The declaration that combat operations in Iraq are over doesn’t change much. American soldiers are still fighting as they secure the country from a legion of extremist forces. On September 7, only one week after the official “end” of the U.S. combat role, two American soldiers were killed and nine were injured in an attack. The casualties are a reminder that the conflict rages on and Americans remain in harm’s way.
A Kurdish member of Iraq’s special forces was responsible for the latest attack. It is unclear right now if the attacker pre-planned the assault, as accounts are contradictory with some saying the incident followed an argument with American soldiers during a volleyball game while other officials say the attack was unprovoked. It is also speculated that U.S. participation in a raid the previous day in the community to arrest a suspected terrorist may have triggered the attacker. Whatever the case, the incident showed that American soldiers are still exposed to violence and take part in military missions like raids when necessary.
“We have 50,000 troops still on the ground in Iraq and 5,000 special operations forces. There is no doubt, in my mind, that these troops will continue to come under attack and will have to respond in kind. By anyone’s definition of ‘combat,’ this is combat,” Lt. Col. Buzz Patterson, former Senior Military Aide to President Clinton and author of _Conduct Unbecoming: How Barack Obama is Destroying the Military and Endangering Our National Security,_ told FrontPage.
The Director of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Kenneth Pollack, agrees. He writes that the change is mostly a matter of semantics. The remaining forces are being titled “advisory and assistance brigades” and stand ready to carry out counter-terrorism missions and intervene with force if required. In fact, on September 6, five days after combat operations supposedly ended, U.S. forces engaged in combat with terrorists attacking the Iraqi army’s headquarters in eastern Baghdad.
Patterson feels that the so-called end of combat operations in Iraq will encourage attacks on American soldiers.
“The fact that President Barack Obama has issued his edict that combat operations are officially over in Iraq has absolutely nothing to do with the reality on the ground there. Combat operations continue, and if anything, his irresponsible efforts to placate his political base will, no doubt, only attract more insurgents and more attacks on Americans in Iraq,” Patterson said.
Insurgents and terrorists in Iraq may actually want to draw U.S. forces into combat in order to portray the U.S. as lying about its role and its intention to leave the country. An unconfirmed Israeli report alleges that Hezbollah is stepping up its activity against U.S. forces in Iraq. Elements of the Iranian-backed Mehdi Army that opposes the U.S. presence have vowed to take up arms if American forces don’t leave Iraq by 2012 as mandated by the Status of Forces Agreement signed between the Iraqi government and the Bush Administration in 2008.
High-level Iraqis are already talking about keeping U.S. forces in Iraq into 2012 and beyond. A member of Iyad Allawi’s coalition has claimed that Prime Minister al-Maliki, a rival to Allawi, asked his cabinet in early 2010 to modify the Status of Forces Agreement so U.S. forces could stay longer. According to the claim, the cabinet refused, saying only parliament had the power to alter it.
The Iraqi military leaders are pushing the politicians to accept a prolonged American military presence. The Army Chief of Staff, General Babaker Zebari, says that such a presence is needed until at least 2020. “If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the U.S. army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020,” he said. He even suggested that the U.S. maintain three or four bases in Iraq indefinitely to deter the country’s neighbors.
The Iraqi Defense Minister, Abdul Qader Obeidi, agrees, saying U.S. forces are needed until at least 2016 and the air force will need assistance until at least 2020. When asked about Iraqi public opposition to an extended stay, he said “You’ll find in the Iraqi street and among the Iraqi politicians, who I know very well, the majority of them want safety and security…And Iraq is in need of a friend and an ally, strong friends and strong allies.”
A new poll by an Iraqi company supports Obeidi. The results showed that nearly 60 percent of Iraqis feel now is the wrong time for U.S. forces to leave and 53 percent oppose the ending of combat operations. Forty-two percent said that they feel President Obama doesn’t care about Iraq. Only one-fourth viewed the reduction in U.S. forces as having a positive affect on their country.
It is premature for the anti-war crowd to applaud. The declaration of the end of combat operations didn’t change the situation on the ground. It only meant that Iraqi forces had become strong enough and the surge was successful enough for U.S. forces to take on a secondary role—a role they had begun taking on before President Obama even came into office. U.S. forces are still seeing combat and if the Iraqis’ requests are granted, they’ll continue to play an important role in Iraq for the foreseeable future.
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