Sun­set for com­bat in a trou­bled land

The Iraq war: Look­ing for a good exit

The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - OPINION -

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.

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