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THE TIMETABLE IS UNCHANGED
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
November 29, 2005

November 29, 2005 -- IN the circles opposed to the toppling of Saddam Hussein, one word is making the rounds these days: timetable. Having failed to stop the war that liberated Iraq, and with their hopes of an insurgent triumph dashed, they are now focusing on one issue: the withdrawal of the U.S.-led Coalition forces.

The truth, however, is that a timetable has been in place from the first day of the war that ended the Ba'athist tyranny in 2003. In that timetable, the Coalition's military presence in Iraq is linked, as it should be, to the program for the nation's political reconstruction.

In other words, the Coalition forces are in Iraq to accomplish a precise political task, and not to provide the United States or any other foreign power with a forward base in the Middle East.

The goal was to take power away from a small clique led by Saddam Hussein and hand it back to the people of Iraq. The idea was not to impose democracy on Iraq, as some anti-liberation circles claim. The idea was to remove impediments to democratization.

Today, the Iraqis are not forced to create a democracy. But they have a chance to do so, if they so wish. The Coalition's task was to get them that chance. And in that sense, the Iraq project has been a tremendous success.

The task consists of a series of objectives — many already attained, often in the teeth of diplomatic chicanery by the anti-liberation powers and a nihilistic insurgency by the largest coalition of terrorists in the region's recent history.

Any checklist would show that the Iraq project has been more successful than Saddam nostalgics claim:

* The first objective, to bring down Saddam, was achieved in three weeks.

* The next objective was to break the apparatus of oppression created by the Ba'ath. Despite some residual problems, this, too, has been achieved.

* Another objective: Break Saddam's war machine, which had been used against Iraq's neighbors as well as Iraq's Kurds and Shiites. After just three years, nothing is left of that infernal machine.

* The formation of the Governing Council represented the first step toward restoring Iraqi sovereignty. Next came the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis, in June 2004.

* That was followed by the formation of an interim government, a series of municipal elections, a general election leading to the formation of Iraq's first pluralist government, the writing of a new constitution and a referendum to get it approved.

* The next item on the checklist is the general election set for Dec. 15.

The checklist clearly shows that every objective included in the political program has been achieved within the exact timeframe fixed by the new Iraqi leadership and its Coalition allies. The terrorists and the anti-liberation circles in the Middle East and the West have failed to stop or even delay the program's implementation.

A key element in all this has been the explicit understanding by both Iraq's leaders and the Coalition that no foreign troops will remain on Iraqi soil without the express agreement of the nation's elected representatives. In other words, the timetable for withdrawal already exists.

In fact, the first item on the agenda of the next elected government (to be formed by February at the latest) consists of a decision on the presence of Coalition troops in Iraq.

The United States and all its Coalition allies are equally committed to withdrawing their troops if that is the express wish of the next elected parliament and government in Baghdad.

Iraqis of all backgrounds are unanimous in their desire to see foreign forces leave their country as soon as possible. The question that divides them is the timeframe for withdrawal.

With the exception of the Zarqawi gang and its residual Ba'athist allies, almost no one in Iraq wants an immediate pullout. Their country is located in a rough region with predatory neighbors; Iraqis see the presence of the Coalition forces as a kind of insurance against even more brutal intervention in their affairs by these neighbors.

The idea of a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq has been built into the entire project from Day One. It was on that understanding that the Iraqi people chose not to fight for Saddam, thus allowing the Coalition to win a rapid military victory. That fact created a moral contract between the people of Iraq and the Coalition as co-liberators.

The Iraqi people's part of the bargain was not to prevent the dismantling of the Ba'athist machinery of repression and war and to welcome the chance to build a new political system. The Coalition's part was to protect Iraq against its internal and external enemies until it was strong enough to look after itself.

In this year's general election and constitutional referendum, the people of Iraq formally endorsed that contract. The Coalition, for its part, must continue to honor it until the new Iraq feels strong enough to bid farewell to its liberators. That could come as early as next spring, or take another year or two.

My understanding of the situation in Iraq today is that the bulk of the Coalition forces could be safely withdrawn within the next year. The insurgency, which has already lost the political battle, is set to peak out in terms of the violence it is still capable of triggering against the Iraqi people. And if the recent performance of Iraq's new armed forces in a series of operations in two Western provinces is an indication, the Iraqis will be able to manage the insurgency on their own for as long as it takes to finish it off.

However, it is up to the people of Iraq and its Coalition allies to decide the moment and the modalities of the withdrawal. It is a judgment that no outsider can make. Those who opposed the liberation and those who have done all they could to undo it have no moral right to join that debate.

Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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