Monday, November 06, 2006

Iraqi independence

Last weekwas a fairly significant week in Iraq, and not just because of the verdict rendered on Saddam Hussein, about which more later. Probably more significant was the decision by the United States, in response to a request from Iraqi prime minister Maliki, to remove American checkpoints from the streets of Baghdad on Tuesday. U.S. military commanders seemed surprised by the request but complied -- even though they were in the midst of a concerted search for a U.S. Iraqi-American soldier who had been kidnapped, probably by insurgent forces connected with or sympathetic to Moqtada al-Sadr, who is one of Maliki's political backers.

Now maybe this means that the Iraqi government is really developing a certain independence from the U.S. occupiers. Or maybe it means the U.S. complied with the request to help create a sense of independence. Certainly Maliki has been stressing his growing desire for independence, including letting an aide leak a report of a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad, where he told Khalilzad he was "a friend of the United States, but not America's man in Iraq."

If the Iraqi government is calling the shots in Iraq, even standing up to the U.S., perhaps that's a good thing. If so, however, doesn't that mean it will soon be time for the U.S. to pull its troops out of Iraq and let the Iraqis handle things, even if it means a bit of chaos for a while?

The fact that Iraqis tried Saddam Hussein, in a trial that was far from perfect, but perhaps the most transparent public trial in recent Middle East history, is another important sign. We can expect some violence from the Sunnis when the U.S.-Iraqi curfew is lifted. But the Iraqis -- who ran the country for thousands of years before the United States was born -- should be capable of running things without Uncle Sam pretty darn soon.

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