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Celebration, Fear and Loathing on National Sovereignty Day

Today marks a new a national holiday in Iraq, the "Day of National Sovereignty." Iraqis are celebrating with music and dancing as U.S. combat forces continue their pull-out of Iraqi cities and turn security responsibility over the Iraqi government.

Don't be surprised, however, if the spike in violence that came in advance of this milestone continues, or even escalates. And back here at home, don't be surprised if the right-wing continues to play politics with the war and goes on the attack with its favorite weapon, fear.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney didn't wait for the security turnover to occur in Iraq before he was on the attack, second guessing the military withdrawal plan that his own administration negotiated and approved. Bold headlines in this morning's Washington Times declare that the former Vice President "fears" that the U.S. withdrawal will "waste all the tremendous sacrifice that has gotten us to this point."

I would bet the farm (if I still had one) that the former vice president and his right-wing talking-heads are going to use this increase in violence, and any future increases, as part of their national security attack narrative on President Obama and the Democrats. It will go something like this: First the president wanted to allow detainees from Guantanamo to be released into U.S. neighborhoods. Now he wants all the security gains achieved in Iraq-and the sacrifices that made it possible-to go to waste.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Indeed, violence did spike in Iraq as today's milestone approached, and there is every reason to believe that it will continue. Why? Not because U.S. combat forces are leaving Iraqi cities, as Cheney and his cronies would have us believe. It is because the Iraqi government has failed to make the political compromises required to achieve stability and security.

Exhibit A: Oil. While Iraqis celebrate National Sovereignty Day, Iraq's Oil Ministry is auctioning eight contracts to service six oil and two natural gas fields. The problem is that Iraq still does not have a law in place to provide for an equitable distribution of its oil revenue. "There's a majority opinion inside Parliament that opposes these bids," Iraqi legislator Alia Nusaif told the Washington Post last week. The Kurdistan Regional Government has criticized the sale and has begun to commercially produce oil locally after signing two dozen of its own gas and oil development deals that the al-Maliki government calls illegal. Arab and Kurdish tension over oil revenues is near the breaking point.

Exhibit B: Awakening Councils. The Sunni Awakening Councils, largely credited with the reduction of violence in key Iraqi cities like Mosul, were made three promises if they would start shooting with government and U.S. forces and not at them: money ($300 per month), the promise of incorporation into the national police, and that the government would stop arresting and harassing their leaders. What happened? So far, less than 5% of Awakening Council militiamen have been incorporated into the national police, the al-Maliki government stopped paying them altogether (until intense U.S. pressure reversed the policy), and the government has continued rounding up and arresting Awakening Council leaders. Last month, the New York Times reported that two very prominent Sunni Awakening Council leaders were arrested in Diyala Province. Another leader told the Times that they believed arrest warrants had been issued for more than 1,000 Sunni tribal figures and council members.

The fact is that, given the political upheaval that continues unabated in Iraq, it should come as no surprise to anyone that violence will persist and even increase. What better way for the Iraqi opposition to demonstrate that the president they feel has double crossed them is not the source of security he claims to be? But that is where sovereignty comes in. Sovereign governments face the consequences of their own decision making -- or lack thereof -- even when it leads to fractures, instability or worse.

The bottom line is that our men and women in uniform should not be stuck in the middle -- and literally in the line of fire -- of the consequences of these political failures. More than 4,300 have made the ultimate sacrifice and tens of thousands have been severely injured. The number of innocent Iraqis killed is in excess of 100,000.

What worries me is not the predictable violence in Iraq, but the fact that tens of thousands of our troops will continue to be on the front lines as so-called "advisors." Despite the headlines that our troops have left the cities, more than 10,000 U.S. troops remain to serve as "trainers" for Iraqi forces. And that number is expected to rise to 50,000 U.S. troops. These forces will include not only U.S. trainers, but U.S. troops to protect those trainers from their Iraqi trainees. Not the kind of job that I would want as the fallout from the political failures of the al-Maliki administration continues to unfold on Iraqi streets. Nor is it the kind of burden that our beleaguered troops should be required to bear.

There is no military solution in Iraq, only a political one. And no number of U.S. troops -- combat, training or "residual" -- will make the political will for Iraqi government leaders to negotiate, compromise and accommodate any closer to reality.

Unlike Dick Cheney, I am not afraid that our troops are leaving Iraqi cities too soon. I'm afraid they're not leaving soon enough.

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