Obama sets out to hand a huge strategic foothold in the Middle East to Iran.
President Obama has announced that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year, with the exception of 160 soldiers to guard the embassy. The premature withdrawal will force the Iraqi leadership into Iran’s arms, bringing the regime closer to its dream of creating a Shiite crescent to destroy Israel. And in a shrewd political maneuver, President Obama took credit for the “success” and left out the inconvenient fact that the timeline he followed was signed under President Bush.
The administration is deceitfully saying that this was the plan all along when that is demonstrably false. The U.S. pressured the Iraqis to come to an agreement on extending the U.S. stay into 2012, and almost every Iraqi political party approved. General Lloyd Austin asked that 14-18,000 troops remain; a number that did not make President Obama happy. The number was reduced to 10,000, earning the support of Secretary of State Clinton. That, too, was too much for President Obama. It fell to 3-4,000, raising significant concern about whether it’d be enough. Now, it has been announced that all of the remaining 39,000 troops will come home by Christmas, except for 160 attached to the embassy in Baghdad.
Left behind will be 5,000 security contractors for the State Department and 9,500 for the Defense Department. Thousands of more American contractors will stay for logistical support. Also staying in Iraq will be Iran’s proxies like Moqtada al-Sadr, who vowed to target every single U.S. soldier remaining in Iraq next year. Let’s hope he doesn’t view the contractors as legitimate targets, because the U.S. won’t have the forces on the ground to fight his forces. Other Iranian-backed militias like Kaitab Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Promised Day Brigade will also still be around, and will outnumber the Americans.
It is true that the final decision to carry out a complete withdrawal was based on the Iraqi refusal to grant immunity to American soldiers. Prime Minister al-Maliki wanted to grant them immunity, but it was politically impossible because the Sadrists could bring down his government. The U.S. was defeated politically by al-Sadr, but it didn't have to be that way.
The U.S. could have put the soldiers on the payroll of the U.S. embassy, automatically granting them diplomatic immunity, instead of seeking the approval of the Iraqi parliament. The issue would have been separated from the negotiations. Additionally, the U.S. failed to reach out to other Iraqi political parties and figures, such as Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite opposed to Iran, whose support could have allowed al-Maliki to approve immunity. There was already bad blood between Allawi and the Obama Administration. After Allawi won the elections in 2010, he complained that the U.S. wasn’t supporting his attempts to form a government because it wanted to appease Iran.
As a result of this diplomatic failure, the U.S. gave an “unprecedented strategic gift to the Islamic Republic of Iran,” in the words of Mohsen Milani of the University of South Florida. Frederick Kagan, one of the architects of the surge, said that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was Iran’s “single most important demand it has pursued for years.” It is sometimes argued that Iranian domination of Iraq is inevitable, but that isn’t necessarily true. Less than 20 percent of Iraqi Shiites look favorably upon Iranian influence, and in the last elections, the pro-Iranian parties lost in a landslide.
There is a direct correlation between U.S. strength and Iraqi willingness to stand up to its enemies. When the security situation was at its worst in 2006, the majority of Iraqis wanted U.S. forces to depart. Once the surge began, al-Maliki took on the Iranian-supported militias. Moqtada al-Sadr fled to Iran. The Iraqis looked upon the U.S. presence more favorably as the country stabilized. This summer, when Iran escalated attacks on American forces, the U.S. said it would not stand for it and would take action. The Iraqis privately confronted Iran, and the attacks sharply and quickly fell. On the other hand, when the U.S. declined to back Iraq in its confrontation with Syria in 2009, it decided to mend its ties with the Assad regime. The Iraqi government is now taking Assad's side as he tries to crush the uprising against him.
If Iran dominates Iraq, the regime (especially Ahmadinejad) will view it as the fulfillment of prophecy and a vindication of its End Times-based worldview, as expressed in its documentary, “The Coming is Upon Us.” Iraq plays a central role in Shiite Islamic prophecy. A senior Hezbollah official in Lebanon was not coy about what will follow a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. A “Shiite crescent” will form, bringing together 100 million people against Israel. Hundreds of thousands of “martyrs” will die and Israel will use nuclear weapons, but the Jewish state will be destroyed. There were two things stopping this, he said: The U.S. presence in Iraq and the potential overthrow of Bashar Assad in Syria. The U.S. withdrawal removes these two barriers.
Secretary of State Clinton warns Iran to not interpret the withdrawal as U.S. weakness. She points out that the U.S. still has bases and allies in the region. However, Turkey is far from a reliable ally now. Egypt, Yemen and Jordan are threatened with Muslim Brotherhood takeovers, which the Iranian regime also views as the fulfillment of prophecy. Qatar has moved into the Islamist camp, and Iran has the capability to massively retaliate against pro-American Arab regimes. Even if the pro-American Arab governments stand by the U.S. now, Iran will essentially have a border with Israel if it dominates Iraq and if a war commences, these states will be politically forced to side with Iran.
Many Iraqis now feel betrayed and fearful. In September 2010, when President Obama declared the end of combat operations, the New York Times learned that many Iraqis were shivering. One said it “makes us believe that America has sold us to Iran.” At the time, an Iraqi poll found that 53% opposed his decision and only one-fourth supported it. Nearly 42% said they felt that President Obama doesn’t care about what happens to their country.
These numbers have probably not changed since. Reporters are finding it easy to locate Iraqis that will express their worry, both Sunni and Shiite. “As an Iraqi citizen, I say to Mr. Obama, you will leave Iraq without accomplishing your mission,” said one. The leader of the largest Shiite tribes, who used to oppose the presence, said his mind has changed. Mithal al-Alusi, a secular Sunni whose sons were killed after he visited Israel, said, “The Iranians and their agents are celebrating.”
It is unlikely, but there is still time for President Obama to reverse course. In his speech, he said, “We will continue discussions on how we might help Iraq train and recruit its forces,” a task that would likely necessitate more U.S. troops on the ground. He invited Prime Minister al-Maliki to the White House in December. It is possible that al-Maliki will find a way to approve immunity at the last moment, or that an agreement will be reached in 2012 that sees the return of a small number of U.S. troops. The big determinant will be whether President Obama has the courage to face down his political base if such a request is made by the Iraqis.
Iraq has made immense progress since the days of Saddam Hussein and since its near-collapse in 2006. The security forces have improved in their ability to protect the country, and nearly 5,000 American soldiers have lost their lives to get Iraq to this point. If Iran steers the direction of Iraq, then it will have gone a long way in creating its Shiite crescent and the U.S. will have paid the cost for it to happen.
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