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Henry Kissinger: Occupation of Iraq Needs To Continue

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Henry A. Kissinger
Washington Post
Thursday, July 31, 2008

The U.S. presidential campaign has been so long and so intense that it seems to operate in a cocoon, oblivious to changes that should alter its premises. A striking example is the debate over withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

Over the past year, many have proposed setting a deadline for withdrawal. Proponents have argued that a date certain would compel the Iraqi government to accelerate the policy of reconciliation; would speed the end of the war; and would enable the United States to concentrate its efforts on more strategically important regions, such as Afghanistan. Above all, they argued, the war was lost, and withdrawal would represent the least costly way to deal with the debacle.

These premises have been overtaken by events. Almost all objective observers agree that major progress has been made on all three fronts of the Iraq war: Al-Qaeda, the Sunni jihadist force recruited largely from outside the country, seems on the run in Iraq; the indigenous Sunni insurrection attempting to restore Sunni predominance has largely died down; and the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad has, at least temporarily, mastered the Shiite militias that were challenging its authority. After years of disappointment, we face the need to shift gears mentally to consider emerging prospects of success.

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Of course, we cannot tell now whether these changes are permanent or whether, and to what extent, they reflect a decision by our adversaries, including Iran, to husband their forces for the aftermath of the Bush administration. But we do know that the outcome of the conflict will determine the kind of world in which the new administration will have to conduct its policies. Any appearance that radical Islamic forces were responsible for a U.S. defeat would have enormous destabilizing consequences far beyond the region. How and when to leave Iraq will therefore emerge as a principal decision for the new president.

Whatever the interpretation of recent events, the Sunni part of Iraq has created local forces backed by several Sunni states to fight al-Qaeda and indigenous insurgents. These, in turn, have contributed to easing Sunni concerns over being marginalized by the Shiite majority. All along, the Kurdish region has developed its own self-defense forces.

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This article was posted: Thursday, July 31, 2008 at 3:38 am

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