This past month in Iraq has been the bloodiest of the year for US soldiers, with 86 casualties so far. The second deadliest month of the year was April, with 76 fallen troops, according to CNN.com. I’m sure you’re noticing a trend here — the violence is escalating. The insurgency is still at large. Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces remain disorganized and under-trained, and make for especially vulnerable targets.
I attended a lecture this past week regarding security sector reform in the Palestinian territories and one of the conclusions reached was that the ability to guarantee internal security to its people is seen as one of the primary prerequisites for statehood and sovereignty. US presence in Iraq says the same thing – they cannot withdraw until Iraqi soldiers are able to stand on their own. Insurgents, on the other hand, claim that their violence will not stop until foreign troops leave Iraq. So what gives?
Here’s another question I find myself asking: What would happen if coalition forces pulled out? Would the result be total chaos as many in the current administration picture it? Or would Iraqi forces, no longer able to rely on foreign troops, step up their game and become more efficient?
Ok, so I’ll admit, these are questions that I will not attempt to answer definitively. Not today. But what I do know is that there needs to be reconciliation between the classic “stay the course” argument and the “complete withdrawal” rebuttal. Stay the course. What course? I doubt that the definition of what the “course” in Iraq now entails is crystal clear at this point. And according to the recent statement of the commander of British soldiers in Iraq, the presence of foreign soldiers in Iraq exacerbates the security problem. So it looks like staying the course will lead far, far from the course, which mainly involves defeating the insurgency.
In the same manner, the opposite extreme, immediate withdrawal, is not a better alternative, for reasons that are pretty clear. Just how a smoker can’t throw away his pack of cigarettes and expect to suddenly stop smoking.
So what do smokers do? Smoke one less cigarette a day. Nicotine patches. Take up another bad habit instead, like nail biting. The point is, the process is gradual, with the change in behavior and outlook as the real goal.
With a gradual withdrawl of coalition troops, and a change of outlook on how “the course” is defined, violence could once more be on the decline, and keep declining. Defeating the insurgency, while important, should not be the only emphasis of nation-building. Building up the infrastructure, economy, and solving the Kurd-Sunni-Shiite dilemma (without partition) should also be integrated into what “the course” entails. If these goals are not placed among the top priorities, the challenges of building a new Iraq will still remain at large without addressing its many, many other challenges.
So let’s start taking a wider perspective on what “the course” in Iraq actually means. Which will mean a change of course, but will more likely get us there – to the end of the course.