As U.S. Combat Troop Depart: What is the Outlook for Iraq?

The last U.S. combat brigade left late last week, and Operation Iraqi Freedom is being transformed into a support role called Operation New Dawn. The new mission primarily involves training for the Iraq National Army, and America is taking a back seat. However, the war is not over and just last week the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaeda front group, asserted responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed more than 50 Iraqi army applicants. The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, will give up his post next week, and a new U.S. ambassador arrived last week. Now, as the United States formally concludes its combat role on Aug. 31, it is time to ask: What will happen to Iraq? Some observations from key observers are listed below:

Los Angeles Times:

Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator whose henchmen tortured the political opponents they didn’t execute. He invaded Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. He tried to build nuclear weapons, and he used chemical weapons against Iran as well as against his own citizens, killing at least 5,000 Kurds in Halabja alone in March 1988. “All told, more than 180,000 Kurdish men, women and children were slaughtered in his Anfal campaign in the north. Meanwhile, the regime drained marshes and starved hundreds of thousands of Shiite Arabs out of the south. These were horrible crimes committed over decades, many of them long before President George W. Bush decided to seek a “regime change.” Neoconservative ideologues added that removing Hussein would open the way for a democratic government in Iraq and have a ripple effect throughout the Middle East — domino democracy — that would stabilize the region.

Washington Post:

Did the United States leave a broken political system behind in Iraq? If some on the right want to claim (incorrectly) that the surge stabilized Iraq to the point that civil war is impossible, their counterparts on the left try to insist (equally incorrectly) that the change in U.S. tactics and strategy in 2007-2008 had no impact on Iraq’s politics whatsoever. Partisans will debate the impact of the surge for years to come, and historians will take up the fight thereafter.
However, Iraqi politics are fundamentally different today than they were in 2006. The nation’s political leaders have been forced to embrace democracy — in many cases very grudgingly, but embrace it they have. Party leaders no longer scheme to kill their rivals, but to outvote them. They can no longer intimidate voters; they have to persuade them. And the smart ones have figured out that they must deliver what their constituents want, namely, effective governance, jobs, and services such as electricity and clean water.

The New York Times:

President Obama plans to make a high-profile speech on the drawdown next week, and aides are discussing whether to have him meet with returning troops. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will address the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Indianapolis on Monday. Denis R. McDonough, chief of staff of the National Security Council, said the administration had no illusions. “Does anybody believe the violence is going to stop entirely and the opponents to stability and progress in Iraq are going to stand down? No,” he said. “But we do know that the Iraqi security forces are in a position to take that role on themselves increasingly.”

Associated Press:

“We can take a certain measure of satisfaction from the success in Iraq,” L. Paul Bremer III, the former Iraqi occupation administrator, said in an interview. “It’s not a complete success yet, obviously, but building democracy takes time.” He added that “a successful Arab-Muslim democracy basically puts the lie to the Islamic extremists” who maintain that democracy is anathema to Islam and advocate a harsh form of rule. Stephen J. Hadley, who was Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, said the current transition was due to the surge ordered by the former president and opposed by Mr. Obama when he was a senator. But he said he was glad that Mr. Obama’s team “has gone through a transition” and that it seemed to be taking pride in accomplishments in Iraq. He said he hoped that the administration would see the task through. “If they do, they can rightly claim some measure of credit, and I would be the first to give them credit,” Mr. Hadley said. “But they need to stay focused and stay engaged.” It would take “a complete failure” of the Iraqi security forces for the U.S. to resume combat operations there, the top American commander in Iraq said as the final U.S. fighting forces prepared to leave the country.

CBS News:

With a major military milestone in sight, Gen. Ray Odierno said in interviews broadcast Sunday that any resumption of combat duties by American forces is unlikely. “We don’t see that happening,” Odierno said. The Iraqi security forces have been doing “so well for so long now that we really believe we’re beyond that point.” U.S. involvement in Iraq beyond the end of 2011, Odierno said, probably would involve assisting the Iraqis secure their airspace and borders. While Iraq forces can handle internal security and protect Iraqis, Odierno said he believes military commanders want to have the U.S. involved beyond 2011 to help Iraqis acquire the required equipment, training and technical capabilities. He said Iraq’s security forces have matured to the point where they will be ready to shoulder enough of the burden to permit the remaining 50,000 soldiers to go home at the end of next year.
If the Iraqis asked that American troops remain in the country after 2011, Odierno said U.S. officials would consider it, but that would be a policy decision made by the president and his national security advisers. In interviews with CBS’ “Face the Nation” and CNN’s “State of the Union,” Odierno said it may take several years before America can determine if the war was a success. “A strong democratic Iraq will bring stability to the Middle East, and if we see Iraq that’s moving toward that, two, three, five years from now, I think we can call our operations a success,” he said.

Jerusalem Post:

Operation Iraqi Freedom promised to bring the light of liberty to a corner of the world that had known none. By doing so, it would inspire and enable men and women throughout the region to believe that they too could be free. As the US withdraws, the forces the US fought throughout the past seven years are on the rise. Al-Qaida is reportedly behind much of the recent violence as it seeks to convince Iraq’s uneasy Sunnis to rejoin its ranks in a continuing war against the Shi’ites. And as for the Shi’ites, their leaders remain alternatively and often simultaneously dependent on and threatened by Iran……
As outgoing US commander in Iraq Gen. Ray Odierno acknowledged last month, Iran remains the largest sponsor of sectarian violence in the country. The US blames Iran for Iraq’s political deadlock. It is right to do so. The election results gave a narrow two-seat lead to former prime minister Ayad Alawi’s Sunni-backed Iraqiya party over Maliki’s State of Law Shi’ite coalition. And yet, rather than accept the results, Iranian-allied Shi’ite politicians led by Ahmed Chalabi sued to have six members of Alawi’s party denied the right to assume office due to their past ties to Saddam’s Ba’athist party. Although the lawsuit was defeated in May, the sides continue to be unable to come to an agreement that would enable the Iraqi parliament to come into office or a government to be formed. Iran’s hand is everywhere in this chaos. As George Friedman wrote in a recent Straffor Intelligence Bulletin, it is true that today, with 50,000 US forces still deployed in Iraq, “the Iranians do not have the ability to impose a government on Iraq.
However, they do have the ability to prevent the formation of a government or to destabilize one that is formed. Iranian intelligence has sufficient allies and resources in Iraq to guarantee the failure of any stabilization attempt that doesn’t please Tehran.” As Friedman notes, for Iran, keeping Iraq in an ongoing state of instability, with sporadic periods of outright chaos, is a low-cost, highreturn investment. … Both the Bush and Obama administrations wrongly characterized Iraq as a stand-alone war. But the fact is that Iraq has always been a battleground of a regional war. And the main enemy in Iraq, the main obstacle to stability and victory, is Iran. … The only way to safeguard Iraq is to overthrow the regime in Iran. The only way to get the likes of Hariri out from under the jackboots of Hizbullah and the Iranian-proxy regime in Damascus is to overthrow the regime in Iran.

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