Sunset for combat in a troubled land
The Iraq war: Looking for a good exit
President Barack Obama tonight will note that, as he promised when taking office, U.S. combat forces have left Iraq.
The question is whether this exit is a good one. Just more than a year ago, The Star sought to lay out what a good exit from Iraq would look like. Little has happened since to change the thinking here. A poorly handled exit could well lead to a meltdown in this fragile country. We’ve spent billions of dollars, and 4,416 lives in Iraq at this point; we can’t simply walk away.
As Gen. Babaker Zebari of Iraq recently cautioned, his security forces will not be able to fully secure Iraq until 2020. For much of that time, it is reasonable to assume an American role in the country. But that role must be an extension of what U.S. troops have been doing there for the last year — behind-the-scenes support and training, not front-line action.
In our series “A Good Exit,” we made six suggestions for giving Iraq the best chance at stability. Unfortunately, much work remains to be done on most of them. They all remain valid and doable, however.
Give the Iraqi people reason to believe in their government by getting the water system up and running well.
There have been improvements to water and other basic services in Iraq, but much remains to be done. If the Iraqi people lose faith in their government or in democracy, it is unlikely to be because of high-minded ideals or the American presence. It is very likely to be the result of the inability of the government to provide clean water and sufficient electricity. This is still a great risk and must be addressed.
Consider expanding the U.S. military presence near Kirkuk to continue for some years into the future.
This has clearly not happened, and that is a long-term strategic mistake. The mission in Iraq is no longer overwhelmingly dangerous, but it is extremely important to regional stability. Kirkuk, which matters in terms of oil reserves and as a meeting place of Arab, Persian and Kurd Iraq, is a key to a stable nation.
The near-term, and long-term, success of Iraq is tied to relations with Turkey, and good relations with Turkey will mean disarming and disbanding the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the PKK.
The United States continues to make good on a trilateral effort with Turkey and Iraq to stop the flow of PKK fighters
back and forth across the Turkish-Iraq border, though Turkey remains angered by continuing European funding of the group.
There is a chill, however, on overall Turkish-U.S. relations, and this is a mistake. Obama must work harder to shore up what is a vital relationship going forward in the region.
America can expect to have a military role in Iraq for years to come, but today marks the formal end of combat.