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The American-Sunni War

by Patrick J. Buchanan
February 2, 2005

"We must recognize what a large and growing number of Iraqis now believe," said Sen. Ted Kennedy last week, that "the war in Iraq has become a war against the American occupation."

Even with the heroic and heartening election turnout, Kennedy is not entirely wrong. The insurgency has always been a war against the U.S. occupation and those Iraqis who cooperate with us. But the paradox Kennedy fails to address is this: While the U.S. invasion and occupation precipitated the insurgency, it has grown to where only the U.S. military keeps it from seizing power. Should we withdraw now, there is a near certainty the insurgents in the Sunni Triangle would inherit the country.

Here we come to the core conflict the elections starkly reveal. This is not an Iraqi war against America. It is a Sunni insurrection, supported by foreign jihadists. Neither the Kurds, who owe their independence to us, nor the Shia, who now stand to inherit the nation, are in rebellion. For not only did we depose the hated enemy of the Shia and Kurds, Saddam Hussein, we dismantled his state, disbanded his army and put Iraq on the road to elections that now point to an autonomous Kurdistan and a Shia-dominated Iraq.

The Shia believe they are being compensated for having been abandoned in 1991, when George H.W. Bush urged them to rise up against Baghdad, but let them be slaughtered when Saddam sent his Revolutionary Guard to massacre the rebels. But the elections also leave the United States with a dilemma. While expelling us is the casus belli of the insurgency, it has taken on a life of its own. A year ago, Gen. John Abizaid said there were 5,000 fighters. He now estimates the number of enemy at 20,000, even though Gen. George Casey says we killed or captured 15,000 in the last year. The head of Iraqi intelligence puts the number of enemy at 30,000 or 40,000 fighters, supported by 200,000 people.

U.S. generals dispute the latter numbers, but no one denies the insurgents have augmented their ranks and increased the incidence and lethality of their attacks.

Given our dilemma the U.S. military presence is the cause of the insurgency, but also the only barrier to its success the answer suggests itself: We must bring an end to our military presence, even as we build an indigenous force to replace it.

With the elections now completed, President Bush should lay down, for the Iraqis and the world, conditions for the withdrawal of U.S. forces and their replacement with Iraqi forces. Specifically, President Bush should:

* Inform the new Iraqi assembly the United States has no plans for any permanent U.S. military presence on Iraqi soil.

* Pledge continued U.S. aid in battling the resistance and rebuilding the country, as long as an elected government endures.

* Accelerate the training and equipping of Iraqi army forces, and the transfer to them of the duty to defend their own government.

* Announce an initial drawdown of U.S. forces, so Iraqis get the message that the defense of democracy in their own country is first and foremost their own duty, not ours. While we will aid them in their battle, its ultimate outcome will depend upon them.

The Iraqis must know that, in the not-too-distant future, their fate and future will be in their hands, not ours.

The elections showed that a majority of Iraqis will vote for democracy. What has not yet been demonstrated is whether Iraqis will fight for it with the same determination as the insurgents are resisting it. Should Bush advance such a proposal, Iraqis would know that if the insurgents continued to fight even after the Americans were committed to leave and had begun to depart the insurgents' real agenda was a return to power in Baghdad, by force.

And if the Shia, 60 percent of the country, and Kurds, 20 percent, plus the anti-Baathist Sunni, are unwilling to fight a bloody restoration of Baathist tyranny, we need to find out now, before more U.S. blood is shed.

2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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