Its time to let Iraq stand on its own

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 June, 2009, 12:00am

Iraq moves an important step closer to sovereignty today when US combat troops pull out of cities and towns. Iraqi soldiers and police will be in charge of security, a matter of immediate anxiety in some quarters given a recent sudden increase in deadly attacks by insurgents. Whether the forces will be able to hold their own should not be of concern as they will have support, if needed, from the US military. What makes the moment so significant is that it signals Iraqis have no choice other than to work together for the sake of building a stable and prosperous nation.

That would not seem so easy. Sectarian, religious and political rifts remain rife. Corruption is an ever-present impediment, even at the highest levels. Elements in neighbouring Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey have interests in seeing the downfall of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. There is no shortage of enemies of the Iraqi state.

The people of Iraq know this well. But they also realise that their country has to stand on its own feet. They want foreign troops off their streets and, eventually, out of the country. Most British forces have already left and, under an agreement signed last year, the last American soldier will go by the end of 2011.

Debate continues in countries that joined the US in toppling dictator Saddam Hussein six years ago as to whether their participation was justified. No answer will convince all critics. For the governments of these nations, the conflict was one of opportunity, not necessity. Iraqis see it quite another way, though.

Hussein's removal was a chance for rebirth for Iraqis. They have paid a high price in blood. Each phase of the war brought misery and tragedy. But despite the hardships, they at least now have hope where there was little before and the possibility of a bright future.

Despite the disagreements, they would seem to realise this. Corruption is rampant, but it is through the enforcement of checks and balances that former trade minister Abdul Falah Sudani - a member of Mr Maliki's Dawa Party - was arrested for embezzlement within his department. Once-ruling Sunnis understand that they will be on the losing side if they refuse to accept democracy. Kurd separatists found they needed the government when under attack from Turkey this year. Even the prime minister changed his ways by dropping a defamation suit against a popular online publication amid cries he was trampling on the right of free speech.

Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people. It is up to them as to how they wish to shape their country. Factions and disparate groups have to come to terms with one another. The US has an obligation to ensure Iraqi soldiers and police are capable of providing peace and security. But it and other nations must stay out of Iraqi affairs.