Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why we must leave

On June 6th, 5 US troops who served as advisors to the Iraqi police were killed in a rocket attack on the compound where they lived. The attack likely came from Shia militants who want the US to leave Iraq by the end of the year, and want credit for driving them out (Associated Press). These deaths bring the total number of US casualties in Iraq to 4,459.

Also on June 6th, explosions killed 9 Iraqi soldiers and 7 civilians in Bagdad and Tikrit, 20 others were wounded. On June 3rd a double bomb attack on a Tikrit mosque killed 21 people and injured over 60. 177 people died in May as a result of violence (Al Jazeera). These attacks bring the total civilian casualties since the beginning of the Iraq war to 101,229 according to the website Iraq Body Count.
That being said, violence has declined tremendously since the height of the Iraq war in 2006. Back then the murder rate was 100 people per 100,000, now it’s 14. That puts Iraq on par with Mexico and Brazil and below Venezuela, Columbia, New Orleans and Baltimore (NPR). However, Iraq has many more injuries than these places due to the prevalent use of explosives. 

The US has accomplished a lot in Iraq. We toppled an evil dictator, created a (somewhat dysfunctional) democracy, and brought drown the level of violence in the country. That being said, the Bush administration took the country to war on the falsehoods that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq was tied to Al Qaeda. The war cost $709 Billion dollars, according to the CBO, and that’s before accounting for the health expenses associated with treated our wounded veterans (Politifact). It diverted greatly needed resources from Afghanistan. Most importantly, it has cost the lives of 4,459 Americans and counting. All in all, I believe the decision to invade Iraq was wrong, but that shouldn’t stop us from appreciating what we have accomplished there.

At the end of the year, the agreement between the US and Iraq that allows the US to keep large numbers of troops in Iraq expires. Unless it is renewed, the vast majority of the 46,000 US troops in Iraq will be required to leave.

The militant Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threatened to reactivate his private militia if the US doesn’t leave Iraq. Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, fought against the US and Iraqi militaries and was one of the major reasons the Iraq war was so deadly in 2006 (NPR). If Sadr does bring back the Mahdi Army, it will threaten the stability of the government and return Iraq to its bloodiest days.

Some Washington officials want to maintain a presence in Iraq to prevent Iran from using it as a path to support the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas (Associated Press). But Iran would support these groups whether or not we continue to put US troops in harm’s way. This is hardly a reason to risk destabilizing Iraq.

Unfortunately, Washington will probably try to keep a large military presence in Iraq, as we did in Germany and Japan. So our best hope is that Iraq doesn’t extend the deadline for US troops. Even without extending the deadline, the US will find ways to keep a few hundred troops in Iraq (NPR). So Iraq will decide whether the US will have thousands of troops in their country or hundreds.

For our sake, I hope they choose hundreds.

(I would like to thank the Associated Press, NPR, Al Jazeera, and Politifact for their reporting that made this editorial possible. If you haven’t already checked out NPR’s Kelly McEvers’ reporting from Bagdad, you need to.)

Originally Posted June 8, 2011

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