Iraqis ask for Withdrawal Timetable
AP reports on the results of the Cairo national reconciliation conference, attended by the major Iraqi political factions, including Sunni Arabs.
Al-Hayat gives the orginal Arabic wording of some articles of the agreement. One provision says, “We demand the withdrawal of foreign forces in accordance with a timetable, and the establishment of a national and immediate program for rebuilding the armed forces through drills, preparation and being armed, on a sound basis that will allow it to guard Iraq’s borders and to get control of the security situation . . .”
Sources at the conference told al-Hayat that they envisaged the withdrawal of foreign military forces from the cities within 6 months (i.e. mid-May?). They said that the withdrawal would be completed over a period of two years (i.e. November 2007). This timetable, al-Hayat says, appears actually to have been put forward by the Americans themselves. If that is true, we finally know exactly what George W. Bush means by “staying the course.” It is a course that takes us to withdrawal.
The Shiite United Iraqi Alliance list had originally called for an American troop withdrawal as part of its party platform, but that plank was opposed by Ibrahim Jaafari, and was dropped even before the January 30 elections, presumably because of American pressure.
The other surprise of the Cairo conference is that the negotiators accepted the right for Iraqi groups to mount an armed resistance against the foreign troops. The participants were careful to condemn universally the killing of innocent non-combatants. They decried “takfir” or declaring a Muslim to be an unbeliever.
The Sunni Arabs appear to have gotten some of the things that they wanted.
At the end of the conference, Shiite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim said that he would go forward with creating a provincial confederation in the south. (Such a body would have special claims on the petroleum resources of the South.) Sunni leader Harith al-Dhari dissociated himself in the end from that scenario.
My only dissent is that I do believe that if the Americans aren’t very careful about how they do it, when they withdraw there will be a civil war and possibly a regional war. What Lebanon should have taught us is that when sectarian conflicts develop into guerrilla war, and when the central government and its army are for any reason paralyzed, a conventional war can easily ensue. As for a statute of limitations on “you broke it, you own it,” whatever it is it is surely longer than 2 years.