Sending a message by bringing them home

Michigan Sen. Carl Levin suggests threatening a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq to get Iraqis moving on their constitution.

Published June 23, 2005 1:04PM (EDT)

Most criticism of the call for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq centers around the "message" it might send to the insurgency: Just wait out the U.S. troops, and Iraq will be yours. But Sen. Carl Levin has a different sort of message in mind: Threaten to withdraw he troops, he says, so that the interim Iraqi government will get moving a little faster on a new constitution.

As the New York Times reports today, the Iraqi government has committed itself to adopting a new constitution by Aug. 15, but it has also allowed itself the possibility of a six-month extension, and it hasn't made much progress yet. Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, suggested Wednesday that the White House threaten the Iraq government with a major troop withdrawal if the country's Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds and Sunnis can't make a deal on a constitution by February.

Levin acknowledged in an interview with the Times that the withdrawal of U.S. troops could create even greater chaos in Iraq. But it's a case, he said, where the devil we don't know might be less scary than the devil we do. "The status quo, we know, is violent," Levin said. "What may happen if we leave is uncertain."

He's certainly right about at least the first part of that equation. Four cars bombs exploded in Baghdad Wednesday evening, and two more went off this morning. The death toll, just from those attacks: 38. Other violence appeared more squarely focused on derailing the adoption of a constitution. A prominent Sunni law professor, Jassim al-Issawi, was assassinated in what the Associated Press called "the first direct attempt to scare moderates away" from participating in the constitutional process.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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