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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Backgrounder: 'Plan B' Scenarios in Iraq

Council on Foreign Relations

Author: Lionel Beehner, Staff Writer
August 21, 2006


With rising levels of sectarian bloodshed in Iraq, Democrats have intensified their criticism of the Bush administration's policy, saying it is impossible to stay the course indefinitely. Republicans respond that their policy in Iraq is one of "adapt to win," not merely to stay the course, and counter that a hasty withdrawal strategy would only perpetuate the civil war there and leave the country a terrorist haven akin to Afghanistan in the 1990s. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, an early advocate of the Iraq war, says "it's time to start thinking about Plan B—how we might disengage with the least damage possible." A number of exit strategies and suggestions have been floated to avert an all-out catastrophe, including calling for an immediate pullout of U.S. forces, establishing a Dayton-like peace conference involving Iraq's neighbors, and partitioning the state into three semi-autonomous zones.

What has triggered calls for drastically altering U.S. policy in Iraq?

The sharp upturn in sectarian violence over the past six months, experts say. Top U.S. military commanders now admit the situation, left unchanged, could slide into civil war. As of mid-August, more than one hundred Iraqis were dying per day, the majority of them in Baghdad. More than 3,400 Iraqi civilians were killed in July alone. And while U.S. casualties are slightly down from previous months, the number of Americans wounded, mostly by car bombs, has risen. "[T]he United States cannot afford to be seen standing by while Iraqis slaughter each other," writes Michael Eisenstadt, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in the Weekly Standard. Eisenstadt said Washington's recent decision to send thousands of extra troops to Baghdad is a step in the right direction.


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