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Thu, June 27

The best solution is to let Iraqis handle it

Two weeks ago I promised to offer my suggestions about the best way for us to disengage from the quagmire in Iraq.

Today I regret to inform you that there is no best way ­ no palatable way. All options are either bad or worse.

In my previous column, we talked about the three major factions in Iraq ­ Kurds in the north, Shiites in the south, Sunnis in the west and central ­ and how they cannot get along peaceably. The Sunnis and the Shiites have been historical enemies for 1,400 years, and the Arabs and Kurds for almost as long, but they were the leftovers thrown into one common pot when the Ottoman Empire dismantled after World War I.

Because of this, I believe that the only workable, long-range solution is to let each faction control its own area.

The new Iraqi constitution, that 80 percent of the voters approved in 2005, already allows for three separate regions ­ each with its own government and army. If they put this into effect, regional law would supersede federal law on most matters. At present, the central government is so impotent it cannot even impose taxes.

If Iraq broke into self-governing districts, it would provide an exit strategy for us and the Iraqis would be much happier. It would reduce the likelihood of civil war and give each faction a greater stake in determining its own future. Sure, problems would remain, but partition is the best option available now that we've got things so screwed up.

The Bush administration keeps insisting that a unified Iraq is imperative, so we keep trying to hold things together, but it just ain't working, folks.

In the election three weeks ago, Americans made it plain that President Bush's determination to "stay the course" without major changes is no longer acceptable Even Bush realizes that now, and says that he will consider other options. Congress appointed a special commission for this purpose, and it will report its findings early next month.

Yesterday we passed a milestone. We have now been fighting in Iraq longer than we fought in World War II. U.S. deaths rapidly are approaching the 3,000 mark, and Iraqis kill each other at about 3,000 per month. The types of injuries are worse than in any previous war.

We're spending almost $3 billion a week in Iraq, and have accomplished very little. Think what that could do here at home.

When we removed Saddam, we also got rid of the institutions that held the country together, primarily its army and the Baath Party ­ the best-educated and best-trained people in the country. Now the new Iraq army is under control of the Defense Ministry (which is the Shiites), while the Interior Ministry controls the police (i.e. the Sunnis). Both groups seem to be slow learners, they have little dedication, and mainly fight each other. The radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al Sadr, controls his own private army which is now the most powerful in Iraq.

The various insurgent groups are mostly Sunnis who believe the new government treated them unfairly when it handed out the political plums. A significant al-Qaida group probably exists among the insurgents.

These are the principal factions in the de facto civil war that's going on. If it becomes a declared civil war, the Iranians (who are Shiite) and the Syrians (mostly Sunnis) probably will get involved to support their sectarian brothers in Iraq. You want 140,000 American troops plus thousands of American civilians in the middle of that unholy mess?

Two people responded to my last column by saying that we should just blow the whole place up with a great big bomb. Sounds tempting, doesn't it? But hardly realistic.

We still have to live in a world that's only 5 percent American. Most of the other 95 percent used to respect and like the United States. We had worldwide sympathy after 9/11, but since the Bush administration invaded Iraq we've become the world's most disliked nation.

Let's get out of there. The Iraqis want to do it themselves, so let's let them. And the sooner the better.

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