- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED:

For years now, many Defense experts have been arguing strenuously against any suggestion of setting what they call an “arbitrary” withdrawal date for American ground forces in Iraq, instead insisting that any consideration of a redeployment be “conditions based.”

This argument has been repeated so often and so emphatically that it is now accepted as an article of faith not subject to inquiry or investigation. But what if the very conditions many of these pundits have argued were necessary had in fact been quietly achieved? Could the American government then legitimately redeploy our ground forces from Iraq without being accused of “surrendering to the terrorists?” I submit that those conditions do now in fact exist, and consideration should therefore be given to executing just such a mission.

Most everyone is well aware that the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated between Washington and Baghdad (and currently awaiting a scheduled up-or-down vote today, Nov. 26, from the Iraqi Parliament) calls for American ground forces to be withdrawn completely by Dec. 31, 2011. Receiving less attention, however, was the veracity with which the Iraqi government insisted American ground forces be withdrawn from the cities and villages this summer.

On Nov. 16, Iraqi spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Al-Iraqiyah Television in Baghdad that, “There are certain details that I would like you to know. The articles of the withdrawal were all incorporated and made clear. Any other article that gives a contradictory understanding of the understanding that the Iraqi Government wants - which is withdrawal on 30 June 2009 from the cities, villages, and towns to camps that are agreed upon between Iraq and the US government - was canceled. This date will not be subject to circumstances on the ground. The date is specific and final, and on 30 June the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from cities and towns to the agreed-upon camps will be completed.”

This certainty was reiterated and expanded upon two days later by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in an address to his nation when he said that in addition to the “nonrenewable” June 30 deadline, “the U.S. troops will withdraw from the entire Iraqi territory, waters, and airspace within a period not exceeding December 2011.

This also is a final deadline that cannot be extended. There will be a continual reduction in these forces until they eventually and fully withdraw from Iraq.” Specifying what U.S. forces cannot do, he told the Iraqi people that, “There will no longer be detainees, prisoners, or detention centers, and there will be no U.S. prisons for the Iraqis. There will no longer be inspections or raids on houses or buildings except by an Iraqi court order and in full coordination with the Iraqi government.”

What this means is that for all practical purposes, the United States military will be out of the counterinsurgency (COIN) business this summer, reducing our role to a quick reaction force stationed in uninhabited areas around Iraq. It won´t matter if we say we think our ground forces should continue conducting COIN operations or not; it won´t matter if we believe the Iraqi Army, police, and border units are sufficiently mature to handle the mission or not; it won´t matter if we think the conditions have been met or not: the Iraqi government has authoritatively declared that they are ready and has taken those decisions out of our hands.

What still remains in our hands, however, is what to do with our forces now.

What possible justification could we put forward to continue stationing over 140,000 American service members in Iraq who within months will be ordered to sit idly on base camps in trackless expanses of desert?

This point is critical to understand: what we commonly refer to as “the surge” was never intended to be a long term strategic resolution unto itself, but one to simply buy time for the Iraqi government to stabilize and for the armed forces to mature to the point they could handle their own security. For various reasons, no one is willing to go on record as saying the U.S. accomplished its near-term goals and the Iraqi government, military, and people accomplished theirs –- but evidence suggests that just such an outcome has indeed occurred.

If the Iraqi Parliament passes what they call the “troop withdrawal pact,” the United States will have no choice in the matter: we will be out of the COIN business. It is only reasonable then, that since the Iraqi government feels they are sufficiently capable of providing the bulk of their own security, we should immediately conduct an analysis of how many combat forces would be necessary to provide a robust quick reaction force (QRF) should Iraqi forces require temporary reinforcement –- probably initially in the 30,000 range -– and then plan for the redeployment of the remainder of our combat forces.

We should not conduct the redeployment evenly over the next three years, but should set as a mark to have all but the QRF personnel out of Iraq by the end of 2009. As the Iraqi armed forces continue to develop and demonstrate growing and independent ability, the QRF itself will gradually reduce in size until it, too, is out of Iraq by an agreed-upon date prior to the 2011 deadline.

But this recommendation for redeployment comes with a warning: absolutely nothing in the Iraqi agreement or the current level of stability “guarantees” anything.

Just as happened after the British withdrew from Iraq in 1932 after 17 years of investment, Iraq could disintegrate into chaos; even civil war would not be out of the question. It is equally possible, however, that Iraq could develop into a mature, responsible state that is at peace with its neighbors and is a respected member of the Middle East. But regardless of what any American may prefer, it will not be the United States that determines the success or failure of the Iraqi regime: it will be the people and government of Iraq.

Army Maj. Daniel L. Davis, a cavalry officer, has fought in Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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