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President Barack Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met at the White House on Monday to map out the future relationship between the two countries now that American combat troops will be out of Iraq by the end of this month.
While the president proclaimed that we leave Iraq with our “heads held high,” the re-emergence of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the increasing influence of Iran on Iraqi affairs, troubling indications of increased oppression by Maliki’s government, and the unstable political situation all point to the rising probability that the 4,400 Americans who died in Iraq may have given their lives in vain.
Indeed, the Washington Post editorial board took the president to task for drawing a “too rosy” picture of Iraq in his remarks following the meeting with Maliki. During those remarks, the president stated no less than 5 times that the war was over, as if he was reminding voters that he kept his “promise” to end the conflict.
Beyond that, there was a strange disconnect between the president’s words and the reality on the ground in Iraq. For example, Obama described Iraq as “sovereign, self-reliant, and democratic” despite the fact that it is clear that Iranian influence is guiding Iraqi foreign policy, that the Iraqi government will rely heavily on America for economic and military aid for the foreseeable future, and that the country is hardly “democratic” in any meaningful sense of the word. Freedom House, which rates countries based on their political and civil liberties, lists Iraq as “Not Free” (“Free” and “Partially Free” are the other designations), and gives the Iraqi government a grade of 5 out of 7 for political freedoms and 6 out of 7 for civil liberties – with 1 being the best grade and 7 the worst.
Iraq is not an electoral democracy. Although it has conducted meaningful elections, political participation and decision-making in the country remain seriously impaired by sectarian and insurgent violence, widespread corruption, and the influence of foreign powers.
Obama also stated that Iraq was “working” to build “efficient and independent and transparent” institutions despite the fact that the Iraqi government is considered wildly corrupt and secretive by Freedom House.
But this didn’t stop the president from trying to cover himself in glory for ending a war he opposed and negotiating a withdrawal that is a disaster. In what CBS News referred to as a “victory lap,” the president used the occasion of Maliki’s visit as part of a carefully staged series of events to publicize the end of the war. The show began on Saturday with the president thanking service members attending the Army-Navy football game and continued with his appearance on 60 Minutes Sunday evening.
Following his meetings with Maliki, the president and prime minister traveled to Arlington National Cemetery for a wreath laying ceremony. Then on Wednesday, the president will be at Fort Bragg addressing the troops, continuing his self-congratulatory tour. While 78% of Americans approve of the withdrawal from Iraq, many analysts believe that the White House didn’t try hard enough to maintain a minimum security force to not only protect Americans still in Iraq, but to deter Iran from stirring up trouble.
This is significant because not only is there the threat of Iran fomenting sectarian strife through its Shia militas, but al-Qaeda in Iraq appears to be making a comeback. One American military observer said that the terrorists may be confined to the north of the country, but carry out about “30 attacks a week” across the country. Just two weeks ago, a car bomb blew up outside of a prison, killing at least 19 and wounded dozens. Two other bombings killed 15 more in Baghdad and another 19 in Basra. The most spectacular recent attack was in August when more than 70 Shia pilgrims were massacred in several different suicide bomb attacks during Ramadan.
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