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Issues in Iraq

Before discussing Iraq, I want to remind everyone that on Thursday, at 5 pm in the Cyber Cafe, Sigurd Neubauer will be speaking on relations between Gulf States and Israel. You should all come!

On to Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is behaving in ways that have some suggesting he is becoming a Saddam-like dictator.  This Al Jazeera article gives a good, quick overview on the situation in Iraq.  Basically, Maliki is accusing other politicians of supporting terrorism, specifically those politicians who are not Shi’a and who oppose him.  Those same opponents claim that Maliki is using trumped up charges to eliminate and silence his competition while strengthening his grasp on power.  Many experts are viewing this moment as the biggest crisis Iraq has faced in several years, and there is broad concern that the jockeying of political leaders could spark a new wave of sectarian violence.

“He [Maliki] is a dictator without wisdom,” Mutlaq said, and called for Maliki to step down immediately. “He should leave his position for somebody else and [we should] form a new government until we reach the election.”

Maliki has defended his moves, claiming to adhere to the power-sharing agreement and the Iraqi constitution.

Further complicating matters, the political bloc loyal to Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called for the parliament to be dissolved and new elections to be held. So has Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, Barzani said there should be early elections if the political leaders fail to resolve the crisis. He said that Iraq is facing the most dangerous crisis since the Americans entered the country in 2003, adding that Iraq’s constitution allows for federalism and Maliki has no right to object to it or to the creation of federal regions, which more Iraqi provincial leaders are aiming to do.

I suppose the question I now have is whether or not all of these problems that Iraq now faces could have been avoided if the Obama administration worked to find a way to keep US troops in Iraq.

Al Qaeda in Iraq

The New York Times has an article up on the possibility of a resurgence of Al Qaeda in Iraq following the withdraw of US troops.  The article points out that Al Qaeda has been maintaining a rate of 30 small attacks per week, as well as one major attack every 4-6 weeks.  The US Army currently estimates Al Qaeda’s size at about 1000, where 200 are dedicated fighters.  Recently, attacks have been focused on Iraqi Security Forces, although restarting sectarian violence is an obvious goal that Al Qaeda can be expected to pursue.  The article also suggests growing concern in Washington that the group may begin to plan for attacks outside Iraq.

I personally was surprised by President Obama’s commitment to withdrawing all American troops from Iraq.  While there is an obvious political component to his choice, it seems like Iraqi forces may be able to adequately handle the al Qaeda threat.  I guess we’ll find out over the next few months.  And no doubt the US will still be maintaining a covert intelligence apparatus in Iraq to continue pursuit of al Qaeda.

Last thing, there are three events at DU this week that are worth checking out.  The information is on the left side of this page.

Iraq minus US

Al Arabiya has an article up detailing an interview with Iraq Deputy Parliament speaker Qusay al-Suhail, who is a political ally of Moqtada al-Sadr.  Al-Sadr has been a staunch believer that a complete withdraw of US troops at the end of 2011 was the only acceptable outcome, which fortuitously President Obama has now announced will be the case.  Al-Suhail explains his position that once the United States had completed its mission of removing Sadaam Hussein from power, it then became an occupying force imposing itself on Iraq.  He also suggests that the stress put upon Iraqi society by the invasion is what motivated so much strife and violence, which is not a behavior consistent with the Iraqi character.  Finally, he explains that Iran, while often accused of having undue influence on the new Iraq, is not as dominant as it is sometimes thought to be.

“Many countries in the region interfere in the Iraqi political scene and not just Iran and any delay in the formation of the government can be due to several factors related to some or any of those countries that influence Iraq’s internal affairs in one way or another.”

Many were surprised when President Obama announced that he wanted a complete withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011.  My opinion is that there is little to be gained for Iraq by leaving 5-10,000 US troops behind, although I have no empirical evidence to defend my guesswork.  To me, it seems like an ambitious decision that trades short term ramifications for (hoped for) long term benefits.  What do you all think?  Is a complete withdraw the right decision, especially when its biggest proponents are in the Sadr political corner?

Tidbits

It was a busy day around the region.

