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US Withdrawal from Iraq - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Whatever the results of the upcoming American elections in November may be, one of their most important results will be American withdrawal from Iraq–something that will have medium- and long-range effects in the region and the world. This does not mean that the plans of the current presidential candidates will be the same. Barack Obama’s plan for withdrawing the American forces will be based on a package of diplomatic measures within the framework of the United Nations. His plan will be accompanied by other political steps to reach an understanding with and exert pressure on Iran and Syria and to mobilize the political, economic, and psychological capabilities of America’s friends in the region, foremost the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey. In this approach, the new American president will use his image as a man who understands and knows the mistakes of the previous president and the need for a new period and page to deal and develop relations with friends and enemies alike.

On the other side, John McCain, who has declared his readiness to stay in Iraq for another hundred years, will not be less anxious to withdraw from Iraq. However, His plan would largely be a copy of the plan of US President Richard Nixon, who maintained the most intransigent position on the war in Vietnam, but in the end was the man who negotiated with North Vietnam, signed an agreement with it, and withdrew the American forces. McCain will not hesitate to do what Nixon did in escalating the war and using force if necessary to convince others in Iraq and Iran and all evil-minded people that the United States was not in a hurry and does not make its decisions from a position of weakness.

Whatever the plan may be, the outcome will be the same. The position may change with regard to the time each plan would take to implement, but most probably, the difference between them will be in months rather than years. Essentially, each one of them suffers, in terms of elements of strength, from a coup in American public opinion against the war, an increase in the American people’s rejection of this war, and a rise in the economic and strategic cost of the war. In short, withdrawal from Iraq will give the new American president time to review the American global calculations. But, this does not mean that the United States will be ready to declare its surrender and hand Iraq over to anti-American forces.

The situation in Iraq, on the other hand, gives the United States important cards. The surge strategy has achieved tangible success. It limited the scope of violence by al-Qaeda geographically to the areas of northwestern Iraq and Mosul and caused a clear change in the position of the Iraqi people toward the groups that reject all the changes caused by the American invasion of Iraq, particularly on the Sunni side. What is no less important than all this is the fact that the present Iraqi Government, despite legitimate criticisms against it, has achieved some success with regard to national reconciliation when it launched a military campaign against the extremist Shiite elements of Muqtada al-Sadr. The government also passed a general amnesty law, a pension law, and a Debathification law directed only against leading elements in the regime of Saddam Hussein. It also passed a law regarding the powers enjoyed by the regions, marking the start of a federal and not central system of a new Iraqi state. Meanwhile, the Iraqi authorities are preparing important bills and political steps, including holding regional elections and using oil revenues to promote development in Iraq after years of destruction. This does not mean that the United States can declare victory in Iraq, because the conditions still do not make this possible.

However, the important point here is that the new American president will begin implementing his plan backed by some Iraqi cards and assets that would help him undertake diplomatic and political activity. What could strengthen his hand is the fact that, based on fixed 2007 prices, the war in Iraq, despite its high economic cost, is not as costly as other wars in which the United States was involved before. The cost of the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism has reached $439 billion annually, which represents 3.9 percent of the Gross National Product [GDP] and 20 percent of the federal expenditure. In the Vietnam War, it was $650 billion or 9.4 percent of the GDP and 46 percent of the federal expenditure. In the Korean War, the annual cost was $650 billion or 14.2 percent of the GDP and 69.4 percent of the federal expenditure. In World War II, the total cost was $3.2 trillion or 37.5percent of the GDP and 89.5 percent of the federal expenditure.

This, of course, does not mean that the current war in Iraq is not costly. It is costly in the light of the other crises facing the American economy. But the issue here is that from the standpoint of pure strategic calculations, the new president, when implementing his plan, will still have an economic surplus of elements of strength that would help him, in various ways, during the implementation process. All these factors may have led US President George Bush to anticipate the results of the elections by seeking to conclude a security agreement between Iraq and the United States that would reflect the present situation of the balances of power and give the United States, after its withdrawal, some strategic advantages in Iraq to help it rearrange the conditions in the region and deal with the issues of terrorism, oil, and Iran.

The Arabs must consider the present and future situations in Iraq, because the strategic conditions will change completely following the American withdrawal. Many forces then will have to deal with an entirely new situation in the Arab World and the Middle East. When we talk about the Arab view, we mean the position of Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and the Arab Gulf states. These states will be directly affected by the changes in Iraq. These states have a duty toward themselves and toward the entire region to participate in the change that will take place by dealing with the United States, Iraq, Iran, or Turkey–parties that will have different influences on the vital changes in Baghdad. Such a position must begin now by advising the United States that signing a security agreement with Iraq under American occupation will not be acceptable to the Iraqis, the Arab World, or Iran and will have negative effects on stability in Iraq and the region. It is true that the United States concluded security agreements with dozens of countries in the world and in the region, but the cultural and political conditions were very different from those in Iraq. The United States would drop such an agreement if it felt that there would be a different Arab approach to the present Iraqi Government.

Frankly, in the past few years, Arab leaders appeared as if they were only able and knew how to deal with leaders like Saddam Hussein. The present leaders in Iraq seemed to them as if they came from a strange world. This cannot continue, not only because Saddam Hussein has died with his regime and perhaps with much of his ideas, but also because Iraq has changed more than any Arab leader could estimate, and the time has come for them to deal constructively with this change. In another article, we might return to the changes taking place not only in Iraq, but also in other parts of the Arab World. But what interests us here is for the Arab governments to have a share in the process of change in Iraq, irrespective of the plan the American president will pursue. There is need for a necessary rapprochement with Iran and Turkey, based on principles of interest. None of them has an interest in a dysfunctional Iraq where violence, sectarianism, and terrorism thrive. They also do not have an interest in seeing Iraq returning to the situation in which it existed under Saddam Hussein. What interests us at this time is for Iraq to become a stable state in which Iraqis will have a say in its reconstitution. There are many details to discuss, but we hope that we have made the point clear.

Abdel Monem Said

Abdel Monem Said

Abdel Monem Said is the director of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

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