Is Iraq stable enough to cope without U.S. troops?

July 3, 2009

Tim CocksTim Cocks is a Reuters correspondent based in Baghdad.-

For the U.S. military, it’s the million dollar question — or rather the $687 billion question, according to a recent estimate of the Iraq war’s total cost. Is Iraq now stable enough for them to take a permanent back seat?

The short answer is no one knows. The only way they were ever going to find out was to leave Iraq’s own forces to it and hope the whole thing doesn’t come tumbling down. They started doing that on Tuesday when they pulled out of Iraqi cities.

It’s been an encouraging start. A big bomb in Kirkuk cast a shadow over Iraq’s celebrations of its new-found sovereignty, but since then things have been relatively quiet. Militants might try to take advantage by stepping up attacks, but for the moment they seem content with celebrating a “victory” over the occupation — and setting off the odd bomb, of course.

The United States’ coalition partners have for the most part long since departed. British forces handed over southern Iraq to the Americans in April, but since 2007 their 4,000 odd troops left had been largely confined to Basra airport anyway.

And one thing the crystal ball gazers have learned about Iraq’s hugely complicated, many-sided conflict is that the past is rarely a reliable guide to the future.

When optimists thought Iraq was poised to enjoy democracy after the fall of Saddam, it spiralled into years of bloody insurgency and sectarian killing. Later, just when it seemed all hope was lost and Iraq would have to be partitioned, things starting getting dramatically better.

The idea that Iraqi forces aren’t ready to take on the country’s security usually centre on claims that they are untested, not well trained or infiltrated with militiamen.

But few deny they look more professional and integrated now than anyone would have thought possible two years ago. They might still be full of militiamen, but those militiamen are no longer kidnapping or killing political rivals, as in the past.

And there are clearly some things the Iraqis do better. For one thing, they know the language and understand the culture.

When I was on a U.S. patrol in Iraq’s troubled Diyala province, a U.S. unit nearby accidentallly shot and wounded a civilian in Jalawla town, forcing them to vacate it because a public outcry would put other soldiers at risk of attack.

What they had done is fire a warning shot at a vehicle after the driver failed to heed a command — in English — to stay back. But few Iraqis in rural areas speak basic English.

The real test will be when U.S. pulls all combat forces out, under President Barack Obama’s orders, by September next year.

Many Iraqis I’ve spoken too seem convinced the insurgents are just biding their time, sharpening their knives and stockpiling explosives waiting to reignite the conflict.

But whether or not Iraq can look after itself, at some point the Americans have to say: Look, we’ve done our best to get the lid back on Pandora’s Box. Now it’s over to you.


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Looking forward to the day when ALL american troops and mercenaries leave Iraq and pay full reparations for all the damage done. Ex Bush administration officials should also face criminal charges for war crimes.

Hopefully not long after the US pull out Iraqi forces will overthrow the puppet US installed leaders and have a country of their own. And when that happens all US companies making huge profits in Iraq due to the invasion should be kicked out and Iraqi oil money protected from exploitation. In future infrastructure projects should be awarded to the HIGHEST BIDDER.

Iraqis should shut down all US military bases and cut off diplomatic ties to the US until full reparations are payed and justice is served on former bush officials.

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

War and Peace follows one and other after paying its own cost but effects shadow generations.

Posted by Ali Farhan Chaudhry | Report as abusive

No, there will be a struggle for power as soon as the Us leaves the country. Iraq is too divided, and there are too many unsolved cultural, polital and religious issues for Iraq to become a peaceful and safe place to live.

Posted by Nikkei 225 | Report as abusive

No, It’s hard.

Posted by Ali Saher | Report as abusive

American’s theory is not war for peace. If their idea won’t change, imperialism will die…

Posted by Photoshoplu | Report as abusive

When US troops left, Korea was split, officially. When US forces retreated, Vietnam was conquered by communist North, immediately. US never pulled out of any assisted countries with good inheritance. At least record shows just that. I am afraid Iraq is no exception, perhaps even worse with so many factions, al qaeda, sunnies and shites, you name it.

