Tuesday, December 20, 2011

U.S. Troops Exit Iraq: Dinner Will Soon Be Served - - Iran

Although the Iraqis are observing nationwide celebrations, as the last of U.S. troops left the country on Sunday, there’s an increasing amount of uncertainty in the air. With many asking, whether the war was worth it, there’s an even greater number of people wondering, what will be the future of Iraq.
Bashar Assad

The U.S. military's departure from Iraq opens the door to expanded Iranian influence in the Middle East, though that door could close fast if Iran's closest Arab ally Bashar Assad falls from power in Syria.

In the last flag raising ceremony marking the end of war in Iraq, Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta addressed the U.S. troops saying that “To be sure, the cost was high -- the blood and treasure of the United States and also for the Iraqi people. But those lives have not been lost in vain. They gave birth to an independent, free and sovereign Iraq, but, for how long? Not many Iraqis buy that notion.

The uncertainties looming over the Middle East in the wake of President Barack Obama's Re-affirmation to remove all U.S. troops by the end of this month, fulfilling a campaign promise to end the unpopular war and abandoning efforts to negotiate an extension of the year-end deadline agreed to by the Bush administration in 2008.

Muqtada al-Sadr
There is growing concern about Iraq's ability to defend itself and counter Iranian influence after U.S. troops withdraw, and too many in the White House mistakenly believe that "a stay-on force" is not a vital U.S. interest and risk alienating an important ally, moreover, as the deadline approaches, the risk is if we retreat from Iraq, Iran take over. Of course, there are risks to staying on as well. One Shiite firebrand cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr vows to return to armed resistance unless all U.S. forces leave on schedule.

What's really at stake is whether or not Iran, which has been trying to turn Iraq into a satellite state for several years, will finally get its way. And the reason they would is because without U.S. troops there, Iraq would basically have no military ability to resist Iran on any kind of level; not their militias, which they keep in Iraq, not their conventional forces, not their missiles. And so you're going to have an Iraqi government, which is already a little bit inclined toward Iran, under a lot of pressure to go along with whatever Iran wants.

 Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
Here's a point that needs to be made: the government and Prime Minister Maliki has always been a little bit pro-Iranian. His coalition is heavily pro-Iranian because he's dependent on a Shiite party that is basically an Iranian client, just like Muqtada al-Sadr, who I've mentioned. And he's supposed to have a coalition with the other side, the part that resists Iran, but that coalition really hasn't worked out. It's basically split up. So the Sunni parties who would resist Iranian influence are currently out of power at the moment.

At first glance, that would make Iran the big winner, especially if the U.S. move heralds a tectonic shift of power in the strategic Persian Gulf region as the United States shifts its military focus to East Asia and the Pacific. But the tumult from the Arab Spring, on top of the end of the nearly nine-year Iraq War, has made the rivalry between Iran and the U.S.'s Arab allies even trickier and predictions more cloudy.

No longer will tens of thousands of American troops be stationed along Iran's western border. They're leaving behind an Iraqi government dominated by Shiite Muslim parties beholden to the Iranians, who sheltered them for years when Saddam Hussein and his Sunni-dominated Baath regime were in power.

With the American military presence reduced to a few hundred members of an embassy-based liaison mission, Iran is likely to step up infiltration of Iraq's intelligence services — the key to manipulating Iraq's internal politics — and expand its links to both Shiite and Kurdish politicians, to the alarm of the country's Sunni minority.
Civil war between the Shiite and Sunni

The politicians are still feuding to get into power, and the violence on the streets of Iraq continues as usual, though at a scale much lower than it was at the time war began. The civil war between the Shiite and Sunni groups continue to strike back at each other. "Nobody here wants occupation. This withdrawal marks a new stage in Iraq's history," said Karim al-Rubaie, a Shiite shop owner in the southern city of Basra."The politicians who are running this country are just a group of thieves. These politicians will lead the country into sedition and civil war. Iraq now is like a weak prey among neighboring beasts. The prime minister currently serves as his own defense minister and interior minister because he can't get anybody to agree who those ministers ought to be.

Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta

But the new secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, and U.S. military commanders, I think, would very much like to see U.S. troops stay there because they're worried about this Iranian problem and the larger Iranian problem in the region. Former Secretary of Defense Gates said publically that he would like to see U.S. troops stay precisely because of the Iranian factor. But the civilian leadership and the Obama administration, the White House in particular, is much more ambivalent.
So they've sort of taken the view, well, we'll think about it if you ask us. And Panetta added in public, make a decision, damn it, were his words. So my thought was those are not the kind of coaxing that's going to get the right decision.
Lt. General Babaker Zebari

Aware of the concerns of the people, Iraq’s military chief of staff, Lt. General Babaker Zebari assured that his troops are fully capable of controlling the situation. "There are only scattered terrorists hiding here and there and we are seeking intelligence information to eliminate them," Zebari said. "We are confident that there will be no danger."

Moreover there are fears of power concentration into the hands of a single person. The Sunni leader, Ayad Allawi, despite of getting majority of votes in the last year’s parliamentary elections lost the premier post to Al-Maliki due to his support from the Shiite political parties. Iraqi’s also fear that if Iraq became more vulnerable than before, this American occupation might be replaced by some indirect occupation from the neighboring countries.

As the second most populous country in the Gulf, with some of the world's largest proven petroleum reserves, an avowedly pro-Iranian Iraq would be a game changer in the power struggle between Iran and the U.S.-backed, conservative Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia.

Iran already wielded considerable influence in Iraq even when U.S. troop strength approached 170,000. The U.S.-led invasion of 2003 produced a strange alliance between the Americans and religiously based Shiite parties tied simultaneously to both Washington and Tehran. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite who had been cool toward Iran, has moved closer to the pro-Iranian groups since a political crisis in 2010 nearly cost him his job.

With the American military gone, Tehran's prospects for bolstering those ties in Iraq look bright.

At closer examination, however, the future appears less certain. Much will depend on how the key players — including the United States — maneuver diplomatically through the new environment created by the end of the Iraq War.
"The United States must succeed in limiting and countering Iranian influence in Iraq and in creating Iraqi forces that can defend the country. "The United States must also restructure a mix of forward-deployed U.S. forces and ties to regional powers that can contain every aspect of Iran's military forces and political ambitions."

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