U.S. faces several difficult options in search for a way out of Iraq

U.S. faces several difficult options in search for a way out of Iraq
October 21st, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: U.S. faces several difficult options in search for a way out of Iraq

U.S. faces several difficult options in search for a way out of Iraq
Media: The Associated Press
Date: 21 October 2006


CAIRO, Egypt_With pressure mounting for changing policy in Iraq, the U.S.
faces tough options _ including partitioning the country, setting a date for
a phased troop withdrawal and offering a role for neighboring powers whose
influence Washington once sought to curb.

None offers a guarantee of success in bringing peace _ and some are
unpalatable to powerful groups within the fragmented country.

But with midterm elections approaching, key figures in both U.S. political
parties have concluded that "staying the course" offers little chance of
ending the bloodshed and establishing a stable, democratic Iraq anytime

Those doubts increased Thursday when the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad,
Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, said a two-month crackdown had failed to curb
the violence and that security plans were under review.

"The violence is indeed disheartening," Caldwell said.

Faced with growing doubts about the war, President Bush said Friday he would
consult with top generals in the next few days to see if a change in tactics
was necessary in Iraq.

"We are constantly adjusting our tactics so we can achieve the objectives
and right now, it's tough," the president told The Associated Press.

Much attention has been focused on the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel
led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Indiana Rep.
Lee H. Hamilton that is due to recommend new strategies.

Although those recommendations are not expected until after next month's
elections, a number of options are reportedly under discussion, including
dividing Iraq into a Kurdish north, Shiite south and a Sunni district in
central Iraq.

Most Iraqis and as well as the U.S. and Middle East governments oppose
breaking Iraqi into three independent countries or into purely
religion-based units. State Department spokesman Tom Casey repeated Friday
that Iraq "should remain a unified country."

However, Iraq's parliament has approved legislation to allow formation of
self-ruled federal regions _ a measure that would provide considerable
regional autonomy but keep the country intact.

But even that limited division has drawn strong opposition from Sunni Arab
leaders and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who fear it would lead to
the breakup of the country and deprive Sunnis of a share of Iraq's vast oil

Establishment of a large, self-ruled Shiite ministate in the south could
also open the door to expanded influence by Shiite-dominated Iran and
trigger a bloody power struggle among Shiite factions.

Tens of thousands of Sunnis and Shiites could be forced from their homes in
areas dominated by the rival sect.

Another possibility would be for the United States to announce a phased
troop withdrawal. Supporters believe that would encourage the Iraqis to set
aside their differences and reach an agreement on sharing power once the
Americans depart.

"Many of these Iraqi leaders know what needs to be done and they need the
United States to give them the political cover to do it," Mideast expert
Kenneth M. Pollack said in an interview with the Council on Foreign

"But absent that kind of ultimatum from the United States, I don't think
that we're going to break that political logjam."

The risk, however, is that such a move would only encourage an even bloodier
fight for power among Iraqi factions, including al-Qaida and Saddam
Hussein's Baath party.

An al-Qaida-linked group this month declared its own Islamic state in areas
around Baghdad with large Sunni populations. Rumors are circulating in
Baghdad that Saddam's party plans to unveil a new political program,
offering talks with the Americans on ending the war.

But hatred of the Baathists runs deep within the Shiite political
leadership, and the specter of a new role for the party could only worsen
the rift between Sunnis and Shiites.

To prevent that, some U.S. analysts have suggested the United States should
encourage a reconciliation conference, bringing in not only Iraqis but also
countries such as Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

To do that, Washington would likely have to turn to the United Nations to
avoid allegations that the conference represented a bid by the Americans to
impose a settlement in Iraq.

"The United States should seek to `lead' from the sidelines, and work with
regional friends and allies," wrote former Pentagon analyst Anthony

He also recommended that the United States seek multibillion dollar
multilateral economic and military aid packages that are "clearly
conditional on Iraqi political compromise and conciliation."

All that would require the United States to acknowledge a role for countries
like Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration has accused of helping
terrorism. Earlier this year, the Americans offered low-level talks with the
Iranians on the situation in Iraq, which Tehran refused.

The Iranians could try to link cooperation in Iraq with U.S. acceptance of
their nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes.
Washington suspects the Iranians want to build a nuclear weapon.

Syria, which the U.S. has accused of facilitating the movement of foreign
fighters into Iraq, may also hold out for U.S. pressure for a peace deal
with Israel.

Whatever options are pursued, the prospects for a stable, prosperous and
democratic Iraq appear guarded.

"Iraq at best will remain messy for years to come, with a weak central
government, a divided society and sectarian violence," Richard N. Haass of
the Council on Foreign Affairs wrote this month in the Financial Times.

"At worst, it will become a failed state racked by all-out civil war that
will draw in its neighbors."

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