Posted by Greene | Report as abusive

it was always known by our intelligence that destabilizing Iraq would eventually lead to civil war.

civil war in iraq allows greater western influence to enhance and enable Iraqui economic recovery.

a win – win for the West. We create markets for poitical and economic growth.

The Iraquis would be very smart to come up with a solution for peace and stop killing one another.

Posted by mik | Report as abusive

The central problem facing any kind of “unified” Iraq is that there is no real sentiment among the peoples there to be in a fictional country. Iraq was cobbled together by the British following World War One and in their arrogance they forced together Kurds, Turkomen and Arabs.

The Kurdish population there is not ethnically either Arab or Turkish, and they have their very own cultural identity: secondly, Kurdish language is nothing like either Arabic or Turkish but closer to Persian ( Farsi ).

In terms of religion, the Kurds follow the Sunni line as do most of the Turkomen, while the majority Arab bloc is firmly ensconced in the Shi’ite line, while the minority Arab group is Sunni. There are centuries of animosities present between Shi’ite and Sunni, going back to the splits between the original followers of the Prophet Mohammed and his blood relatives !! Some eighty percent of the world’s Muslims are Sunni, however, and so their Shi’ite ‘brethren’ are a large minority in the world itself. Just look at the mosque bombings and other bloody outrages which have occurred there in recent years, if there is doubt about these animosities.

The holy sites in Arabia are controlled by Sunni Muslims while the holy sites in Iraq and Iran are Shi’ite.

In the 1920s the British tried to force and end to the various kinds of social and religious uprisings which followed hard upon the creation of Iraq, with no really favorable outcome. They used airplanes and poison gas to try to subdue these rebellions, at a terrible cost to the people living in the various parts of “Iraq,” which was itself an invented name !! The outlook for the future there is anything but pleasant, as it seems obvious that people who are still quarrelling over what happened to Mohammed’s grandson and family are unlikely to ever see any real value in being “united”.

Meanwhile the really bad hombres — the Taliban — are still on the move and still raising hell in the broken landscape of Afghanistan, which is split among Uzbeks and Tajiks and folks who speak Afghan Persian who are not from those two ethnic groups !!

What a bloody, and seemingly insane, mess.

Posted by Richard C. Green | Report as abusive

… short term win… next 10 years another ‘suddam’ is gonna come… it’s all about historically established culture… the only question is how long politicians will be able to support loyal regime… it’s costly… too many interests cross…

Posted by ACM | Report as abusive

I agree with Brian…He is correct…

USA has invaded and killed more innocent civilians in the last 50 yrs than all other countries mercenary armies combined and Iraq was no different

Posted by Farooq | Report as abusive

Is Iraq stable enough to cope without U.S. troops? I sure do hope so but I do not believe that “without” is the proper description of the U.S.’s role in Iraq. I do not live in Iraq nor do I know anyone there so I really do not know how this all applies to Iraqi’s. The differences between Shiite and Sunni on paper tell one story but in real life I am sure it is not that simple and it will likely play a major role in how Iraq proceeds. There are conflicting reports about wether or not there is a civil war going on there now between Shiite’s and Sunni’s. With U.S. troops taking a very very small step backwards, we’ll see how this effects civil violence there. History seems to show that with any end of conflict there are seeds sown for another. But it is up to each individual to fight all the hate within themselves first before fighting the hate within another. They are not alone. I hope peace finds a place in the heart of everyone.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

The title of this article is misleading. Iraq was stable before the U.S. troops got there. Saddam is accused of killing over 100,000 Kurds yet we have directly or indirectly caused the death of at least 1.3 million Iraqis. That is not including child mortality rates during the Clinton administration trade sanctions. We have defeated on evil man by doing even more evil. Millions are now refugees throughout the Middle East. The world economy is shattered. This is the cost of revenge we all have payed for the Bush family.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

