Friday, July 28, 2006

Coalition of the Trapped

So it’s finally time to stay the course in Iraq. No, really.

Asked six months ago, I’d probably have favored a quick unilateral withdrawal. Removing American soldiers would have meant taking one more destabilizing element out of the country. Today it actually looks like leaving would make things worse.

American GIs have gone from belligerents in a war of occupation to bystanders in an undeclared civil conflict. Their presence probably still feeds the conflict, but it may have gotten bad enough for any outside presence to be better than nothing. For a sense of how many Iraqis versus how many coalition troops are dying month by month, view the second and third tables here.

It’s probably a moot point—the Bush administration seems to have concluded recently that it’s stuck anyway. And it certainly isn’t a solution—too few under-trained foreign troops will not build a peaceful Iraqi state. They simply shouldn’t have gone in the first place. But being there now may be less about providing a source of instability and more about standing between ethnic and religious civil combatants. Several Sunni leaders have taken to this view. It’s nothing to do with liking the occupation—many of them apparently support the insurgency. It’s about not wanting to die in rising sectarian violence.

The UN has identified more than 14 000 violent deaths in Iraq so far this year. Full report here.

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