IT'S BEEN only seven weeks since President Obama outlined a strategy for Iraq aimed at withdrawing most U.S. troops by the end of next summer. But already there is cause for concern. During the past month security around the country has been slipping: At least 37 people have been killed in four major attacks on security forces in the past week alone, and there have been multiple car bombings in Baghdad and other cities. Those strikes have been claimed by al-Qaeda, which appears to be attempting a comeback. But there have also been new bursts of sectarian violence among Sunni and Shiite extremists.
Following successful local elections in January, Iraqi politicians are mired in backroom squabbling over the formation of provincial governments. The Shiite-led national government has made disturbing moves against some of the Sunni leaders who led the fight against al-Qaeda. Hamstrung by the fall in oil prices, the government is having trouble meeting commitments to pay former insurgents or expand the security forces. Normally the U.S. ambassador would be deeply involved in trying to smooth over such problems, but there has been no ambassador in Baghdad since February.
It's not time to panic: U.S. commanders point out that overall, violence in Iraq is at its lowest level since the first year of the war. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, bolstered by the election outcome, remains strong and confident. But the administration needs to be alert to what is happening in Iraq -- and ready to adjust political and military plans to prevent what could easily become a downward spiral.
One early decision point involves the withdrawal timetable, which calls for U.S. troops to leave all Iraqi cities by the end of June. That pullout is looking risky in a couple of places, including the northern city of Mosul, which has never been entirely cleansed of anti-government insurgents. The U.S. commander in the area told a Pentagon briefing last week that American troops could remain in the city if the Iraqi government requests it following an ongoing review; such flexibility should be extended to other areas, if necessary.
Iraq is far from descending into chaos but Ed's point is well taken. Announcing a firm timetable for withdrawal has emboldened the remaining insurgents (who are still receiving assistance from Syria for one) and make many of the Sunni warriors who turned their guns on al-Qaeda after fighting us very nervous. The Shia-dominated government has already arrested several commanders of the "Awakening" movement for crimes they committed before joining the fight against terrorists. This does not bode well for the future political stability of the country.
Any correlation between Barack Obama's pledge to remove American troops from Iraq and the upsurge in violence there?
American troops enforce a Pax Iraqi; withdrawal, as Obama promises, has already led to destabilization as the foundations for a stable, and pro-Western democracy, have not yet firmed. Obama's retreat will lead to the waste of many Iraqi and American lives-and forfeit any gains from our efforts over the years.
Does he care? Does he care that Iraqis will suffer, that Americans will have died in vain, that Iran and Syria will be strengthened?
Furthermore, the Washingotn Post cannot quite seem to make the logical connection between Obama's pledge almost two months ago to remove troops and the upsurge in violence since then. The paper lists other factors but does not explicitly mention that Obama's plans have certainly emboldened the terrorists and unleashed internal tensions that have been cooled by the presence of American forces.
Will Obama keep his word to listen to his generals on the ground and adjust his precious timetable if things start to spin out of control? I would say the answer to that question will probably decide the fate of Iraq and her people.