The Guardian asks western and Iraqi experts whether a rapid withdrawal is the best way forward
Saturday January 22, 2005
As the insurgency appears each day to grow in strength, and casualties mount, the question being asked with increasing urgency in Washington and London is this: are US and British troops part of the solution or part of the problem?
Troop withdrawal is back on the agenda. The issue is not if, but when. Policy papers emerging in Washington, London and Baghdad set out different scenarios for withdrawal, but they are secret. As casualties rise, the debate about the merits of a speedy departure is growing, especially in the US. Yesterday another American soldier was killed, pushing the US death toll to more than 1,070, with thousands more injured.
Even Republicans are now joining the call for an early pullout.
Over the past 48 hours the Guardian has contacted a cross-section of prominent foreign policy analysts on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as in Iraq.
The main argument for a pullout is that, by their very presence, the US and British forces encourage the insurgency. The counter-argument is that such an early pullout, with the Iraqi army and police far from ready, risks a full-scale civil war, and possible disintegration of Iraq.
John Negroponte, US ambassador to Baghdad
As far as the legal mechanism is concerned, resolution 1546 says: "This mandate shall expire upon completion of the political process set out in paragraph 4 above and declares that it will terminate this mandate earlier if requested by the government of Iraq."
If that's the wish of the government of Iraq we will comply with those wishes. But we haven't been approached on this issue, although obviously we stand prepared to engage the future government on any issue concerning our presence here.
Edward Luttwak, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington
As long as we realise we are doing no bloody good by being there ... withdrawal should take place as soon as there is diplomatic alignment. How soon you finish washing after dinner depends on when you start. How soon you can do it depends on how soon you start working to create the conditions to do it. It needs negotiation [with neighbouring countries] to begin with.
Olivier Roy, French Centre for Scientific Research
They should leave for political and legal reasons. Once there is an independent sovereign government then they have no reason to stay.
The problem is, they will be unable to leave if they want to claim success. They want to hand over to the next government but, as far as we know, they are very weak. They will have to wait for greater stabilisation of Iraq. That could be a long time. The US is in a very difficult position. They will have to stay without a clear-cut strategy.
There are people in Washington pushing for withdrawal in the weeks following the election. But I do not think Bush shares this view. This is the view of the traditional conservative Republicans but it means giving up the neo-conservative vision. It means they would no longer be committed to reshaping the Middle East.
The new government with a Shia majority will be more open to Iran at a time when tension between Washington and Tehran will increase over the nuclear issue. That is a contradiction. It is quite possible that if the Americans leave and give power to the Shias, the insurgents will continue to fight.
The only issue about partition is with the Kurds. They are doing their best to become independent. Both the Sunnis and Shias will not want partition. They are nationalist.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq
As a matter of principle it is very clear that no nation accepts an occupation. It should be the Iraqi government that sets a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces. The Iraqi government and the occupation forces should cooperate together to find a suitable timetable in which they can work to have Iraq clear of any occupation forces.
Lord Boyce, chief of defence staff at time of the Iraq invasion
I'm worried about a date. It would be a hostage. There could be a staged withdrawal over the next two years or so. You could announce a staged withdrawal as the Iraqi security forces picked up ... and set targets allowing you to go into each stage. You could set targets and criteria rather than dates.
It would be dangerous to set a [single] target [date] because come the day you couldn't pull out as there would a shambles.
James Dobbins, former US special envoy to Afghanistan and Kosovo
Both staying and going carry with them significant risks and costs. The ultimate objective is complete withdrawal and that would help in the region. The message has been too muted. They have been saying, "We will stay as long as we are needed." I think they need to weight the situation more on leaving than staying.
There has to be an unequivocal statement that we do not intend to keep troops in Iraq once it can defend itself. My view is not much different from what the [US] administration says but it should be couched in terms of leaving rather than staying and accepting the risks and encouraging the Iraqis to take responsibility faster than they would like to.
If there is partition, it will be accompanied by large-scale ethnic cleansing. If it ends up that way, it is better done quickly. The Sunnis and Shias are highly intermixed. The Shias will not allow the Sunnis to keep Baghdad. That leaves the Sunnis with three provinces in the Sunni Triangle that are too small to be viable. The second problem is the Kurds are not prepared to leave Iraq without taking the northern oilfields with them. Neither the Sunnis nor Shia would allow them to do that.
I think the [most likely] arrangement will be different areas attaining different degrees of autonomy, in which the Kurds get a share of the oil wells, less autonomy for the Sunni areas and the Shias do not need any. This is the most likely arrangement.
M Amin al-Dalawe, Kurdistan Democratic party
America is the master of the world and it is working in co-ordination with Britain and I don't think Britain is able to put any kind of pressure on America.
If the Iraqi army and the security forces and the police are able to provide citizens with security at that time we can set a timetable, but now we cannot say yes or no. Every country wants to depend on its own capabilities and not on an occupation. But there is a security vacuum and we should build up the Iraqi forces first and only then should a withdrawal come.
