Steve Chapman

The U.S. went into Iraq five years ago to liberate the country from a tyrant. We have made war on al-Qaida in Iraq, whose tactics managed to alienate even their Sunni allies. Lately, we've also established comparative tranquility. If there was ever a time when Iraqis could calmly and peacefully weigh in on our presence, it's now.

Every major group has obvious grounds to want us around. We facilitated elections that let the Shiites gain dominance, allowed the Kurds to maintain their autonomy in northern Iraq and brought Sunni militias over to our side. In short, we've done something for everyone.

Yet all indications are that Iraqis can unite behind only one proposition: Yankee, go home! If that's the case -- or even if it's not -- how can we justify not letting them express their preference? How can we say that the people we have tried to bless with democracy should be denied a democratic means of resolving the issue?

And why on earth should we mind? If the issue were put to a vote, one of two things could happen. The first is that Iraqis would make it clear they don't want us around anymore and are ready to take over full responsibility for their own affairs. In that case, we can hit the exits with a clear conscience.

The second is that they would have a sudden change of heart, realize they can't manage without us and ask us to stay. That would not convince many Americans who think the potential gains to our security are not worth the cost. But it would surely strengthen the argument for staying.

In November, Americans will get to vote in what amounts to a referendum on the U.S. role in Iraq. Why should we be the only ones?

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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