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Iraq: Thinking About the Exit

Prepared by: Lionel Beehner
June 26, 2006

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A vaguely worded reconciliation plan for Iraqi insurgents has left some U.S. lawmakers puzzled and angry. “Unconscionable,” fumed Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). “An affront…to every American," thundered Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). A series of anti-amnesty amendments sailed through the Senate last week.

Interestingly, many of the amendments' dissenters were U.S. war vets (WashTimes), including Ted Stevens (R-AL) and John McCain (R-AZ). What’s more, the Pentagon apparently backs Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s proposal to offer an olive branch to insurgents uncompromised by terrorism, as does Iraq’s top Sunni party (CBS).” But distinguishing insurgents from terrorists is not always simple, as this new Backgrounder explains. Lehigh University’s Henri Barkey tells CFR.org’s Bernard Gwertzman the timing of the amnesty offer is also important. “You don’t offer an amnesty…when insurgents are on the rise,” he says. “The reason an amnesty now makes sense is because [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi has been killed.”

Meanwhile, leaked reports of upcoming U.S. troop withdrawals have left the White House backpedaling somewhat and critics suspecting a political motive. The New York Times reports Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, plans to pull two combat brigades out by September, two months before midterm congressional elections. More significant reductions would occur next year, in the midst of jockeying for the 2008 presidential election. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow says the drawdown was not a “formal plan” but rather a “concept” that would “depend upon a whole series of things that we cannot at this juncture predict,” (AP) among them the new Iraqi government’s ability to restore order and train its security forces. Further, whatever drawdown occurs is unlikely to affect troop strengths in insurgent strongholds in western Iraq (NYT).

The Times report follows a contentious debate in Congress over the Democrats’ plan to create a timetable to withdraw U.S.forces from Iraq. Republicans won votes in the both the House and the Senate essentially affirming the Bush administration’s current course. A new WashingtonPost/ABC News poll shows that nearly half of all Americans support a timetable for withdrawal.

All the while, Iraqi casualties continue to mount. The postwar death toll, reports the Los Angeles Times, now tops 50,000. A further measure of hardship is that Iraqi infrastructure, once the model of the Middle East, remains in worse shape than before the war, as Iraqis continue to lack basic staples like health care, electricity, and water.

A roundtable of experts debate how, when, and in what shape to leave Iraq (Foreign Affairs). Devolving power in Iraq into three semiautonomous provinces with a weak central government in Baghdad, as CFR President Emeritus Leslie Gelb has suggested, is not that easy given the complex composition of Iraq’s cities, according to the New York Times.  

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