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Iraq constitution fight may signal approach of civil war

The inability of Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq to agree on a constitution is seen by most as a sign we need to leave our troops in the war-torn country. Just as compelling, however, is the argument that their inability to reach an agreement is a sign we need to get out.

Not only could the two religious groups not agree on the constitution, they could not even agree whether to vote on it. The same Sunnis who boycotted Iraq's election are now screaming that the constitution treats them unfairly.

The Sunnis said the final version is illegitimate and asked the Arab League and the United Nations to intervene "so that this document is not passed."

The draft constitution, they said, could compromise the unity of Iraq.

That begs the question, "What unity?"

The clash over the draft constitution may signal nothing worse than a young democracy trying to work out the kinks. It might also foreshadow, however, an approaching civil war.

Many will argue our troops need to remain in Iraq in the event of civil war, the rationale being the unrest is a direct consequence of U.S. actions. There is no question that we caused Iraq's internal conflict. War between the Muslim factions was held at bay in past years solely because uncompromising dictator Saddam Hussein ruled the country.

The next step in the analysis, however, is not whether we should solve the problem our invasion created. It is whether we can.

We have lost 1,873 Americans to Iraqi violence already. We have lost those sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, to a relatively unorganized and small club of radical insurgents.

A civil war would attract even more insurgents. It would also add huge numbers of warriors and weapons.

Worse yet, it would be a civil war in which the United States has no allies. We would still be hitting road mines, but we would not know who planted them. We can also count on massive reinforcements for the Shiites coming from Iran, a Shiite country whose anti-American activities now remain just below the surface.

Our casualties thus far are too great. If our troops are stuck in the pincers of a civil war, however, those casualties will be a grain in a sandstorm.

Our concern right now should not be whether President Bush and Congress were wise to invade Iraq. It should not even be whether international ethics require our continued presence in the country.

Right now, our scrutiny must be on the overwhelming issue: Is this a winnable war? Will our presence prevent a civil war?

If we can't win — and that question remains unanswered — then it is time to bring our people home.

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