The State of Iraq - The Intrepid

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The State of Iraq

With the state of the American economy, Iraq has fallen off the radar. McCain and Obama each touched on the war in Iraq during the third presidential debate. But, it was clear that the issue was not at the forefront. In different opinion polls released by the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN, the war in Iraq came a distant second or third after issues relating to the economy. On average, only 5-10-per-cent of Americans felt that the war was the most important issue this election.

This week, General Petraeus prepared to review the American strategy in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan, and the surrounding region. Petraeus, who is largely credited with reducing the level of violence in Iraq, will conduct a 100-day assessment to determine the best way to deploy over 200,000 American troops in the region. Petraeus’s plan will primarily focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan and dealing with the resurgence of the Taliban. But, what about Iraq?

The situation in Iraq is getting better everyday, but it is far from ideal. The surge and the alliance between Sunni factions and U.S. forces have produced a relative state of peace that has brought back some stability, but the country is a long way from full recovery. This level of recovery seems to be enough for the Bush administration, which on Friday demonstrated a commitment towards a pullout deal.

The accord between the Iraq and United States governments would require the United States to withdraw from Iraq by 2011. Withdrawal, would however, be based on the ability of Iraqi security forces to assume the duties currently undertaken by American troops. While the agreement does mention specific dates, these dates are subject to revision. In the agreement, American soldiers will begin to pull out of Iraqi cities and towns no later than June 30, 2009. These troops will then transition to American bases in Iraq before pulling out before December 31, 2011.

Also in the agreement are provisions that would allow the Iraqi justice system to charge private American contracts for wrongdoings. However, American military personal would be immune from prosecution. While the accord does not need congressional approval in the United States, the Bush administration is currently lobbying to ensure strong support.

In Iraqi, the accord has to pass the 275-seat parliament. It is questionable whether the agreement will pass. Certain prominent Iraqi’s, including the influential Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have promised to not interfere with the political process. However, other influential figures, including Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have urged Iraqis to reject the proposal.

“If they tell you that the agreement ends the presence of the occupation, let me tell you that the occupier will retain its bases. And whoever tells you that it gives us sovereignty is a liar,” al-Sadr said. “I am confident that you brothers in parliament will champion the will of the people over that of the occupier ... Do not betray the people.”

In response today, an estimated 50,000 Iraqis marched from Sadr City into Baghdad. The demonstration took place amid heavy U.S. and Iraqi security. The 2003 UN Security Council resolution authorizing America’s presence in Iraq is set to expire at the end of this year. Many Iraqis want to see the U.S presence in Iraq end with the resolution.

The U.S. administration is presenting the pact as a victory, but the circumstances and content of the agreement are far from what the Bush administration envisioned in 2003. Instead of creating a strong ally in the region, the U.S. has created a government with strong ties to Iran. Iraq’s professional class, or what still existed of it after Saddam is now virtually non-existent. Over 5 million Iraqis have fled the country or are currently displaced within and tens of thousands continue to flee Iraq each month.

For all of the American lives and treasure expended on Iraq, the country’s situation remains perilous, even as it looks as if a peaceful withdrawal is on the horizon. The insurgency, though somewhat muted, continues to carry out attacks, largely aided by funds, weapons, and training from Iran. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the country is still very much divided. Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds distrust and fear each other. The sectarian bloodbath has eased for now, but if the U.S. doesn’t play its hand carefully and cautiously, it could start up all over again.