There are three scenarios for Iraq. Even the optimistic one is cautious, and they all embrace a tendency towards pessimism and a serious concern about the future and stability of Iraq. The three views expressed below summarize only a part of all the difficult possibilities the country faces. These possibilities become more complicated the closer we get to the date of US troops withdrawal, which is expected to have catastrophic consequences if the political and security situation remains the same. In this way, Iraq will stand at a crossroads on the eve of the withdrawal date.
Despite some obvious improvements, the political regime is divided, the armed forces are weak and the security systems are penetrated. Sectarianism has reached its peak and the Northern borders are open for whoever wants to join al-Qaeda’s ranks. Adding to this, are the neighbouring countries’ fears arising from the presence of the US troops across their borders. For those countries, the whole matter is like someone who has dreams of regional ambitions, and lay their foundation stone on the Iraqi soil.
Despite these serious problems, the United States is reducing its troops deployed on Iraqi land in preparation for a complete withdrawal by 2011. This fact leads observers to fear that several sides will try to have a piece of the Iraqi cake, left to inefficient local players who lack an understanding ability and have a tendency towards individualism and achieving their own interests. In addition, there are external players who have capabilities and tools of influence. These have played havoc with the Iraqi scene for more than 6 years, enabling them to acquire details that could hinder the project of Iraqi development.
The stakes remain with a rational political group that will overcome divisions, take decisions and solve crises based on the constitution. The stakes also depend on the establishment of a joint Iraqi-U.S. interest system that will require the U.S. to intervene to maintain its interests, guarantee the safety and stability of its Iraqi allies, based on the long-term agreement between the two countries.
Iraq: A vision for the Post-US phase in Iraq
What is said in public is different from what is whispered behind the scenes: the Americans are still needed in Iraq for a decade to come.
In other words, unless devastating catastrophes happen in the form of a civil war or a breakdown of the system that leads to splitting the country, which is unlikely, the future of Iraq after American troops' withdrawal will remain closely tied to the United States.
After US pull out: common interests keep America in Iraq
Continual changes that affect the political map of Iraq make it difficult to predict its near future, not to mention its long-term one. The following expected changes, resulting from the municipality elections and their repercussions which still govern the balance of power in the provinces, will come in the form of parliamentary elections to be held early next year.
The elections are expected to be crucial to identifying key nodes in the political future of the country, including the relations between Iraq and the United States, which are currently determined by the U.S. "Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA), or "troop withdrawal agreement" according to the Iraqi wording.
This description takes into account internal sensitivities imposed by political courtesy, or what is known in English as political correctness.
Indications reveal that the near future will not develop apart from the responsibilities and important obligations imposed by the "SOFA" agreement and its dimensions, in spite of clear deadlines for final withdrawal from Iraq and provisions that put this agreement into effect.
In other words, unless destructive catastrophes happen in the shape of a civil war or a breakdown in the system that leads to splitting the country, which is unlikely, the future after American troops withdrawal will remain closely contingent on the relations with the United States.
First, there is the issue of schedule. Indeed, the agreement sets December 31, 2011, as the date of final withdrawal. For, according to the agreement, U.S. forces should withdraw, as a first step, from Iraqi cities to bases, or camps, by 30/6/2009.
But calls are already made now suggesting the possibility of the troops extending their stay in some cities labeled as "hot."
But even the date of final withdrawal set by the agreement is no longer certain after President Barak Obama announced a new date for "ending the combat mission" by August 31, 2010, more than a year earlier than the date specified in "SOFA".
Later, the Americans made clear they were committed to the date of final withdrawal as set by the agreement, but it will begin after ending the "combat mission". Thus, the U.S. should keep between 35.000 and 50.000 forces in Iraq without stating their mission precisely.
Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qader Obeidi announced a year ago, without any change being made on the ground, that Iraq would not be able to protect its internal security before 2012. But he asserted that he would need a period that could extend to 2020, before he can build an army capable of protecting its borders.
The Obeidi calendar could form a basis for deducing that the task assigned to the 35.000-50.000 U.S. troops that will remain after the "end of the combat mission" in 31 August 2010, is precisely to ensure the security of Iraq's borders against any possible external threats for the future, perhaps until 2020.
