Of course, the U.S. can’t and won’t leave Iraq until the situation is stable, which may occur a lot quicker than we can rebuild on the moonscape in Manhattan. For the vast majority of Iraqis, the material situation is far better – and they know it. Yet the problem is real and is one of pride and honor. No people appreciates salvation from abroad….We need to involve the Iraqis more, not just in concrete matters of defense and self-rule, but in less tangible ways such as public relations and deference. They should be holding their own press conferences, and explaining to the world the great strides already made in a mere six months. Only that way can they receive proper credit for what ultimately must be their own achievement in establishing a consensual society, which, if successful, will be the landmark event of our times….

Kay: I agree with Mr. Al-Dakhil that the Iraqi opposition figures the United States originally pinned their hopes on have turned out to be flops. From what I can tell, the Pentagon’s original plan was to install Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi as a sort Iraqi version of Hamid Karzai, and then nudge the country toward democracy from there. It now turns out that Chalabi conned Washington by overstating his street credibility in Iraq. His failure has left the United States scrambling for other options.

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The overall situation in Iraq is much better than people imagine, however: The Shiite and Kurd areas, which account for 85 percent of the country’s population, are largely peaceful. Almost 100 percent of the violence is coming from the Sunnis concentrated to the west of Baghdad, a group that rightly fears its privileged status under Saddam will be lost. If the United States were an old-fashioned colonial power, it would simply hand the keys to the country over to a quisling Shiite government and let the Shiite majority deal with the Sunnis as they will. However, that would produce a bloodbath, and perhaps even large-scale refugee movements, and so it is not an option.

The United States cannot leave Iraq before the security situation is settled and an orderly transition to a pluralistic Iraqi government has been made. This is true not only because this is what humanitarian considerations require, but because the United States cannot be made to look as if it is running away. It is an unfortunate fact of human nature – and the cutthroat political culture that dominates the Middle East in particular – that perceived weakness is always punished. The failure of the United States to finish off Saddam in the first Gulf War, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon in 2000 under Hizbullah pressure, the U.S. flight from Somalia in 1993, the puny U.S. response after the 1998 African embassy bombings – all these were taken as signs by militant Arabists and Islamists that the United States was a paper tiger that could not stomach a real battle. Having decimated this conceit with victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States must not revive it by fleeing Iraq in the face of Sunni terrorism.

Al-Dakhil:….Mr. Kay’s point that the U.S. has no choice but stay the course until it leads to a democratic and stable government is well taken. But it remains to be asked whether the course the way it is being run will lead to the expected result. And then, what is the price the U.S. is expecting in return for the ‘liberation’ of Iraq. I would say that the American position is not as easy and promising as some think it is. The Shiites, for instance, cannot be said to be on the side of the Americans. They’re happy that Saddam is gone. There’s no question about that. But, this does not mean that they’re embracing the Americans….

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