Withdrawal now endangers Iraq

The Boston Globe

December 21, 2011

IF THERE is one iron law of American history it is that the longer US troops stay in a country, the better the chances of a successful outcome to a war. Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea: All are places where US troops still remain decades after the wars that brought them there. It is no coincidence that they are also democratic and prosperous. Compare this with the hellish outcome in places like Somalia and Haiti, where US troops entered and then left.

Iraq is likely to be neither Germany nor Somalia – but its odds of the latter outcome now look better because US troops are leaving while the divisions which led Iraq to the precipice of catastrophe in 2006 and 2007 remain fresh and raw. Iraq has had free elections, but the government is dominated by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and hard-line Shi’ite Islamists, who refuse to share meaningful power with Sunnis, Kurds, or secular Shi’ites. Deputy Prime Minister Salah al-Mutlaq, a leading Sunni politician, recently told CNN: “The political process is going in a very wrong direction, going toward a dictatorship. People are not going to accept that, and most likely they are going to ask for the division of the country. And this is going to be a disaster.’’

Another potential disaster looms in the north, where the boundary between Iraq proper and the Kurdish Regional Government remains in dispute. In the past, clashes between the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish peshmerga were prevented only by the presence of US troops. Now those peacekeepers are gone. Who will prevent a renewed flare-up of hostilities between Shia and Sunnis, Arabs and Kurds?

Iraq is, alas, on its own. And it is located in a dangerous neighborhood where states such as Iran and Saudi Arabia are eager to meddle in its politics by backing sectarian hard-liners. That is a recipe for trouble, which should make President Obama hesitate before he launches into another bout of self-congratulation about how he “ended the war.’’ By pulling out US troops prematurely – against the advice of military commanders – he has made another war more likely.