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How to Leave Iraq without Kicking Sunnis Off the Helicopter Skids

12.14.2006 08:45 | DISPATCHES

Maybe we should take them with us.

Most Americans agree that we can't withdraw now without continuing to train and equip the Iraqi army and police forces. Otherwise, they'd likely collapse and melt into the militias like the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade, with which many are already allied (or just in deathly fear of).

But the security forces probably won't be a match for the militias until the next George Bush is president (Jeb's telegenic son, George Prescott).

Instead of the epoch-spanning task of bringing Iraqi security forces up to speed, why not try an approach that's more realistic? (Okay, it's equally fanciful, but in another direction.) Instead of withdrawing from Iraq, why not withdraw with Iraq. In other words, take Iraq with us.

We'll quit being cryptic and explain. Militias have been killing citizens like America's notorious Smithfield Foods butchers hogs. But what if their seemingly endless supply of candidates for corpse-dom were cut off? No, not in a final kill-off, but beamed up from the battlefield, also known as their neighborhood.

There are indications of Shiite and Sunni willingness to work together to oust the US. But, for now, Sunnis are still forced to move from Baghdad neighborhoods designated Shiite and, to a lesser extent, vice versa. Why not expedite, as well as ease the trauma, of their exiles? How? Remove them to the countryside. (Providing livelihoods, of course, is an even more daunting challenge.)

Instead of feasting on civilians, the militias would then have to make do with fighting other fighters exclusively. Not targeting civilians: what a concept.

But militias would soon realize fighting over empty territory is a Pyrrhic victory. They'd follow the civilians and seek once again to assert their authority over them. What then? Time to move civilians out of the country. Not all, of course, just those in demonstrable danger.

Jordan -- with zero assistance from the US -- has already been serving as a reluctant host to many. If the US kicks in funds and forces, it would ease Jordan's burden. The militias, less likely to cross the borders than true-believer jihadis, probably won't follow. If they dared, they'd then encounter Jordanian and US forces working in tandem.

By leaving Iraq, we could also stop courting Shiite authorities, who may still entertain fantasies of washing the Sunnis right out of their system. The Saudis could then stop wondering why we have forsaken the Iraqi Sunnis. They'd no longer have to concern themselves with funding the latter's self-defense. Heck, they might even be prevailed upon to join Jordan in giving refuge to their own kind.

Finally, it may be verboten for the Bush administration to ask the American public to sacrifice (aside from what war costs add to our national debt, that is). But picture a real president presenting each American town of a certain size with an unusual request: Please -- adopt a Sunni family and help them get a foothold in your community.

Clearly, it's time to stop throwing good money after bad by trying to train Iraqis to fight forces that have no qualms about, among other things, retaliating against their families. Let's instead reallocate our resources to the task of removing Iraqi families from harm's way.


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