Breaking news, we are at war in Iraq. To be
perfectly honest, I do not think Americans have forgotten this war. There is
some vague memory of how 50,000 American troops are still stuck in this hostile
environment of IED's and suicide bombers that still kill. Unfortunately,
concerned Americans are not being informed of events there by the MSN or our
political and military leadership. We are being left completely in the dark.
The same could be said of Afghanistan. All of you remember Afghanistan. That is where President Obama committed a 30,000-troop surge, and there is an offensive going on there in Kandahar Province right now to thwart an anticipated Taliban offensive in the spring. Afghanistan, too, has dropped off the radar. But this article is not about Afghanistan.
It is true that violence is far below previous levels, but Iraq is no Disneyland. Actually, it is still a war zone. We just don't hear about it much. Part of the reason CNN, ABC, CBS, Fox, and others have lost much of their interest in Iraq is that our troops are basically hunkered down in their bases. The days of patrolling the streets of Iraq, knocking down doors, and raiding insurgent dens are long gone. That responsibility has been turned over to Iraqi security forces, meaning the army and police. However, serious questions have arisen whether those forces can even protect themselves, let alone the country.
Iraqi police and army recruiting centers and headquarters are often targeted by AQI (Al-Qa'ida in Iraq) and Sunni insurgents. As recently as the 9th of this month a suicide bomber posing as a dairy deliveryman attacked a Kurdish security headquarters, setting off a series of rapid-fire attacks in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk that killed seven and wounded 80 people. Two policemen were killed, and five policemen and eight officials with the Kurdish intelligence service were among the wounded. On the 10th a car bomb killed eight Iraqi civilians on a pilgrimage to the to the Shiite shrine in Samarra. Women and children were among the dead. A steady string of bombings in a two-week period last month killed more than 200 Iraqis, including at least 51 at a Shiite funeral in Baghdad that triggered a small revolt by mourners who pelted security forces with debris. During that two-week period on Jan. 19 a suicide bomber used an ambulance to attack a police compound in Baquba in central Iraq, killing up to 14 people, officials said. The attack in Baquba was the second targeting Iraq's security forces in two days.
With daily shootings and deadly bombings, it's clear there's still a simmering fight in Iraq as the U.S. military prepares to leave after nearly eight years, more than 4,400 U.S. troops killed and at least $750 billion spent. "Bad guys don't go away," so stated a 26-year-old platoon commander with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, adding, "When we leave they'll find another target. I'd be crazy to say it's safe."
Why? Because another clock is ticking as to when, if, Baghdad may ask the troops to stay beyond their scheduled redeployment. Serious attacks prior to Dec. 31st may compel Baghdad to conclude that the continued presence of American troops is self-evident. A major offensive by AQI and its allies after the withdrawal is another matter. There are serious doubts this issue has eluded the people in the Pentagon and government officials in Baghdad. What if, after the withdrawal of American troops at the end of this year, Iraq blows up into sectarian war? The answer to that question is beyond my pay grade. I merely suggest probabilities.
A key issue is whether Iraqi security forces will be able to handle the task at hand. As we have seen, that question is as serious as a heart attack.
The humanitarian crisis in Iraq is gargantuan. The Iraq war has produced one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time. Millions of Iraqis remain uprooted by the war and live in fragile, dangerous circumstances inside the country. They are unable to flee into neighboring countries or return home safely. Some live in cramped conditions with extended family, others crowd into small rented spaces, squat in abandoned buildings, or struggle to get by in makeshift shelters. A small number of people live in tent settlements or displacement camps. Most displaced Iraqis have lost their jobs or businesses and are living in poverty. Basic healthcare, shelter, education, clean water and sanitation services are difficult to access. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are living as refugees outside their country.
Then there are the geopolitical issues, which, if one can imagine, makes matters even worse. Consider our invasion of Iraq which resulted in over 4,400 American dead, hundreds more of allied deaths, nearly 40,000 allied wounded, over a trillion dollars spent by the "coalition of the willing," uncounted thousands of Iraqis dead, uncounted thousands more maimed and desperate beyond belief resulted in counter-productive results to American goals. That threat is not only real, it is the predicted outcome.
George Friedman of Stratfor writes, ""the wrong war, Iraq, shows signs of crisis or, more precisely, crisis in the context of Iran. The United States is committed to withdrawing its forces from Iraq by the end of 2011. This has two immediate consequences. First, it increases Iranian influence in Iraq simply by creating a vacuum the Iraqis themselves cannot fill. Second, it escalates Iranian regional power. The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq without a strong Iraqi government and military will create a crisis of confidence on the Arabian Peninsula. The Saudis, in particular, unable to match Iranian power and doubtful of American will to resist Iran, will be increasingly pressured, out of necessity, to find a political accommodation with Iran. The Iranians do not have to invade anyone to change the regional balance of power decisively."
To our lament Friedman adds, "The withdrawal from Iraq creates a major crisis in 2011. If it is completed, Iran's power will be enhanced. If it is aborted, the United States will have roughly 50,000 troops, most in training and support modes and few deployed in a combat mode, and the decision of whether to resume combat will be in the hands of the Iranians and their Iraqi surrogates. Since 170,000 troops were insufficient to pacify Iraq in the first place, sending in more troops makes little sense. As in Afghanistan, the U.S. has limited ground forces in reserve. It can build a force that blocks Iran militarily, but it will also be a force vulnerable to insurgent tactics -- a force deployed without a terminal date, possibly absorbing casualties from Iranian-backed forces."
To be perfectly honest, if someone could put a positive spin on all of this, I would love to hear it.