Feature

An exit timetable for Iraq

Tthe U.S. and Iraq are close to finalizing an agreement that would remove most U.S. combat troops from Iraq by October 2010.  

Following months of contentious negotiations, the U.S. and Iraq this week were close to finalizing an agreement that would remove most U.S. combat troops from Iraq by October 2010, Bush administration and Iraqi officials said. The proposed agreement calls for Americans to hand over to the Iraqis all major cities by mid-2009 and the rest of country by late 2010. A “residual” U.S. force of unspecified size would remain in Iraq through 2013. The schedule could be amended if both sides agree—a face-saving escape clause that could extend the presence of U.S. forces if security conditions warrant it.

Officials said the deal could still fall apart over a U.S. demand that Iraq offer immunity to all Americans who served in Iraq. Still, the fact that the U.S. has even tentatively accepted a timetable for withdrawal represents a sharp reversal of Bush administration policy. Officials said such an agreement is now feasible because of the steep reduction in violence in Iraq in recent months.

The biggest danger now is that we’ll leave too soon, said Bing West in The Wall Street Journal. Iraqis can’t admit this, but they are not yet able “to stand on their own,” and a premature withdrawal could leave the country at the mercy of insurgents and terrorists. Despite the political pressure coming from both the U.S. and Iraq, the Bush administration can’t lose its resolve now that “victory is in sight.” An Iraqi friend recently asked me: “Is America giving up its goals?” It’s an “unsettling question.”

The pending troop-withdrawal agreement proves that “the Iraqis want us out,” said The Santa Fe New Mexican in an editorial, and “we should oblige them.” But before we go, how about we get “the leaders of that oil-rich nation to pay their own reconstruction costs?” The U.S. has lost more than 4,000 troops and has spent a half-trillion dollars on Iraq since 2003, with precious little to show for our expenditure of blood and treasure. So maybe we should “bill Baghdad for the whole $500 billion we’ve wasted—and let those leftover troops serve as sheriffs to collect it.”

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