My take
I arrived in Baghdad in March 2008, but I knew I was coming since March 2006. In that time, I've been asked by many friends to let them know what I really think of the situation in Iraq. I want to think this is because you all respect my judgement. Some part of me suspects that some of you believed that my being here would sway my opinion that this war was worth fighting. Well, I can say that it hasn't. We've made a ton of mistakes here...too many mistakes for a nation of our capacity. Some of those mistakes are unforgivable, and will likely taint any good outcomes that arise. But Iraq is free now of tyranny, which I believe is the greatest evil on this Earth, and it is emerging as a democratic state which is able to fend for itself. We're doing good work here, and the Iraqis are building a democracy from the ground up.
Much has changed in Iraq in the last year. Iraqis I talk to speak of a nation transformed from the edge of civil war and anarchy, to a nation with emerging stability. Iraq has come out of its dark time. The streets are safe to drive again. Commerce is re-emerging and businesses which closed in 06-07 are returning. The government is gaining effectiveness in providing services. The Iraqi army is now able to conduct independent operations, and while they still need the US as backup, and to secure them from invasion by one of their neighbors, they operate increasingly independently. They have had an impressive run of success lately; in Basra, Mosul and Baghdad...all wins for the government and losses for militias & Al Qaeda.
Most importantly, there seems to be emerging a strong political center which rejects the violent ideology of the militia groups. The public is so sick of militias. As soon as the government kicked the Mahdi army out of Sadr city, the residence embraced the government forces. People hate the militias for placing bombs on their streets and drawing their friends and family into an unnecessary crossfire.
The defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq from 2007-2008 has demonstrated one thing: the near 'civil war' that erupted had more to do with Al Qaeda instigating Sunni-Shia violence than with any underlying hatred in Iraq. With the Al Qaeda threat removed, mass casualty suicide bombings have decreased considerably, and so have sectarian tensions. Al Qaeda nearly succeeded in its goal of igniting civil war and establishing a base in Iraq. Now that they are near defeat, we shouldn't give up on Iraq and provide Al Qaeda an opportunity to re-assert itself.
Iraq is not going to look like Iowa any time soon. It struggles under heavy corruption, democratic governance is still new, and the military still needs time to get on its feet. But Iraq has a chance now. And we have to ask ourselves the difficult question. Do we want to risk those gains, waste the sacrifice of our national treasure and soldiers' live, and abandon our allies so that we can bring our troops home before Iraq is ready?
I think the answer is no. Iraq is making progress. The situation is 180 degrees different than it was in early 2007 before the surge. Iraq has met nearly all of the 'benchmarks' for progress that Congress placed on it. Oil production is surging, the government is flush with money, and is increasing its ability to provide services to the people.
When I speak to Iraqis, they talk with some measure of fear and apprehension about 2009. They wonder if the next President will pull troops out of the country. I tell them no, I don't think there will be a pullout. The US has invested too much to quit on Iraq just when it is building positive momentum. But anything is possible. Their concerned looks tell me there is something more, so I ask. The typical response is that the US can't abandon Iraq to the militants. If we leave, Iraq loses its security guarantee. The tribes and parties will stop thinking about the long term future, and will focus on how to protect themselves in the short term. And this means stocking up with food, weapons and cash.
We need to avoid this outcome. After the mayhem of 2006 and 2007, people have begun looking to the future of Iraq and shaping political, social and economic relationships for the long-term. We have a chance to help build the first real Arab democracy in the Middle East...and a good chance at that. If we leave, Al Qaeda will move back in and rend the country apart. Iran might intervene to save the Shia, and Saudi Arabia might intervene to save the Sunni, igniting a regional war that we would be forced to re-enter. Better to stay and finish the job, especially now that we're all finally on the right track.
Someone once said, 'there are 500 ways to do things wrong in Iraq, and about 5 ways to do things right...who knew that the US was going to try all 500.' Well, it looks like we've finally found 3 or 4 that work and while things continue to improve dramatically, we should give it a chance.
Well, that's my soapbox. Take it for what you like, as it's just one man's opinion. If you don't believe me, look into it yourself. Things have changed dramatically here and there is now hope for a peaceful, democratic country in the heart of the Middle East.
PS to whomever read my website, thanks for stopping the rockets...
Looking towards the future...
Saturday, June 28, 2008