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The Road Ahead In Iraq

As officials sift through the millions of ballots cast in Iraq yesterday  - up to 11 million or 70% turnout, by early estimates - it's hard not to think we've just caught another glimpse of the country's potentially bright future.

But the road ahead in Iraq still contains the same dangerous potholes. One thing the reports from yesterday's elections make clear is that we still face the same security conundrum: how to clear and hold towns infested by the insurgency without being seen as an occupying force. Jim Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor spent election day in the Sunni city of Husbayah:

 

This town and two neighboring ones were mostly cleared of insurgents last month and now house several US Marine encampments.

But while many residents said they were glad for the relatively recent peace, most were voting for deeply religious Sunni Arab candidates with ties to the insurgency. These candidates have run on a platform of resistance to what they term occupation.

"We all want a religious man,'' Mr. Hasan says gravely as he pulls a pamphlet of Koranic verses from his pocket to illustrate why he supports the party of Sunni religious leader Adnan al-Dulaimi.

In a community that feels persecuted by the Iraqi government and its security forces run by the majority Shiites, many Sunnis are looking for a leader tough enough to protect them.

"We want only security and all the terrorists to be finished,'' says Umm Thafur, her face covered in Bedouin tattoos and engulfed by her abaya. "God willing everything will be better ... we want a strong leader who's truly Iraqi." [snip]

From a side street and behind a cement barrier meant to stop car bombs, Abu Latief, who didn't want to give his full name, watched the lines of voters swell throughout the morning. "The Iraqi Army is no problem, but the occupation forces are a problem,'' he said as an Iraqi soldier watched.

"After the election, God willing, there will be security, and the American forces will leave Iraq. This is very important to all the people, that the American forces leave. Because if they are here, the terrorists come."

John Burns of the NY Times filed a similar dispatch from the Adhamiya district in Baghdad:

Another thing many Sunnis seemed to agree on was the possibility of a reconciliation between the Americans and the Sunnis, and a distancing of the Sunnis from some of the Al Qaeda-linked insurgent groups. Many were critical of American troops, saying, as Mr. Saleh did, that "they came as liberators, but stayed on as occupiers." But pressed on the question of an American troop withdrawal, most seemed cautious, favoring a gradual drawdown.

"Let's have stability, and then the Americans can go home," said Mr. Sattar, the store owner. Told that this sounded similar to President Bush's formula for a troop withdrawal, he replied: "Then Bush has said it correctly".

This reinforces everything we already know: at the moment, U.S. forces remain a crucial component of the security solution in Iraq but also part of problem. The only viable strategy for success is to get enough Iraqi troops trained and equipped to take over the job. The sooner we do that, the sooner our troops come home.

This has always been the plan - not perfectly executed, perhaps, but it's not like we've been throwing darts at the wrong dartboard for two years, either. Training Iraqi troops takes time and patience, two things in drastically short supply in today's world of hyperpartisanship and 24-hour media.