I admit, I find it surprising how much Iraq recedes in our view as 2010′s drawdown grows nearer; I suppose there’s only so much ink for a (electronic) page, and Afghanistan is in everyone’s minds. But Iraq remains a fragile state, and the US presence there is significant still. So, a few pieces from here and there that I thought I’d bring to your attention.
First, it did not go unnoticed that the Iraq parliament succeeded in passing election reform [WSJ]:
Lawmakers agreed Sunday on the key sticking point — how the vote will be held in the oil-rich area of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, which is claimed by Sunni Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted, but at least it’s done now,” said Fryad Rawandoozi, spokesman for the Kurdish bloc.
Despite the eleventh-hour agreement, Iraq’s election commission said Sunday that it still didn’t have enough time to prepare for the January 2010 vote. The commission can’t delay the poll unilaterally, however, and Parliament’s agreement appears to have put the election back on track.
In the agreement hammered out over Kirkuk, eligible voters will be determined by 2009 voter-registration records, a condition supported by the Kurds. But a technical committee will be set up to review the votes. If there are a certain number of irregularities, the elections will be repeated in a year, a condition pushed by the Arabs and Turkmen.
I think the key word in the phrase “appears to have put the election back on track” is “appears,” though wrestling with the Kurd bloc is certainly a step in the right direction. Kurdistan has always fascinated me, an island unto itself, almost. However, if things truly proceed only a fortnight or so behind schedule, it shouldn’t compromise the US military withdrawal; though I still remain concerned that security in Iraq is of the smokescreen variety.
From Army News we learn of a key-giving ceremony, granting more MNF-controlled land back to, well, the Iraqis:
The Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, part of Joint Area Support Group-Central, helped contribute to that progress, Oct. 25, when they handed the keys to two large properties inside Baghdad’s International Zone back over to the Iraqi government — a symbolic gesture that transferred the property to the Iraqis.
“In terms of square footage of habitable structures, Essayons and Freedom Compound are the largest we’ve turned over so far,” said the 32nd Brigade’s Maj. Gregory Schlub, who is the officer in charge of real properties for Joint Area Support Group-Central, in Baghdad.
The two properties, formerly used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, include about 25 acres of land and buildings with about 380,000 square feet of floor space.
I really hope I’m not the only person rather uncomfortable granting a “key to the city” to the people who in fact possess it; methinks a press pool officer might’ve thought a bit harder about that one.
Stratfor, sharing my wariness about January 2010, writes of Iraq: A Rebounding Jihad:
The Sunni sheikhs are using the [Islamic State of Iraq] to send a message to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the Sunnis must be accommodated if there is to be real peace and stability in Iraq. One sticking point for the Sunni elders is that a large percentage of the Awakening Council members have not been integrated into the security forces as promised. Of course, the Shia and Kurds then use these attacks as an excuse for why the Sunnis cannot be trusted — and it all becomes a vicious circle.
The political situation that is driving the security problems in Iraq is complex and cannot be easily resolved. There are many internal and external players who are all trying to influence the final outcome in Iraq for their own benefit. In addition to the internal squabbles over power and oil wealth, Iraq is also a proxy battleground where the United States and Iran are attempting to maintain and assert influence. Regional players like the Saudis, Syrians and Turks also will take a keen interest in the elections and will certainly attempt to influence them to whatever degree they can. The end result of all this meddling is that peace and stability will be hard to obtain.
This means that terrorist attacks likely will continue for the foreseeable future, including attacks by the ISI. If the attacks in August and October are any indication, the remainder of the run-up to the January elections could prove quite bloody.
Granted, had IED defenses not been put into place, the attack on Oct. 25 in Baghdad could have done significantly more damage, but in a sense this is the crucible in which ISF will indeed prove itself. Can ISF keep its citizens secure as the Americans leave? Can it prevent politically motivated terrorist conflict? Can it do so and remain a strong independent force not subject to corruption?
I hope so. But the first quarter of ’10 will be an important time to watch Iraq, I think.
Finally, Alissa Rubin’s column in the New York Times, From Iraq, Lessons for the Next War:
And victory in Iraq almost always begets revenge.
