Ensuring Iraq’s security

The disclosure by the Chief of Staff of the Iraqi armed forces General Babaker Zebari speaks volumes. It is in complete contradiction to what the United States would like the world believe, that Iraq’s security is under control and US troop withdrawal would continue as per schedule.

Withdrawal per schedule is not something General Zebari would like to see, however. As Iraq’s top military officer, he must be credited with at least having a fair grasp of the ground reality. The security in Iraq, according to him, does not warrant the withdrawal of US troops by the end of next year. Despite Washington’s plans to leave a reserve force of 50,000 troops, withdrawal in his estimate needs to be rolled back at least for another decade.

Interestingly, Iraqi politicians have denounced their military commander’s claim. Some have even laid aspersions at his door, saying he said this to excuse himself in case he is not able to handle the security after the exit of foreign forces.

The general’s stark warning has come at a time when a spike in violence in July sent alarm bells ringing across the region. The White House has tried to downplay the rising instability and said it was expected because of insurgents’ propensity to stage violent attacks in Ramadan. Any revision in the Status of Forces Agreement (SoFA) with the Iraqi government that impacts the date of withdrawal will be sure shot suicide for the Obama administration. An extension in the presence of US forces in Iraq is also something Iraqi politicians are loathe to see.

General Zebari has categorically warned that the real problems will start after 2011. While many Iraqis barely tolerate the outside forces’ presence, they feel insecure and vulnerable at the prospect of the eventual exit. This brings us to the issue of the operational capability of Iraqi forces to cope with the security challenges lying ahead.

Al Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups still retain sufficient capability to set ablaze the country, especially in a vacuum. Despite the worsening security situation the US refuses to recognise the dangerous fissures appearing in Iraq. Apparently, Obama is satisfied with the security situation and the transition of responsibility to national forces. One can understand this self-delusional state in the context of looming mid-term elections coming up, but is it justifiable to leave Iraq exposed without making adequate arrangements until it is ready to assume responsibility? As we now know, quoting General Zebari, it is not quite ready.

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