U.S. Armed Forces May Stay in Iraq Longer Than They Say
Are the Iraqi security forces ready to stand guard over the country?
They are neither in a position to control the civil strife yet, nor to defend the borders of the country. Therefore, although U.S. forces are finishing their combat mission, 50,000 U.S. troops will remain to train Iraqi forces and provide them with logistical support. Of course, if necessary, they will also participate in counter-terrorist operations. This is to last until the end of 2011, when the United States is to complete the withdrawal of its remaining troops. This gives us 16 months to train the Iraqi security forces. In my view, however, Iraq may want to renegotiate the agreement for our troop withdrawal, and President Obama could agree to that. And then even after 2011 some U.S. troops could remain. But certainly not 50,000. Before the end of 2011 there should be a significant withdrawal of forces.
Is the end of the combat mission only a ploy for the campaign before the November elections to Congress?
Obama promised during the campaign for the presidency in 2008 that he would withdraw the troops. But the basic agreement with the Iraqi authorities for U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011 was signed by President George W. Bush. So the current administration only decided to do this in stages, and it is difficult to say that it is only a political calculation because of the upcoming election. The mission objectives are being modified and the number of troops is being reduced. But in fact U.S. forces will be able to continue to fight extremists and al Qaeda, though it will not now be their main task. I would not say that the change of the naming of the mission is artificial, but it does not mean the end of all fighting for U.S. forces.
How much does the situation in Iraq differ from three years ago when we had a peak of violence?
The overall level of violence has decreased, but it is still terrible. Over the last year we had spectacular attacks on government facilities. There were also attacks on the Iraqi army and police and officials and civilians.But safety is not the only problem. Iraqis still have not made necessary political compromises among the main communities -- the Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds -- for power-sharing, control over the oil deposits and distribution of oil profits, or autonomy for the Kurds. Therefore, five months after the elections the major political forces are not able to create a government. This is, unfortunately, a bad omen for the future, which means that the violence could escalate again.
Iraqi authorities say the U.S. military presence was a reason for the violence and that after their withdrawal the situation will calm down.
U.S. forces have largely withdrawn from the cities. It is clear that America does not intend to continue with major combat. And yet the attacks still occur. This shows that the presence of troops is primarily a pretext, and the real reason is a struggle for power between the various Iraqi groups.
Saddam Hussein has been removed. But seven years of war have cost hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of people. Was it worth it?
Personally, I think not. We wasted hundreds of billions of dollars that could have been spent on medical care. The fighting killed about 100,000 Iraqis and more than 4,000 of our soldiers. There are millions of Iraqi refugees from the war. The pretexts for the war were false. Saddam Hussein had no links with al Qaeda and had no nuclear weapons program. His regime was effectively contained by the sanctions and the presence of our forces in the region. Instead, we have now created a situation in which Iran's influence in Iraq gives greater cause for concern about Iran to our allies than before the war. And Iraq will not, as falsely predicted, be a country that will become the friend of Israel.
Thomas Mattair, executive director of the Middle East Policy Council was interviewed by Wojciech Lorenz for Rzeczpospolita (The Republic), Poland's second largest circulation newspaper.