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December 15, 2011
On December 15, U.S. troops in Baghdad lowered their flag, signaling the end of the American military mission in Iraq. The move comes after nearly 9 years of military action in the country, the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the sparking of sectarian warfare and strife, complicated by the involvement of al-Qaeda militants. In the wake of the official U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, many wonder what will become of the country and whether its notoriously fractious political system will be able to overcome the challenges coming its way.
In a recent article, the Iraqi daily Azzaman highlights these dilemmas and reports: “The government hopes its decision not to let U.S. troops stay in the country will spur armed groups to join its national reconciliation efforts....Many hope it will pull the carpet from underneath insurgent groups who have been tenaciously resisting U.S. presence in the country. For them U.S. presence has always been part of the problem and not solution. There are reports that some armed groups are in touch with the authorities, expressing a willingness to lay down arms and join national reconciliation....The government’s latest crackdown on what it terms ‘remnants of the former regime’ in which hundreds of former Baath party members have been incarcerated does not help in this direction.”
The Peninsula editorial likewise sees the U.S. troop withdrawal as “A litmus test…. The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq leaves a country grappling with political deadlock, vulnerable to regional interference, a domestic insurgency and uncertainty at a time the region remains roiled by the Arab Spring. The departure of troops also raises questions about the ability of Iraqi security forces to keep the peace in a country still scarred by a bitter 2006-2007 civil war in which thousands died....Tensions between Sunnis and Shias, Arabs and Kurds remain unresolved. How the Iraqis fare in the coming years will determine how history judges a war which became among the most politically contentious in American history.”
Iraq’s next door neighbor Iran sees the development as a positive step. According to a report on Tehran Times, “Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili says the pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq will definitely help Baghdad to promote its independence and strengthen its might. The departure of United States’ troops from Iraq will also pave the way for the progress and prosperity of the Iraqi nation, Jalili told Ammar Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, in a meeting in Tehran on Tuesday....Iraq’s stability is important to the Islamic Republic and Tehran is keen to promote cooperation with Baghdad in all spheres, the top security official pointed out.”
Nonetheless, it is clear from early reports that the official withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq does not mean the end of American involvement in the country. The Iraqi Al Sumaria news, reporting on the fact that 15,000 employees will be working at the U.S. embassy in Iraq, cites “Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama Al Nujaifi [who] considered, on Monday, that keeping 15 thousand employees at the U.S. embassy in Iraq after U.S. troops’ withdrawal is illogical. This issue requires answers from Iraqi government, Nujaifi revealed, indicating that the parliament will host Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki to discuss Security Forces’ readiness at his return from Washington.”
But the Americans are not the only party making their presence felt. According to Aswat Al Iraq, Iraqi Kurdish officials have charged “Iran, Syria [and] Turkey with involvement in violence incidents in Kurdish Zakhu, Dohuk town....Noteworthy is that dozens of persons had launched attacks on alcohol-selling shops, massage centers and hotels, after last week’s Juma (Friday) prayers in Zakhu of Dohuk Province, followed by clashes among attackers and police forces that injured about 30 persons from both sides and causing the stretch of violence acts to the town of Summail and then Dohuk city. The incidents were followed by attacks on the headquarters of the Kurdistan Islamic Union, setting fire and damaging the Union's headquarters.”
Likewise, Bryar Mohammed singles out the Iraqi central government in an article for the Kurdish news agency AK News, accusing it of “trying to bully Diyala Province out of trying to become an autonomous region….Suhad Hayli from the Iraqiya List party says he expects the Iraqi government will use force to quash the autonomy demands of the Province to the north east of Baghdad, bordering Iran. Diyala Provincial Council's demand for regional autonomy was announced two days ago, almost two months after another Sunni dominated province called for the same....With signs that the status quo is disintegrating, Kurds in Khanaqin city and its Mandali suburb wish to split from Diyala Province now and join the Kurdistan Region.”
In another article for AK News, Aref Qurbani laments the in-fighting among Kurdish political forces during a time of heightened uncertainty: “It is disappointing when you see educated Kurds deal with the situation in a way that has nothing to do with them. They let the fight start between both Kurdistan Democratic Party and Kurdistan Islamic Union. Let’s have a strategic view and ask whether it will benefit Kurds in general if these two political parties fight? ...We are certain that with the American withdrawal we are entering a sensitive time. The future of Iraq is under question. With what is happening in Syria and the relationship between Iran and America we need to consider what is happening around us. Ask yourself: do not we need one speech and one attitude — unification? ...I want both political parties look back to our history and start negotiations and solve this problem. I hope both leaderships see this historical responsibility.”
Especially in light of the recent transformations in the Middle East, some have also attempted to draw comparisons between two models that have brought about regime change in the region: a top-down military one and a bottom-up citizen-based movement. Rami Khouri, in an article for the Lebanese Daily Star, makes it clear which one he suggests is the preferred alternative, urging his readers to “Praise Tunisia, not the Iraqi nightmare…. Rarely have we had such a sharp contrast between the destructive legacy of militarized American foreign policy in the Arab world and the more constructive behavior of ordinary Arab citizens who are reshaping their own societies in a more legitimate manner....Somebody who has Obama’s ear should take him aside one day soon and let him know that in the Arab world, Iraq since the 2003 Anglo-American invasion has never been a model for anything other than perpetual chaos, fear, death and destruction. It is everything we want to avoid, and nothing we seek to emulate.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at email@example.com.