Iraq after the US: Will it survive? (video)
Iraqis harbor anger, deep concerns – and some optimism – as American troops withdraw after nearly nine years of war and occupation.
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In Pictures Iraq by the numbers
In Pictures Leaving Iraq
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The ads represent what many – but not all – Iraqis feel. Concern remains among some that the country could devolve again into widespread violence.
Officially, US officials play down the possibility of any post-American collapse. The top US commander in Iraq, Gen. Lloyd Austin, says he expects "turbulence" in the last days of US forces being here, but adds that Iraqis now "approach the ability to manage themselves."
The US can only hope so. Washington's expectations of leaving behind more than 10,000 troops to continue training Iraqi forces has foundered on Baghdad's refusal to grant American soldiers immunity from prosecution for anything that goes wrong. Now only 763 civilian contractors and 157 US military personnel may reportedly stay on for the job, attached to the US embassy and still subject to Iraqi approval.
"The political blocs all reached an agreement to reject any such presence, and, because of this, the Americans started putting out fear of future instability. All of this has left Iraqis fearful," says Hassan al-Jubori, a parliamentarian from the faction loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
"Iraqi citizens want the American occupation to end ... because during the American presence not much was gained, but much was lost," says Mr. Jubori. He lists negative points – such as the presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq now, when it was not visible before 2003 – and claims that the US invasion and occupation created as many as a million "martyrs."
"This is what will be remembered," says Jubori. "We believe the removal of Saddam was not undertaken for Iraqis' sake, but for American regional interests.... The democracy they brought us is a democracy of chaos."
A more nuanced line comes from Maliki's ruling Dawa Party, which for years has had to balance Iraq's reliance on US forces with popular discontent over their presence.
"The biggest upcoming challenge is not security, but political," says Khalid al-Asadi, a Dawa lawmaker. "There is still soil for political conflict, and still not much common ground. This brings concern for the people ... that political conflict could take Iraq back to Square 1, and to sectarian conflict."
"This is a legitimate concern of Iraqis, but from where I stand, the political maturity we have gained means we won't go in that direction," adds Mr. Asadi. Iraq won't be left alone anyway "because terrorism is not going to depart with the withdrawal of American forces."
For Yas al-Khafaji, the memory of the US presence is tainted by what happened to his family on that fateful day in 2005, when Americans were in charge.
"I can't say in any way that I've adapted to this situation," he says, noting that the behavior of his two surviving sons has "changed completely" since the death of their mother and sister.
Yet Khafaji then puts things in the larger perspective of all Iraqis, who have endured decades of misery. "I can't really blame the Americans; I blame Iraqi politicians [who] will never grow up," he says. "During Saddam's time, there was fighting, wars, sanctions ... and after the regime collapsed, many more problems."
But what about the democratic promise, the American gift that today enables street protest and open dissent? "So what?" replies Khafaji. "What is the result of that?"
IN PICTURES: Leaving Iraq