On August 22, US President George Bush told war veterans that a US withdrawal from Iraq would lead to bloodshed and reprisals akin to those after the US withdrew from Vietnam.
Bush’s comparison of Iraq with the withdrawal in Vietnam has been described as inaccurate by many historians.
The scary fact remains however that should the US and its allies decide to pull out from Iraq, the country could in fact witness a blood-bath of violent sectarian squabbling.
There is a growing school of thought in the US and other countries that the strife among the Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds is an internal problem of Iraq, better left to the new government in Iraq to solve. Some have even said that the government in Baghdad will move to reconcile the factions, only after it knows it does not have the US to prop it up.
Having invaded Iraq in 2003 with the multiple aims of removing Saddam Hussein, destruction of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that were never found, and to bring democracy to Iraq, the US cannot now wash its hands off the problems that the new dispensation has thrown up.
The country does not as yet have a government in Baghdad that is accepted by all in the country. It does not have a strong police force that is respected and seen as impartial across the country, and is still trying to rebuild an army that was disbanded after Saddam Hussein’s government was brought down.
The Iraq oil and gas law, also referred to as the Iraq hydrocarbon law, approved by the cabinet in February, has still to be passed by Parliament. Under the proposed regulations, oil revenues will go to a central fund distributed to all Iraqis in all regions and provinces according their populations.
The oil law has however become a political battleground between those who favor a more unified Iraq and those who want a decentralized federation where provincial governments have larger rights over the award of contracts and the revenue from the oil and gas under their geographical jurisdictions.
Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia is clearly a key threat to the US in Iraq. But it is facile to blame all the violence in Iraq, and the problems faced by US troops there, on Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia. The violence in Iraq comes from a variety of factors including feuding militias, both Shia and Sunni that have still not come under the control of the government in Baghdad.
Clearly the US has a long way to go in Iraq both on the military and political front.
The political initiatives so far have assumed that Sunni, Shia, and Kurd populations will eventually put their heads together in a pan-Iraqi nationalism. What if they decide to fight, regardless of the consequences, for the control of Baghdad and the whole country ? What if they decide to partition the country, and feud and kill over which land and which part of the oil reserves should go to them ?
Bush has made a lot of the Anbar Awakening, the optimistic name often given to the move by some Sunni militias in Anbar to join Americans in fighting Al Qaeda. The US will surely pamper Sunni militias to counter the Al Qaeda influence, and hope to also nudge them into reconciliation with the Shias and Kurds.
There is however also the possibility that the Sunnis have teamed up with the Americans for arms and cash to be used after the Americans are out. They must be aware that the US administration is under pressure at home to get US troops out of Iraq.
Having played the role of global policeman, and got into this quagmire, the US will now have to stay there. If it pulls out prematurely, and there is civil war, the blame will be pinned primarily on the US. Public memory is short, and there may be some who may even argue that Iraq was better off before the US ousted the butcher Saddam Hussein.
An Iraq going through a civil war will also be to the US’ disadvantage as it will provide opportunities to US enemies like Iran and Al Qaeda.
All in all a thankless task for the US going forward.
When Democrats in the US demand the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, it is very reminiscent of Vietnam. When the going was just too hot, and public support at home waned, the US pulled out from Vietnam leaving behind all the people and interests that had counted on America’s continued support. These included the puppet rulers, but the rest were ordinary people caught on the wrong side.
Didn’t many of the Democrats including Hillary Clinton vote in favor of the Iraq war ? They probably didn’t want to be spectators or protesters during those heady days when images flashed worldwide of a tall statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down. But when the body bags started coming home, they quite naturally lost their nerve.
Both Democrats and Republicans showed lack of foresight on the US invasion of Iraq. The Democrats could do worse by now demanding a premature withdrawal from Iraq.
Six years after 9/11, whistling in the dark