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Issue Date:  July 1, 2005

It's time to discuss exiting Iraq

Mediated settlement talks would be an effective polity on the ground in Iraq


The American people have finally had enough of President Bush’s war in Iraq.

A June 13 Gallup Poll found that 56 percent say the Iraq war isn’t “worth it.” The top reasons cited are familiar: false claims; no weapons of mass destruction; unacceptable numbers of casualties; and the fact that Iraq posed no threat to us. And for the first time, a majority also said they would be “upset” if the United States sent more troops.

It is past time to plan a U.S. withdrawal from this quagmire. Italy, Poland and many other “coalition” partners are doing so; Spain, the Netherlands and 12 other countries have already withdrawn. So can we; so should we.

Even with the overall costs of the war reaching $207 billion before the next fiscal year, the House rejected in late May a budget bill amendment that called for a withdrawal plan. But like so much else having to do with the war, the debate on this important amendment was not exactly a shining moment in American democracy. Despite there being 140,000 U.S. troops risking their lives in an unwinnable war and despite the economic stranglehold the war has on the federal budget, the Republican leadership allowed only 30 minutes of floor debate. Yet 128 representatives voted for it.

On June 16 a bipartisan coalition of Congressional representatives announced legislation calling for a date for drawing down the numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq. Rep. Walter Jones, a conservative Republican who wanted to rename French fries to freedom fries, is a prominent sponsor. The same day, 41 Congressional representatives formed “The Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus” whose sole purpose is to bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Recognizing a critical vacuum in Congress, they promised to “provide leadership for the American public who has been waiting too long for our collective voices against the war.”

Do developments in Congress and conditions in Iraq suggest that we are beginning to see light at the end of the deadly tunnel in Iraq? What might a viable withdrawal plan look like?

Given that some minority Sunnis are already soliciting back channel talks for a ceasefire, U.S. support for mediated peace talks and a negotiated settlement between the warring domestic factions would have to be front and center. The settlement talks would need to be facilitated by a nonpartisan mediator mutually agreed to by the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds. The Norwegians have had a successful track record mediating in the Mideast and they are widely trusted.

Mediated settlement talks would be good politics at home in the U.S. Congress, where it would garner more bipartisan support than a simple call for troop withdrawal ever would, and also effective policy on the ground in Iraq.

An initial withdrawal of some U.S. troops as a goodwill gesture to build confidence for those talks should be supplemented by a phased but steadily significant withdrawal of more troops, loosely tied to advances in the peace negotiations. The early introduction of a joint United Nations and Arab League peacekeeping force to provide security during the transition is critical and may slow the migration into the conflict of non-Iraqi jihadists who deeply resent the U.S. occupation. In addition, the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Nations must establish a massive and audited trust fund to repair Iraq’s institutions, infrastructure and environment.

Maintaining the present course, as President Bush insists upon and knows better than anyone, will only bring more unnecessary death and destruction. The current policy is fueling the violence, not reducing it. That is not the kind of support that the U.S. troops or the Iraq people need just now.

Patrick G. Coy is the director of the Center for Applied Conflict Management and associate professor of political science at Kent State University. He is the editor of the annual volume Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change.

National Catholic Reporter, July 1, 2005

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