How will the Iraq war end?
On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war, progress is slow but violence is down. A three-part series on the war's effects starts today with a look at what the endgame might look like.
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"The issue now, tragically, is not what happens in Iraq, but whether the damage is limited to Iraq or spreads to other countries in the region," says James Steinberg, dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.Skip to next paragraph
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Iraqis: Time can heal divisions
Iraqi officials themselves say they simply need time – both to learn their own approach toward democracy and to develop Iraqi forces capable of securing their own country.
"Iraq is like a sheet that has been ripped. It will take time to reunite the fabric back together," says Gen. Naseer al-Abadi, deputy chief of staff for Iraq's armed forces.
The military surge has helped control violence, says General Abadi. Now the government needs to provide services and jobs.
That does not mean the war is over, he adds. The US and the Iraqi government are not even fighting an enemy, in the traditional sense.
"There is no center of gravity that you can hit to win the war," he says.
And the terrorists of Al Qaeda in Iraq might be a continuing problem, notes the Iraqi deputy chief of staff. The pool of willing Islamic militants in the Middle East is a deep one. Infiltration into Iraq is easy.
"Remnants will always be there," says Abadi.
How long will 'success' take?
Taking all these factors into account, success in Iraq at this point might be defined as a unified country that does not offer sanctuary to Islamic militants and is governed by a stable regime that is not under the influence of a hostile foreign power, such as Iran.
That, for example, is the bottom line of Andrew Krepinevich, a veteran Army planner and now president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Reaching this relatively stable state could take another three to five years – if it can be reached at all. Even then, the US might need to keep a substantial number of troops in the country – to keep Iraq's internal factions from going after one another and to protect the nation from its external enemies.
"A reasonable outcome would find something like 30,000 to 40,000 troops in Iraq for 25 to 50 years," says Dr. Krepinevich in an e-mail.
After all, the US has deployed troops in Germany and Japan for 63 years, and Korea for 57. Might Iraq, in the end, require a commensurate commitment?