Over the weekend, Iraq’s foreign minister said that the U.S. should set a “very clear timeline” for withdrawal from Iraq. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) — like President Bush before him — has repeatedly rejected setting a date for withdrawal.
A newly updated report from the Center for American Progress, entitled “How to Redeploy,” demonstrates that refusing to set a date for withdrawal risks endangering the gains of the last year and a half. As the report notes, the recent declines in violence are “due in large part to the emergence of Sunni ‘awakening’ groups and Sons of Iraq militias,” who cooperated as a result of their belief in the fall of 2006 that the U.S. would soon be withdrawing:
Brigadier Gen. Sean McFarland…credited the ‘growing concern that the U.S. would leave Iraq and leave the Sunnis defenseless against Al-Qaeda and Iranian-supported militias …’ as the main reason for the turn around in Al Anbar.
While introducing the report, Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Larry Korb explained, “[N]ow — more than ever — it is important to set a date”:
We would argue now — more than ever — it’s important to set a date, because this is the one thing that all of the factions in Iraq agree on and we need to bring them together. [...]
A lot of people have argued that if you set a date to get out now, you will undermine the gains that have occurred in the last year and a half. In our view it’s exactly the opposite, if you don’t set a deadline you will in fact undermine those gains, because if the…people who have been part of this awakening movement that started in Al Anbar province think the United States will be there indefinitely, they will no longer cooperate with us.
In addition, the report — prepared in consultation with “military planners and logistics experts” — finds “that an orderly and safe withdrawal” from Iraq “is best achieved over an 8 to 10 month period.” The proposed timeline is possible because the U.S. does not need to remove from Iraq “every nut and bolt belonging to the U.S. government”:
The United States clearly wants to remove all equipment of value or sensitive nature from Iraq as it withdraws, but it does not need to remove every nut and bolt belonging to the U.S. government. A 10-month timeframe should be sufficient to remove most heavy or sensitive American assets from Iraq while leaving behind non-essential equipment and supplies.