Ex-Envoy: Keep U.S. Troops In Iraq Until 2011

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A draft agreement calling for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 is more realistic and feasible than President-elect Obama's 16-month withdrawal plan, a former Iraqi representative to the United States says.

Rend Al-Rahim, now executive director of the Iraq Foundation, tells NPR's Robert Siegel that Iraqi officials would be happy with the plan specified by the draft status of forces agreement and that the 18-month difference between the agreement and Obama's plan is significant to Iraqi politicians.

"The Iraqi security forces still need support and training in a number of areas," says Al-Rahim, who was Iraq's representative to the U.S. after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. "There is some doubt here about the cohesiveness of the … Iraqi security forces as a national force that is politically neutral and that actually protects the state and the constitution," as opposed to one political party over another.

Al-Rahim says some political groups in the country feel vulnerable and perceive the U.S. presence in the country as a buffer. They fear that a rapid disengagement of U.S. forces would put them at risk, she says.

The notion that a lack of a timetable will slow the transition because it doesn't provide an impetus for Iraqis to take control "doesn't make any sense," Al-Rahim says.

"There are lots of internal political issues that are brewing," she says. "The Iraqis have been able to solve some and not solve others, and I don't think that's contingent or determined by U.S. presence or nonpresence. I think that actually a rapid U.S. withdrawal will exacerbate the differences and will increase foreign pressure on political groups in Iraq, and therefore reduce the possibility of dialogue and consensus and negotiation."

There is a decreasing need for combat operations by the multinational forces in the country, she says. "What is needed now is much more stress on the political process. We still have not built a state in which everybody feels included, everybody feels there is an equal chance for them to play a role. The U.S. military and civilian presence should focus more on providing that confidence-building, the deterrence against internal conflict and to safeguarding the political process."

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