Iraq combat operations over?
June has been the worst month for US troops in two years. And violence is surging in Afghanistan.
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But in Iraq, which is broadly portrayed as a success in US circles at the moment, society never really reconciled, creating threats for the future.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Troops come home
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Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who leads a Shiite Islamist block, and Iyad Allawi, the secular politician whose Iraqiya block won the most seats in the last parliamentary election, are barely speaking. It took nine months after the last Iraqi election to even form a government, with politicians focused on earning their own sectarian share of power. Though a government of sorts was finally formed last December, the two most important cabinet posts – the heads of the Defense and Interior Ministries – were left to be filled in later. Six months on, they're still not filled, even as suicide bombings and assassinations of local officials are an almost daily occurrence.
That violence is a reason why the US is trying to find a way to stay. A 2008 agreement between Iraq and the US set Jan. 1, 2012, as the day that the long American war in Iraq turns into a pumpkin. US military planners – aware of Iran's growing political influence inside the country, not to mention a tenuous Iraqi governing coalition whose members never buried the hatchet over the bloody Shiite-Sunni civil war – are eager to stay.
While some Iraqi politicians would be happy with that outcome, powerful forces say it's time for us to go. Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiery Shiite preacher whose Mahdi Army and offshoots were major players in the sectarian warfare, has vowed to block any attempt to extend the US mission. He appears to have the votes to do that.
Robert Ziegler at Foreign Policy quotes Feisal Istrabadi – an Iraqi American who helped write Iraq's new constitution, served as a key adviser to politician Adnan Pachachi in the early years of the US occupation, and was an Iraqi diplomat at the UN – as suggesting more American troops are being killed now to dissuade the US from staying. He's probably right, but it's worth remembering that if we do stay then those same people will be trying to kill our troops to ... encourage us to go.
In my years in Iraq, a refrain heard over and over from American grunts steeped in combat was that "they'll be shooting at us for as long as we're here." It's a point worth remembering as the debate plays out.
We may not be paying as much attention as we once were, but the price in in lives will remain to be paid until true political and social reconciliation happens in Iraq.
(This was edited after posting to correct the number of troops likely to be in Afghanistan at the end of next summer).
IN PICTURES: Troops come home