Last week, in an article on U.S. efforts to foster reconciliation among Iraq’s different political and religious, and ethnic groups, the Washington Post reported that “Iraqi government officials have praised the American peace efforts but say they have their limits.”
Safa Rasul Hussein, the deputy national security adviser, said the U.S. programs had been helpful, particularly on outreach to the Sunni minority. But he noted that some Iraqi parties and armed groups refuse to talk to the American military.
“Maybe reconciliation will be more when they leave,” he said.
Over the weekend, I attended a conference at which Mr. Hussein was one of the presenters. I had an opportunity to ask him to elaborate on his statement.
HUSSEIN: You see, at one point in time, the U.S. presence was useful for reconciliation, because they bring people together, they take them together, and the process has begun.
But also there are factions of the people who will go to the U.S. to solve their problems. And once the U.S. [is] out, these people have no other way to solve their problems than to sit [and talk]. So this will be another motive for them, to push them toward reconciliation. That’s what I meant.
Hussein’s comments underline the idea that the U.S. withdrawal is a necessary prerequisite for Iraqis to come to a genuine political agreement on the major questions concerning the future of their state.
As Brian Katulis wrote in this space last month, “it’s not that reconciliation among Iraqis is unworkable, period. Rather, it is unworkable so long as the US maintains a military presence that prevents competing Iraqi factions from testing the limits of their power and work out power-sharing deals on their own terms.”
It’s long past time we admitted that, best intentions aside, the U.S. presence in Iraq is not neutral, and that it continues to provide an excuse for Iraq’s various factions to avoid making the tough choices necessary to achieve a sustainable political accommodation. It’s tragic and more than a little baffling that the Bush administration wasted so much time and energy bargaining with the Iraqis to let the U.S. stay, rather than use the prospect of withdrawal as incentive for Iraq’s leaders to make that accommodation.