What the US can do to win back Iraq

IT'S been five years since the US moved into Iraq, driving Saddam Hussein out of power and plunging the country into a crisis that is yet to end and is unprecedented even from the Middle Eastern standards.

But this is not about the mess the US currently presides over in Mesopotamia. The issue at stake is the future of Iraq and the role the United States is going to play in it.

The Iraqi government and both Sunni and Shia political players in the country have voiced their concerns over the total control the US will continue to have over the country's security establishment, especially the continued presence of US troops in the country into an indefinite future.

The future role of the US has so exercised Iraq's neighbours including Shia Iran and Sunni Arab neighbours that Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki is personally reaching out to reassure them. Yesterday, he was visiting Iran, his closest ally and friend, and there too he had to face the ire of Ali Al Khamenei, the country's supreme leader. Khamenei told the visiting PM that the presence of US troops in Iraq was the country's main problem. This is a perception shared by Iraq's Arab and Sunni neighbours too. The United States and the government of Iraq must take these concerns into account while working out their future engagement and the so-called security pact.

Having invaded and wrecked Iraq, the US can't just cut and run. It has to do its best to stabilise and rebuild Iraq and put a stable and self-reliant government in Baghdad before pulling out. But this cannot come at the expense of Iraq's sovereignty and unity. The US may have to stick around in Iraq for some years to come but its role must be that of a facilitator, not an occupier and overbearing master.

This is why the Nuri Al Maliki government is right to insist on the condition that the US troops in future would be confined to their bases and that private security players would be governed by the Iraqi law. This is necessary if the US wants to continue a healthy relationship with Iraq and its people, similar to what the Americans had with post war Germany and Japan. This is all the more important given the blunders the US has repeatedly made in Iraq since the invasion. This is essential to regaining the confidence of Iraqi people, and that of the Arab and Muslim world.

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