Re: Post by MIK
Here is the truth about markets and the economy…
Our financial model is not sustainable. Let me explain. Imagine there is no money in circulation so the bank issues the very first money in the world (lets say the amount is $100) and that’s all that exists on earth. Now the bank wants that full amount back in one year plus 10 percent interest so the bank wants back $110. See the dilema? There is only $100 in circulation but to complete this transaction and pay the bank back is impossible unless another $10 dollars is created to pay off the interest. So they keep printing more and more money. It could even be said all credit is debt. There is in fact a shortage of (REAL MONEY) in circulation. It’s no wonder the world is in so much trouble. It’s no wonder the world is in so much trouble. The TD bank is predicting a big jump in Bankruptcies this year. There were 10,578 personal bankruptcies filed during March of this year, up a staggering 57% from 6,736 in March 2008. Banks run this country and our elected members in office are just front men for the bankers. The USELESS regulations passed to curb credit card interest rates are a classic example of how politicians WHIMP OUT and COWER IN FEAR when having to face greedy financial institutions. We don’t really believe Globalization is helping. The track record certainly says otherwise. Free trade has only helped to pad the pockets of the rich. Our leaders have to say what the World Bank tells you to say. The global recession and it’s going to last longer than a year or two. High interest rates and money supply are the reason the cycle starts. Banks tightnen the money supply and we go into a recession. Then they loosen the money supply and we go into a boom. It’s also known as the boom bust cycle.

Posted by Ted | Report as abusive

there will be a struggle. iraq has many societal differences and political problems. it will be difficult to achieve a consensus government. but too, it is a country left tired of war. without foreign troops, life should be more normal for most iraqis.

Posted by Seraphine | Report as abusive

Enough with the anti-American rhetoric, this was an invasion based off of misguided and hastily obtained intelligence, not some grand plot by politicians to steal Iraq’s wealth and exploit its resources. The U.S lost over 4,300 servicemen and has spent over $600 billion as a result of military operations in Iraq, meaning that this war was not a collusion to profit by seizing resources, because it was a massive net loss for the belligerent.

In hindsight we all agree that the invasion was the wrong course of action, but the same people who are screaming for war crimes trials now are the ones who called this war un-winnable before the troop surge took effect in 2007. All of those pathetic defeatist left-wing voters, pundits, and politicians were wrong to demand an immediate withdrawal when Iraq descended into a civil war and have been humbled by the results of the surge.

You all let your emotions and beliefs cloud your judgment and tried to vote in people who would have abandoned Iraq and allowed a regional civil war to emerge. Now, thanks to President Bush, General Petreaus, the Coalition, and the Anbar Awakening militiamen Iraq can enjoy security and liberty under the guard of Iraqi, not foreign troops, and even President Obama does not dare to change the terms of the Security Agreement signed under the Bush Administration.

Posted by Jack | Report as abusive

Cost; $687 billion! No, you are dead wrong. The cost; 350,000 lives….this is much more than $687 billion. For what? That is the question for next 100 years to be answered by Americans!

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

I notice, Anubis, that you used the qualifying term “directly or indirectly” when speaking about the 1.3 million deaths caused by America.

Would you care to elaborate?

I was led to believe that the majority of those 1.3 million deaths were caused by insurgency actions directed at civilians.

Posted by Bob | Report as abusive

The title is misleading also in the following: Looks that we care for Iraqis what is obviously not true. The title could be valid only in the context of security of our companies exporting Iraqi’s oil.

Posted by Dusan G. | Report as abusive

Since American and coalition force withdrawal, are photographs of Islamic apostates being posted in Mosques? Are photos of Iraqi’s who helped American and coalition forces being posted as wanted persons?
Are these rumors?

