Politics is what it is; in this case meaning, that the President gets to take a victory lap over his announcement of a full withdrawal from Iraq by the end of the year. Careful there Mr. President, this victory lap is replete with trip hazards.
The President’s ‘victory’ is based on a withdrawal schedule that was negotiated prior to the Obama ascent to the Presidency. The ‘Status of Force Agreement’ was a Bush Administration agreement. We are on the withdrawal timetable in that agreement, we have been for four years. In that agreement all options to extend American presence were Iraqi options. It was an Iraqic6 decision whether or not to extend the American presence. The President failed to mention his lack of attention to that agreement as he periodically took credit for troop draw downs. The administration failed to pay appropriate attention to the concomitant options until it was simply too late to extend the American presence and attempt to guarantee Iraqi security while mitigating Iranian influence. The story will float that it was all about legal protections for Americans serving in Iraq, don’t believe it, it’s a Red Herring! The issues are much broader than that. Legal protections were an issue in the original Status of Forces agreement and were resolved. The reality is that the overall deal was not good enough, perhaps purposefully.
The essential message of the Iraqi decision is a lack of confidence in the U.S. political process. Iraq, no doubt, recalls Senator Obama’s position that would have had all troops out of Iraq four years ago with no consideration of consequence. They have watched his weakness on issues related to Iran and the ‘Arab Spring”. Iraq has taken the decision that they are better served politically within their own region than they are by American support. This is not only a message to America this is a message to the entire Middle East and it is a rejection of American influence. The scope of that rejection will grow over time.
Many American military commanders, for good reason, fear what happens in the complete absence of an American presence, and they should! The request to leave 25,000 troops behind was there for a reason. There are a universe of possible outcomes as America withdraws very few of them bode well for us, the region or for Iraq.
The major point of resistance to a negotiated extension of the Status of Forces agreements came from, as the troops call him, Mokie. Muqtada al-Sadr, the intellectually challenged Iranian puppet that is, despite his representation of a comprehensive minority, the main point of resistance to continuing American presence. Al-Sadr reflects Iranian policy, it is, undeniably, in Iran’s interest that there be no U.S. presence in Iraq. One more strategic geopolitical win for Iran!
Iran’s leadership is fully sectarian leaving little doubt that Iran will do its utmost to influence the Shia majority in Iraq, it has done for years. Iranian influence on the Shia majority will result in continued and escalating sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni in Iraq. Iraq will experience the full impact of religiously based terrorist violence and the corrupting influence of Iranian money. There can be little question that the Iraqi central government, requiring over a year, post election, to form a government could be destabilized resulting in a Shia pogrom directed at Sunni Muslims and Kurds. The evidence of sectarian violence in Iraq is overwhelming and in the absence of American capabilities will grow. That violence and the reactions to it could easily replace fledgling democratic institutions with yet another ‘strong man’ in charge of Iraq. That potential strong man would likely be Shia and would likely be tied to Iran.
A chief concern of American Commanders is Salifist / Islamist influences within the ranks of Iraqi political, intelligence and military infrastructure. They, no doubt, fear the possibility that this round of sectarian violence will occur as the military we trained deconstructs into armed religiously based militias. Guerilla insurgent fighters staggering over the Syrian border are one thing; fighters well armed and trained is quite another as, I believe, we will soon find out. Say what you like, but the day by day example of professionalism by American troops and commanders has had a stabilizing influence on Iraqi forces. It will soon be gone.