Iraqis Can’t Wait for US to Leave

October 24th, 2011 - by admin & The Los Angeles Times – 2011-10-24 00:39:54

Iraqis Can’t Wait for US to Leave

Iraqis Can’t Wait for US to Leave

Iraqis Can’t Wait for US to Leave
Jason Ditz /

(October 23, 2011) — US officials may be outraged at the notion that the US might some day soon not be occupying Iraq, but for Iraqis the idea is less scary than exciting, something they’ve been hoping for throughout years of ugly civil war and massive death tolls.

In the government and on the streets there is almost no support for a continued occupation, particularly with the Sadrist faction promising a return to insurgency if they tried to stay. A handful of Iraqi officials expressed concern over what post-US Iraq might mean for their futures but this appears to be a tiny minority.

“They were part of the reason behind the ethnic and sectarian tension,” noted Saad Muttalbi, and indeed there seems reason to believe that a lot of the unrest, particularly among Shi’ite militias, is simply going to disappear the minute the US troops leave.

For the Obama Administration, the hope was always to keep “trainers” in the nation, but Iraq’s government stood firm on demands for blanket immunity that would give those “trainers” the same status as combat troops. It was this line in the sand that forced the US pullout, and the hope for a day when US troops don’t have the run of the nation which convinced Iraq to finally settle on refusing this immunity.

Iraq Eager to See US Troops Leave
Raheem Salman and Patrick J. McDonnell / Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD and BEIRUT (October 23, 2011) — More than 1 million Americans have served in Iraq, and almost 4,500 lost their lives there. Now the Iraqis have given the US military an unequivocal message: Go home.

Eight years after US troops overthrew Saddam Hussein, there is little enthusiasm among people on the street for a sustained US presence. And although some Iraqis undoubtedly fear that the US withdrawal could lead to greater instability, others — notably the lawmakers elected after the US-enabled democratic transition — appear to think that a quick US departure is about the best thing that could happen.

In the United States, the debate over Iraq focuses on the possibility of greater insecurity once US troops leave. Advocates of sustaining a US military presence in Iraq argue that even a limited number of troops could act as a counterweight against Iran’s growing influence in the country in the wake of Hussein — who was an implacable foe of the Islamic Republic — and since the emergence of a Shiite-dominated government with close ties to Tehran.

In Iraq, however, many associate the US presence with instability, violence and suspect motives in a conflict that is believed to have cost at least 100,000 Iraqi lives. These critics view US troops as a lightning rod for militia attacks.

A representative of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s Shiite-led ruling coalition said Iraqis were “thankful” for the role of the US and other nations in ousting Hussein, but another official added that the Americans “put the country on the brink of civil war.” “They were part of the reason behind the ethnic and sectarian tension,” said Saad Muttalbi.

The Shiites have long been cool to US troops in Iraq. But leading politicians from Sunni and Kurdish blocs who once welcomed the American presence now also agree that the US must leave.

The largely Sunni Iraqiya bloc headed by Iyad Allawi has gone on record against extending the stay of US troops beyond the end of the year.

Omar Jubbori, a member of the Iraqiya bloc, said Washington would be better off supporting Iraq through economic and “other channels, rather than a military presence, about which Iraqi public opinion is clear.”

Even lawmakers from Iraqi Kurdistan, where US forces were warmly received in 2003, no longer seem enthusiastic about American boots on the ground.

“An American presence is not a condition to solve our problems,” said Mahmoud Othman, a member of the Kurdish coalition. “They’ve been here for years, and there are still problems in Iraq.”

In his speech Friday, President Obama said US forces were leaving “with their heads held high, proud of their success.” About 40,000 US troops are in Iraq, down from a high of more than 160,000. All are scheduled to be gone by Dec. 31.

The US had sought an agreement to maintain a small military presence to continue to train and advise Iraqi forces, but it foundered on Washington’s insistence that US military personnel have legal immunity from Iraqi law. Iraqis refused to budge on the point. “I was so happy to hear that the Americans are leaving our country,” said Firs Fertusi, 33, a former fighter in the disbanded Mahdi Army, founded by anti-US cleric Muqtada Sadr. “They destroyed our country. They created so much tension among Iraqis.”

Sadr, who controls a key parliamentary bloc in the ruling coalition, had threatened renewed attacks on US troops if they didn’t leave.

Yet for all the apparent antagonism, some still support an American presence. Ali Jaff, a pro-democracy activist, said he was worried that without direct US influence, “new episodes of violations of human rights” could erupt. And Raad Hussein, an engineer in Baghdad’s Sadr City district, said he feared the return of “masked gunmen wearing black,” a common sight during the worst of the sectarian violence that had ravaged the nation. “I think we will regret the Americans’ departure,” Hussein said.

Such views are not part of official Iraqi government policy, however. Security is an “Iraqi responsibility” that Baghdad is keen to assume, Ali Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, said recently, adding: “We can’t keep foreign troops in our country.”

McDonnell reported from Beirut and special correspondent Salman from Baghdad.
Copyright (c) 2011, Los Angeles Times

Panetta: US Will Keep Large Numbers of Troops Around Iraq
Jason Ditz /

(October 23, 2011) — In comments that were half pep-talk about the chances of Iraqi forces and half attempt to combat criticism among US politicians of the idea of ending the Iraq occupation, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta insisted Iraq would be just fine. “Iraq itself has developed an effective fighting force,” Panetta said, insisting they were more than capable of fighting the “Iran-backed militias” in the country on their own.

Lost in Panetta’s comments, of course, is the reality that the Shi’ite militias, which the US has constantly maintained were Iran-backed, were fighting the US occupation forces. In their absence those groups don’t even anticipate existing, let alone fighting a largely pro-Iran Maliki government.

Panetta was quick to insist the US is going to continue to keep massive numbers of combat troops in the region, including tens of thousands in tiny Kuwait. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton likewise made this something to do with Iran, saying they oughtn’t mistake the withdrawal from Iraq as an end to the US presence in the region.

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