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War Is Over! (If Bush Wants It, and He Doesn't Seem To)

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Message Randolph Holhut

DUMMERSTON, Vt. — And so it goes. The war on Iraq grinds on and President Bush has made it clear that nothing will change his mind about the conduct of war.

Not Congress. Not the generals in the field. Not the American people. Nothing will change affect his sincere belief that this war will be won.

On Tuesday, President Bush carried out a highly choreographed veto of a war funding bill that included a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces in Iraq.

He refuses to consider the idea of withdrawal, and is seemingly content to run out the clock on his folly and turn the whole mess over to his successor on Jan. 20, 2009.

While it appears to be a totally useless exercise to convince the president that he is wrong on Iraq, we have to keep trying.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recently said that "this war (in Iraq) is lost, and that the surge is not accomplishing anything," the right-wing screech monkeys predictably threw a fit.

But Reid is only stating the obvious. From a military standpoint, there is no strategic reason for the continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. The only people who don't seem to realize this are President Bush and his administration. They cling to the tired and totally false theme that if U.S. forces leave, Iraq will turn into an al-Qaida stronghold.

There is little to back that up. By most reliable estimates, there are only about 1,000 foreign fighters in Iraq. Virtually all of the violence in Iraq directed against U.S. forces is being committed by Iraqis, mainly the Sunni minority, the people who ran Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

The Sunnis believe the United States has engaged in a systematic campaign of repression at the behest of the joint Shiite-Kurdish government of Nouri al-Maliki. Thus, more and more Sunnis see violence as the only option.

Secondly, does anyone truly believe that Turkey, Jordan, Iran or Saudi Arabia would want such an al-Qaida-dominated country on their borders? The Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis aren't exactly wild about the idea of an al-Qaida dominated Iraq either.

What could happen if the United States quit Iraq is not an al-Qaida takeover, but a regional proxy war. Turkey is prepared to invade if the Kurds declare independence. Saudi Arabia is prepared to intervene if it believes the Sunni Iraqis are in danger. Likewise, Iran is ready to get even more involved in Iraq if their Shiite allies are threatened.

We are now seeing a civil war in which U.S. troops are trapped in the middle. For the Shiite majority and their Kurdish allies, as long as U.S. troops are around to keep the Sunnis down, there is no need for compromise. Without accommodation, the civil war will continue.

So, if there is no strategic reason for U.S. forces to be in Iraq and if their presence in Iraq is helping to fuel unrest, why are our troops still there?

That's why Reid and many others are right in saying the war is lost — at least in a military sense. But it still can be won away from the battlefield, if the Bush administration is willing to think beyond its current failed strategy.

Writing recently in The Nation, Mideast scholar and author Juan Cole suggested that the United States put pressure on the Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites to sit down and work out a settlement to end the civil war. The United States and Britain, together with the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, should work to get the Iraqi government to meet with the governments of Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The Iraqis need to end the fighting and come up with a power sharing agreement similar to the deals that ended the recent civil wars in Lebanon and Northern Ireland. Cole suggests that both the Sunnis and Shiites would need to demobilize their militias and allow a UN/OIC peacekeeping force to step in to maintain order. Another round of provincial elections would need to be held to ensure more equitable representation in the Iraqi government. And Iraq's neighbors should tie any financial aid to all sides holding up their end of the deal.

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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at
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