End the war in Iraq sooner than later

President Bush, in sticking to his timetable of June 30 to turn over the governance to Iraq to Iraqis, provided hope that the endgame strategy to this war will prevail sooner rather than later.

The United States has accomplished a great deal - crushing a military threat in the region, capturing Saddam Hussein, ridding the country of whatever weapons of mass destruction existed, rebuilding schools, oil fields and infrastructure, scattering surviving terrorists to the four winds.

But it has neither the strength nor the purpose to continue to occupy the country. And the American public has no appetite for a protracted period of "peacekeeping" in a country that must come to grips with its own past and future.

Bush, in his address Monday evening, revealed no timetable for bringing soldiers home to the U.S. We hope fervently that he has one in mind. The 138,000 troops there now are stretched thin and can't expect to quell every flare-up for many more months.

Withdrawal of U.S. troops to bases outside the country could lead to an immediate and bloody uprising of civil wars within Iraq as the various factions attempt to gain control, perhaps even splitting the country into three parts. The chaos would set back reconstruction efforts, even force most of the private contractors out of the country.

But Iraq must be returned to the Iraqis. Democracy forced on them - any form of government forced on them - will not last. They must determine their own destiny.

That's not to say the U.S. allies within Iraq will be abandoned. American forces standing by in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia can make sure Saddam's henchmen don't return to power. Iraq police and security forces can be bolstered in their efforts to enforce laws and keep peace.

The message President Bush should send on June 30 is that the war in Iraq, at least for the United States, is over.


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