United States should not give up on Iraq yet

During my recent visit to Washington I found a nation fatigued by news of a faraway battle that seemed to creep closer with each fallen soldier. I found an administration wearied by infighting among an Iraqi government that seems incapable of reaching simple agreements. The chaos and sectarian destruction plaguing my people are slowly becoming just statistics in passing headlines, as we become a nation whose people spend more time each day preparing for death than for life.
Many Americans unfortunately believe that Iraq can no longer be salvaged. Even some in the Bush administration see a civil war as inevitable.
First, both of our nations have invested too much to walk away now. If this battle is lost, the entire region could be destabilized.
Second, despite the chaos in my country, not all bridges of patriotism have been burned. Iraqis have ties to their beloved country, not only to their sects and ethnicities. Proof of this nationalism recently came from the most unlikely of venues.
During the Asian Games in Qatar last month, Iraq became quiet, if only for a few hours. Citizens united as brothers behind the national soccer team, which against all odds fought its way to the finals. The team didn't battle for a militia or a sect but for an idea -- the nation of Iraq. The players didn't win the medal but gained something far greater: They won us hope. From children on the streets to politicians to parents, we were all one, and we were all Iraqi. This tells me that all is not lost, that a deep-rooted sense of nationalism still lies within all Iraqis, and that it can and must be rekindled.
It is true that terrorism of an unparalleled nature rages in Iraq and that Iraqis are the ones killing each other on the basis of sectarian and ethnic identities. It is also true that reconstruction and economic development have ground to a halt because of the violence. And Iraqis are divided on such fundamental issues as reconciliation and how to bring about security.
Vote of confidence
Despite all the hardships, however, we Iraqis were able to raise the rudimentary pillars of our nascent democracy by writing a constitution, electing a parliament based on that constitution and granting a vote of confidence to a government through that elected parliament. It is not fair to look at Iraq as a collection of failures without identifying its successes. The birth of a new nation is not easy, but just as your nation has become a beacon for democracy, we hope that Iraq will one day do the same.
All is not lost. Eliminating regional influence is the only way to bring Iraqis back to their senses. Americans understandably find it difficult to support any strategy that prolongs the presence of your troops in Iraq. We do not want to stand in the way of your forces going home. But that decision should not be made under the pressure of car bombs and kidnappings. A precipitous withdrawal of forces would create a security vacuum in Iraq that our forces cannot yet handle -- and would therefore be filled by extremists. This does not serve the interests of Iraq or the United States.
If those soccer players taught us anything, it is that a proper strategy for eliminating sectarianism and fostering nationalism is key. Reconstituting the Iraqi Armed Services and then reforming, retraining and properly arming them must be a central component of this strategy. Another should be revising Iraq's constitution to give our central government effective powers but prevent any sort of dictatorship by the prime minister.
True reconciliation in line with what happened in South Africa and Ireland is needed for resolution of the conflict in Iraq, but that reconciliation must be free from regional stipulations. Economics is also key, as gainful employment keeps Iraqi youths away from the insurgents. All of this must be preceded by a coordinated effort to secure Baghdad, which has become a haven for militia and terrorist activity.
We need a greater focus on the militias, which kill innocent civilians and defy the government with impunity.
A comprehensive plan is needed to save Iraq from disaster. I hope that the administration has considered these critical issues and that the new strategy effectively addresses them.
Tariq al-Hashimi is vice president of the Republic of Iraq.

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