Exit Strategy: Within Reach? Pressure Mounting from Inside and Outside Iraq as 2006 Elections Come Within Sight

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The pressure for an exit strategy in Iraq is mounting. In the U.S., Great Britain and Iraq talk of an exit strategy is increasing. Robert Novak, the columnist who fingered Valerie Plume as a CIA agent, wrote on March 28 that there is a "determination in the Bush administration to begin irreversible withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq this year." A leaked Downing Street document reports this week on planning for a massive troop reduction next year.

In Congress, even Republicans in the House are coming out for an exit from Iraq — in private there are many more Republicans expressing concerns about the war. The Administration’s credibility is sinking as it is becoming evident that they intentionally misled the Congress and nation into an unnecessary war. The Downing Street Memos added fuel to the suspicions of dishonesty and now the special prosecution investigation finding that Karl Rove identified a CIA official is making the president’s supporters more nervous. What does the special prosecutor know? What does Judith Miller, who wrote a number of false stories in The New York Times about WMD, know? With Rove one step away from the president, where will all this lead?

The Karl Rove investigation is directly tied to the misinformation on weapons of mass destruction — particularly one of the scariest — nuclear weapons. A fear the president played on when he vividly described the potential of a "mushroom cloud" over the United States in his effort to convince the public to support the invasion of Iraq.

The Rove Probe goes right to the president’s credibility. In the January 2003 State of the Union speech, President Bush said that Hussein was trying to get uranium from Niger — for the purpose of developing nuclear weapons. In a July 6, 2003 New York Times column, Joseph Wilson, former U.S. Ambassador to Gabon and former charg d’affaires in Baghdad, described going to Niger for the CIA to look into the claim. Further, he reported in March 2002 to top administration officials, months before the speech, that there was no Niger-Iraq uranium connection. His column concludes: "More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons."

In response to the Wilson disclosures the Administration went into discrediting mode — Rove in a discussion with a reporter at Time about Wilson’s disclosure said his wife, a CIA operative, sent him to Niger. Three days later columnist Robert Novak published the fact that Plame was a CIA operative saying he had two administration sources for the information. Valerie Plame worked on weapons of mass destruction for the Agency. This ended her career, and possibly endangered her life, the lives of her associates and ended a CIA operation.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report supported Joe Wilson’s claim saying: "Ambassador Wilson reached the same conclusion that the Embassy has reached that it was highly unlikely that anything between Iraq and Niger was going on." Joe’s findings were consistent with those of the Deputy Commander of the European Command, Major General Fulford. Thus, the Rove Probe may lead to more disclosures consistent with the Downing Street memos claims that the Administration was fixing the intelligence as well as proving that Bush lied to the nation in his State of the Union speech.

At the same time, allies are leaving the "coalition." Support for the war in the U.K. is diminishing. Tony Blair, already weak in public support is sure to get an initial positive bounce as a result of the London bombings, is rejecting suggestions that Britain is more at risk because of its involvement in Iraq. Blair said to Parliament: "It is a form of terrorism aimed at our way of life, not at any particular government or policy." Will such a claim pass the ‘straight-face’ test or will most reject it and tie the attack to the Iraq War. Already, some in Parliament are raising questions. Charles Kennedy the head of the Liberal Democrats said: "Those like President Bush and Tony Blair, who have sought to link Iraq with the so-called ‘war on terror’ can hardly be surprised when members of the public draw the same link when acts of terrorism occur here in the United Kingdom."

What will be the rebound effect of the attacks? When Spain was attacked voters voted out the pro-war government realizing that involvement in the Iraq War increased the risk to the people of Spain. Will the antiwar movement in the U.K. be able to make the case that terrorist attacks outside of Iraq should not be a surprise, indeed they should be expected. The U.S. and U.K. have declared war — why are leaders surprised when those we are at war with are fighting back?

All of this coincides with a leaked memo from Downing Street last week claiming that the U.S. and U.K. were planning major troop withdrawals next summer. According to the memo: "there is a strong US military desire for significant force reductions to bring relief to overall US commitment levels." Further, the memo states "Emerging US plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006, allowing a reduction in overall MNF-I from 176,000 down to 66,000."

This is consistent with a RAND report that finds U.S. military forces are stretched thin. According to a Chicago Tribune description of the RAND study:

"The report — ‘Stretched Thin: Army Forces for Sustained Operations’ — was to have been released Monday, but a RAND spokeswoman said it had been postponed to allow ‘further review’ by the Army. Nonetheless, Davis indicated the report raises significant questions about the Army’s future and the burdens the Pentagon and taxpayers will have to bear to field adequate forces.

"The study further calls into question the Pentagon’s ability to carry out its policy of maintaining the capacity to fight two major regional wars simultaneously while also providing troops for national security at home and the war on terrorism."

The report also talks about exhausting U.S. troops with repeat deployments every two years rather than three, undermining recruitment, undermining training and making it difficult for troops to be used in other parts of the world.

And, pressure is building in Iraq for U.S. withdrawal. 103 members of the 275-member National Assembly (the Iraqi Parliament) have demanded the adoption of a resolution canceling the request made by the Government to extend the presence of multinational forces, and urging the Government to put "a timetable for the withdrawal of occupation troops" from Iraq.

One MP, Falah Hassan Shneishel of the "Independent National Bloc," the parliamentary bloc of Muqtada al-Sadr, has threatened to call for popular demonstrations if "the authorities were not serious about the implementation of the demands of the Iraqis for an end to occupation." The MP’s are critical of the leadership of the government for requesting a continued troop presence without consulting the legislature. Further, they describe the troop presence as destabilizing Iraq.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has launched a petition drive calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country. Already, 400,000 people have signed the petition, which will be submitted to the Iraqi government and United Nations. The petition reads: "I hereby declare my rejection of the forces of occupation and demand their withdrawal." Sadr is seeking to collect one million signatures.

In reaction to this growing pressure inside Iraq, Iraq’s Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said at a news conference with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick on July 12 that security in many of Iraq’s 18 provinces u2014 notably in the Shiite south and the Kurdish-controlled north u2014 has improved and "We can begin with the process of withdrawing multinational forces from these cities to outside the city as a first step that encourages setting a timetable for the withdrawal process."

Political calculations will become more important in the U.S. as well. Campaigning for the mid-term congressional elections is already underway. The U.S. public is tiring of the Iraq occupation. The bombings in London have not helped. Before the bombings Gallup found 44 percent said the war in Iraq has made the United States safer from terrorism, after the bombing those figures changed dramatically with 54 percent now saying the war in Iraq has made us less safe. Also, on the critical question of who is winning the war against terrorism, the view that the US and its allies are winning declined to 34 percent, down two points from before the bombings, while the view that neither side is winning is up three points to 44 percent and the view the terrorists are winning is up a point to 21 percent.

All this comes at a time when Congress is not held in high regard with only a 33 percent approval rating. And, at a time when the U.S. antiwar movement is gaining momentum building to major demonstrations in Washington, DC on September 24 — with the Downing Street Minutes, calls for impeachment, the Rove probe, the death count rising in Iraq and the terrorists striking back outside of Iraq. Obviously, an exit from Iraq is not imminent or guaranteed, and we cannot be fooled by a partial withdrawal just before next year’s election — but it is evident that momentum is switching and the antiwar movement is building at an opportune time.

Kevin Zeese [send him mail] is a director of Democracy Rising.US. You can comment on this article by visiting the blog.

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