US' troops withdrawal from Iraq: Fact or fiction?

US' troops withdrawal from Iraq: Fact or fiction?

Nothing could be further from the truth. The US ‘withdrawal’ from Iraq’s urban centres is a fiction. Iraq’s sovereignty has not been even partially restored. The ‘withdrawal’ is in fact a redeployment carried out over the past few months under the Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa) signed in November 2008.

This document does not call for a complete pull-out but permits the US to station in urban areas at least 50,000 combat soldiers as ‘trainers’ and ‘advisers’ for Iraqi security forces. In addition, 3,000 will remain at a forward base in Baghdad because this facility is said to be outside the capital’s municipal limits. The redeployed troops will be stationed near major cities in new or expanded bases and, if invited (or not) by the Iraqi government, join operations and patrols with Iraqi forces.

The overall number of US troop in Iraq will remain at 1,34,000 for the rest of this year. They will begin departing in stages from 2010 and are set to be out of the country by the end of 2011. The 1,32,610 military contractors now working in Iraq, 36,061 being US citizens, are staying on, although they are, under the Sofa, subject to Iraqi law.
Maliki fought hard to achieve even this small concession from Washington. He had no choice. Seventy-three per cent of Iraqis oppose the presence of US forces in the country. Iraqis no longer want to see US troops in scout cars, armoured troop carriers and humvees circulating on their streets, encounter US soldiers at checkpoints, or be obstructed by blast walls and razor wire at US military posts located in Iraqi residential neighbourhoods.

By proclaiming ‘withdrawal’ and making the US presence less visible, Washington and its allies in Baghdad hope Iraqi voters will approve the Sofa in a referendum set to be held at the end of July. If Iraqis reject the Sofa, US troops could, in theory, be compelled to halt all operations, remain in their bases, and depart from the country as soon as possible.
The US pullout is, Maliki says, “a message to the world that we are now able to safeguard our security and administer our internal affairs”. This is an illusion. On the security front, are now 4,00,000 men in Iraq’s internal security forces but they have, so far, been unable to provide a minimum law and order without the backing of better trained, armed and equipped, US troops.

Reduced strength
Furthermore, the regular Iraqi army, the force meant to defend the country from external threats, consists of only 1,10,000 troops. Iraq’s air-force (its pilots once trained by Indians) and navy are nonexistent. The old Iraqi army, navy and air force had at least 5,00,000, five times that number.

The Iraqi army was not rebuilt by the Bush administration because it intended to keep US forces on the ground there indefinitely and considered their presence would serve as a deterrent. The successor Obama administration has not budged from this short-sighted policy. No country is considered fully sovereign until it can defend its borders as well as impose internal order.

With respect to domestic security, there are two main threats. The first is posed by Sunnis bent on taking revenge on the now-dominant Shias who are blamed for the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad and other cities, towns and villages. Sunnis, formerly the majority in the capital, are currently estimated to account for only 15 per cent of the populace.
Since the 2003 US occupation and the sectarian cleansing of 2006-07, 4.3 million Sunni Arabs and Kurds have fled their homes and sought refuge elsewhere in Iraq and abroad.
The second even more serious threat is the ongoing crisis over Kurdish ambitions in the north. The leadership of the Kurdish autonomous region seeks to annex portions of Tamim province with its capital Kirkuk as well as areas in Nineveh and Diyala provinces.  Arab and Turkomen (ethnic Turkish) inhabitants of these areas are prepared to resist with violence. Consequently, the cities of Mosul, Kirkuk, and Qanaqin are the most violent in the country. Some residents of these cities have been asking US troops to remain since they form a buffer separating the warring sides.

Maliki’s claim that the Iraqi government is capable of dealing with the country’s monumental problems amounts to wishful thinking. The government and administration are rated the third most corrupt in the world.

The US occupation regime and the post-war Iraqi governments have failed to reconstruct the country during the six and a half years since the invasion. Iraqis still lack jobs, potable water, electricity, and security. Furthermore, the ruling Shia parties, which are determined to hang onto power, have refused to reconcile with marginalised Sunnis and alienated the Kurds, the Shias’ former partners in government.

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