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One Choice in Iraq

A soldier at Camp Striker in Baghdad.
A soldier at Camp Striker in Baghdad. (By Maya Alleruzzo -- Associated Press)

That is why the suggestion that we can fight al-Qaeda but stay out of Iraq's "civil war" is specious, since the very crux of al-Qaeda's strategy in Iraq has been to try to provoke civil war.

The current wave of suicide bombings in Iraq is also aimed at us here in the United States -- to obscure the recent gains we have made and to convince the American public that our efforts in Iraq are futile and that we should retreat.

When politicians here declare that Iraq is "lost" in reaction to al-Qaeda's terrorist attacks and demand timetables for withdrawal, they are doing exactly what al-Qaeda hopes they will do, although I know that is not their intent.

Even as the American political center falters, the Iraqi political center is holding. In the aftermath of last week's attacks, there were no large-scale reprisals by Shiite militias -- as undoubtedly would have occurred last year. Despite the violence, Iraq's leadership continues to make slow but visible progress toward compromise and reconciliation.

But if tomorrow Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds were to achieve the "political solution" we all hope for, the threat of al-Qaeda in Iraq would not vanish.

Al-Qaeda, after all, isn't carrying out mass murder against civilians in the streets of Baghdad because it wants a more equitable distribution of oil revenue. Its aim in Iraq isn't to get a seat at the political table; it wants to blow up the table -- along with everyone seated at it.

Certainly al-Qaeda can be weakened by isolating it politically. But even after the overwhelming majority of Iraqis agree on a shared political vision, there will remain a hardened core of extremists who are dedicated to destroying that vision through horrific violence. These forces cannot be negotiated or reasoned out of existence. They must be defeated.

The challenge before us, then, is whether we respond to al-Qaeda's barbarism by running away, as it hopes we do -- abandoning the future of Iraq, the Middle East and ultimately our own security to the very people responsible for last week's atrocities -- or whether we stand and fight.

To me, there is only one choice that protects America's security -- and that is to stand, and fight, and win.

The writer is an independent Democratic senator from Connecticut.


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