We've Won in Iraq, So Let's Leave
Controversy erupted last week with the report that the United States will reduce troop levels in Iraq to as few as 3,000 by the end of the year. The assumption among many in the higher echelons of U.S. military leadership has long been that U.S. forces would remain in Iraq for decades, despite a formal security agreement with the government of Iraq for U.S. troop withdrawal in December 2011.
I deployed three times to Iraq between 2004 and 2010, and my question is this: Why leave any troops in Iraq? Make no mistake, for those of us who have fought and bled and lost close friends and brothers there, we want more than anything to know that the sacrifices were worth it. But what does winning mean? What does completing our mission entail? Never have I seen this clearly articulated or defined. The vision of Iraq as a flowering democracy free of violent extremist attacks and wielding advanced military capability in close alliance with the U.S. was always a utopian fantasy.
That is not to say the U.S. hasn't succeeded in Iraq. On the contrary, we've won.
As good soldiers will do, the troops on the ground defined the mission for themselves. Like many other units, the Special Operations Task Force, for which I served as operations officer, defined success as lowering the level of violence to a point where Iraqi Security Forces can unilaterally maintain a relative, sustainable peace. "Unilateral" meaning the Iraqis can do it themselves, without U.S. assistance. "Relative" meaning that violence is substantially reduced from its peak but is still present. "Sustainable" meaning the stability of the Iraqi government is not threatened despite this modicum of violence.
All this has been achieved. In fact, we've maintained this success since 2008. So why the argument for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq?
A total pullout, some claim, could risk another civil war. But U.S. troops aren't patrolling the streets and maintaining security--those duties have almost entirely been handed over to Iraqi Security Forces in the years since 2008. The vast majority of U.S. forces in Iraq today rarely leave their bases, except to conduct logistical runs, civil-affairs missions, or engagements with Iraqi military and government officials. Only a handful of Special Operations Forces, a small fraction of U.S. forces there, are engaged in offensive operations--and only when approved to do so by the Iraqi government.
What about staying in Iraq in order to deter Iran? The fact is that the U.S. footprint in Iraq emboldens Iran. For years, Iran has targeted U.S. troops in Iraq through its proxies. Iran has armed, trained and sustained these insurgent groups and thousands of U.S. troops have been killed by so-called explosively formed projectiles, rockets and other weapons exported from Iran.
U.S. forces have historically been severely limited in targeting these Iranian-backed insurgents, who are largely protected by the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq. Operatives from the Quds Force (part of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) in Iraq are virtually untouchable, with diplomatic protection from the very Iraqi government we've helped protect and support. As a result, the U.S. appears weak and powerless to take on Iran or Iran's proxies. Leaving only 3,000 troops in Iraq puts them at tremendous risk.
Many fear that Iran will gain significant influence in Iraq after a complete U.S. withdrawal. But Iran already has significant influence there. From 1980 to 2003, Iraq's ruling Dawa Party was based partly in Iran (and partly in Syria), and it maintains strong ties with the Iranian regime.
Hope of limiting Iranian influence in Iraq grew following the narrow victory of Ayad Allawi's secular party in the Iraqi national elections of March 2010. Yet the U.S. presence in Iraq remains a catalyst empowering Iranian influence through Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric who drums up popular support based on opposition to the U.S. "occupation." Thus the U.S. presence subtracts credibility from the government of Iraq and empowers anti-American, pro-Iranian forces.
Our presence in Iraq also limits us militarily. Every day that thousands of U.S. forces remain there, Iran can count on mounting U.S. public opinion against employing those forces to open another front in conflict with Iran or otherwise.
It is understandable to want to protect all we've gained in Iraq, but it's important to recognize when we've accomplished all that is reasonably possible. The U.S. dominated the opening salvo of the war but saw Iraqi insurgents gain the upper hand for a substantial period of time. After a shift in strategy and resources, the U.S. radically reduced the level of violence and made lasting security gains. But to stay engaged with a substantial number of troops on the ground risks snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. As greater strategic priorities emerge elsewhere, it's time to call it a game in Iraq.
004 13-2011-09 Faith, Sacrifice Lead to Church for Chaldean, Assyrian Catholics in US
ORANGEVALE, Calif. (CNS) -- Tom Simon genuflects and kneels in prayer before the tabernacle. "It takes love, faith and sacrifice to build a house of the Lord," he says. Now, after long years of planning, hard work and some divine intervention, the Chaldean and the Assyrian Catholics of the Sacramento area have their own house of the Lord -- Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chaldean and Assyrian Catholic Church in Orangevale.
"It's for the Lord." Neil Simon Nofaley says softly as he looks around the bright and beautiful church. Nofaley, Simon's father, has been a subdeacon and leader of the small Chaldean community for 27 years. He speaks proudly about not only their new church building but of the history of the Chaldeans, a Christian church now centered in Iraq, a history that began long before Christianity. "Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldeans, 160 kilometers from Baghdad," Nofaley says. "And when he wanted a wife for his son Isaac he found her among the Chaldeans."
Centuries later Chaldeans were among the first gentiles to embrace Christianity. St. Thomas the Apostle and two disciples brought the Gospel to the small kingdom of Chaldea in what is now northern Iraq. For nearly 2,000 years, the Chaldeans and the Assyrians have kept the faith even though they were a politically powerless minority in a region ruled at first by pagans and then by Islam.
Over the centuries, it has earned the title "the church of the martyrs." The persecution continues even now. "Sixty-eight of our churches in Iraq were attacked, bombed and some destroyed," Simon says. "Twenty-eight of our priests, including the archbishop, were kidnapped, tortured and some beheaded. One nun was beheaded. Children have been kidnapped and held for ransom -- often far more than families could afford. One 6-year-old was killed because his family could not pay."