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The Stakes in Iraq Have Not Changed

Op-Ed

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The Stakes In Iraq Have Not Changed

By Congressman Joe Pitts

Though it has been the topic of many political one-liners during the current campaign season, the situation in Iraq, and the consequences of our success or failure there, has slowly slipped from the spotlight of the daily news cycle. Part of this is beneficial, if only because it means fewer and fewer Americans and Iraqis are dying each day.

But the stakes have not changed. The possibilities are polar opposites. On one hand, American troops could leave an Iraq that is a stable, peaceful, democratic ally in the Middle East. This option looks more and more likely every day. On the other hand, U.S. troops could withdraw from Iraq and leave it as a failed nation, torn by ethnic and sectarian strife and leaving a power vacuum to be filled by neighboring radicalists and terrorists. This second option looked more likely for far too long as we struggled to find a strategy that would help secure Iraq so that the Iraqi people could take over and be responsible for their security and political future.

The signs of success continue to be positive. Security responsibility was just handed over to the Iraqis for the once restive al Anbar province. Anbar, the eleventh of 18 provinces to be handed over to Iraqi control, was formerly the hotbed of the Sunni insurgency and the supply chain for al-Qaida in Iraq's deadly suicide bombings. From that dubious position, it has transformed into a model example of how to win the peace and security of Iraq.

When Sunni tribal leaders became fed up with the brutality of the foreign al-Qaida fighters, they began to work with the U.S. troops. The foreign fighters had the advantage of being able to pose as civilians. Once local citizens and community leaders were willing to identify the terrorists who had been living within their midst, the terrorists were rooted out and violence fell drastically. U.S. military officials worked in alliance with the tribal and community leaders to provide the equivalent of neighborhood watches, with local Iraqis employed in the security of their community.

During the recent handover ceremony, Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly said, "This war is not quite over, but it's being won and primarily by the people of Anbar. Al-Qaida has not been entirely defeated in Anbar, but their end is near and they know it."

When General Petraeus took command of U.S. troops in Iraq, he employed a sophisticated counterinsurgency plan that included replicating the nascent success that was forming in al Anbar. The success of the Petraeus strategy has been well documented.

Security incidents are at their lowest in more than four years. In just the last year, overall attacks have decreased 82 percent, civilian deaths have decreased 78 percent, and U.S. military deaths have decreased 72 percent.

In fact, with the rise of $4 a gallon gasoline, the Olympics, the Russian invasion of Georgia, and other major news stories, Iraq has slipped quietly from the headlines. However, the importance of success in Iraq is no different today than it was when our troops were fighting to end a near all-out sectarian war.

I understand the fatigue of the American people with the war in Iraq. It is difficult to watch our young men and women struggle in a far off nation to implement a security solution that will allow them to come home. But we cannot wish away the seriousness of the situation in Iraq.

With the blood and treasure spent on the effort, we have the opportunity to continue to aid Iraq in building a peaceful, democratic, civil society in the heart of the Middle East. This is not yet assured. Though Iraqi security forces continue to stand up and take control over the security of their fellow countrymen, they are not yet ready to take over without the help of American forces.

With an upcoming election that will go a long way toward determining the ability of Iraq to transition into a long-term democracy, now is hardly the time to turn our attention away from Iraq. We owe it to the men and women who have given their lives in the effort to stand up a stable Iraq that can anchor a new Middle East. At that time, when our military commanders and Iraqi elected officials deem appropriate, our troops can come home in honor.


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