  • Israeli settlers vandalized and burned a mosque, an action that Netanyahu has condemned
  • US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reaffirmed the US commitment to maintaining a militarily superior Israel, although he questioned Israel’s diplomatic isolation
  • Israel has signaled that it is willing to return to negotiations sponsored by the US, UN, EU, and Russia, although Palestinians are skeptical that any progress can be made
  • In Egypt, the country’s military leadership has agreed to amendments to the election laws, changes called for and endorsed by the country’s anti-Mubarak political elements
  •  Libyan transnational government forces (we’re calling them that instead of rebels now I guess) are pressing in on pro-Gaddafi forces in Sirte, one of a few strongholds of Gaddafi remaining
  • In ongoing upheavals, Bahrain has sentenced participants in protests to lengthy jail terms, Syria has been rounding up thousands of citizens to quell protests, and Yemeni youth don’t just want Saleh out as president, but want criminal charges pressed against him as well
  • There was a terrifying attack in Iraq, in which Sunni insurgents took hostages at a police station.  Several hostages and a police chief were killed before Iraqi forces recaptured the building, killing the militants.  This bit of ties to the piece from Dean Hill from yesterday, as he brought up the matter of Sunni insurgents, whose funding, objectives, and strategy are harder to pin down than their Sunni counterparts
So, there is a lot happening, although I don’t know if any of it can be considered as a major development.  I guess that for me the most interesting thing is Panetta’s statements, and the context of the attack in Iraq.

Syria, Dean Hill

It’s the weekend so this will be short:

In Turkey, a group of Syrian nationals is attempting to organize an official resistance, which they hope will provide a focal point for those Syrians who are afraid of the absence of alternatives to Assad, according to Al Jazeera.  I’m not sure if this will make a big difference though.  The article also notes that the number of deaths in Syria since March is up to 2,700.  Crazy.

Also in Al Jazeera, Dean Hill has written an opinion piece.  In it, he discusses the unintended consequences of the Arab Spring, basically its more negative outcomes, as well as the matter of Sunni insurgents in Iraq.  Here’s a slice:

Today, the insurgency, violent as it can be from time to time, is not supported by anything close to a majority of Iraqis, if it ever was. Insurgents hold no land or cities, unlike before, and, while many Sunnis chafe at life under a prime minister who leads a Shia-based political party, they have for the most part accepted the new reality and have focused on getting as much as they can from it. Can this be said of all Sunnis in the rest of the Arab world?

US Troop Level for Iraq, and Questions for Libya

Currently, America’s policymakers are deliberating on how many US troops should remain in Iraq.  The Department of Defense is pushing for 3,000-5,000, and some in Congress are pushing for 10,000 or more.  If they listen to the preferences of Moqtada al-Sadr, the number will be zero, according to this story from Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, BBC News has a general update on Libya.  The most noteworthy piece is that in a speech the leader of the National Transitional Council announced that Libya will be a state guided by Moderate Islam, and denounced extremism.  The New York Times has posted a story about the future role of women in Libya, which details how their contribution to the Revolution will help shape opportunities after the revolution.  With Libya, it seems like we in the West are still struggling to ask the right questions about Libya’s future, so finding answers is even further off, perhaps because its just easier to root for the capture of Muammar al-Gaddafi.  But these issues like will Libya be a moderate country, or go tribal, or something else, are important to always keep in mind (even that sentence ignores so much nuance).

Will US troops be out of Iraq by the end of 2011?

Adm. Mike Mullin of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed with the media the need for Iraqi policymakers to decide whether or not they want a full withdraw of US troops by the end of 2011, according to the New York Times.  The article does a great job of hitting on the implications:

Since the agreement, violence has decreased significantly, and Iraqi security forces have taken over patrolling the streets. But the Iraqis still lack the capacity to defend their borders and airspace, and they rely heavily on the American forces for intelligence sharing and training.

Independent military analysts and officials of both countries believe that if all American forces leave as scheduled, it could threaten security in Iraq, where there are daily explosions and where ethnic tensions remain high. A continued American military presence could also serve as a counterbalance to Iran, which has significant influence here.

Complicating matters are plans for the State Department to have a huge presence in Iraq after the end of this year. There are many questions among policymakers in Washington about whether the State Department can operate here without the logistical support and protection of the American military. The State Department is planning to roughly double its size in Iraq, to about 16,000 people, and it will require an army of private contractors to protect its personnel.

I think the smart money has to be on a continued American military presence after 2011, however it seems that the level of that presence really may be determined by the Iraqis.