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Al Qaeda in Iraq has been virtually defeated. 15 of 18 surge benchmarks have been met. Violence has dropped dramatically, to it's lowest level in 4 years. The insurgency is being quelled as crackdowns against both Sunni and Shia insurgents have been carried out. The Iraqi people are rejecting violence. Iraqi troops are taking mission leads now, with US forces providing backup roles. Iraqis already run 9 of 18 Iraq provinces. The US is beginning to draw it's troop levels down. There will be more troop reductions this month. Some troops will be redeployed from Iraq to Afghanistan.
Now, as part of current security negotiations with the US, Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki has called for a timetable for American troop withdrawal. An Associated Press article states the Iraqi position as follows:
"Our stance in the negotiations underway with the American side will be strong ... We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that doesn't have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq," [Iraq security adviser] Mouwaffak al-Rubaie said.
He provided no details. But Ali al-Adeeb, a Shiite lawmaker and a prominent official in the prime minister's party, told The Associated Press that Iraq was linking the timetable proposal to the ongoing handover of various provinces to Iraqi control. The Iraqi proposal stipulates that, once Iraqi forces have resumed security responsibility in all 18 of Iraq's provinces, U.S.-led forces would then withdraw from all cities in the country. After that, the country's security situation would be reviewed every six months, for three to five years, to decide when U.S.-led troops would pull out entirely, al-Adeeb said.
"This is what the Iraqi people want, the parliament and other Iraqi leaders," said al-Adeeb.
The proposal, as outlined by al-Adeeb, is phrased in a way that would allow Iraqi officials to tell the Iraqi public that it includes a specific timetable and dates for a U.S. withdrawal. However, it also would provide the United States some flexibility on timing because the dates of the provincial handovers are not set.
This is the best news yet. It looks like we can finally start pulling our troops from Iraq. President Bush has resisted fixed withdrawal timetables up to this point, preferring instead to have troop levels dictated by conditions on the ground in Iraq. Defense secretary Robert Gates reiterated that view yesterday:
"As the Iraqi security forces get stronger and get better, then we will be able to continue drawing down our troops in the future," Gates told reporters Tuesday during a visit to Fort Lewis, Wash. "However long that takes really will depend on the situation on the ground. But things are going very well at this point."
While wanting troop levels to be determined by the conditions on the ground, Bush himself has said US forces would leave if the Iraqi government told us to leave. In May, 2007, Bush said "It's their government's choice. If they were to say, 'Leave,' we would leave."
I think it's time to grant the Iraqis their wish. All along, the stated plan from the Bush administration has been "as they stand up, we'll stand down." Well, the Iraqis are standing up. It sure took long enough, but they are finally taking control of their country, and it IS their country, not ours. A withdrawal timetable now might actually be a positive thing, a signal to the Iraqi people that the US is not interested in occupying their country, only in securing it. This timetable would be predicated on successful completion of the Iraqi mission, not on failure-producing political tactics, as were previous calls for withdrawal by Democrats, including Barack Obama. If Obama and the Congressional Democrats had gotten their way in 2006/2007, there would have been no surge, there would be no successful completion of the Iraq mission, and there would be no stable Iraq government. There would be only defeat and chaos.
John McCain should get some props here. He was the one who advocated for the surge long before there was a surge. McCain was long a critic of the pre-surge Bush/Rumsfeld Iraq policy that was not working, and McCain was proven correct. Obama, on the other hand, displayed only his inexperience and desire for defeat, claiming that the surge could never work. What was that Wesley Clark said about military experience not qualifying a man to be president ? Sure, Wes, whatever you say. Go find another talking point, because you know what REALLY doesn't qualify a man to be president ? NO EXPERIENCE, whose name is Barack Obama.
Setting a success-based timetable for withdrawal from Iraq could also quell the suspicions of those who view the US as imperialists in the Middle East. If our presence in Iraq is a terrorist recruiting tool, as the Dems have long said, and are most certainly correct about, a withdrawal timetable might lessen that a little bit. Of course, we'll still be in Afghanistan, so I'm not sure how much it would be lessened. Probably not much. The Dems never spoke about THAT part of the equation, because it would have mostly nullified their point. All the Dems were really interested in was losing the Iraq war. Fortunately, we didn't take the Dems advice, and today Iraq is far better off because of it. After taking down Saddam's wretched government, we obliged ourselves to the Iraqi people. It looks like that obligation may soon be fulfilled (knock on wood), and then we can get out of Iraq, the right way.