How to Leave a Stable Iraq: Building On Progress
By Stephen Biddle, Michael E. O'Hanlon, and Kenneth M. Pollock Reviewed by Col. Norvell B. DeAtkine, U.S. Army (ret.)
Writing in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, three authors from the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution posit that the situation in Iraq is improving and claim that with the right strategy the United States can ultimately withdraw its troops without sacrificing stability. The authors' thrust is that the last 18 months have brought fundamental changes:
* The security situation has improved dramatically.
* Political developments have undermined all the major armed militias.
* Iraq is emerging from a war zone into a primarily political battlefield.
In this new environment, the writers envision a new set of problems requiring another shift in strategy. Although maintaining that "simply staying the course" will no longer suffice, they emphasize there should be only a "modest" drawdown of troops until after forthcoming provincial and later national elections.
The two biggest changes in the Iraqi situation--improvement of the Iraqi security forces and the lessening of sectarian tensions--have allowed the emergence of a more positive political dynamic. Even so, the most crucial challenge for the al-Maliki government will be the lengthy reconciliation and integration of the various Sunni anti-insurgent groups such as the Sons of Iraq and Awakening Councils. Al-Maliki is wary of allowing the Sunni Arabs a vehicle to regain power, while the Sunnis are afraid that the Shi'a majority will reduce them to a lowly status akin to the one that Sunni governments previously imposed on the Shi'a.
The authors depict as the second obstacle to stability the massive problem of refugees and displaced people. They consequently advocate a large-scale government effort to resettle displaced persons and rebuild communities, a task unfortunately...