A timetable for withdrawal from Iraq is a necessity. Any kind of political advancement depends on it. Iraqi citizen bloggers will tell you the same. In fact it is they who convinced me of this.
But what kind of withdrawal timetable can the US set to begin a feasible large-scale withdrawal from Iraq?
The Coalition leadership is unwilling to leave Iraq until political stability has been achieved and headway is being made towards reconciliation (if at all) and this isn’t going to just “happen”. Only a change of government could break the political deadlock Iraq is currently experiencing and it’s clear the current government won’t be uprooted on the US clock. Not under current US doctrine for reshaping the Middle East anyway.
So it seems we are to wait for a new set of Iraqi elections. But the next set of elections are not due for many years to come. The last elections were held in December 2005 but the first session was not held until March 16. 2006 and according to the Iraqi constitution “The electoral term of the Council of Representatives shall be four calendar years, starting with its first session and ending with the conclusion of the fourth year.”
The next elections must be held “forty-five days before the conclusion of the preceding electoral term”. Thus the next elections are due January 29, 2010.
The US must start to significantly draw down combat forces long before this point if the next round of elections are to be considered any more legitimate than the last. Not all Iraqi communities will accept elections until the shroud of “occupation” is eliminated.
This means that by 2010 the coalition needs to reduce combat forces in Iraq down to a level which no longer constitutes an occupying force. Combat forces should begin seriously returning home by Christmas 2008 and be replaced by investment in real reconstruction programs.
Which means employing Iraqi contractors to build the new electrical grid and coming good with the promises of new generators and power plants to supply it. It means facilitating the return of displaced persons to their homes, especially those with skills in construction, health, education and other essential services.
This timetable MUST be set during the US election campaign. Only a strong timetable can begin to give direction to what is otherwise an open-ended, bloody occupation. Such a plan can act to reassure Iraqi and American civilians that there will be an end to this horrific occupation and that Iraq is not going to be the launching platform for future oil-wars in Iran and the Middle East. Perhaps it would even act to prevent unnecessarily escalation of tensions in the region.
However to believe any of this can actually happen is probably being overly optimistic; I’m not setting the doctrine for coalition forces and I’m sure as hell whoever is probably isn’t going to even listen to what I’ve got to say. Still, someone’s got to say it.