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December 18, 2007

Today's Uneasy Iraq

Roy Meachum

Holiday seasons are ever thus: intent on buying gifts and celebrating the season, few Americans notice what's happening in the rest of the world.

You may not be aware of a pair of items from Iraq this week. A general in Baghdad told the press (and everyone) things have not been so peaceful since the early months of the occupation.

And the British started pulling out of Basra, the capital of the nation's southern half, where large oil fields abound. It's not that they've finished their job.

And this is very important: London's media report that pulling out makes more sense. Their alternative? To stay and fight (and die) in an increasingly hopeless cause.

Tony Blair supported the premise: He wanted his army, declining rapidly in number, to remain resolutely until President George W. Bush said it was all right for them to go.

Mr. Blair became increasingly unpopular, the war along with him, the more reality crept in. To the best of my knowledge all England's colonial wars passed without major protest.

But they were how the tight little island came to master much of the world. President Dwight Eisenhower snuffed out the sense of imperialism.

In 1956, Israel organized England and France to seize by military force the Suez Canal, the ingenious watery link between the Mediterranean and the entire Far East. Trumpeting the United Nations' reasoning Ike told London, Paris and Jerusalem, they couldn't enjoy the fruits of Illegal and immoral conquest.

He got away with it, perhaps because his chest carried all those heavy medals; he was a genuine hero from World War II. Also, coming out the Korean stalemate, Americans had little taste for going to war. They no longer believed little brown men would automatically fold when confronted by bigger, blue-eyed Yanks.

Vietnam proved the nay-sayers were right. Iraq confirmed the belief. As you will recall, the administration promised "shock and awe" would reduce any and all Arabs to shaking in their boots.

The recent "Desert Storm" seemed to support the premise, advocated forcefully by Vice President Richard Cheney. He argued a little more force was all that was needed. He was wrong.

The more Mr. Cheney bragged and puffed, the more we found that non-Iraqi Arabs showed up opposing our soldiers. Yes, some rushed over from Iran, as the White House claims. But that was only part of the story.

Crowds thronged from Saudi Arabia, our most "reliable" ally in the Middle East. As perceived leaders of Sunni Islam, the king and princes felt constrained to keep Shiite Muslims from killing their co-religionists.

Foggy Bottom beating on their Wahabi thick heads meant simply they went to other means, less open or traceable. Moreover, the Saudis' huge petroleum reserves meant Washington simply could not go all-out.

In addition, what smacked of an easy victory in Afghanistan was falling apart. Trying to save their own hides, American officials sought to lay the blame on the U.N. allies in that theatre.

In Monday's papers, we read that from the highest Pentagon level comes noise about transferring U.S. forces to Afghanistan.

That line of thinking must vastly please Osama bin Laden and all those who wish this country no good. On the other hand, the possibility plays right into hopes of the majority Shiite leaders.

Until last summer, the bulk of the shed blood could be laid at the feet of people like Moqtada al-Sadr, the virulently anti-American chief of what he calls the Maadi Army.

Responding to the U.S. surge announcement, he ordered all his fighters to seek and desist; they went into hiding. They are waiting for his signal to rise up and show the treasure of weapons they collected since August. All the available evidence suggests al-Sadr will not be happy until he takes over all Iraq.

What can we do? Follow the Brits' Basra model, and withdraw to some place out of Baghdad. That way we can operate as a fire force, zooming in where and when needed.

But London is absolutely right: the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds must solve their own method of living together. We cannot do it for them.

The other choice is the point I pushed before the March 2003 invasion: Stay the hell out of Iraq. That way we could stop losing men and women who are confused by why they're there.

Forget the sugary mood that the Pentagon now puts out; there's a lot of tossed-away money and many an American boy and girl that will be wasted, as long as we stick around.

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