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EXTENDED MISSION
THE RIGHT IRAQ TIMETABLE
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
July 5, 2006

July 5, 2006 -- IF all goes well, a contact team working for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will soon meet a delegation of clerics and former military men representing the Arab Sunni insurgency.

On the agenda will be an end to the insurgency in exchange for a package of promises by the government, including partial amnesty for the armed rebels. The insurgent groups' key demand: Set a timetable for the withdrawal of the U.S.-led Coalition's troops. They suggest a two-year period, over which all Coalition troops would leave.

There is no doubt that a majority of Iraqis want foreign troops to leave. Yet it is equally clear that the same majority does not want a precipitous withdrawal.

The reasons are not hard to fathom. New Iraq is not in a position to protect itself against its predatory neighbors. And the Coalition still plays a useful role as an arbiter among Iraqi political forces and religious and ethnic communities engaged in building the new system. More important, perhaps, is that the Coalition's commitment to new Iraq is the surest signal to the insurgents and their non-Iraqi terrorist allies that they can't reverse the process of democratization and restore despotism in the name either of Islam or of pan-Arabism.

The Coalition is present in Iraq under a U.N. Security Council resolution passed at the end of 2003 and designed to highlight international support for the creation of a democratic regime in Baghdad. The U.N. mandate - which expires in December - was necessary because, at the time the resolution was passed, Iraq had ceased to have a sovereign authority. But now Iraq has regained its sovereignty; any demand for extension must come from the Iraqi government.

It is almost certain that the new Iraqi parliament and government will seek an extension. Some are calling for a two-year extension, which coincides exactly with the demand of the insurgent groups. Others want a one-year extension, with the option for renewal.

The issue of the Coalition's presence, however, is not one that the Iraqis can settle on their own - for the Coalition won't necessarily dance to whatever tune the Iraqis might play.

Its membership has already shrunk from 41 nations in 2003 to 32 today and may drop further when others, including Italy and Japan, withdraw their troops before the U.N. mandate ends. What matters, however, is the attitude of the United States, the Coalition's key member and leader.

Ideally, the Coalition would remain in a state of high-profile commitment, including a military presence (albeit on a reduced scale), for at least another four years. That period would allow Iraq to hold its second democratic general election under its new constitution.

Because the next election will be held under a new electoral law, it will offer a clearer political portrayal of post-Ba'athist Iraq in its diversity. At the same time, four years is the minimum required for new institutions to be completed and at least partially tested, and for the new democratic culture to strike deeper roots in society.

To prevent the Coalition's extended presence from a domestic political football in Baghdad or Washington, a number of steps are needed.

First, Maliki must take the issue to the Iraqi National Assembly and secure as big a majority as possible for allowing his government to negotiate the extension of the Coalition's military support. Next, he must negotiate a new deal with the Coalition. It would then be President Bush's turn to take the new package to the American people and Congress and build a broad coalition in support of Iraqi democracy.

The next step would be for the United States and key allies, notably Britain, to join Iraq in taking the issue to the Security Council and seek support for a new, hopefully more broadly based, and reorganized Coalition.

Such a scenario would enable many countries that stayed out of the Coalition for various reasons to join as part of a new international endeavor to support a member of the United Nations in rebuilding the structures of its statehood. The Arab states could end their undeclared, though no less patent, boycott of new Iraq with, at least some, even joining the new U.N.-mandated Coalition. India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and even a number of European countries that stayed out of the original Coalition that liberated Iraq might agree to join the new one.

If the liberation of Iraq from Ba'athist rule was a mainly Anglo-American enterprise, it is important that the building of a new Iraq becomes an international endeavor. Iraq is off to a good start, but not yet out of the woods. The international community, especially the United States and its Coalition allies, should give Iraq the help it needs for a few more years.

Iranian author and journalist Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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