Why Iraq troop drawdown is likely to stop in July
Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will describe Iraq's fragile state this week on Capitol Hill.
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The year-old surge of some 35,000 US troops points the way to what the US should do in Iraq, some experts say – protect civilians even more and wean them from militias, for example. But even those who oppose a further troop reduction in the near term note that the political climate in the US doesn't bode well for long-term involvement.Skip to next paragraph
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Ken Pollack, a former National Security Council Persian Gulf expert who's now at the Brookings Institution, says the US, having stabilized the Sunni Anbar Province and the north, should turn its attention to the south where Iraq's dominant Shiite communities are in great flux.
"The surge has actually encouraged a fair percentage of the Shia population," he says. "Quietly, the Shia communities have begun to come over and are saying, 'We don't really like' " the various political-party-affiliated militias that have divided them. If the US doesn't seize this moment with the Shiite population, he adds, it risks being associated with the very same powerful militias it is trying to weaken.
Any push into Iraq's south would bring the US into closer confrontation with Iran, whose influence there has been growing. The US would do well, some analysts say, to address that issue in a larger regional context. "If you want peace in Iraq, if you want America to be able to have an exit strategy, the road goes through Tehran," says Ms. Yaphe, a former CIA Middle East analyst.
Still, say other analysts, the surge was intended to facilitate political reconciliation in Iraq, and it has not done that.
For example, some 90,000 Sunnis may now be armed to help fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq, but the Shiite-led government has not integrated most of them into the Iraqi security forces. That failure could turn around and bite both the Iraqis and the US, some experts say.
"If you are on the fence as a tribal sheikh ..., wondering if you want to join in on this movement, what the government has been doing in terms of who they are and aren't taking into the security personnel has not been encouraging," says Wayne White, a former Iraq expert with the State Department Policy Planning Staff, now with the Middle East Institute.
Some Iraq experts argue that political reconciliation is occurring, though more at the provincial than the national level and not according to US "benchmarks."
But others say the fine points of political reconciliation, whether it's happening and how fast, are increasingly beside the point in the US political context.
"The realistic timetable for [stabilizing Iraq] may be 10 years, but the political timetable is 10 months," says Ivo Daalder, a US foreign-policy specialist at the Brookings Institution. He doesn't expect to see a determined congressional effort this year to alter Iraq policy.
"The political debate will no longer be on the Hill," says Mr. Daalder, "but what you do in '09."