Today is a big day in Iraq. U.S. troops are exiting most of the cities. This is decent news for us Americans(our troops will be at less risk, huzzah) and we’ll be one step closer to the partial withdrawal in 2011. (Assuming things go according to plan–a big assumption–we’ll still have a significant military presence in the country until at least 2019, made up of tens of thousands of military personnel and contractors.) The pullout is maybe/sort of/kind of/ excellent news for Iraqis, depending on your ethnicity, level of pessimism, and general disposition towards foreign occupiers.
Six things to watch for:
1)Will the civil war begin again? (This is an obvious number one. In fact, if you look at how civil wars usually go–think Lebanon,’75-’90–you could argue the civil war in Iraq never ended. It’s just died down. But, it seems reasonable to think, that the fighting between government and anti-government forces won’t ever reach the level of violence that we saw from 2005-2007. )
2)Is there a level of violence that would force Obama to reverse the partial withdrawal? I don’t think so, and this is the dirty little secret of the pull-out: we’re okay with lots of killing as long it’s just Iraqi on Iraqi violence. If we start to increase our involvement again, then Americans will start getting killed, which is what the Obama administration wants to avoid. Also, without the Americans in the way, Maliki’s government will have a free hand to deal with their opponents as they wish. (And they have all their potential enemies names/biometrics.)
3) That might be a bit optimistic–perhaps, if violence does start creeping up, Americans will start creeping back into the fight. (Iraq vet Jon Soltz lays out why that might be so here at the Huffington Post, saying Iraq is a “powder keg” waiting to go off. ) I think, though, for the U.S. to start really mixing it up, the Maliki government would have to be close to toppling. And as long as Obama can keep the number of U.S. deaths a month to say, under 10, then it will pass unnoticed on the homefront.
4) Will Iraq become a “safe-haven” for Al Qaeda? This man, a leader of the Sunni Awakening, says yes: “Also, if the Americans pull out, al Qaeda will return.” My guess: AQ will probably be there(because Iraq will still be something close to a failed state, with little central government control, and despite their losses, AQ still has roots there.) And AQ’s return(or the fear of) will ensure that U.S. presence will continue until 2019 and beyondish.
5) What companies finally get the oil contracts? Oil companies have been waiting in the wings for the situation to get just ripe; looks like Exxon is in the lead.
6) If I’m an American official in Iraq, what am I paranoid about? Well, I’m worried about a kind of Beirut ’83 catastrophic attack, or what happened to the U.N. headquarters in 2003. As the country begins to “feel” safer, security at U.S. facilities is bound to slacken. At the same time, Iraqi security forces are being entrusted with important areas that the U.S. once held, like the Green Zone. All the U.S. targets will be consolidating in a smaller number of bigger targets, like military bases, the airport and the embassy. (On the other hand, without having to worry about combat patrols and the like, that’s going to give the Americans a lot of time just to focus on their own security. So maybe I’m just being a tweaker.)