20/08/2010

Iraq : an uncertain future

Thursday at dawn, the last combat brigade left the Iraqi territory, ending the Operation Iraqi Freedom. Started March 19, 2003 by the doctrine of « shock and awe », it ends today in an illusory calm.

Lasting since seven and an half years, this operation has left a bitter taste for both Americans and Iraqis. The U.S. has lost over 4,415 soldiers and more than $900 billions in a war whose unpopularity grew over the years, recalling the context of the Vietnam War.

But if the American public has paid a tribute, it is small next to the more than 100,000 dead Iraqis, most of them civilians. Liberated from Saddam Hussein, Iraq is now a devastated country where instability rules. This week one 59 people were killed during an attack on an army recruitment center.

While U.S. troops are withdrawing, many fear a resurgence of violence. The month of July has indeed been the deadliest in two years with 535 civilians killed. 56,000 soldiers are remaining on Iraqi soil, however to advise and train Iraqi troops. The mission and its code name has changed: it is now the operation « New Dawn ». American troops do not have initiative of action more, but may have to intervene at the request of the Iraqi government, or to defend themselves.

Politically, no government has yet emerged from the Iraqi parliamentary elections of March 7. Negotiations for a coalition are deadlocked and no majority could yet be formed. The political vacuum, and the withdrawal of U.S. troops thus leave a window of opportunity for armed groups. And the Iraqi army is not strong enough to protect the population of a resumption of violence.

It is at the end possible to be happy for the families of American soldiers returning home, and for Barack Obama who has managed to keep his election promise to exit from Iraq by Sept. 1. But the relief is far from reaching the Iraqis for who the « New Dawn » seems threatening. Regional equilibrium is also precarious. The U.S. troops withdraw as Iran is launching this weekend its first nuclear power station and as the war in Afghanistan is dragging on. In these circumstances, the withdrawal of the remaining 56,000 U.S. troops from Iraq seems not yet feasible. 

Nathalie Janne d’Othée