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Des Moines Register: Time to leave
Greg Mitchell
March 21, 2006

Time to Exit Iraq, A Leading Paper Declares Editorials criticizing our adventure in Iraq are a dime a dozen, but very few have called for a U.S. pullout. But on Sunday, one of the most respected papers, The Des Moines Register, called on the president to set a timetable for a phased American withdrawal.

(March 21, 2006) -- For about as long as I can remember (which these days is about two years), I have been agitating in this space for major daily newspapers to call for a phased U.S. pullout from Iraq, or at least the setting of a timetable for same. Once these editorials got the ball rolling, many others would follow, I presumed, and policy might actually change.

Alas, not many have answered the call, as I observed once again two days ago in reviewing some of the third anniversary editorials. Like the vast majority of Americans, editorialists have turned against the war but are hesitant, or just plain afraid, to suggest that the U.S. reverse course. Maybe President Bush admitting on Tuesday that he planned to keep U.S. troops in Iraq at least until he leaves office will force some to confront this prospect.

Since I have hectored here for so many months, it is only right that I tip my hat when a respected metro joins the very thin ranks of those proposing an exit strategy. This past Sunday, The Des Moines (Iowa) Register carried a tough-minded, but hardly radical, editorial that deserves reprinting in full.

It calls for setting a timetable for a full U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. As recently as last July, the newspaper editorialized against such an action.

When I asked editorial page editor Carol Hunter today what had changed, she replied: "The realities on the ground. If Iraqi factions are intent on fomenting civil war, 130,000 U.S. troops can't prevent it. The noble desire 'to fix the mess' is no longer a viable objective."

Consider using the following as a kind of template.


Set Timetable to Leave Iraq

The Des Moines Register, March 19, 2006.

The time has come for President Bush to do what he has resolutely insisted he would never do: Set a timetable to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

The old notion of an open-ended commitment to "stay the course" no longer makes sense. The nature of the conflict has changed. So must American strategy.

A date certain to end the U.S. occupation should be the linchpin of that strategy -- not to abandon Iraq but to put its feuding factions on notice that the United States isn't going to hang around to baby-sit their civil war.

What was originally thought to be a conflict involving a few insurgents trying to drive out American forces has morphed into something else. The insurgency is no longer about the American occupation. Iraqis are slaughtering Iraqis in a vicious cycle of suicide-bomb atrocities and revenge assassinations.

It's a harsh thing to say, but if Sunni and Shiite Iraqis insist on killing one another, let it be without American troops standing in the crossfire.

The United States has no vital interest in taking sides. It does, along with the rest of the world, have an interest in having a peaceful Iraq, but it is increasingly apparent that imposing harmony in a land of centuries-old tribal, religious and ethnic blood feuds is beyond the capacity of 130,000 U.S. troops, no matter how superb their performance and how great their courage.

The U.S. invasion produced chaos and unleashed ancient hatreds, as experts on the Middle East warned it would. President Bush chose not to listen, preferring to believe his own fairy-tale vision of happy Iraqis welcoming Americans. Now, in the words of the nursery rhyme, all the king¹s horses and all the king's men can't put Iraq back together again.

Only the Iraqis themselves can halt the madness.

The last hope for averting all-out civil war and the possible breakup of Iraq is if a national unity government can be established, but members of the ethnically divided parliament have been unable to form such a government. An announcement by the United States that our troops will pull out might help focus the minds of the Baghdad politicians. It would force them to stare into the abyss of a full-blown ethnic civil war with no American troops around to keep the country in one piece.

Once they're on notice of an American departure, Iraqi elected leaders and insurgents alike will have a powerful incentive to reach an accommodation.

Withdrawing U.S. troops does not mean abandoning the region. American diplomats should continue encouraging the formation of a unity government during a phased withdrawal, and the United States should remain obligated to help rebuild the country if order returns. Regardless of what happens, American air power should guarantee the security and autonomy of the Kurds in northern Iraq, who have achieved relative stability in their region and have been staunch friends.

The United States should maintain forces nearby and stand ready to confront any terrorist regime that might emerge in some part of Iraq. The international force must be maintained in Afghanistan, too, to prevent the return of the Taliban and keep up the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

But the military occupation of Iraq has achieved all it can. It's time to redeploy the troops, keeping in mind that the original mission has long since been achieved. No weapons of mass destruction in Iraq threaten America, and a dictator has been deposed. A democratically elected parliament is in place.

Whatever happens from here must be left up to the Iraqis themselves.

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