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Tue, June 25

Just how do we get out of Iraq?

This past Wednesday, President Bush announced the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. --

Most people probably said, "Well, it's about time." But it also highlights the question, "How do we get out of the mess in Iraq?"

I have never pretended to know the answer, but now that the president hints at some change of direction, let's look at the matter of getting out. I'll sketch some of the problems; you think about it, and then we'll look at it again next time.

Iraq is definitely broken. It has an escalating civil war. Its national-unity government is not united and it does not govern. --Our efforts to stabilize the government have been ineffective, and our troops are now being bombed and shot at by both sides.

--Sectarian violence is rampant. Iraqi lawmakers have just voted to extend the "emergency measures" again. --The government has renewed this "state of emergency" every month since beginning it two years ago. --It authorizes a nighttime curfew, arrests without warrants and extensive police and military operations. --These measures apply to all parts of the country except the Kurdish north, which is peaceful.

When the Iraqis had their national election this past year, 90 percent voted for the party that represented their personal religious belief -- Sunni or Shiite. --Later the Kurds voted 99 percent for independence as a separate state, but that was only a show of opinion and didn't actually create a separate state. --In other words, Iraqis are loyal to their own group but not to the idea of a unified nation.

In 1921 Winston Churchill was Britain's Colonial Secretary, and he created Iraq from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire -- installing a Sunni Arab King to rule over the Shiite majority and the rebellious Kurds. --Churchill later said that this was one of the greatest mistakes he ever made. --And the same problems continue there today.

The three major ethnic groups live in separate areas of the country: --Kurds in the north, Shiites in the south, Sunnis in the west and middle. --There is some intermingling, but they have fairly distinct areas. ------

The Kurds and Shiites have oil. --The Sunnis do not -- at least not at present -- but very little exploration has gone on in Sunni areas, so maybe it's beneath their land also.

Most Iraqis do not want a civil war, but they reject the idea of a unified Iraq. Yet the U.S. continues to cling to hope of a united Iraq.

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki leads a coalition of religious Shiites. --This includes groups that operate death squads that kill Sunnis every day, and al Maliki resists U.S. operations against them. --The strongest militia is led by a radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al Sadr, who has backing from Iran, and who now seems to be the most powerful man in Iraq. --Sometimes al Maliki seems to take directions from al Sadr.

Conversely, the highest ranked Sunni in the government is connected with a terrorist group that targets Shiites. --He blames Iraq's problems on the Jews, and has proposed erection of statues honoring those who kill American troops. --

Unbelievably, President Bush praises both of these men, but his flattery hasn't accomplished much. --The real problem is that they represent the feelings of their constituent groups, and that's not likely to change.

Most units of the Iraqi army and police are also strongly sectarian. Sometimes whole battalions fail to show up for duty if it's for something they don't want to do.

The U.S. role seems to be that of policemen trying to keep the various factions from killing each other. --U.S. deaths now exceed 2,700, and the violence keeps getting worse. I contend that we do not even know who our enemy is in Iraq, but every group there wants us to go home (except, maybe, the Kurds).

Isn't this a lovely situation? --See if you can come up with a solution -- or at least some recommendation for what the U.S. should do in Iraq. --I'll do the same and will offer mine next time.

(Al Herron's e-mail is

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