What will happen after America withdraws from Iraq?
Though many of Iraq’s larger cities have already been left behind, today (June 30, 2009) marked the official deadline for American troops to pull out of Iraq’s towns and cities. No longer will tanks and roving bands of troops sweep from street to street. Today’s withdrawal marks a much anticipated date for many Iraqis — in fact, many towns have held parades and street festivals in honor of the occasion.
But without an American presence, isn’t it possible that militia groups could take control of certain areas of Iraq? What about the influence of Al-qaeda and other terrorist groups?
Journalists aren’t the only ones worried about this issue. Across the nation of Iraq, parties in celebrations of the withdrawal were cut with emotion — fear that violence would return, worry that America won’t offer the proper rebuilding assistance.
There were no lines of tanks rolling out of Baghdad on Iraqi television, and no crowd of troops marching out of the capital city as today’s deadline approached — the U.S. military has been gradually pulling troops and other combat forces out of Iraq’s larger towns and cities for the past three months. According to the Pentagon, many troops were out of the population centers before this past weekend.
Is this a celebratory time for Iraqis? Publicly, many are celebrating the mass exodus of American forces. Newscasters on national TV network Al-Iraqiya held a countdown to the end of occupation, going so far as to wear Iraqi flags draped across their shoulders. All night, as the deadline approached, Iraqi television showed scenes of people danced and singing in the streets. And though many Iraqis will probably publicly say that they are glad to see the American forces leave their neighborhoods and cities, most will admit to worries about what the future may hold without the protection of the U.S. military.
In fact, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned of an increase in attacks around the withdrawal date — and there were severe attacks in the past couple of weeks. al-Maliki suggested that insurgents would use the pull out to attempt to ignite the kind of sectarian warfare that tore the country apart in 2006 and 2007.
In the past 10 days, a series of large and deadly attacks have killed more than 200 people. These attacks range from bombings targeted at civilians to car bombings. One car bomb in Mosul just before the deadline killed ten Iraqi police officers. In response to the violence, the Iraqi government has urged people to avoid crowded spaces “unless absolutely necessary”.
U.S. officials are optimistic that Iraq’s newly trained police and armed forces can keep the violence in check during the transition period. In fact, according to the Pentagon, violence in Iraw is at its lowest point in the history of the most recent Iraqi conflict, this despite the attention that recent attacks have received.
A little history — American troops moved into Baghdad in early 2003, less than three weeks after launching the initial invasion that took down accused war criminal Saddam Hussein. Then President George W. Bush said the invasion of Iraq was necessary because Saddam Hussein’s government was concealing “nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs”. We were led to believe that Iraq was willing and able to deal weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.
Unless you’ve been under a rock for five years, you know the rest. After the invasion was complete, inspectors found that Iraq had in fact dismantled illicit weapons programs during UN sanctions in the 1990s. No weapons of mass destruction were found.
But the Americans did find they were involved in a massive regional war. Our armed forces had to fight off insurgency after insurgency, including members of Hussein’s Baath Party, a Shiite Muslim militia now led by anti American clerics and jihadists loyal to a group calling itself “al Qaeda in Iraq”. Mired in a war with no end in sight, more than 4,300 Americans have been killed in Iraq since the time of the invasion.
By the middle of 2006, the Iraqi conflict had basically turned into a civil war. Images of civilians taken out by suicide bombs, or video of bodies being dumped in the streets became a daily reminder of the horror of the conflict. The fighting began to cease in late 2007 after the US committed extra troops (the infamous “troop surge”) and incited a turn against the jihadists by local tribal leaders. Under an agreement signed in last few days as President, Bush ensured that all US forces would be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. In fact, most troops will be gone by August 2010 under the plan for troop withdrawal laid out by Bush’s successor, President Obama.
The 130,000 U.S. troops who remain in the country have a difficult task. They are expected to act as support staff for Iraqi troops and police, but will be unable to act as they have in the past 6 years — they cannot launch operations in cities or other population centers without Iraqi consent. A small number of these Americans will become training staff for Iraqi security forces, also acting in an advisory capacity..
Though there has been speculation in the media in recent months that certain exceptions to the troop withdrawal policy would be made, like in the northern city of Mosul, where troops are still needed, the Iraqi government said this is false. So far, no exceptions been made, and Iraqi troops are already taking over security.