There is a growing number of voices calling for Washington to take advantage of the drop in violence in Iraq to declare victory and get out - while the getting's good.
Everybody, it seems, from Sadr to the Sunni resistance, wants just that enough to put the guns away and lay low. They're virtually pleading with America to go.
So what's keeping Washington from bolting? There are probably several reasons the Bush regime isn't ready to leave Iraq but, just as they weren't straight with us about why they went in, don't expect them to come right out and admit why they won't leave. That doesn't mean some of these factors aren't obvious.
America has built an embassy compound in Baghdad that's actually bigger than the Vatican. It's hands-down the biggest American embassy anywhere. Does that sound like a country that is planning to leave? Then there are the major military bases that get mentioned ever so rarely. What do you think they tell us?
These developments might indicate that the United States is very interested in staying put in Iraq. Maybe the US wants to maintain a sizeable military presence on Iran's doorstep. Maybe the Pentagon wants a spot for its bases that will remove the instability they caused to the Saudis. Maybe Washington intends to keep the power to cut off potential and existing rivals' access to Middle East oil.
Then there's oil. Sure, the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do about oil. Didn't even cross Dick Cheney's evil little mind. It was sheer coincidence that the only Iraqi ministry US forces secured when they stormed into Baghdad was the oil ministry. What a fluke?
Then there's the most important piece of legislation the Iraqis never drew up - the cornerstone of their country's future - the Iraq oil law. Okay, sure, it was drafted by the Coalition Provisional Authority under proconsul Bremer. And, yes, it will, if passed, transfer effective control and development of Iraq's vast oil reserves from the country and its people to "international" (as in American) oil companies. And it will impose a colonialism on Iraq that other Middle Eastern states shook off decades ago.
So, its grand theft of Iraq's most valuable resource, so what? Even the Democrats made the passage of this devious bit of larceny one of their key "benchmarks" of Iraqi progress.
Writing in today's Globe & Mail, Robert Dreyfus argues that the time has come for the US to hand Iraq over to others who can actually help the country.
A new, nationalist Iraq is emerging underneath the presence of 160,000 U.S. troops. That nationalism extends from the current and former Sunni resistance fighters to Mr. al-Sadr's Mahdi Army to a range of moderate, secular Sunni and Shia politicians, all of whom — albeit under exceedingly difficult circumstances — are now talking to each other about a political framework for a new government.
Two urgent steps are needed, to capitalize on the re-emerging Iraqi nationalism. First, the broad-based majorities among Sunni and Shia Arabs must be reconciled under a new constitution, with new elections creating a new government untainted by American oversight. Second, Iraq's neighbours — all of them, including Iran and Syria — have to underwrite the new Iraqi nationalism.
With its track record, the Bush administration cannot accomplish either of these tasks. It's a job for the United Nations, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and other parties. And all of this, in turn, depends on the United States announcing a timetable for withdrawing its forces.
Dreyfus is probably right but, as always, the devil is in the details. Everything, as he puts it, "depends on the United States announcing a timetable for withdrawing its forces." Even a new American administration may not be willing to bite that bullet and actually withdraw US forces from Iraq.
I don't think there will be peace or reconciliation, in the long run at least, if the proposed oil law is enacted. Fully two-thirds of the Iraqi people and their leaders know it is pure carpetbagging, the outright theft of their country's badly needed wealth. If it is passed I'd bet it will fuel a fresh insurgency against the American occupiers, their collaborators in the Iraqi legislature and the oil companies and anyone who dares work for them.