The Iraqis have reached a consensus — the U.S. should leave Iraq. Regardless of whether they are Kurds, Sunni, or Shi’a; regardless of political party, there is a general agreement that the United States should depart soon — within the year, or at most, three years. Yet some Americans, especially conservatives, are shocked that the Iraqis would show such a lack of gratitude to the United States.
In the last two weeks, many Iraqi leaders have made the rounds in Washington. Two of them, one a Sunni and one a Shiite leader, testified before the House subcommittee of Foreign Affairs and Oversight chaired by Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-MA). It was remarkable to see the reaction on the face of one Republican member of the subcommittee when the Iraqis replied to congressional questions with a definitive call for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. The two Iraqis were clear in their expressions of Iraqi sentiment towards the United States: we are considered occupiers, not liberators. One of them, to the astonishment of Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), declared that the removal of one man, Saddam Hussein, was not worth the loss of thousands of Iraqi lives since the inception of the occupation.
Another Iraqi leader among the visitors was Adnan Pachachi, the former Iraqi foreign minister, and former Iraqi Representative to the UN. Dr. Pachachi is one of the leading Sunnis and a leader of a new coalition, the Iraq Democratic Party. While his group advocates the removal of U.S. troops at a slightly slower rate than that proposed by the Shiite leaders, they still call for a rational and safe withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq within a few years.
The recent debates in Iraq and the United States about the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq are prompted by the current negotiations on the long term presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the powerful Iraqi Shi’a leader, informed Prime Minister Maliki that he will oppose the long terms U.S. presence agreement as long as he is alive.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis are demonstrating frequently in Baghdad against the continued presence of the U.S. forces. Every Friday, in hundreds of Mosques, the sermons are calling for the end of occupation.
Many Iraqis do not trust U.S. claims that we will not have permanent bases and have no designs to colonize it for years to come. The Washington Post reported recently that Sami al-Askari, a member of the Iraqi parliament foreign relations committee and a close ally of the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, declared that, “The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq.” Moreover, many Iraqis think we will use Iraqi soil as a launching pad to invade other countries — especially Iran. The hue and cry among the Iraqis pushed al-Maliki to express concerns regarding a long-term presence for the United States.
It was reported by many outlets that the opening terms of U.S. negotiators was for 200 facilities that included 58 military bases. Moreover, the U.S. wanted complete sovereignty over the Iraqi skies and complete immunity for all U.S. soldiers and contractors for crimes committed against Iraqis. On top of that, the United States wanted the freedom to arrest any Iraqi without ever having to turn them over to the Iraqis.
Even though the opening position of the American delegation into the negotiations may have been to obtain maximum leverage from the Iraqis, it smells of arrogance worthy of an empire. How can such a position be compatible with our claims of liberating Iraq and putting Iraq on the road to democratic freedom? It is this arrogance of power that led this Administration to an unnecessary preemptive war. This arrogance was further illustrated by a recent statement by Republican presidential candidate John McCain. He has been touting that the American people care only about U.S. casualties and that if there are no such casualties, we can stay for fifty to a hundred years.
Instead of negotiating a long-term presence, the U.S. should be negotiating a withdrawal. Both large portions of Iraqis and U.S. citizens are widely supportive of a timetable for withdrawal. The following ten point plan would set the stage for a responsible withdrawal:
1. Announce that we respect the Iraqis as co-equal in their humanity and aspirations.
2. We will leave Iraq fully and completely within a maximum of two years with a schedule of withdrawal to be negotiated with Iraqis. During the remainder of the occupation all contractors will be subject to Iraqi laws.
3. We will leave no military bases in Iraq.
4. We will support the United Nations to provide security forces from Iraq-friendly countries to help the Iraqis, if needed.
5. Appropriate military equipment currently in Iraq will be transferred to the Iraqis.
6. We will have the right to compete for Iraqi oil in the open market. Iraqis will not be forced to hire U.S. companies to manage it.
7. We reserve the right to attack al-Qaeda training camps if they appear in Iraq. We will give Iraq notice before we attack them. If the Iraqis eliminate these camps on their own, there will be no need for our action.
8. We will have a reconstruction package that will include financial assistance but will emphasize technical support. We will help in re-settling refugees back into Iraq.
9. The U.S. will encourage non-government organizations from the United States and around the world to help in the reconstruction of Iraq.
10. We will increase the quota for Iraqis to study in the United States on condition that they must return to Iraq.
Let us prove to the Iraqis and the rest of the world that our main concern is to deter terrorism. While the current Administration does not have the moral fortitude to take these suggestions, the next president can and should adopt, at least, a similar outline of policies toward Iraq, if we ever want to repair our tarnished image around the world.