In my five years in Iraq, all that I wanted to believe in was gunned down. Sunnis and Shiites each committed horrific crimes, and the Kurds, whose modern-looking cities and Western ways seemed at first so familiar, turned out to be capable of their own brutality. The Americans, too, did their share of violence, and among the worst they did was wishful thinking, the misreading of the winds and allowing what Yeats called “the blood-dimmed tide” to swell. Could they have stopped it? Probably not. Could it have been stemmed so that it did less damage, saved some ofthe fathers and brothers, mothers and sons? Yes, almost certainly, yes.
Ricks tipped me off to this article, and while I find it to be one of the least compelling styles of journalism–personal experience masked as opinion masked as news–I do find it interesting to read in the context of the leavetaking that is being prepared. Lessons learned, people? Bring ‘em here.
Iraq hasn’t been getting much play in the MSM; it’s as if once the drawdown was announced, the punditry forgot it (except to play the allegory game with Afghanistan and Vietnam). Things are still happening, though, as any country in the throes of change with a 100k strong foreign military presence might have. To wit,
The seven-day program, called Operation Proper Exit, has been kept quiet previously, partly because returning to a combat zone is considered a delicate experiment. For the eight wounded men who returned to Iraq this week, including five amputees and one blinded soldier, the hope is that returning to places many of them left while unconscious or in agony might reassure them that their losses have been worth it.
…Operation Proper Exit was started by a small foundation in Laurel, Md., Troops First, supported by the U.S.O. and welcomed by the military command in Iraq. This was the second visit to Iraq since June, but the first was kept secret because no one knew for sure how the soldiers would handle their return.
“The amount of developmental growth and closure was phenomenal,” said Col. David Sutherland, the former brigade commander in Diyala, who came along on that first trip and said it turned out better than had been hoped. “Some of them said their night terrors stopped after they went.”
You know, I have to say, going back for closure while violence and martial presence is integral is kind of insane, but clearly it’s an insanity that works. If the punditry I’ve been hearing is correct, this is the longest period of wartime the US has been in since our plucky country was created. And our concepts of PTSD and trauma are much more integrated into US culture. It may be the best way to get troops through the emotional repercussions of this warfare.
More than 30,000 Iraqis have moved to the United States under a resettlement program that began in 2007 while much smaller numbers have gone to other countries, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has recommended to the participating countries the names of 82,500 Iraqis who should be moved, but so far only 33,000 have been able go to their new homelands, said spokesman Andrej Mahecic.
“Everyone is urgent,” said Mahecic, but he stressed that priority should be given to medical emergencies and to women and children at particular risk.He said the refugees have been determined to be in need of international protection and that no other solution is possible.
Nothing to say except to note the number; that sure is a lot of displaced people. I suspect that’s a conservative estimate, too.
Iraq’s parliament missed a deadline Thursday to pass a law needed to hold parliamentary elections slated for January, raising the chance the polls could be delayed.
A delay in the election, which is seen as a gauge of Iraq’s stability, could force American commanders to push back decisions about how quickly they can withdraw troops from the country, U.S. officials said.
You know, for a parliament who only recently were considering a measure to push international troops out sooner, they sure gave themselves a situation that would insure the MNF sticking around longer. Most of the drawdown is set to take place after troop forces help secure the election in January; by not taking the proper measures to insure that the elections take place, neither the Iraqis nor the MNF can adhere to the timetable for withdrawal. Somehow, someone is going to put that on Obama.
Armed men killed at least eight people and wounded nine Wednesday during the robbery of three jewelry stores in Baghdad, a brazen, daylight crime that residents blamed on security forces.
Sectarian violence has fallen sharply in the past year, in Baghdad and other areas across Iraq, but robberies and killings remain common. Many say that the country’s security forces, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, often play at least a tacit role in the incidents.
In Wednesday’s robberies, witnesses said two dark blue minibuses carrying 12 to 15 men arrived in a Shiite neighborhood at 2 p.m. and parked a block away from the market where the jewelry stores are located. The men walked the rest of the way.
Okay, this is in no way amusing, but some little part of me who was influenced significantly by Ocean’s Eleven can’t help but note that civilization has returned to Iraq if they’re having jewel heists. If you took out the significant death toll, you could make a Hollywood movie. I’m sure Clooney is free.
Sorry, sorry, black humour is over. I do wonder, though: if this level of robbery and violence went unchecked entirely, is the policing institution actually, in any respect, stable? I can’t help but think back to the release of prisoners in Iraq that took place last month as US forces handed over the responsibility of them to Iraqis. Is there really sufficient control in place if the Iraqi police can’t stop soemthing as tragic as this?