Mission unaccomplished

Iraq: We broke it, and it still ain’t fixed

They were partying on the streets of Baghdad on Tuesday (June 30), celebrating the long-awaited exit of American troops from that and the other cities of Iraq. Americans should be celebrating, too—though cautiously, with the awareness that, although an end is in sight, the U.S. mission in Iraq is not over, not even close.

It’s far from certain, for example, that Iraqi soldiers and police are capable of providing good security. That’s significant because there are still powerful animosities between the same Sunni and Shia populations that came close to civil war in 2006. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated administration has done little in response to Sunni claims of poor services or to integrate Sunni members of the Awakening Councils, former insurgents who switched sides, into the security services, ministries or private sector.

Plus, there is festering tension between Arabs and Kurds in the oil-rich Kirkuk region. The Kurds, who have their own highly trained militia, the Peshmerga, are determined to reclaim the region, which they insist was theirs before Saddam Hussein drove them out.

Another problem: the more than four million Iraqi refugees—some living abroad, others displaced within Iraq. Reintegrating them will be a huge task.

The Iraqi government is a work in progress, at best. So far it has failed to provide the services people need, largely because of a lack of skilled managers and pervasive corruption. And the Parliament still has not passed a law to divide the country’s oil resources equitably.

Finally, Iraq’s neighbors have preferred to meddle in its affairs rather than foster stability there. These include the usual suspects, Syria and Iran, but also many regional allies of the United States.

Our invasion of Iraq was both illegal and foolish, and the cost in lives and treasure has been immense. But that’s all the more reason not to abandon the country too hastily. A stable, prosperous and reasonably democratic Iraq would be a boon for the Middle East. Only the Iraqis can bring that about, but the United States must do all it can to assist them.