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Should the U.S. Leave Iraq?

When Rep. John Murtha said that the United States must leave Iraq immediately he ignited a national debate on whether the U.S. should leave Iraq. Normally, such a statement would not have been noticed, but because Congressman Murtha is a retired Marine colonel who earned a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam Washington listened. In response to Congressman Murtha, the White House stated: "The eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists."

Unfortunately, the debates that followed congressman Murtha's statement were often misguided and off-point. Most of the discussions that followed dealt with whether the U.S. should leave Iraq. However, whether the U.S. leaves Iraq is not an issue. Most American politicians, including President Bush want to leave Iraq. The real issue is when should the U.S. leave and under what conditions?

In calling on President Bush to withdraw American troops from Iraq, Congressman Murtha justified his statement by concluding that the Bush administration's management of the war effort is based on "a flawed policy wrapped in illusion," and said the continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is "uniting the enemy against us."

So is Congressman Murtha's conclusions correct? Is the Iraq war effort a failure? We at the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism don't think so.

Clearly, the conditions in Iraq are not ideal. More than 2000 American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed; explosions occur on a daily basis and the country may be more divided today than it has ever been. Despite these facts, the war effort in Iraq is a huge success. Iraq has been transformed into an open democratic society and there is no going back.

Let's not forget that Iraqis for the first time in recent history elected their government, voted on a constitution and in the coming days will again elect a new government. Despite their many challenges, Iraqis today freely and publicly criticize their government and are free to change their government any time they feel their government is not doing a good job. This puts Iraqis in a unique position in the Middle East. They are holding their government accountable which suggests that Iraq will never again have another authoritarian government. Indeed, Iraq has been transformed and there is no going back.

However, the U.S. should eventually leave Iraq but not now. The United States cannot leave Iraq immediately nor can the United States set a timetable for withdrawal. If the United States sets a fixed timetable the insurgents could merely wait until the U.S. leaves and then redouble their efforts to overwhelm the government of Iraq and/or attempt to create a civil war. This cannot happen under any circumstances. No matter whether one supported or opposed the Iraq war the entire world and all Americans must now put the past behind them and do whatever it takes to make Iraq a successful, united and prosperous state.

We, the Free Muslims, have stated in the past that a democratic, secular and prosperous Iraq can positively transform the Middle East like no war or any amount of money can. This is why Iraq must succeed and all Americans must unit behind their government to make sure that Iraq succeeds.

Having said this, the United States should give serious consideration to moving U.S. forces outside of Iraq's cities and population centers as soon as possible. The U.S. military should be far enough that the average Iraqi feels he lives in an independent sovereign country but close enough that they can return in case of an emergency. There are many benefits to stationing American troops outside of Iraq's population centers. The most important reason is that the new Iraqi government will understand that American troops will not always be there to protect them and thus, they will have to do a better job of reconciling with all Iraqis, including Arab Sunnis. At the end of the day, the new Iraq must be the home of all Iraqis without even the appearance of being lead by a sectarian government. This is where the existing Iraqi government has failed.

For example, the first election was boycotted by Sunni Arabs and the overwhelming majority of the Sunni Arabs voted against the constitution. This is not a healthy situation. Iraqi Kurds and Shias must do a better job of compromising with Sunni Arabs if Iraq is to become a stable, democratic and prosperous nation. The degree of compromise and reconciliation necessary to stabilize Iraq may not occur if Shias and Kurds feel that the United States is there to protect them whether they compromise or not.

In conclusion, the United States must make it clear to all Iraqis that it is not an occupying power and that it will leave Iraq one day after it becomes stable. The U.S. government must plan for the eventual withdrawal from Iraq by removing American troops from Iraqi cities and stationing them in unpopulated areas as soon as possible.

The U.S. military must rely on the Iraqi military and other security forces to protect Iraq. This Iraqi military is now in a better position to take more responsibility. Since July, 2005, 22 new battalions and 5,500 Police Service personnel have been trained and equipped (as have some 2,000 Special Police commanders). Coalition senior officers report that Iraq now has approximately 130 battalions.

Moreover, the U.S. military must not rush to assist the Iraqi military and Iraqi security forces every time they face difficulty. The more difficulty Iraqi forces experience, the more likely it is for the existing leaders of Iraq to reach out and compromise with Iraq's dissenters who are mostly Sunni Arabs. All parties must understand that unless Sunni Arabs feel that they are equal partners in today's Iraq there will never be peace in Iraq nor will Iraq stabilize. Once Shias, Kurds and Sunni Arabs reconcile, the insurgency will die and the terrorists will find themselves in a lonely and hostile place.

Posted December 06, 2005 by Kamal Nawash