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Amid heightened concerns that Iraq’s democracy is becoming increasingly vulnerable to an array of internal political and economic threats, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki strongly repeated his stance that the remaining 50,000 US troops will be gone from his country by the December, 2011 deadline. Not surprisingly, the main beneficiary of this action appears to be, once again, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Despite objections from both Iraq’s army chief of staff and the US commander in Iraq, Maliki said Iraqi security forces were more than capable of filling the American void, arguing they are “able to take responsibility, to maintain security and to work efficiently.”
Maliki’s comments came after a recent meeting in Baghdad with Speaker of the House John Boehner, one in which Boehner afterwards released a statement that read in part, “Just four years ago, a terrorist insurgency was killing innocent civilians and wreaking havoc across the country. Today Iraq is a different country.”
However, Boehner’s statement proved to be a little premature. Hours after its release, two suicide car bombings blistered Baghdad, killing nine people and wounding 26. It was just the latest in a string of amplified insurgent attacks across Iraq over the past several months, assaults that have led the State Department to issue a warning that “no region should be considered safe from dangerous conditions.”
Added into this fearful and dangerous atmosphere has been a string of increasingly violent nationwide demonstrations centered on political reform, ones which call for an end to widespread government corruption, better government services and better paying jobs. The protests — which began in February — have killed at least 14 people and wounded hundreds.
So, while popular opinion in Iraq may seem to be on the side of Maliki, not all Iraqis — most notably Sunnis and Kurds — are desirous to see a final exodus of American troops during this chaotic time.
That sentiment was best expressed by an advisor to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who said in March, “In practical terms, Iraq is already divided. If the U.S. withdraws its troops as scheduled at the end of this year, it will trigger the splitting up of Iraq. There will be civil war, maybe even a regional war.”
Unfortunately, the specter of an Iraqi civil war reared its head following the recent ominous comments made by Muqtada al-Sadr, the notorious anti-American cleric who led the brutal Shiite Mahdi Army that killed untold thousands of Iraqis during the sectarian violence that engulfed Iraq from 2004-2007. In a statement to supporters, al-Sadr promised to revive his militia if the American “occupation” is extended.
In an effort to extinguish this fuse, Maliki said through his media adviser, “The security agreement cannot be extended without the acceptance of all the Iraqi political forces.” Of course, it’s no surprise Maliki took this course of action, as he owes his second term as prime minister to al-Sadr’s endorsement, one which required Maliki to offer several positions in his cabinet to al-Sadr loyalists.
Still, it may have come as a surprise to Maliki when al-Sadr subsequently added new criteria to his bottom line demand of an end to an American military presence in Iraq. In a rhetorical challenge to his supporters, al-Sadr asked, “What if their companies and embassy headquarters will continue to exist with the American flags hoisted on them? Will you be silent? Will you overlook this?”
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