Saturday, July 4, 2009

Troops In The Middle East

A lot is going on the middle east right now. American soldiers are 'leaving' Iraq and we are surging in Afghanistan. It's crazy times in that area of the world and I am not sure that there is a clear vision of how things are going to play out in the future. Here are some highlights from the past week or so.

Iraqi forces assumed formal control of Baghdad and other cities Tuesday after American troops handed over security in urban areas in a defining step toward ending the U.S. combat role in the country. A countdown clock broadcast on Iraqi TV ticked to zero as the midnight deadline passed for U.S. combat troops to finish their pullback to bases outside cities.

"The withdrawal of American troops is completed now from all cities after everything they sacrificed for the sake of security," said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "We are now celebrating the restoration of sovereignty."

The Pentagon did not offer any comment to mark the passing of the deadline.

This article was published on MSNBC last week. I must say that I am really happy to hear this. How different our overall troop footprint is remains to be seen but this can only be seen as a good thing, even if violence increases. At least responsibility to control the violence will have been shifted into the hands of the Iraqis. I think that the occupation fear is running ramped in this area of the world and who can blame them when you look at history.

The Economist has more.

Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Al-Maliki, is certainly marking the occasion as one for celebrations. He says that the deadline for American soldiers to leave Iraq’s cities is a “great victory” over the occupiers, not unlike a rebellion against British soldiers in 1920. Tuesday has been declared a national holiday.

But nothing is so clear cut in Iraq. For a start, despite the official claims, many Americans will remain within cities. American trainers will stay embedded with Iraqi units, and those trainers themselves will be protected by other American troops. (The American forces still worry about attacks from within the ranks of the Iraqi army). All told, at least 10,000 trainers, and possibly thousands more, will remain in Iraq’s urban areas.

In addition, large numbers of Americans remain in big “forward operating bases” in some cases in the desert, but in other cases very close to the cities. They are to be called on when needed by the Iraqis, according to the Status of Forces Agreement that was signed by Mr Maliki’s government and the Bush administration last year. An indication of the circumstances in which Americans might need to return to active, urban operations came in recent weeks. A spate of attacks by insurgents, including spectacular bombings in Kirkuk and Baghdad, and several co-ordinated bombs last week, was a show of strength designed to show that Mr Maliki’s government will struggle to contain opponents. One big bomb was planted in Sadr City, a part of town where the Americans had asked to keep an outpost but were told to stay away by the Iraqi government. The attack happened days after the Americans left.

Obviously when you are talking about situations like the current situation in the middle east you must talk about some of the political implications of each and every move.

Thus the eventual withdrawal of American soldiers from the country will be a complicated task. Next year, according to last year’s agreement, American combat troops should not be active in the country. And by 2011, all America troops are supposed to be out. Mr Maliki and others will of course cheer the exit of the foreign forces, but will also know that—if violence flares again—he may have to ask for foreign help once more.

What isn’t discussed in either article is that the majority of these troops that are supposedly leaving are merely being shifted over to Afghanistan. This is where I see that Obama’s relatively high popularity is giving him an advantage. Most people are likely under the impression that we are pulling troops out of the middle east when in fact we are merely shifting them to a different and arguably much more difficult area. Couple that with the fact we still have a very significant troop presence in former battlefield from Germany to Korea to Japan, it is pretty safe to say that we are not leaving anytime soon. However it is also safe to say that shifting responsibility to the native government, whether its a political play or merely the agreement that we must be invited to help now, is a good thing for long term relations with the most important and relevant portion of the middle east; the general population.

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