Moscow, Russia (RIA Novosti) Aug 20, 2010
Iraqis, along with the rest of the Muslim world, have ushered in the holy month of Ramadan, hoping it will give their thoughts some refuge from worries about Iraq's future. The country is still living without a cabinet, and only God knows when it will get one.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has started withdrawing combat brigades in keeping with President Barack Obama's election pledge. All combat troops are expected to be out of Iraq by September 1, while the remainder of U.S. forces are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011.
Yet, few Obama administration officials actually believe that the complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq is realistic in the foreseeable future.
In the weeks to come, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will be trying to convince the nation and the world that the U.S. strategy in Iraq has been a success and therefore it is safe for troops to leave.
About 100,000 American soldiers have left Iraq since Obama took office a year and a half ago. In 2007, during the peak of the American occupation, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq totaled 166,000.
That number has fallen to 65,000. By September 1, as few as 50,000 will remain as a "transitional force" to train and advise Iraqi security forces. Operation Iraqi Freedom will be renamed New Dawn at that point.
All these moves were election promises, and Obama is making good on them. Had he failed to, he would have suffered political fallout among his supporters - a prospect Obama can scarcely afford, particularly ahead of this November's mid-term elections.
Pulling out 15,000 troops by September is not much of a challenge for a military logistical system as powerful as America's.
But it may be quite tricky to convince everyone that this withdrawal is sensible and well thought-out, that, thanks to the U.S. intervention, Iraq is enjoying something resembling normal life after years of dictatorship and interethnic violence, and so the only thing needed to ensure the country's stability and integrity in the future is well-trained Iraqi security forces.
Obama's logic is understandable. A war weighs heavily on any presidency, especially an inherited war. And Obama has inherited not one but two wars from his predecessor.
The ongoing military campaign in Afghanistan is the longest armed conflict in the nation's history, and no one dares predict when or how it will end. For the time being, the U.S. should focus on Iraq to get at least one of its wars over and done with.
Interestingly, it is not just the Iraqis that oppose New Dawn. The operation has also encountered a lot of pushback in the U.S. State Department. It seems that the withdrawal has not been properly planned or adequately funded.
Starting on September 1, the responsibility of training Iraqi personnel, including special-task units, police, army, and local self-government officials, will be transferred from the U.S. military to the State Department.
Remember that the U.S. embassy in Baghdad is not your standard diplomatic mission. In terms of territory, for example, it has surpassed the Vatican, and it operates a vast network of "reconstruction teams" in 16 Iraqi provinces.
The State Department has expected, and rightly so, that along with those new responsibilities, it will receive additional funding, including for the security of the embassy's provincial reconstruction teams and the five consular offices due to open in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
However, a month ago, the U.S. Congress slashed the department's appropriations request by $550 million, including $400 million for personnel security. The Senate and the House of Representatives reckoned that the requested amount of $1.8 billion would be far too lavish, considering that the overall budget of the agency's overseas missions is currently $16 billion.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has responded by saying that the money will have to be provided anyway. Once the U.S. troops are gone, the State Department will have to hire private contractors to ensure the security of its Iraq-based staff.
The number of private security personnel employed by the U.S. embassy in Iraq currently stands at 2,700. Mrs. Clinton says that after September 1, that number will triple, reaching 8,000 people.
All these arrangements look like an outsourcing scheme. The withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the reconfiguration of the combat mission into a stabilization campaign may sound impressive, but behind that rhetoric, there seems to be no intention to truly end this war.
Major General Stephen Lanza, the top American military spokesman in Iraq, has admitted that not much will change there in practical terms following the pullout. Military operations will continue, albeit with intensive outsourcing and privatization.
The number of private contractors working for the U.S. in Iraq in sectors such as security, communications, utilities, and commerce has already reached 100,000. Of these, 10,000 work for private security firms. This number is likely to double once the "combat forces" are gone. This is a good deal for the Obama Administration, obviously.
With most security positions filled by non-American contractors rather than American service members, possible terror attacks against the U.S. embassy will not cause as much resonance back home, and, consequently, there is less chance for a dramatic shift in public opinion against Americans' continued presence in Iraq.
How will the withdrawal play out for Iraq itself? The most knowledgeable experts maintain that the term "withdrawal" is a misnomer, as no meaningful withdrawal is actually taking place. They also say that if a new cabinet is formed in Iraq after the holy month of Ramadan, the ministers will rush to petition the U.S. to postpone the withdrawal.
Indeed, it seems likely that the U.S. will slow its withdrawal, a welcome prospect for Iraqis. Even Tariq Aziz, a former deputy prime minister and foreign minister under Saddam Hussein, has warned that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq will trigger the country's collapse.
This gloomy prophesy sounds all the more credible considering how outraged he is by the American occupation. Aziz, who is currently serving 15 years in prison for his role in Saddam's regime, told Britain's The Guardian, in his first interview with a foreign news outlet, that the U.S. troop withdrawal is tantamount to leaving Iraq to wolves.
Iraq's three main ethnic divisions are the source of its greatest woes. It is almost certain that interethnic strife between the country's Kurdish, Sunnite and Shiite populations will spiral out of control as soon as the U.S. army leaves Iraqi soil.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Source: RIA Novosti
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