There have not been a lot of good news stories this decade, but one you cannot discount is the courage and fortitude of our democratic allies in Iraq. They have held up under a terrible, violent onslaught against their people, and made real progress building an open society and new democracy in Arabia.
As we wind down the big American military presence in Iraq, we should be able to build a long-term friendship with that strategic and potentially rich nation. We now have much in common through the shared sacrifices of the brutal war this decade. The American people have spilled their blood, and opened their wallets, for this mission, and the Iraqi people rose to the challenge and delivered.
Now that some “normalcy” is settling over that country, both countries need to be careful not to take the other for granted. Two commercial flash-points are emerging that are worth watching: Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and cargo flights in and out of Iraq.
The Iraqis want and need American equipment like armored vehicles, but gyrating oil prices, global economic troubles, and continued political risk make them a tough credit case for U.S. FMS contracts. Senator McCain has an amendment designed to give US authorities more flexibility in dealing with Iraqi military needs, and this issue has gotten the high-level attention of Michelle Flournoy at the Pentagon. We certainly don’t want Iraq turning to Russia or the Ukraine when better US equipment is available, and will help us build long-term relations with this emerging Persian Gulf power.
Likewise, on flights to and from Iraq, the Iraqi government is beginning to restrict cargo flights into the country, and give a monopoly to Iraqi Airways and its partner, Rus Aviation. The problem is companies like FedEx and DHL, who were flying into Iraq early in the war when it was very dangerous, are now being required to work cargo flights through Rus Aviation. (Please see the YouTube video of a DHL jet being hit by an insurgent missile in 2003 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCNVvZjRwfA ). This is driving up costs, and delaying supply shipments to American troops in country.
On these issues cooler heads in both governments should prevail, but policymakers should give them serious attention before they become a pattern.
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