Listen to a press call on Iraq with Lawrence J. Korb, CAP Senior Fellow, and Rand Beers, President of the National Security Network:
The Iraqi defense minister last night indicated that U.S. forces would need to assist Iraqi security forces in defending Iraq’s borders from external threats until at least 2018 or 2020. This news comes as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise trip to Baghdad to congratulate officials on de-Baathification legislation—legislation that is subject to varying interpretations and was passed with barely half the parliament present.
Both Gen. David Petraeus and President Bush have indicated a willingness to keep American troops in Iraq for at least 10 years without regard to the costs in both human lives and dollars and to our overall national security. The Center for American Progress calculated cost projections for a 10-year troop presence in Iraq last September.
The cost in lives lost is harder to calculate. The war in Iraq is dynamic, and projections of future casualties are dependent on U.S. troop levels, tactics, and the strength of the insurgency, among other variables. While we hesitate to calculate this and make no predictions, one must be aware of the possible number of casualties that could occur for the time we remain in Iraq.
At least 3,923 members of the U.S. military have died since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Since February 1, 2007, when the surge began, 837 American troops have died in Iraq, or more than 70 each month. The number of wounded is much higher. Estimates of Iraqi and civilian deaths are unreliable, but they are believed to be in the hundreds of thousands since the war began.
The de-Baathification law—praised by Bush and Rice—is confusing and could actually exclude more Baathists than it lets in. At best, it is a small step toward progress on meeting the 18 political benchmarks that Bush and Congress have set for Iraq, and more durable political progress is needed. The law must be accompanied by other actions that will help stabilize the country’s government.
It’s been almost a year since the surge began, and despite short-term tactical progress, political reconciliation is nowhere in sight. We are continuing to sink precious national security resources into the country at the expense of other threats, including those posed by Al Qaeda and its safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is time to stop recklessly endangering the lives of our brave men and women serving in Iraq as well as the national security of this country and begin a strategic reset in the region and a strategic redeployment of our forces from Iraq over the next 10 to 12 months.
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