Iraq: retreat from Baghdad
America is leaving the war in Iraq, but it's far from over. Nor is the country or the region stable
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 14 December 2011
Anyone who wants to know what a US withdrawal from Afghanistan looks like would do well to study the carefully choreographed events earlier in the week in Washington and in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, yesterday. The war was over, Barack Obama repeatedly declared. The last Americans troops would leave behind "a solid, stable, representative" Iraq. The greatest fighting force in the world was leaving Iraq with its head held high. And this from the man who once declared the war dumb. A nine-year war that sits comfortably alongside the greatest military blunders in history – the charge of the Light Brigade, the Dieppe Raid, Pearl Harbour, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Vietnam – was in this president's view being brought to a successful, honourable conclusion.
Even with an election campaign in full flow, the chasm that opened up between words in Fort Bragg and one day in the life of Iraq was unbridgeable. Wednesday December 14 was relatively quiet: two car bombs in Tal Afar, killing three and wounding 35; bombings and shootings in Kirkuk, Mosul, Baghdad. A war that is over? Or take the decision on Monday of Diyala provincial council to declare itself independent from central government. Or take the answer that the prime minister Nouri al-Maliki gave last week when asked to describe who he thought he was – first a Shia, second an Iraqi, third an arab, and fourth a member of the Dawa party
. What chance for a nation state, if its prime minister places his confessional identity above his national one? Can any of the above be deemed solid, stable or representative?
That Mr Obama stole Republican clothes in his address to paratroopers in Fort Bragg, there can be little doubt. National security, with its muscular approach to foreign policy, is their bag. But it has been whisked away from them by the Democratic president who ordered the surge in Afghanistan, who sent the Seals team in to kill Osama bin Laden, who failed to close Guantanamo, who now fulfills a campaign pledge to bring all the troops home from Iraq. The commander in chief of the most powerful army in the world is also a world leader, and it is to the Middle East that a US leader also has to speak. To this audience, and specifically US allies in the region, the day the last combat soldier crosses the desert at the end of the year will indeed be "an extraordinary milestone" but not the one a president facing reelection would be willing to recognise. That day will indeed look like the start of a long march home. The day when America stopped being a policy maker in the Middle East, but became instead a policy taker.
Is the Iraq Mr Obama leaves behind going to be a strategic ally of the US? Hardly. Not only does Iran have significant sway over the Shia political elite which holds the virtual monopoly of power in this country. But of all the rival power centres within Iran, it is the darkest of them that has the strongest stake in its neighbour. Members of Iraq's cabinet have beaten a well worn path to the door of Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds force, the external operations wing of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. The British embassy compounds in Tehran know him well. He ordered their sacking. The future partners of an independent Iraq are Iran and Turkey. The US comes a distant third.
Nor have the jihadi forums, which formed the centre of the insurgency, fallen silent. They are buzzing with calls to send fighters into Syria to help the Sunni Muslim uprising against the Shia overlord regime of Bashar al-Assad. The Salafists are up and running again. The Awakening or Sons of Iraq who played a seminal role in turning the tide against Al-Qaida are leaving Iraq, betrayed by a prime minister who has done his best to suppress them. The scars of this grand folly will be born by generations to come. The fight for the destiny of the land of the Arabs is being won, but not by America.
• The standfirst of this article was changed on 15 December, as the original standfirst did not accurately reflect the **************************** of the article.