Iraq looks to future

When the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq occurs next March, it will be with the fewest number of U.S. troops there since the invasion. U.S. troop strength dropped to less than 50,000 in August, and reductions continue.

Moreover, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki insisted to The Wall Street Journal this week that all U.S. forces must be removed from his country by the end of 2011, just as a 2008 agreement with the United States contemplated.

This from a man who spent the past nine months horse trading and compromising, putting together a coalition government that can lead Iraq and be accepted by all of the nation’s many factions.

The fact that al-Maliki and others managed to do so without Iraq devolving once again into factional violence or becoming a satellite state to Iran is something for which all Iraqis deserve credit.

From the first purple-finger elections after Saddam Hussein was deposed until now, the vast majority of Iraqis — regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds — have demonstrated a desire for a civilized, independent and democratic nation. They support a central government with authority to maintain peace, promote commerce and education, and provide basic infrastructure.

Contrast this with Afghanistan, where corruption is rampant and where, outside of Kabul, the notion of a national government is more fiction than reality. In much of rural Afghanistan, clans have primary authority and their loyalty appears to be available to the highest bidder. Basic infrastructure is often absent. Furthermore, the ability of Afghanistan to be responsible for its own security remains a distant dream.

In Iraq, al-Maliki says the country’s security forces are capable of protecting the nation from internal and external threats. U.S. observers are cautiously optimistic that he is right.

There is still violence, of course. Most of it comes from al-Qaida-backed insurgents who are desperate to prevent a multi-ethnic democracy from succeeding in Iraq.

There are other problems, including holding together the fragile coalition government, rejecting the advances of Iran — which often include large sums of money — and resolving sectarian disputes in regions such as the Kurdish north.

Progress toward self-sustaining independence has been sporadic in Iraq, but it has continued.

People will long disagree on whether the 2003 invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was appropriate. Much ink will be expended attempting to answer that question.

But, regardless of one’s view of U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq, everyone should applaud the fact that our military sacrifices — and those of our allies — have resulted in a democratic nation that expects to stand entirely on its own a year from now.


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