The Way Out of Iraq: A Road Map
There has been much talk about a withdrawal of U.S. and coalition troops from Iraq, but no defined timeline has yet been set. There is, however, an unofficial "road map" to foreign troop reductions that will eventually lead to total withdrawal of U.S. troops. This road map is based not just on a series of dates but, more important, on the achievement of set objectives for restoring security in Iraq.
Iraq has a total of 18 governorates, which are at differing stages in terms of security. Each will eventually take control of its own security situation, barring a major crisis. But before this happens, each governorate will have to meet stringent minimum requirements as a condition of being granted control. For example, the threat assessment of terrorist activities must be low or on a downward trend. Local police and the Iraqi army must be deemed capable of dealing with criminal gangs, armed groups and militias, and border control. There must be a clear and functioning command-and-control center overseen by the governor, with direct communication to the prime minister's situation room.
Despite the seemingly endless spiral of violence in Iraq today, such a plan is already in place. All the governors have been notified and briefed on the end objective. The current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has approved the plan, as have the coalition forces, and assessments of each province have already been done. Nobody believes this is going to be an easy task, but there is Iraqi and coalition resolve to start taking the final steps to have a fully responsible Iraqi government accountable to its people for their governance and security. Thus far four of the 18 provinces are ready for the transfer of power -- two in the north (Irbil and Sulaymaniyah) and two in the south (Maysan and Muthanna). Nine more provinces are nearly ready.
With the governors of each province meeting these strict objectives, Iraq's ambition is to have full control of the country by the end of 2008. In practice this will mean a significant foreign troop reduction. We envisage the U.S. troop presence by year's end to be under 100,000, with most of the remaining troops to return home by the end of 2007.
The eventual removal of coalition troops from Iraqi streets will help the Iraqis, who now see foreign troops as occupiers rather than the liberators they were meant to be. It will remove psychological barriers and the reason that many Iraqis joined the so-called resistance in the first place. The removal of troops will also allow the Iraqi government to engage with some of our neighbors that have to date been at the very least sympathetic to the resistance because of what they call the "coalition occupation." If the sectarian issue continues to cause conflict with Iraq's neighbors, this matter needs to be addressed urgently and openly -- not in the guise of aversion to the presence of foreign troops.
Moreover, the removal of foreign troops will legitimize Iraq's government in the eyes of its people. It has taken what some feel is an eternity to form a government of national unity. This has not been an easy or enviable task, but it represents a significant achievement, considering that many new ministers are working in partisan situations, often with people with whom they share a history of enmity and distrust. By its nature, the government of national unity, because it is working through consensus, could be perceived to be weak. But, again, the drawdown of foreign troops will strengthen our fledgling government to last the full four years it is supposed to.
While Iraq is trying to gain its independence from the United States and the coalition, in terms of taking greater responsibility for its actions, particularly in terms of security, there are still some influential foreign figures trying to spoon-feed our government and take a very proactive role in many key decisions. Though this may provide some benefits in the short term, in the long run it will only serve to make the Iraqi government a weaker one and eventually lead to a culture of dependency. Iraq has to grow out of the shadow of the United States and the coalition, take responsibility for its own decisions, learn from its own mistakes, and find Iraqi solutions to Iraqi problems, with the knowledge that our friends and allies are standing by with support and help should we need it.
The writer is Iraq's national security adviser.