Partial pullout

Partial pullout

The withdrawal of US combat troops from cities and towns in Iraq partially ends American military occupation of that country. Security in urban areas will now rest with Iraq’s armed forces and the police. The exit of US troops has been widely welcomed by the Iraqi people. They have been living under US occupation for six years, a period during which violence in Iraq soared and living conditions deteriorated. The US troop withdrawal from cities will trigger hope that the insurgency will wind down. However, the Iraqi people might need to temper such expectations. After all, US military presence in Iraq has not ended. Only combat troops have been pulled out now from cities. Some 130,000 troops will remain. That number will drop to 50,000 next year. US President Barack Obama has promised full withdrawal by 2012, but it is not clear whether it will include shutting down of US bases on Iraqi soil. So long as US military presence in Iraq continues, whatever the label under which it exists.

There are serious concerns over the recent spike in violence in Iraq. Around 250 people have been killed in violence over the past week alone, 150 of them in the northern city of Kirkuk. The US has been claiming its Iraq adventure as a success, drawing attention to elections that have been held there. But the reality of daily violence even in the heart of Baghdad remains. Sectarian tensions that came to the fore following the ouster of President Saddam Hussein persist. And Iraq’s social fabric that was ripped apart by the US invasion is in tatters. This situation indicates the utter failure of US troops to clean up the mess they created in Iraq.

American personnel who will train Iraqi forces are likely to stay in cities. If they come under attack, US officials have said that they have the right to act in self-defence. There is little clarity on how far the US will go to exercise this right. In the circumstances, it does seem that there is a real possibility of the US reverting to its combat role in Iraq. The withdrawal of US combat troops is a step towards the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty. But it is a tentative step.

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