Is the war in Iraq over?

July 31, 2008

new-image.JPGA Washington Post story on Barack Obama’s visit to Iraq caught my eye last week.

“In essence, Obama has declared the war in Iraq all but over,” the story said, noting the Democratic presidential candidate’s vow to shift troops away from Iraq to the worsening conflict in Afghanistan.

At a time when U.S. military statistics show less violence in Iraq than at any time since early 2004, it’s worth asking the question — is the war over?

It is not over for Iraqis in some northern provinces, where al Qaeda militants remain active. And there may be more days like last Monday when four suicide bombers killed nearly 60 people in Baghdad and the city of Kirkuk.

But in Baghdad, something dramatic has happened in the past couple of months. There is an air of hope and even optimism despite the occasional major bombing in the capital.

I asked some Iraqis if they thought the war was over.

Absolutely said five friends, all men aged between 19 and 22 who were sitting on a bench in a park alongside the Tigris River just before dusk last weekend. Scores of families were at the park, children playing on swings or flying kites.

    “There is rebuilding, people are getting jobs. A year ago I couldn’t go to university because militias would check your ID,” said student Ahmed Ali, referring to the chilling militia practice of finding out who was Shi’ite and who was Sunni.new-image.JPG

    “Now, I just go there,” he added with a shrug.

    The optimism of youth? Perhaps.

    Mohammed Radhi, 45, was enjoying a picnic with his wife and four children at the park. He said much hinged on whether local elections — scheduled for October but which seem destined to be delayed by political bickering — were held peacefully.

    “It’s certainly better now but we have elections so our security will depend on the politicians. It’s up to them to decide if the war is over,” said Radhi.

    Baghdad still looks like a city at war.

    Concrete blast walls up to 12-feet (3.5 metres) high snake through entire neighbourhoods, encircle markets and government buildings. Iraqi troops man countless checkpoints. U.S. military Humvees rumble through the city. Even the park has checkpoints.

    But Iraqi officials now talk about investment as much as security operations.
    Kuwaiti investors want to build a multi-billion dollar housing and tourist complex in the southern city of Najaf. A foundation stone was laid this month for a luxury hotel in Baghdad, albeit in the fortified Green Zone government compound.
    Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, derided as an ineffective leader only a year ago, has won praise.
    The main Sunni Arab bloc has returned to the government after a year-long boycott and last week Maliki hosted Obama in Baghdad before jetting off to meet German and Italian leaders as well as Pope Benedict.
    The Bush administration haslonged for this sort of progress in Iraq. The flipside has been growing Iraqi confidence.
    At Baghdad’s insistence, Washington has accepted the idea of a “time horizon” for U.S. combat troops to leave. Maliki says he hopes U.S. combat forces could be out of Iraq in 2010 — roughly in line with Obama’s promised timetable for withdrawal.
    A lot might still go wrong in Iraq.
    The elections could spark violence. Al Qaeda in Iraq might be on the ropes but it has regenerated itself before. Sunni Arab insurgents who switched sides to fight al Qaeda might come into open conflict with Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated security forces.
    For now, Iraqis at the park by the Tigris River reflect on the possibility that the worst could be over.
    “To see everyone out and about like this makes you feel good about the country,” said Hassan Qado, 22, a policeman.
 

3 comments

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Dean,The population of Iraq is slighter larger than 5 young men chilling in a park. How about asking the same question to relatives of the 600,000+ civilians murdered since the invasion? I think the answer is obvious. It is far from ‘mission accomplished’Peace will come to Iraq when the last U.S. soldiers leaves, The Iraqis are managing their own affairs, and George Bush is sentenced to death for crimes against humanity.

Posted by Nu'man El-Bakri | Report as abusive

The war in Iraq is not over by any means. I see this as just another ‘lull’ in the overall fighting as past trends show. The past 5 years has shown its ups and downs, progress versus regress, and gains versus losses. The Sunni insurgency has been suppressed for now (but not defeated), and the Shia elements have continued to solidify their power throughout the country (for good or ill). The Kurdish position continues to be volatile in the north as Turkish forces openly battle Kurdish separitists.Once the summer months continue to abate, Ramadan will come, and after that, we will see a resurgence of violent activity throughout the country. The Sunni insurgency has largely been suppress due to increased cooperation with Coalition Forces, funding friendly Sheiks and religious leaders, and Shia political consolidation in Central and Southern Iraq. If Sunni elements within Iraq continue to see their position eroded at the national level, there will be another phase in their violent activities against both Coalition Forces and Shia militias.It will matter not what president eventually gets elected in January of next year because they will merely inherit this whole conflict and deal with it from that point forward. As to how this conflict will turn in the coming years will largely depend on several external factors; the current stance towards Iran and their nuclear program, the survival of the dollar as the reseve currency of choice, OPECs decision to continue to peg oil sales in US dollars, and the United States ability to continue to sustain military operation in both OIF and OEF.America must take a critical look into both the Soviet (and Russian) and British experiences in both Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 100 years or so. This will enable us to provide a picture as to what went wrong with both of their experiences in those campaigns. When talking about the Iraqi situation, it was the Shia elements that ultimately drove the British out in the early 1920′s which resulted in a ‘negotiated peace’. One of the things that have changed in Iraq is the fact that after 80 years of Sunni rule, the Shia are now more or less in charge of the affairs of the country. This will change the political landscape of the country, and at the same time, solidify Iranian influence throughout the ‘Shia Cresent’ from Iran to Lebanon.The future is rather uncertain, but we can indeed change the political and religious environment so that all parties involved can benefit in the end. America can succeed in this War On Terror if we have the right leadership, choose the right allies, and set clear objectives (with an eventual endstate) in mind.

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive

The war has been over in Iraq since Mr. Bush announced it was over, Mr. & Mrs. Reader. In that, Mr. Bush was correct (although he really didn’t know it at the time).What are not over are the occupation and counterinsurgency in Iraq.One must make a clear distinction between a conventional war and an unconventional counterinsurgency. A counterinsurgency is by definition designed to quell an insurgency, but unfortunately is unwinnable by that very definition as well. In other words, the last man standing is always the insurgent…no matter how many human resources, how much time & how much money is poured into what is a perpetual and unreachable goal of stamping out an insurgency.Most people generally focus on the counterinsurgency operations that have been conducted by the United States in Iraq and in Afghanistan since 2003 and 2001, respectively.However, an even more obvious and very long string of counterinsurgency operations have been conducted by the Israelis against Palestinian insurgents since 1947 when the United Nations saw fit to partition Palestine on behalf of the wave of Jewish immigrants into Palestine who had been emigrating mostly from Europe for decades prior to World War II. When the partition occurred, Palestinians outnumbered Israelis (Jews) by 2 to 1.The Palestinian insurgency is destined to go on into perpetuity because of the unique way in which the Israelis have gotten the United States to support the modern Jewish state unconditionally. In other words, there will never be a withdrawal of Jews from Israel proper (the unthinkable)…and the same is almost certainly true of Gaza and the West Bank.Other more recent (but just as unwinnable) counterinsurgencies were those conducted by the Russians in Afghanistan for some 10-11 years in the late 1970′s and 1980′s…and by the Americans in Vietnam (Cambodia & Laos) for 10-11 years in the 1960′s and early 1970′s. Unlike the counterinsurgency being waged by the Israelis, the Afghan and Vietnam insurgencies finally wore the populations and governments of Russia and the United States down after only a relatively short period of time.Yes, I said “short”. After all the Palestinian insurgency has been waged against the Israeli counterinsurgency for 60 long years.OK Jack