The "SOFA" agreement sets three years through which it will take effect, and will start to go into force on the date of ratification. But an important article in the agreement provides for the possibility of extending the agreement on the request of one party and the consent of the other.
In short, the near future of Iraq will remain tied to the American presence there for practical, security, military and political considerations as well. Article 27 of the "SOFA" agreement under the title "deterring security threats," consists of two important paragraphs stated hereby:
"1 - In the event of any internal or external threat against Iraq, or an aggression against it, that could violate its sovereignty, territorial waters or airspace, or threaten its democratic system or elected institutions, and at the request of the government of Iraq, the parties should proceed immediately in strategic deliberations. In accordance with what they agree upon, the United States will take appropriate measures, including diplomatic action, economic, military or any other action to deter such a threat.
2 - The two parties agree to continue their close cooperation in the promotion and maintenance of security and military institutions and democratic political institutions in Iraq. That should include, pursuant to what they agree upon, cooperation in the training, equipping and arming of Iraqi security forces, to fight domestic and international terrorism and groups defying the law at the request of the Iraqi government. "
What is mentioned above brings us back to the beginning of this article. It is difficult to imagine that Iraqis, with their political, ethnic, and sectarian groups, are waiting impatiently for the expiry of their agreement with the United States and the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from their country.
We should bear in mind that public statements in this regard have nothing to do with the real situations. Iraq remains in need of the U.S. for at least a decade in the near future, not only because it does not have an army capable of protecting it from its neighbors, "brothers" and others, but also it will not be able yet to resolve major internal problems that could lead to disasters that threaten its existence in case of their escalation.
This argument does not mean of course that the U.S. will solve the Iraqi problems on their behalf. This is the responsibility of the Iraqis alone. The challenges are big and complicated on several levels, particularly on the level of national consensus.
This consensus does not exist. What we have is a coalition government that is inconsistent, but there is no real partnership in governance. It is feared that this reality would continue as long as the Iraqi groups remain unable to agree on an agenda of national consensus and the concept of partnership in governance.
This concept is required and necessary to reach the stage of democratic maturity, which allows the application of the concept of governance on the basis of the majority and minority representation within a federal parliamentary, constitutional framework.
Assuming that Iraqi groups will not allow disasters happen that would threaten the existence of the country, the current political process will continue within the framework of the parliament and the principle of peaceful rotation of power.
In this context, victory will be the lot of sound crisis and conflict management based on constitutional mechanisms in place.
This stage might continue for the near future beyond the expiry date of the "SOFA".
Hence, there is a need for the United States as the only force capable of not allowing external forces to intervene in determining the future of Iraq. It can be assumed that the interests of Iraq and the U.S. are identical in this regard.
Cameran Kura Dhagi- A former adviser to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani
Iraq: A vision for the Post-US phase in Iraq
Risks of US withdrawal: domestic conflict, volatile security and regional ambitions.
Any American withdrawal from Iraq that does not consider the nature of local and regional interactions in Iraq, and does not set things right for Iraqis so they can face all these threats, will be devastating and will create catastrophic situations..
Iraq and the challenges of American withdrawal
With the approach of American withdrawal from Iraq, formally agreed to begin next June, indications of the security situation in Iraq are unfolding on the ground in this country. Through the recent situations which witnessed serious security breaches that killed hundreds of Iraqis, they bear signs of a future with a questionable stability, amid great regional expectations that came along with the volatility of the security situation in Iraq, now torn by sectarianism that penetrated the Iraqi systems, particularly the state security services.
American withdrawal from Iraq has nothing to do with the settlement of all the political and security problems, but rather to the way that Iraqis would be able to bear the burdens of a new and difficult phase with all its domestic and foreign interventions.
Terrorists penetrated this country by exploiting the lack of security, which the Iraqi borders witnessed with neighboring states over the past few years.
