Nouri al-Maliki and Barack Obama
“One of the concepts we embraced in Iraq was recognition that you can’t kill or capture your way out of a complex, industrial-strength insurgency” David Petraeus
By David Bedein, Middle East Correspondent
Jerusalem — The Middle East Newsline has learned U.S. military commanders have been concerned that a rapid troop withdrawal could renew ethnic violence as well as the al-Qaida network in Iraq.
Several of the commanders, who refused to identify themselves, warned that any decision by President Barack Obama to accelerate plans for a pullout in 2009 could destabilize the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
They said Iraq’s military and police were not ready to fill the vacuum left by any U.S. troop withdrawal.
“Everybody here would love to go home and fast,” a U.S. field commander said. “But if we begin packing up now, then we can kiss two years of relative stability goodbye and watch the disintegration of this country.”
On Jan. 21, President Obama, who envisions a full withdrawal by July 2010, directed defense and military officials to draft a plan for “a responsible military drawdown in Iraq.” The presidential session included Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and U.S. Central Command chief, Gen. David Petraeus.
“In the coming days and weeks, I will also visit the [Defense Department] to consult with the Joint Chiefs on these issues,” Mr. Obama said. “And we will undertake a full review of the situation in Afghanistan in order to develop a comprehensive policy for the entire region.”
The commanders said the U.S. military has received appeals from senior Iraqi politicians and officers to preserve the current withdrawal schedule.
Under a 2008 agreement, the U.S. military will leave Iraq by 2012. Senior American diplomats have echoed the U.S. military concern in Baghdad. On Jan. 22, outgoing U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker, who participated in the session with the president, warned that Iraq was not ready to counter the insurgency and other threats.
“I think Iraqi security forces have made enormous progress during my time here, both quantitatively and, more important, qualitatively,” Mr. Crocker said. “There is still a ways to go. And clearly, still a continuing need for our security support.”
The ambassador, who oversaw the U.S. surge strategy, which significantly reduced al-Qaida and the Shiite insurgency, stressed that Iraq required a major American military presence. He said the Iraqi parliamentary and provincial elections on Jan. 31 would mark a major test of stability. “If it were to be a precipitous withdrawal, that could be very dangerous,” Mr. Crocker said.
U.S. commanders say that Mr. al-Maliki has come under pressure to endorse and even exceed Mr. Obama’s deadline for a U.S. troop withdrawal. Worries also surround the possibility a hasty withdrawal could encourage neighboring Iran and al-Qaida to escalate operations.
“Like it or not, the Iraqis continue to look to us for day-to-day security and stability,” the field commander said. “Once the Iraqis understand that we’re on our way out for good and soon, they will change our attitude toward us and the whole picture will change.”
David Bedein can be reached at email@example.com
“New Iraq Emerges from Tyranny and War”
While cynics are fascinated with a thrown shoe, the real story is Iraq standing on its own and building a bright future.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, dedicated the new American Embassy in Baghdad January 5. See more DoD videos at http://dodvclips.mil
Iraq‘s Purple Finger Of Democracy
Phil Berg Barack Obama Ron Polarik Jeff Schreiber