Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Iraqi Troops Make Progress and Other Iraq Notes

This is pretty encouraging news, from the AP:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Iraqi troops are ready to take control of some cities as a first step toward sending home American and other foreign soldiers, Iraq's prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said Tuesday. But he rejected any timetable for a pullout....

[H]e said security in many of Iraq's 18 provinces -- notably in the Shiite south and the Kurdish-controlled north -- has improved so that Iraqi forces could assume the burden of maintaining order in cities there.

''We can begin with the process of withdrawing multinational forces from these cities to outside the city as a first step that encourages setting a timetable for the withdrawal process,'' al-Jaafari said at a news conference with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick.

The wire report also adds:

Last weekend, The Mail on Sunday newspaper of London published a leaked British government memorandum showing that Britain is considering scaling back its troops from 8,500 to 3,000 by the middle of next year.

The memo, marked ''Secret -- U.K. Eyes Only'' and signed by Britain's Defense Secretary John Reid, also spoke of a ''strong U.S. military desire for significant force reductions'' after a new Iraqi government is elected in December.

''Emerging U.S. plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006,'' which would see the multinational force cut from 176,000 to 66,000, the memo said.

This report reminds of Charles Krauthammer's column from almost two weeks ago, which provides a possible way forward as Iraqi MPs continue to move forward drafting and deliberating the draft constitution. Krauthammer advises that the August 15 deadline for writing the constitution be thrown away indefinitely, as the amount of time between now and then is way too little for writing a constitution, even as the Sunnis have hesistantly joined the drafting committee. Reports indicate that Iraqi leaders remain committed to the August 15 deadline, but may leave out more difficult issues so as to find common ground before the October constitutional referendum and December elections.

Yet the major issue of security remains. In his column Krauthammer cites the role of the Shia and Kurdish militias as one of the most "vexing" problems of the constitutional process. While the Kurds and the main Shia party employ militias, this current arrangment might "[not be] the most desirable arrangement, but they are trained, cohesive and motivated to fight the insurgency. Both Iraq's president and prime minister endorsed their retention a few weeks ago." Krauthammer then says: "Constitution-drafting can only disrupt this working arrangement. No constitution will legitimize sectarian militias. Why force the issue?"

Well, judging from the prime minister's statement above about security in the North and South and the government's endorsement of these militias, the Iraqis seem comfortable writing their constitution with these "sectarian militias." If the common enemy is the insurgency, and both militias are committed to defeating it as pronounced by Jaafari, why not legitimize these militias, at least until the beginning of next year after the elections? Maybe then the new government can figure out a new military arrangement.

In a July 9 AP story, Jawad al-Maliki, a senior Shia lawmaker in the draft committee, I think, provides us with an interesting observation on the situation before the Iraqis: "All these issues won't be big problems if we have the will to reach an agreement. But if we want to look for differences, we'll find differences." So we can either find common ground among our disagreements, compromise in ways that both serve our interests without sacrificing the greater good, and get this thing hammered out, or we can let ourselves become consumed by our differences. If you're going to have a constitution, you should have the means to change it, but there should be some underlying principles that guide it. If Iraqis can figure out these principles, codify them, have the people endorse them and elect a government by December, all the while by being defended by these Kurdish and Shia militias, then fantastic. If it looks like the militias will become a problem after this point (which I doubt), then the democratically elected government should determine a new course.

From reading people like Bill Safire and Christopher Hitchens, who both have Kurdish friends, the Kurds are committed to one new Iraq. Therefore, these Kurdish militias, who fought off Saddam's creeping rule into the North throughout the 1990s, and who fought bravely with the Coalition forces during the initial invasion in March 2003, might very well inclined to defend their fellow countrymen in the Shia south in a new Iraq. Indeed, the self-outcasted Sunnis remain the main threat to splintering Iraq:

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the drafting committee, said those involved largely agree on a federal Iraq. But some Sunni Arabs cannot accept the concept--a deal-breaker for the Kurds who had been running their own northern region for more than a decde before the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein. "They think that federalism will lead to dividing the country. We think that it will unify the country," Othman said.

We shall see.

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