United States ground troops invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, and within weeks were in Baghdad. The most technologically advanced military force in the world had for the second time simply blown through the Iraqi army as if it were so many reenactors of Operation Desert Storm in a modern version of the German blitzkrieg called “shock and awe.” Less than six weeks later, president George W. Bush would stand on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, under a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished,” and announce to the world that major combat operations in Iraq were over.
But that was before the war really began.
In the early days of occupation, the Bush administration, following the downsized and streamlined version of war promoted by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and ignoring military officials like four-star Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni (who retired in part due to his disagreement over Rumsfeld’s “transformation” of the military and the administration’s decision to go to war), failed to secure the country when much of the populace were grudgingly welcoming the occupiers as liberators. Allowing the looting and pillaging of Baghdad, soon followed by the corruption-laden interim administration debacle that was the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) under L. Paul Bremer, and then the unprecedented and ill advised dissolving of the Iraq army and police force — led to the rise of a Sunni insurgency that would not even begin to dissipate until 2007, the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, and the installation of General David Petraeus’ counter-insurgency methods.
And that was only the framework of the fiasco that Iraq became after March 20, 2003. In the five years that American and Coalition forces have occupied Iraq, the only two positives that seem to have come of the invasion have been the deposing of a dictator and the erection of a shaky democratic government. But that government has proved ineffective and internally volatile, unable to take control of its own nation without the American military to back it up. Police and army training is far behind schedule. It is feared that if Coalition forces, including those of the United States, leave Iraq in the near future, Iraq will quickly devolve into a bloody civil war.
Within this framework of administrative ineptitude, both Iraqi and American, there now exists a history. And that history does not reflect well on the United States. Abu Ghraib. Haditha. Fallujah. Decreased oil production. Scandals and corruption. Military contractors. Decreased electricity availability. An estimated four million people displaced by the war. The advent of al Qaeda in Iraq, an organization that did not exist in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion. The botched hanging of Saddam Hussein. Sectarian violence that saw venerated sites destroyed and people killed in ethnic “cleansings.” At least one hundred thousand civilian deaths (estimates range from 60,000 to 1.2 million). And the most damning piece of history: the convoluted trail of lies about nonexistent Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) that the Bush administration contrived in order to justify the unnecessary invasion of Iraq.
Still, there exists a lull in the battle at the moment, a relative quiet that many attribute to the “surge” in troops sent to Iraq in the past year and the ministrations of General David Petraeus. Many Americans believe that it is the final culmination of a successful strategy. It is believed that the U.S. has finally managed to get Iraq under control. And it is widely believed that, as long as the United States keeps troops in Iraq, the country will continue to remain peaceful and actually begin rebuilding itself (something many erroneously believe has been happening all along).
But there is a great deal to support the idea that if the United States left Iraq, the country would succumb to an internecine three-way civil war between the Kurds, the Shiites, and the Sunnis. The Shiites, the dominant religious group in Iraq, currently are being held back by the charismatic Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr, who has enjoined his followers from breaking a truce negotiated with the U.S. and the Iraqi government. The Sunni insurgency has quieted due to General Petraeus’ negotiations with tribal leaders and warlords (and incentives for not harboring al Qaeda members). The Kurds, who have enjoyed a relatively independent state in northern Iraq since the mid-90’s, have their own military. All three factions would like to have control of Iraq. Given the tenuousness of the political situation, it does not take someone with a doctorate in political science to produce a scenario of devastating civil war if the U.S. should leave.
Sooner or later, Iraq is going to destabilize. All those rented Sunni warlords (much of their allegiance is paid for, some of it with weapons) and quiescent Shiites (such as the Mehdi Army, the largest Shiite paramilitary group) will not stay peaceful if given the slightest provocation, especially if it is of a religious nature. American and Coalition troops will be caught in the middle, just like they have been for the past five years, once it begins.
It is that inevitability that the United States must avoid. It is time to withdraw our troops from Iraq. Presidential candidate Senator John McCain recently stated that the United States must be willing to fight this war for a hundred years, if need be. Unfortunately, he was not talking about the War on Terrorism, a war most Americans agree must be fought diligently, wherever and whenever necessary.
The War in Iraq has lasted for five years due to gross mismanagment and no occupation or exit strategies. It began on a platform of lies and continued through failed policies, inept programs, and cronyistic business dealings. Nearly 4000 American troops have been killed. Nearly 30,000 have been wounded. It soon will have cost the American people a trillion dollars. It has already cost the nation its international prestige.
Year Six has begun and president Bush has denied the will of the American people to end the war. Senator John McCain has vowed to continue the occupation of Iraq on some misguided idea that it is our salient outpost against international Islamic terrorism if he is elected president of the United States in November. Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have vowed to reduce the size of the military force and/or remove American combat troops entirely from Iraq if either one of them are elected.
Regardless of who gets to sit in the Oval Office, there will be a Year Seven (at least the beginning of a Year Seven). It is up to the American people to ensure that there is no Year Eight. No president has the right, even through the mandate of executive privilege, to thwart the will of the American people. Poll after poll has shown that two-thirds to three-quarters of the American people want an end to the War in Iraq. No matter who becomes the next president, they must become the executor of the popular will.
Bush’s mission failed (and Americans can only speculate as to the true reasons why Bush, Rumsfeld, and others wanted to invade Iraq in the first place). McCain’s one hundred years of war is ludicrous. As a united people with a single voice, Americans can ensure that the war does not last a tenth that long…