Patrick Clawson, Washington Institute for Near East Policy
It's certainly appropriate to talk about the conditions under which the troops should be withdrawn, but it's not appropriate to talk about a date. The principal condition is not related to the insurgency - it's related to the training of Iraqi troops.
In the meantime, the US should say that it has no interest in having permanent facilities in Iraq but is ready to work with the Iraqi government.
It would be awfully optimistic to think that the US could hand over principal combat responsibilities to the Iraqis in this calendar year. The cautious thing for the American planners to do is assume a substantial ground presence for several more years.
It's not simply a question of the numbers of Iraqi troops. The hard part is the formation of units that can work effectively - and even in the US military that can take a couple of years.
Juan Cole, professor at the University of Michigan
It is in the [election] platform of the United Iraqi Alliance that they will press for a timetable for withdrawal. This idea seems to be growing in popularity among the [Shia] and even the secularists in Iraq. It appears to be a likely demand from the parliament after the election.
There are dangers in setting a timetable. One is that since the US dissolved the Iraqi military the coalition troops are the only ones keeping any kind of order in a lot of the country.
The other danger that I've argued as a historian is that setting a date for withdrawal in itself sometimes contributes to instability - for example, the Indian partition and 1948 in Palestine. When the foreign power announces that it's going it becomes a lame duck.
Anthony Cordesman, Centre for Strategic and International Studies
The problem of withdrawal has to be determined by what's happening on the ground.
It's hard to see the coalition structure working if it goes much beyond 2005 without having very clearly created enough Iraqi security forces to show that it's going to leave.
Also, Iraq is a highly nationalistic country and you can't hang round there indefinitely. It can come to a point where you're not helping but contributing to the problem.
One of the great dangers is to assume there is some simple, easy set of criteria for a withdrawal or that if you set some kind of magic deadline this is a successful approach. To have an exit strategy that is independent of the consequences would be a mistake.
The real need is for Iraqis who can handle counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency. As yet, there is no clear plan, from the Iraqi government or the coalition, as to how many people [in the Iraqi security forces] will come on line, with what capabilities and at what time.
Ayad Samarrai, senior official at the (Sunni) Iraqi Islamic party
The actions taken by the Americans made the situation now in such a way that it is not easy to ask the Americans to withdraw immediately from Iraq. That is why everybody is not asking for a full, immediate withdrawal; they are asking for a timetable for withdrawal. Iraqis know they don't have enough security forces to protect them even from gangs. The Americans need to assist the Iraqis in building new Iraqi forces.
Saskia Sassen, professor at the University of Chicago
The US should get out. Two reasons. The war that is shaping up in Iraq cannot be won. Let us recall that in Algeria the French had half a million troops - three times as many as the US today in Iraq - to fight about the same number of rebels, and they lost.
Further, the insurgents know that they cannot defeat the US in battles, so the tactic is a classic: wear them down, terrorise them, kill and maim wherever and whenever.
Even if the US used its airpower to blast whole towns out of existence, the insurgency would continue, and probably become far more internationalised. It would only serve to recruit even more to the cause of fighting the US wherever possible.
The second reason for getting out now is to prevent a further slide into a civil war. This is one of the accomplishments of the US invasion: it has set up the conditions for open, and now evidently militarised, ethnic-religious conflict between Shia and Sunnis. The price will be paid by the civilian population. The longer the US stays, the more intense this battle.
Yes, the US leaves behind a destroyed infrastructure, impoverished people, in much of the country a non-operative health and educational system. But its presence will delay whatever possibility for reconstruction by the Iraqis themselves.
Gary Samore, International Institute for Strategic Studies
For the [Bush] administration and a new Iraqi government it would be a very important political coup if the US announced a notional table for withdrawal.
After a new Iraqi government emerges it would want to take credit for getting an American commitment for a staged withdrawal. It could be a political symbol held in reserve and played to prop up a new Iraqi government.
There could be a notional plan - but given the training of Iraqi security forces, there is probably not going to be a date.
[The Bush administration could say] we hope to begin withdrawing troops by the end of the year and that there is no intention of retaining military facilities in Iraq. The new Iraqi government would like to take credit for a commitment for a complete US withdrawal. [But] as a practical matter, there will not be a withdrawal for the foreseeable future.
Lord Garden, former assistant chief of the defence staff
There is a great difficulty in producing timetables. It could be counter-productive. [Insurgents] will know they can hang on until such and such a date. It could be an encouragement to violence.
As long as [coalition forces] are doing more good being there than not being there, there is a responsibility for helping the government.
It was a democratic British decision [to invade Iraq] so we have a responsibility.
Graham Fuller, former vice-chairman US National Intelligence Council
Very frankly, at this point I think the only way for the situation in Iraq to calm down is for the US to leave, and to leave soon ... everything we see indicates that it's getting worse and worse. The insurgency is growing; Iraqis are growing more discouraged; the police forces are scared, penetrated, being killed.
As long as we are there, we are the magnet of all these attacks.
Once the US is gone I think it's much harder for insurgents to claim that they're fighting a national cause.
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