US commitment to Iraq will pay off across the Middle East -- and avert a historic error
Both those who supported the surge and those who pressed for withdrawal should support continued US involvement in order to consolidate Iraq's fragile political and security gains. Disengaging now could undermine the entire long-term strategic relationship.
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Key elements of power-sharing rely upon promises that may not be redeemed. The newly conceived National Council for Strategic Policies is meant to provide strategic oversight and a check on the powers of the prime minister’s office, but it has no constitutional status. Defining the balance of power at the highest levels will be challenging for a new parliament, and the inevitable political struggles will offer endless opportunities for new crises.Skip to next paragraph
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The cold truth
Until those problems are solved, the cold truth is that Mr. Maliki has now become the most powerful executive in the history of post-Saddam Iraq, with few institutional checks and balances.
Many other vital issues have also been left in limbo during the long months of political paralysis following the March elections. The status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories remains unresolved, as does crucial legislation governing oil and gas fields. The effective incorporation of Sunni groups into the political process remains an open question, as does the future of the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons and their lost property.
America’s contribution to dealing with these continuing problems will be primarily political and diplomatic, not military. A commitment to drawing down military forces should not mean political disengagement. Iraq is as important to the interests of Iran, Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other regional players as it is to those of the US. Undoubtedly, those countries will continue to be deeply involved in Iraq whether or not Americans stay on the field.
Now is the wrong time to disengage from Iraq. The US-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement negotiated in 2008 by the Bush administration provides a comprehensive blueprint for a broad, long-term partnership that can keep us in the game – but only if both sides energize the agreement and the United States brings a real commitment to continued engagement, backed by real resources, to the table.
Both sides should support continued engagement
Today, those who backed the 2007 “surge” should be keen to see its gains consolidated, while those who called for withdrawal should be keen to make sure that as it happens, disaster does not follow. And while Iraq certainly needs to step up its political game, the US must also muster the bipartisan political strength and will to help build a stable Iraq that can be a partner to the US in a vital – and deeply troubled – part of the world. Those who gave their lives for this fight deserve nothing less.
Marc Lynch is an associate professor at George Washington University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. John Nagl is a retired Army officer who served in Iraq and is now president of CNAS.