Posted by Semaj Vosng | Report as abusive

Earlier someone posted these thoughts (among other things)

Cost; $687 billion! … cost; 350,000 lives…

Add them together and then it is possible to realize what actually happened…Bush raped a country in the name of America for his own ends and for the ends of those who do not care about Iraq or its people but only for profit and political power. Now not only Iraq but America will pay for Bush’s tyranny for many years to come…

Posted by Lawrence | Report as abusive

I think once the US TROOP pull out IRAQ, oil will reach at least 150 to 200 per barrel. Since they cannot pay the money, they will negotiate to pay by OIL. IRAQ will take advantage to sell OIL at higher price.

Posted by Hoang Thanh Nguyen | Report as abusive

As a person who lives in Kurdistan region of Iraq ui can not be optimistic about the future of Iraq. There is no difference whether the US troops will stay or not. Iraq got it’s independent since 1920 and throughout that time there has been always problems inside Iraq. Problems lingering among Shia, Sunni, and Kurds. Still thses problems exist and the Iraqi government has noty made any concerted efforts to slove the disputes between Iraqi sections. Currently the tension between the central government and the Kurdistan regional governmernt has resurfaced again and the central government is not doing a serious efoorts to solve the issue. The best solution for Iraq is to be seperated to three federal region as V.Presidnet Joe Biden suggested. As a Kurd we are unwilingly part of iraq and we do not want to rmain so, personally i advocate the idea of seceding from iraq as soon as possible. Also in the Middle and south of iraq Shia and Sunni can not get along, it is impossible for them to live together. SO if Iraq remain unified it will cause catastrophy. The sooner Iraq divides the better for all Iraqi people.

Posted by niyaz/Erbil | Report as abusive

Iraq a mess during the Saddam administration and an even worse mess now, just look at how the families are living. (hard to find since no media outlet ever shows it, including Reuters)

What do we say now to all fatherless children here in America? What do we tell them their fathers died for? Do we tell them the depressing truth or lie to their faces?

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

I had to ruin your conspiracy theory, Hoang, but Iraq is a relativly small player in the world oil industry (only about 1% of the US supply, for example) that the war was never designed to influence world oil prices. Oil prices effect the war, though, since the revenue is neccesarry to rebuild the country’s economy, and also a cause for sectarian violence.

Posted by ZT | Report as abusive

You are right Bob, many of the deaths are suicide bombings and other forms of sectarian violence that did not exist under Saddam’s regime. This was in no small part due to his brutality. However the loss of infrastructure from the initial bombings by U.S. forces prior to the invasion left Bahgdad in ruins. No fresh water, electricity, medical supplies, fresh food and destroyed sanitation systems lead to starvation and disease killing the elderly and youngest of the population. Amnesty International has tried to do an accounting of mortality and disease rates in Iraq since the first gulf war. Dealing with any government is problematic when trying to uncover such information. I don’t think anyone really knows for sure.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

More to the point: Can any of the 168,000 Americans from Gulf War One and literally countless Iraqi civilians ever expect to recover from the sickening effects of depleted Uranium spread over thousands of square miles of that country? When will they be stable enough to cope without water and schools, but with plenty of prison camps?

Bound to find out eventually, aren’t we? Unlike Pandora, “we” didn’t open the box so much as blow it to smithereens and contaminate all of its contents, to see what was inside.

Are the people of Iraq, who never in all history attacked the countries of their current aggressors, jailers and occupants, ever likely to forget the hideously massive loss of life, health, social infrastructure, liberty and cultural artefacts which have gone hand in hand with this absolutely unjustified multi-trillion dollar war?

How can Iraq be expected to deal with people who persistently quibble, it was “[only] $687 billion and [just] three hundred thousand lives”? Uncharitably, if at all, I would imagine.

On an entertainment note:

In versions of Casablanca I have seen, the line where Humphrey Bogart apparently wonders whether the French, Polish and Russians were stable enough to cope without the presence of Panzer-Divisions, associated carcinogenic chemical weaponry, rape, pillaging and so forth must have been… uh, omitted.

Quaint question, though.

Posted by The Bell | Report as abusive