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Those of us in the antiwar camp have argued for years that the surest way toward a moderate political future for Iraq — not that there’s any sure way! — is to bring the troops home. Ho-ho, you might roll your eyes, you would say that, wouldn’t you, opponent-of-the-occupation, you. And, you know, fair enough. But many of us came to this position not because of a knee-jerk pacifism, but because that’s what the constellation of considerations in Iraq and the U.S. national interest suggested.

One such person whom no one could credibly describe as a knee-jerk pacifist is retired Army Col. Pete Mansoor. Mansoor is a counterinsurgent luminary, Petraeus’ executive officer in Iraq and contributor to the Army-Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual. Small Wars Journal republishes an interview Mansoor did with the Consortium for Complex Operations, which you may remember from a TWI piece a couple months ago. Check out what Mansoor has to say about Moqtada Sadr:

Muqtada al-Sadr realized he cannot continue to lose political and popular support and survive, so he decided to convert his militia into a social and humanitarian organization (with political overtones, for sure). Now that U.S. forces appear to be on a timeline to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011, this takes away the major plank in the platform of the Sadrist politicians.

Notice that, in context, Mansoor isn’t making a point about what policy should be. He’s not so much as dipping a toe into the trecherous waters of the Iraq debate. What he’s doing is cleanly, clearly and clinicly analyzing the factors that contribute to the Sadrist movement’s strength. The U.S. occupation is only one part of that. But it’s an important pole in the tent, and removing it will require a countermove on Sadr’s part to secure the foundation.

Mansoor is hardly the only one recognizing the symbiotic relationship between the U.S. presence and Iraqi political disfunction. At the Center for American Progress’ Wonk Room, my friend Matt Duss interviews Safa Rasul Hussein, deputy national security adviser in the Maliki government, who explains that the U.S. has to get out if the Iraqis are to have any hope of sectarian and political reconciliation:

But also there are factions of the people who will go to the U.S. to solve their problems. And once the U.S. [is] out, these people have no other way to solve their problems than to sit [and talk]. So this will be another motive for them, to push them toward reconciliation. That’s what I meant.

The obvious question all this raises is how much more progress could have been made if we hadn’t waited years to admit that the occupation undermines the political dynamics we’d like to see in Iraq. (Mansoor makes the good point that fears of seeming too much like an occupier despite being an occupier also provided an excuse for inactivity on providing security for the population.) Of course, the easiest way to have not gone down this miserable road would have been never to have invaded in the first place, but still.

Crossposted to The Streak.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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