Decision time in Iraq

As the date for the complete withdrawal of US forces in Iraq draws nearer, the government of Prime Minister Nour al Maliki is in a quandary.

With pressure coming in from Washington to decide at the earliest if it wants the remaining troops to stay or leave, Maliki faces a tough task. His tenuously cobbled coalition government is at a risk of falling apart in case a decision is made in favour of retaining American forces for longer than the December 2011 deadline. Facing violent opposition from some of his coalition partners — concerning further prolonging of US forces in the country — Maliki is in a catch-22 position in trying to choose the lesser of the two evils. For the security in Iraq is far from stable and is in fact worse than before, according to a recent report presented before the US Congress. According to the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen Junior, the security situation is at an all time low.

Though an earlier military assessment in May lauded the improvement in security, it was misleading and based on a comparative assessment of the situation to that in 2007. As a matter of fact, according to Bowen, Iraq is facing enhanced security threat from Shia militant factions that have contributed to the spread of violence and instability. An increase in targeted killings of US soldiers and Iraqi officials and attacks in Baghdad over the past many months is testament to the fact. In addition, the Iraqi military capability is as yet not on track.

This does make the decision a challenging one. The US Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen has urged the Iraqi government to also be mindful of the need to grant any remaining US forces — if decision is taken in favour of a prolonged stay— legal immunity. This, along with inability to reach an agreement on the duration of an extension of the forces’ presence in Iraq has mired the decision taking process to date. However, this is something Maliki will have to work out among the coalition factions sooner rather than later.

It is feared that the slightest vacuum in Iraq’s fragile setup at the moment may offset a slide back into the awful years of the last decade with civil war and sectarian conflict riding high.The Iraqi leadership should therefore take a decision in favour of the larger national interest rather than flexing political muscles for expediency sake.

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