On Tuesday, June 30, in accordance with the desire of Barack Obama and of the Iraqi government to demonstrate that the Baghdad authorities are ready to retake control of the destiny of the country, all American “combat” troops will withdraw from Iraqi cities.
For the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who fiercely negotiated this “redeployment” with Washington, this is a crucial step on the path to complete withdrawal of the 130,000 foreign soldiers between now and December 31, 2011. And, as a result, it is a “historic victory” that is appropriate to celebrate as the beginning of the end of a military occupation that has lasted more than six years.
For the American officers who hoped to be able to maintain their urban bases in the four large cities still regularly “troubled” by violence (Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk and Baquba), the operation is a real-life test of the Iraqi capacity to maintain order and security. Believing in resolute policies, Mr. Maliki says he is certain that the 700,000 men in his security forces (police and military) will prevail. Some, in Iraq and in Washington, openly doubt this.
According to these people, the outbreak of attacks recorded in the past few days demonstrates that in the absence – already almost complete – of Americans in the cities, the rebels do what they want. This is false. While it is impossible to identify the origins of the terrorists who essentially kill civilians from the majority Shiite sect, a true examination of what is happening puts things in perspective.
Since the start of this year, some 1,800 Iraqis have been killed in attacks and targeted assassinations. This is three times less than in the corresponding period of 2008; and on a completely different scale from the slaughter of 2006 and 2007, when some 2,000 people were killed each month in the civil war between majority Shiite and minority Sunni. The goal of the killers, whether they were Shiite or Sunni extremists, is to unleash a new spiral of interfaith massacres. The reconstruction of the state would be checked and the redeployment and then repatriation of American forces pushed back.
For now Barack Obama’s soldiers are not going very far: they are withdrawing to bases next to the cities and remaining, according to the agreements made, at the disposal of Baghdad at least until the end of August 2010. Their recall into the city would clearly be a setback.