This security breach will pose a serious threat especially as it comes along with current political differences among the Iraqi forces. Through their disputes, these parties were able to bring forces across the border, which carry their own agenda that run against the objectives of the Iraqis, and their expectations about a future that would turn the page on the horrors of the past, which the Iraqis lived under the previous dictatorial regime.
Over the past two months which have seen the implementation of the U.S.- Iraqi security agreement, and the Iraqi forces starting to take over dozens of sites and military missions from the American side, parties lurking to benefit from the Iraqi situation whether inside or outside the country, were assured that the U.S. was serious in implementing its troop withdrawal. This comes especially after new American president; Barak Obama asserted that he is moving ahead with the removal of his troops from Iraq.
Thus, these parties became motivated to be key players in those situations, in order to achieve goals of their own, that would accomplish their targets in Iraq. Those blasts have asserted that the Iraqi situation is still fragile in the security, political and even economic terms.They proved that differences still separate the main parties in the country, on many important issues that could determine the fate of Iraq's present and future. These differences need to be settled and solved in a conclusive manner prior to the implementation of American withdrawal.
If solved, they will prevent a conflict between political factions that will lead Iraq to a situation resembling a civil war between brothers, who have been exerting all their efforts over the past six years to avoid, and to preserve the unity of Iraq and its people.
After the latest bombings in Iraq a few days ago which were described as a security setback, forces expressing caution towards the new experience in Iraq, which set a model for all countries in the region, started feeling threatened due to these incidents.
As a result, they began mobilizing politics and the media, to make this setback seem a comprehensive security collapse. The latest bombings were repeated to ring an alarm bell unveiling new situations that could choke Iraq. These situations could burn the national drive that has started recently, whereby Iraq has witnessed some stability and is heading towards construction and reform.
Perhaps the most serious development among these developments was the complacency of leaders and officials of security services, which are infiltrated by administrative, financial, sectarian, and party corruption to the extent that their loyalties and ambitions expanded and veered away from national interests. Their aims were confined to those narrow group loyalties. These groups place their narrow interests before public interest, with all its national, ethnic and religious aspects.
Here lies the greatest danger. After the American withdrawal from Iraq when these security forces take reign of the country's security, they will use the above-mentioned loyalties for conflict-arousing objectives, proceeding from the diversity of forces and parties to which they belong.
They would turn the Iraqi scene from harmony and agreement to discord and struggle. This will take the Iraqis back to square one as seen in 2005/06/07 when the Iraqis had a sectarian and partisan war, which almost led to destroying Iraq or at least dividing it.
This situation will be created by the American withdrawal before the completion of national control on security and military systems. It will lead Iraq to conditions similar to those that had catapulted Lebanon into a civil war during the 1970s of last century.
It was a war that destroyed its infrastructure and divided its nationals on a sectarian and religious basis. The Lebanese people are still living the disastrous effects of that war, and can not get rid of its repercussions, despite the fact that it ended 30 years ago.
It is certain that some regional forces are still concealing their intentions for Iraq, since the overthrow of its former regime in 2003. They also seek to do anything which would prevent the achievement of its security and stability.
These regional players will take those conditions as a pretext to make a blatant and damaging interference in the Iraqi affairs, by winning some Iraqis to their sides at the expense of others. Thus, they will achieve their goals in this country, especially as some of those parties have already been involved in Iraqi affairs for several years.
To give legitimacy to their interference in Iraqi affairs, they will take the issues of maintaining their security and protecting their people against risks, as excuses for their interventions, which will increase the complexity of Iraqi affairs and inflame them.
It is certain that those sides will cover their interventions or give them a kind of legitimacy by resorting to forging local alliances to cover their anti-Iraq moves. This will cast the citizens of the same country into a competition of catering for foreign desires, and they will be a tool in foreign hands to infuse this struggle and what malignant aims lie behind it.
It seems that this scenario is relevant in view of the sectarian structure upon which the Iraqi state was built. The region is currently experiencing the repercussions of the conflicts of regional desires, which could lead to evils that would undermine Iraq. Iraq might turn to a scene of regional conflicts, in which each party would seek its own aspirations and goals, apart from the Iraqi goals and their aspirations for security, stability, reconstruction, prosperity, the rule of law and institutions.
