Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why US Troops Should Stay in Iraq

By: Ali Rawaf

Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki and US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates discuss US withdrawal during Gates" recent visit to Iraq
US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates visited Iraq last week. In his visit, Gates asked Iraqi officials to makeup their minds about whether they want the US troops to stay in Iraq. This marks the first time the Obama Administration mentions longer US presence in Iraq.

The Iraqis are split on whether they want American soldiers to remain in the country. Spokesmen from the Ministries of Defense and Internal Affairs have said the Iraqi military and police forces are ready to take the task of protecting the country on their own. Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki has been consistent in his public comments about abiding by the State of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which outline US military withdraws by August of this year. In press conferences in March, Maliki went to the extent of saying that “Iraq is the safest country in the region,” citing the violence sweeping other Middle Eastern countries, where protests are taking place.

But these comments made by Maliki and other Iraqi officials don’t reflect the reality in Iraq. A few days ago, a group of armed men, set off a car bomb in front of the City Council building in the province of Sallahuddin. After, those men stormed into the building and took everyone in the building as hostages. Two of the hostages were members of the City Council.  A few minutes later, American soldiers arrived on the scene and were followed by the Iraqi Army. The story ends by the Iraqi army throwing grenade and killing the terrorists and everyone else in the building, including the City Council members. If this story tells anything, it is that the Iraqi military is by no means ready to handle the county’s security. This is not to mention the recent escalation in the number of car bombs, kidnapping, and assassinations.

Nevertheless, Muqtada al-Sadir, the anti-American Shiite cleric and al-Mahdi militia leader, called on his followers to go out and protest Gate’s comments and ask for complete military withdrawal. Muqtada wasn’t the only politician who denounced Gates’ comments. This diverts Iraqis’ attention from protesting against poor service and government corruption to be focused once again, against America and the West.

Iraq needs the American troops to stay. Even though Iraq is getting very slowly better, the chances of success are still high. Iraqi people now want to be part of the political process. They voted and they are asking for better policies and a better government through demonstrations and protests. More importantly, the civil society is getting more robust. It would be a waste, considering the massive number of Iraqi civilian casualties and the lost lives of American soldiers, to suddenly pull out and leave the country vulnerable to terrorism and dangerous regional influence. Wikileaks documents show that many of the Iraqi politicians also want the US troops to stay and admit the need for their presence, despite what they say publically.  

The protests in the Middle East might have shifted the American Administration’s attention to the region. For a while, the Administration is criticized for less engagement in Iraq. But Iraq’s future will have an effect on the outcomes of the transition in the Middle East. The Obama Administration might have just realized that. And Gates’ comments might be the early signs of that shifted attention.  


  1. I don't agree with you here but that doesn't matter anymore seeing as we now know that both parties failed to reach a compromise. The troops will (gradually) leave, whether we like it or not. Thoughts? is your glass half full?

  2. I think the negotiations aren't over yet. Most insiders will tell you that both parties are still searching for areas of compromise. I think at somepoint (maybe in the next meeting this month b/w Maliki and Obama) they will agree on keeping some troops in the country. Considering the UN report on Iran's nuclear program, the US might be more interested in keeping a check on Iran and Iraq is a good strategic spot to do that.

    The situation in Iraq doesn't look so promising. Al-Maliki seems to be just as power-hungry as the former dictator. He is is centralizing the government, he is abusing his role as a Commander In Chief, a role that was supposed to be mostly ceremonial. He is using the army against political opponents. Iraqi politicians are battling to break gridlock about issues that date back since the beginning of the war. The only hope for Iraq is the next election. Hopefully after Iraqis have witnessed the result of voting along sectarian line, they will vote for nationalistic and secular parties.

    The United States presence in Iraq was a good deterrent for all factions from resorting to hostile or violent actions. With the US leaving, there will be a power vacuum of which regional forces would be thrilled to take advantage.