Proponents of a US military withdrawal from Iraq
routinely brush off criticisms that their ideas are "irresponsible".
But until today, the charge that withdrawal cannot be accomplished responsibly
and just how that would be done has never been coherently answered.
With the release Wednesday of the report "Quickly, Carefully, and Generously:
The Necessary Steps for a Responsible Withdrawal from Iraq", withdrawal-minded
experts, analysts and politicians sought to pull all the answers together in
The report, written by the organizing committee after meetings of the more
than 20-member Task Force for a Responsible Withdrawal for Iraq in March, does
not address the underlying reasons why the withdrawal option is the best one
that case, it says, has already been compellingly made but rather
focuses on how it can be responsibly carried out.
Whenever the topic of withdrawal is broached, said one of three workshop participants
from Congress, Rep. Jim McGovern, "the [Pres. George W. Bush] administration
screams, 'bloodbath!'" raising the specter of Iraq descending into
chaos, igniting regional wars, and, as presumptive Republican presidential nominee
Sen. John McCain has said, al Qaeda "taking a country".
But far-fetched warnings of worst-case scenarios aside, the alternative of,
as the report puts it, withdrawing "US troops while pursuing a diplomatic
and political solution to Iraq's civil conflict" is out there.
"What we need to argue is how," said McGovern on a media conference
call to discuss the report. "The alternative to not doing anything and
not talking about this is resigning to the status quo."
The report lays out a comprehensive plan for withdrawal of US forces by internationalizing
what is currently the US role as the center of political power and humanitarian
aid in Iraq, engaging in regional dialogue to stem outside interference in Iraq
and convincing neighboring friends and foes alike to take a constructive role
in reconstruction and development, and fomenting Iraqi reconciliation with international
and regional support.
Part of the plan is to create a true national reconciliation between the sometimes
fighting and always feuding Iraqi sectarian and political factions to be accomplished
by a US-endorsed process of a UN-led "pan-Iraqi conference" that
would draft an Iraqi national accord.
While the US media often toes the Bush line that al-Maliki is making progress
towards reconciliation, the Iraqi government has yet to significantly accommodate
other disenfranchised minority political and sectarian groups. Organizing committee
member Chris Toensing of the Middle East Research and Information Project disputed
this notion noting that though the civil war had cooled down, the political
structural problems still existed.
"Genuine national reconciliation in Iraq which is the key to progress
on every other front requires addressing these structural political problems,"
The Task Force also called for robust diplomacy with all of Iraq's neighbors,
including US regional adversaries Syria and Iran.
"[The report] shines a spotlight on many policy ideas that don't get enough
attention here in Washington," said the Center for American Progress' Brian
Katulis, "and one of them is the need for stepped-up diplomacy."
Syria and Iran, despite their important role in the region and particularly
with Iraq, have yet to be meaningfully engaged by the Bush administration.
"We're changing the rules of the game and we're changing the incentive
structure radically for the neighbors to be engaged," said Toensing. He
stressed the importance of diplomacy under a UN lead and that the Bush administration
has made, at best, halfhearted efforts at engagements.
"Iran and Syria would not be approached hat in hand by the US,"
he said, "but rather, by the UN as an equal partner in trying to promote
stability in Iraq."
"Wider diplomatic outreach" with all the neighbors, including Sunni
powers, "and trying to bring them together into a more comprehensive and
sustained security dialogue about Iraq" is an important step towards a
constructive regional role, said George Washington University professor Marc
The report also calls for a short-term extension of the current UN mandate
for the presence of foreign troops as a means to cover US troops from prosecution
as they prepare to withdraw. The Bush administration, in contrast, plans to
sign a controversial bilateral agreement with the government of Iraqi Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki to continue the status quo of US troops as an occupying
During the initial extension, Caleb Rossiter, counselor to Rep. Bill Delahunt,
said on the press call, a longer-term UN mandate would be drawn up that would
cover the withdrawal and ensuing international involvement.
Part of that, in the even farther long-term, could be a "blue-helmeted
peacekeeping force" referring to UN peacekeepers by the distinctive
color of their helmets. But that prospect is clouded by Iraqi resentment of
the UN after corrupt programs that benefited the dictator Saddam Hussein and
UN sanctions that crippled the country in the 1990s.
Asked by IPS about the issue during the call, Task Force advisory group member
Carl Conetta of the Project on Defense Alternatives said that US withdrawal
can serve to "alter the spin on blue helmets and troops on the ground."
He said that peacekeeping forces would be "invited" by Iraqi authorities.
Rossiter, whose boss, Delahunt, has been one of the most vocal opponents of
the Bush-al-Maliki security agreement, said that the UN will "need to
be able to operate as a new force directly with the Iraqi government,"
as opposed to the current set up that has the UN now operates through the
"true force" of 160,000 US troops.
A Government Accountability Office report earlier this week and simultaneously
rejected by the Bush administration said that some of the administration's
markers of success in Iraq had been overstated. In reality, violence is on the
rise and Bush and al-Maliki's assertions about the readiness of Iraqi security
forces are exaggerated.
(Inter Press Service)
(Inter Press Service)