Any American withdrawal from Iraq that does not take into account the nature of local and regional interactions in Iraq, and does not set things right for Iraqis so they can face all these threats, will be devastating and will create catastrophic situations.
The U.S. troops entered the country six years ago to save it from similar circumstances. It is something which must be addressed by the Iraqi and Americans leaders, and they should move cautiously and intelligently to save the country from the risks which will not affect the Iraqis alone, but all those involved in Iraqi affairs.
Iraq after US withdrawal
Different measures and realities between a partial and complete withdrawal
Some characteristics of what the situation in Iraq will be like after US withdrawal have begun to unfold in the Iraqi arena. Violence has escalated and disturbance has returned to the Iraqi political arena again. US Withdrawal from Iraq will be based on an equation involving three sides; each has its own agenda. The American side is the main player who seeks security in Iraq through reconciliation after US withdrawal. This agenda interferes with the authoritative and opposing sides' agendas. Meanwhile, Iranians and leaders of Kurdish parties lie in wait for the Iraqi prey.
Withdrawal between two stages
We should distinguish between the so-called partial withdrawal from cities by the end of June this year and the complete withdrawal that is expected to take place by the end of 2011. This differentiation is based on different views of the occupation forces whose situations vary for many reasons, some of which are subjective and the other are objective. The forces opposing foreign existence in Iraq, the political process and all existing authority features including elections that took place after change in 2003 take different stands. Different views lead to different results of partial withdrawal from the cities and complete withdrawal from Iraq. In case of the complete withdrawal from Iraq, the stand of these resisting opposing forces would lose momentum since this withdrawal would deprive them of the claim of resistance they exploit not only to mobilize a significant segment of the Iraqi people, but also a lot of moral and perhaps physical support from Arab countries, or at least from these countries' citizens who believe that resistance to a foreign occupation of an Arab country is legitimate. The complete withdrawal would change the Iraqi opposition to the political process into an internal matter in the view of Arab regimes.
It will also withdraw any role that was exercised or could be exercised by the Arab League within the framework of national reconciliation.
Moreover, it will push Arab governments to tighten their grip on borders to prevent financial and military support provided by some of their nationals for forces opposing the current arrangements in Iraq.
Therefore, at first glance it appears that the current Iraqi opposition may not be enthusiastic about the final withdrawal in 2011 before they can reach enough power that enables them to fill the vacuum arising from the complete withdrawal and overthrow the existing regime by any means. The resistance, which will change into a mere domestic opposition and an Iraqi internal affair if the complete withdrawal takes place now, will lose much power and support. Therefore, they make statements contrary to their true positions, as they consider the agreement signed by the current regime incomplete and does not fulfil the aspirations of Iraqis of complete withdrawal.
The opposition also started escalating violence operations targeting all Iraqis in order to abort the plans of the new American president to withdraw fully from Iraq at the end of 2011.How else can we explain the escalation of military operations against the Iraqis, if the goals were not related to delay the departure of occupation forces? The only possible explanation is that the current Iraqi resistance does not believe it can strengthen itself and its combat capabilities as rapidly as the development of the political process pillars and the political system which created them. The recent municipal elections and voting rates, as well as the victory of the list of the law state in most results indicated that the mood of the Iraqi voters increasingly moves towards whoever provides security and stability under the rule of law .These results also showed that thwarting the political process can not be done separately from security escalation.
