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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Holiday In Iraq

by dday

Iraq has disappeared from the headlines lately, but yesterday, the United States fulfilled its first obligation in the status of forces agreement by pulling its troops out of major cities, and one day ahead of schedule, to boot.

U.S. troops pulled out of Baghdad on Monday, triggering jubilation among Iraqis hopeful that foreign military occupation is ending six years after the invasion to depose Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi soldiers paraded through the streets in their American-made vehicles draped with Iraqi flags and flowers, chanting, dancing and calling the pullout a "victory".

One drove a motorcycle with party streamers on it; another, a Humvee with a garland of plastic roses on the grill [...]

"The American forces' withdrawal is something awaited by every Iraqi: male, female, young and old. I consider June 30 to be like a wedding," said Ahmed Hameed, 38, near an ice cream bar in Baghdad's upmarket Karrada district.

"This is proof Iraqis are capable of controlling security inside Iraq," added the recent returnee from exile in Egypt.

The government has declared June 30 a national holiday, "National Sovereignty Day".

Iraq still faces extreme challenges, exemplified by the spate of bombings and attacks last week leading up to this pullout, which killed at least 200. And the opening of oil fields to international corporations could signal a decline for the Iraqi people and an increase in, basically, kleptocracy. But the presence or absence of US forces means little to these challenges. The Iraqis clearly yearn to return to self-determination, and an American pullback from the military can force the disparate factions to come to a political accommodation. Marc Lynch has a smart take:

It's true that there has been an increase in the number of high-profile, high-casualty attacks over the last few weeks. The thing about spoilers is that they try to spoil. The key questions are whether the attacks trigger sectarian mobilization and security dilemma dynamics, seriously undermine confidence in the state and its ability to provide security, or drive momentum towards wider conflict. There's a lot of anecdotal evidence of mounting popular anxiety, but very little evidence of those kinds of conflict dynamics kicking in. For what it's worth, both Iraqi and American officials seem confident -- and remember when the judgment of the commanders on the ground was supposed to be considered sacred writ?

I'm not particularly an optimist on these matters, any more than I was in the past -- but I also see a rapidly declining ability or need for the U.S. to manage these issues. I think that there are still very serious issues surrounding the integration of Sunnis into the emerging Iraqi state and political system -- not just the endlessly dragging integration of the Sons of Iraq into the security forces and civil administration, but the selective targeting of key Awakenings leaders and other ongoing complaints. I also think that some amount of the recent uptick in violence is driven by the disenchantment of some of these Awakenings men, either actively or passively. But it seems clear that Maliki has decided that he can get away with selective repression and co-optation of the various Sunni forces, and will only change his approach if he determines that the price is too high. Maybe he's wrong, maybe he's right -- but that's for Iraqis to determine, not Americans.

Iraqi politics are going to continue to face all kinds of problems, as every analyst under the moon has pointed out. The Arab-Kurd issue, the continuing problems with government capacity, budget problems, and a host of unresolved issues remain. I think that the refugee/IDP issue remains the largest unresolved and virtually untouched issue facing Iraq -- those millions of people uprooted from their homes by force or fear who have few prospects of returning to their original homes, are largely disenfranchised in the emerging Iraqi political system, and who are almost completely unserved by Iraqi state institutions. But slowing down the American drawdown would not materially improve any of these issues. The best thing the U.S. can do is to continue to demonstrate its clear, credible commitment to withdraw on the agreed-upon timeline, and do what it can to help Iraqis adjust to the new realities.

Clearly, just this symbolic gesture of pulling out from the cities has produced near-universal glee among Iraqis, and hopefully that can foster a national sense of identity which can lead to all sides working together on the future of their nation. It would certainly not happen while they remained under the thumb of occupation. Just by adhering to the agreement, Obama and the US military probably garnered some goodwill in the region. But they have to keep going. If there's one thing America cannot seem to do, it's getting out of war zones (See: Germany). Leaving Iraq must mean leaving Iraq, on schedule and without exception.

...Clever move by Fourthbranch Cheney, complaining about Obama following through on the pullout of Iraqi cities that was negotiated and signed by Bush-Cheney. This is simple blame-shifting, so Cheney can point his finger at someone else if anything goes wrong. Pathetic.