Cover Story

War and peace

Are those who generalize about Islam as a "religion of peace" telling the whole truth? As the deadliest month of the year for American forces in Iraq highlights obstacles to U.S. goals, a Christian family's harrowing escape from Jordan raises questions about even the most "moderate" Muslim countries

Issue: "Iraq and terrorism," Nov. 11, 2006

Polls show Americans by far viewing the war in Iraq and the war against terror as the most important issue in the Nov. 7 balloting. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman connected last month's spike in violence-October was the deadliest month for U.S forces in Iraq this year-to the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam, a turning point that led President Lyndon Johnson not to seek a second term. "He could be right," President Bush said about Friedman's theory during an October press conference. "There's certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we're heading into an election."

With terrorists trying to convince American voters to choose candidates favoring U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the Bush administration was deep in talks with Iraqi leaders-proposing timelines, suggesting some tactical changes, and restating its resolve. President Bush affirmed the five-month-old government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki while pushing it to "respect the fact that we've got patience, but not unlimited patience."

For now, the Bush administration remains committed to the goal of creating a stable and free democracy in Iraq despite formidable obstacles to peace. It is trying to avoid sweeping changes such as a rapid pullout or the three-state solution being promoted by several members of Congress. But dissenting voices are touting their own analysis of the state of affairs in Iraq.

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Radwan Masmoudi, founder and president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, a moderate Washington-based think tank, says U.S. troops in Iraq are making things worse: "I would announce that we are leaving in six months, and that it is up to the Iraqis to fix their problems in those six months." Masmoudi says the U.S. presence increases the likelihood of civil war between Shiites and Sunnis, and if left to themselves "there are enough Iraqis on both sides who realize that they have to live together and civil war would be a disaster for everybody . . . we need to end the occupation as soon as possible."

Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, a think tank devoted to fighting radical Islam and promoting democracy in the Middle East, favors neither a drastic pullout nor the current course. "I'm half-way between," Pipes told WORLD. "I think cut and run is always the wrong thing to do, and yet I think the president overextended. I think he looked at Iraq in terms of 1945-rehabilitating the country as we did Japan and Germany. That isn't going to happen for many reasons."

Pipes suggests a redeployment of troops away from the urban areas and into the deserts. Separated from the impacted areas, Pipes said, troops can monitor the essential tasks, such as "maintaining the territorial integrity, making sure oil and gas get out, and making sure there is not a Saddam-like monster emerging. Then hand the keys over to the Iraqis and say, 'It's your country. Do your best. Good luck. Here's some money.'"

Others, though, see Iraq as the pivotal struggle in a region where radicals are gaining footholds and moderates are struggling to survive. General John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, said a pullout would be disastrous and "could plunge the region into all-out chaos" and "strengthen extremists." President Bush echoed his concerns during an Oct. 25 press conference: "If we do not defeat the terrorists or extremists in Iraq, they will gain access to vast oil reserves and use Iraq as a base to overthrow moderate governments across the broader Middle East. They will launch new attacks on America from this new safe haven."

General George Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, spoke of progress toward an eventual American withdrawal from Iraq but said he will not hesitate to ask for more troops: "We are about 75 percent of the way through a three-step process in building those [Iraqi] forces. It is going to take another 12 to 18 months or so till I believe the Iraqi security forces are completely capable of taking over responsibility for their own security that's still coupled with some level of support from us."

The final week of October brought speculation of a growing rift between Iraqi and U.S. leaders and doubt regarding Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's ability to rein in extremists. The angry leader dismissed suggestions of a timetable for curbing violence and disavowed a raid on the Sadr City slum in Baghdad by Iraqi and U.S. forces, saying he was not consulted. The 2.5 million Shiites of the slum-largely avoided by U.S. and Iraqi troops prior to the raid-are controlled by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and comprise a key component of Iraq's fragile Shiite-dominated government.

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