November 23, 2005

Iraqi Demands for American Troops to Depart?

Arab League Seal and National Flags

In the final communique issued at the end of the recent Arab League meeting in Cairo, Iraqi leaders called for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq. They noted that these forces are present in Iraq under the terms of a United Nations mandate, which was recently extended for another year.

The problem with a timetable is that it creates a race against the clock. From the US/coalition perspective, we then have to kill most of the them faster than the timetable expires. From the insurgents' perspective, they merely have to survive in sufficient numbers until the forces depart.

Some media outlets have reported that the Iraqis "demanded" a timetable. Let's take a look at what was really said. If you read the Arabic text, the Iraqi leaders used the word "natlabu," which can be properly translated as either "we request" or "we demand." I prefer to use "request" because more often than not the connotation is less strident than "demand." It's a subtlety missed by some translators.

What was also in the communique was the statement that "resistance is the right of all nations." What does that mean? To me, it means that Iraqi nationals involved in the insurgency fighting US/coalition forces can eventually be granted some sort of amnesty, while the "terrorists" (Iraqi or foreign) cannot. Who determines who is who? We'll see.

Although many in the United States will find the prospect of pardoning any of the insurgents abhorrent, there will have to be some form of national reconciliation if the country is to stand up as a coherent political entity.

Both of these statements - the request for a timetable and "resistance is a right" - are likely attempts by the Shi'as and Kurds to bring the Sunnis back into the fold. Will it work? Maybe, but probably not anytime soon. It has taken ten years for Bosnia Herzogovina to agree to a federal structure and to try to write a constitution, and foreign forces are still there.