The United States has announced that it will withdraw all but fewer than 200 troops by the end of 2011. The remaining troops will guard the U.S. Embassy there. This plan represents a change in policy direction. The U.S. had intended to leave several thousand troops in Iraq to aid in training the Iraqi military and police.
One important factor that prompted the U.S. reassessment Iraq’s decision to subject U.S. military personnel accused of criminal acts, beginning in January 2012, to civilian (i.e., Iraqi) criminal justice proceedings. The U.S. military prefers to have a status of forces agreement with host nations that stipulates either adjudication by the U.S. military or a clear delineation of the types of cases over which the host nation will have jurisdiction, limiting these to alleged crimes not committed in the performance of duty. Without some form of protection, U.S. military members could face criminal prosecution for the accidental death of a civilian killed or property destroyed during a legitimate military operation.
However, I’m very thankful for the U.S. decision for unrelated reasons. The war in Iraq has lasted too long. Leaving several thousand troops in Iraq for another decade, or even longer, will not materially alter Iraq’s future. After eight plus years of occupation and hundreds of billions of dollars spent on training, equipment, and public works, Iraq seems unlikely to thrive economically or politically. Spending marginally more lives and money will simply add to the waste.
Iraq seems poised to become, once again, a dictatorship. This time, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki h occupies the best position from which to grab power. His political appointments, policy pronouncements, and use of government funds coupled with the continuing inability of Iraq’s political parties to cooperate bode ill for democracy’s future and indicate that he recognizes his potential ascendance. Meanwhile, the longstanding rivalries and animosities between clans, tribes, ethnic groups, and religious sects remain unchanged.
In my mind, the biggest questions are when the reality and identity of a new dictator will become clear and whether Iraq will remain one country or divide into three parts (Shiite, Sunni, and Kurd). The appearance of the new dictator will mean that after eight years of war, hundreds of billions of dollars added to the U.S. debt to fund the war, and the deaths of tens of thousands (including 4796 Americans) that the net result will be having swapped one dictator (Saddam) for another one. Neither the U.S. nor the world is safer today because of the second Gulf War. Sadly, Iraqis are also probably no better off than if Saddam remained in power – only the identities of the winners and losers have changed.