Reconciliation is the Americans' approach to maintaining stability
The Iraqi voters' tendency which conforms to the American hopes of seeing Iraq free of Iranian dominance has squandered some undeclared satisfaction of Americans towards the recent elections. Again, there are worries that these results are still fragile and are subject to change, if the Iraqi resistance have stepped up violence after the withdrawal from cities, in a way that would thwart U.S. plans of a complete withdrawal by the end of 2011.The return of sectarian violence could fail electoral successes achieved by the rule of the law list. Hence, the new U.S. administration was quick to pressure Prime Minister Maliki to block the way in front of those involved in the security escalation aiming at hampering the complete withdrawal and its prelude of partial withdrawal from the cities, as believed by the U.S. administration. From there, the U.S. administration started to exert pressure in order to accelerate the steps of reconciliation with the Baathists, believed by the U.S. administration to have the most impact on the security and stability. Indeed, we found the prime minister, seen as hawkish with his Dawa Party, presents ideas that may be considered moderate in relation to reconciliation with the Baathists. But soon some forces allied with the Dawa Party within the Shiite alliance block, realized that offering reconciliation with the Baathists seeks to defeat forces subordinate to Iran in the upcoming parliamentary elections at the end of this year. This fact pushed the forces to wage a relentless campaign against this reconciliation offer and also started directing hidden threats to Maliki and mobilizing his close circle to urge him to retreat and oppose the Baathist. Maliki has found himself facing two options: either losing his allies or losing a portion of success that he achieved during the last elections. Maliki preferred the latter option, to be shaking hands with enemies of the recent past.
The problem of withdrawal
At this point, the American withdrawal from Iraq became a problem for all parties, the resistance party opposing the political process, who will lose its name as a legitimate resistance that draws local, regional and international sympathy. It will also be a problem for the side endorsing the political process, which depended on obtaining support of the American side which considers it the nucleus of a pluralistic democratic system that respects human rights. It might be forced to shift into an authoritarian rule that exercises the cruelest repression methods to suppress the opposition in the post-withdrawal phase to eliminate it when the conflict reaches a choice of survival of one party or another.
And finally, it is a problem for the American side, which does not want to leave Iraq an easy prey for the influence of Iran and finds itself totally unable to assist whom it helped to come to power take the easy road towards stability away from Iranian influence.
American military leaders declared when violence escalated and returned to Mosul and Diyala recently, that it was possible that American troops could stay in these two governorates beyond the withdrawal date scheduled for at the end of June. However, the Iraqi government hurried to declare that it did not want the foreign forces on Iraqi land after the end of June. This declaration forced an American official spokesman to announce the American unwillingness to extend the presence of their troops in cities. Thus, the military escalation by the opposing resistance has become its nutrient and necessary fuel to overthrow the (occupation governments), as they put it.
But that the Baathists declared their rejection of the idea of reconciliation because they are fully convinced that what will put them back in power is the brutal campaigns and daily persecution against the thoughts and history of the Baath Party. Historical evidences in Iraq confirm that fact, which prove that parties which have grown and enjoyed popular expansion are those which were subjected to prosecution such as the Iraqi Communist Party during the monarchy era, the Baath Party in the Qasimiyah era, and Dawa Party in the Baathist era. Hence supporters of Ezzat Al-Dawri organizations did not hesitate to reveal some of their secret elements working among al-Sahwa leadership to create an escalation in the pursuit of Baathists and also provoke Al-Hekma to hit the leaders of al-Sahwa who have been credited with bridging the sectarian gap. This aims to gain the support of the public and bringing the downfall of Maliki in the next election, and which could facilitate the win of weak elements that will increase the disturbance in the security, political and economic situations. The security escalation also comes from some Shiite elements in the Shiite alliance which recognized the weight of the trend that breaches the return to the pre-2003 era. These elements feel the need to explode the sectarian struggle that could be their only tool in winning the next election round. Therefore, we might witness the return of escalation and sectarian inclination in a serious manner in the coming months. These developments will force the government to take more preventive security measures, increase police and military personnel and improve the levels of armaments and equipment, facing forces opposing stability. This will add further financial burdens on the budget, which is already suffering deficit. This may eventually force it to halt any salary raises which have been granted at the beginning of this year. This may affect Maliki's popularity facing the discontent of nearly eight million Iraqis who receive salaries and pensions.
Predators of the Prey
As the Americans, the Iraqi government and the opposing resistance run their calculations separately, leaders of the two Kurdish parties and the Iranians stand on alert and ready to reap the profits of their participation. They will enter with patience and cunning the ongoing conflict which they abandoned willingly to the minimum degree of reaping the benefits. Regret will be the harvest reaped by the tripartite withdrawal equation as a result of errors unseen by those in conflict for authority.