more wounded. Much money has been stolen, and some of Iraq’s priceless historical legacy looted. In parts of the country, local disorder has opened opportunities to criminals and fundamentalists. Much of the police force is militantly Shia, and many units are loyal to militias. Although General Petraeus’s military “surge” has had some success in reducing violence, Iraqis are still dying violently at an alarming rate�??around 1,500 a month.

Understanding this expensive victory is a matter of understanding the remaining violence. Now that Iraq’s big questions have been resolved�??break-up? No. Shia victory? Yes. Will violence make the Americans go home? No. Do Iraqis like voting? Yes. Do they like Iraq? Yes�??Iraq’s violence has largely become local and criminal. The biggest fact about Iraq today is that the violence, while tragic, has ceased being political, and is therefore no longer nearly as important as it was.[/i]

Read the whole thing, and then let me know the case for criteria pursuant to which we should decide how long to stay in Iraq.