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Why If We Don't Leave Iraq Now We May Bring on a Civil War

I lived in the Shi'a region in southern of Iraq with my wife for two years from 1956 to 1958 and I returned to the same small community for a brief visit in 1996. All my professional life I have been a professor of social-cultural anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies, with a special interest in Iraq. From the beginning, I was firmly convinced that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was a great mistake. I still believe this. Iraq was the victim of a misguided neoconservative agenda, supported by public fears engendered by the terrorist attack of 9/11. Most of the informed members of the academic community I know also opposed the invasion but, to the best of my knowledge, most of us were never consulted by the Bush administration. I spoke on local TV and to public groups before the invasion, and I am now asked frequently what should be done to end the fiasco we have produced. It is not an easy question to answer. But, I have come to the conclusion that we should get out of Iraq as soon as possible.

What are the consequences if American troops remain in Iraq? First, a possible civil war may emerge between Shi'a and the Sunni populations. Second, an armed invasion of the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq by Iraqi forces is a possibility. Third, current insurgents claim their right to exist in order to rid the country of invading foreigners. So our presence has created a friendly environment for these insurgents, as well as for the groups of armed men who want political authority without public acceptance. Also, our presence has also provided a friendly environment for civil corruption in terms of pay-offs with mafia groups extracting money from Iraqis trying to resume private business. And then, of course, there are the Iraq oil reserves.

The ability to redevelop the oil industry of Iraq must be in the hands of the Iraqis along with the right to sell it as they see fit. Also, Iraq, in its weakened condition, must not be put in danger from any neighboring country, including Israel, its Arab neighbors or Turkey. In all these respects, Iraq needs help from our own and other countries but it does not need the presence of American troops. It needs help in rebuilding the devastated infrastructure and urban landscape which we have created. Finally, we must offer financial aid to any new Iraqi government as well as compensation to the families of civilians killed or wounded by American troops from the beginning of our invasion and occupation to the present.

I believe that leaving Iraq and ending our military occupation as soon as possible would lead to the most positive result in all of these matters. The majority of Iraqis hate the isolation which Saddam Hussein and the American imposed sanctions forced upon them. They are anxious to return to a normal life and, I believe, they will be able to take care of the insurgency much better than a foreign country like our own. The same is true for other national affairs, including the struggle for political control which is developing between the Shi'a and the Sunni.

Currently, we are creating the basis for a long term religious and political war in Iraq between the Sunnis and Shi'as, a great misfortune which has not occurred since Iraq was created in 1922. Anyone supported by the Americans will be regarded as a collaborator by the rest of the population. To the degree that the Shi'a are seen as clients of the Americans, the hostility between Shi'a and Sunni will increase. But between the Shi'a and the Sunni an armed struggle is by no means a predetermined event. The majority of the insurgents are the remnants of Saddam Hussein's Iraqi supporters and men who are from outside Iraq. These groups are undoubtedly interested in running the country. But they are there because they are tolerated by other Iraqis as an alternative to the American presence which has become more and more unpopular. If we remain in Iraq, it becomes an excuse for killing both our own armed forces and many more ill-fated Iraqis. We are creating a killing ground for militant forces not only from Iraq but from neighboring countries and we must leave before this gets worse.

Am I not being too idealistic about the Iraqi ability to bring their own house back in order after all we have done to tear it down? Perhaps so. I am hopeful, but not absolutely sure what the future without American military occupation will hold. Yet, it is a step we must take. Much can be achieved by re-directing the money, which now supports the armed occupation, into reconstruction. Furthermore, our administration attitude must become one of public regret over a serious error: in ridding Iraq of an unwanted dictator we have damaged Iraq and killed Iraqis far more than was intended. This public declaration of regret and responsibility is very important.

The United States must accept the responsibility for a massive foreign aid program for Iraq and we must accept the blame for the war and make this the price we are willing to pay. My close Iraqi friends say this is what they expect and will accept. Traditionally in Iraq, apologies as well as financial compensation are expected for damages, including loss of life. I witnessed such transactions many times in the guest house of the tribe with whom I lived forty years ago; this same set of values has become part of modern Iraqi society. To be forgiven, one must pay for one's mistakes. America has already admitted to being mistaen about the information which led us to invade Iraq. Why not extend that admission and apologize to the Iraqi people?

We must get out of the blood-letting, treasury draining situation in Iraq. But to do that, we must first accept Iraqis as modern human beings like ourselves: an educated, sophisticated and hard-working people with a very ancient history. Given a chance, without the likes of Saddam Hussain and the American army, Iraq could become a strong and prosperous country again. Oil gives them an important financial resource on which to draw. But America is now perceived in Iraq as the obstacle to that future prosperity. It is time for us to say we are sorry, pay the bills, and get out of Iraq.

Finally, the coming election in Iraq looks like it will be more trouble than it is worth. Why not let the leadership in Iraq make their own arrangements, such as creating voting districts and establishing conditions which will permit international monitoring? Giving the Iraqis more control over their own first election could be the first step in the right direction. Let the Iraqis make it their election and promise them American armed forces will really leave as soon as it is over.