Iraq: What to watch for while winding down the war (for us, at least)

Iraqi national police officers board a helicopter after an Iraqi-led air assault the Ma'dain region outside Baghdad, Iraq, June 26 (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Alex Licea)

Iraqi national police officers board a helicopter after an Iraqi-led air assault the Ma'dain region outside Baghdad, Iraq, June 26 (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Alex Licea)

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.)

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About michaelhastings

Journalist
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4 Responses to Iraq: What to watch for while winding down the war (for us, at least)

  1. Brian In NYC says:

    “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.”

    Michael you have me so confused. In former post you take moveon.org to task for not pushing the president hard enough on the “peace” front. And now you seem to be finding fault with our disengagement.

    • Michael Hastings says:

      I find fault in MoveOn for not keeping its promises. I’m just pointing out here that we’ll be able to get away with keeping tens of thousands of troops in Iraq as long as only Iraqis who are getting killed.

      • Brian In NYC says:

        Well I’m not going to go into the moveon debate again, I think we both have had enough of that!

        However I do think you are trying to have your cake and eat it too and looking to find fault for fault’s sake. Finding fault with the president because he doesn’t want Americans killed is a tad perverse.

  2. libtree09 says:

    Hey we signed the accords they wanted. Peace with honor as Nixon would say while meaning we need to get the hell out of there and fast.

    If they have their civil war it will be brutal and all sides there know brutality. “Creeping back into the fight”, maybe special forces and small toy planes with bombs. AQ, should we go to war again over AQ? Osama would love it so let’s play into his hands again. Not going to happen. Oil, what a mess, Bloomburg has US companies in the running but AP says China is the one signing and that’s where Iran’s oil goes why not add Iraq?

    Here is something that isn’t a secret, the country is fed up with Iraq and 70 something per cent want us gone and they are not all peaceniks.
    the bottom line is we can’t afford wars, not the way we fight them.

    Someday in the future some US official will apologize to whoever is running Iraq and the American people for the biggest military clusterfrack in US History.

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