CNS — Any reasonable analysis of recent events in Iraq would have to acknowledge progress. Consider that the Iraqi Army, after a botched offensive, has gained control of the formerly uncontrollable city of Basra, is patrolling in relative peace the long troublesome Sadr City and has launched an offensive in Mosul. May recorded the lowest number of U.S. deaths in Iraq since the war's start - 19. Iraqi oil production and exports have risen to their highest levels since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
Unfortunately, any reasonable analysis also would have to recognize that these circumstances, while progress, don't do anything to eliminate the need for a flexible and orderly U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
They occur, not because the militias have been defeated or merged into Iraqi military and police forces but because of an Iranian-brokered truce and because the Iraqi Army allowed the militias to slip away without disarming or engaging them. Though two leaders surrendered on Friday, the militias' existence indicates how far Iraq still must go for political reconciliation.
No mistake, the Iraqi army in particular has made progress. Negotiating with sheiks is better than warring with their followers. Yet Americans and Iraqis are still dying. The militias' decision not to fight might be because they are spent, are afraid or because they are keeping their powder dry.
And the popular resistance to a long-term U.S.-Iraqi security agreement remains deep in the country, indicating that we might not even be broadly wanted. Many Iraqis believe this accord will cement a U.S. occupation, a fear that militia instigator Iran shares.
Some will look at all these failings and see even more reason to stay, contradicting their simultaneous statements that recent developments mean the U.S. is “winning.”
But these events occur five years into a war of choice sold, as a recent Senate report shows, on dubious grounds. And crucial progress across a wide front won't occur as quickly as needed as long as U.S. troops are there to make it appear the situation is more peaceful than it really is.
Winning has to be defined by more than progress on security, in any case. This transition has to include Iraqi ability to self-govern and provide citizens consistently with needed services. And this “winning” has to be accomplished by Iraqis.
A costly open-ended occupation will just make the United States an enabler for Iraqi inaction and dysfunction.
Reprinted from The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
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