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      Will Iraq Help Obama Break His Promise to Withdraw? 

      A concerted campaign is underway to pressure Iraq’s U.S.-installed government to officially request that President Obama extend the stay of American troops past December 31, the agreed date for their departure. Congressional critics and anti-war voices are utterly excluded from the discussions. But Iraqi sentiment against the U.S. occupation is increasing, and peace voters may be alienated if the president breaks his promise to get out.

      At least a dozen articles have appeared in the mainstream media during the past weeks, a sign that American military commanders are itching to make plans to stay or leave by December. In a sign of the artificial consensus in the Beltway, the news columns of the
      New York Times report that “not only do American diplomats and military leaders argue for troops to stay, but outside experts do as well,” citing a recent book by Kenneth Pollack of Brookings, long a supporter of the American military mission. [New York Times, March 29, 2011] Defense Secretary Robert Gates weighed in this week, saying that the U.S. could have “an advise-and-assist role as we have in a number of countries.” [New York Times, April 8, 2011]

      There has not been a single Congressional initiative in support of the December withdrawal agreement, despite the fact that the anti-Iraq vote was credited with electing the Congressional majority in 2006. Peace groups that grew in opposition to the Iraq War have faded away or turned to other issues. The only constituency in favor of ending U.S. involvement, apparently, is a sour and dormant majority that lacks all information. An Iraq peace petition is being circulated here, however, by Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi-born American citizen long involved in the peace movement. To sign the petition, go to

      No sooner had Gates commented on keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, tens of thousands of Iraqis were marching in the streets, threatening to revive the Mahdi Army, which fought the Americans in two uprisings before joining the electoral process and winning forty seats in Iraq’s parliamentary elections. In addition to the Shiite opposition from supporters of Moktada al-Sadr, there were smaller but significant protests in Sunni communities across Iraq as well.
      [New York Times, April 9, 2011]

      A decision by the U.S.-backed regime of Nuri Kamal al-Malaki to invite the American forces to stay, therefore, could result in enough strife in the streets and Iraqi institutions to cause the downfall of the government. Or al-Maliki could resist the U.S. pressure for an invitation to stay, fearing for stability. Or the Sadrists could bargain with the Americans to achieve some significant side agreements in exchange for tolerating al-Maliki’s agreement. Even the Sunni minority may include an element who perceive the Americans as protection against the Shiites. In the background, of course, are Iran and Saudi Arabia, backers of the Shiites and Sunnis respectively. And the new Egyptian government, once a partner of the U.S., could add an additional dynamic.

      One lesson for peace advocates, a painful one, is that public opinion is indifferent to wars in Muslim countries except where American casualties are high. Peace sentiment rose to exceptional highs while 3,899 American soldiers were being killed and 28,890 wounded in Iraq from 2003 through 2007 [1]. But the decline in American interest followed the decline in American deaths, from 903 in 2007, to 313 in 2008, to 148 in 2009, 60 in 2010, and in 2011, as of April 4, 14.

      The Pentagon argument is essentially that Iraq is not yet pacified, which is an admission that the war was never won. By that same standard, there is a danger that leaving 10-15,000 American troops behind in a volatile Iraq could place those troops in the center of an uprising, a civil war or, conceivably, a future confrontation with the Revolutionary Guards of Iran, where Moktada al-Sadr resides.  

      But the U.S. still has three combat brigades in Europe, tens of thousands in Japan and South Korea, and at least 700 military bases around the globe, so having designs on Iraq as a regional outpost should be no surprise.

      [1] In Iraq--Opperation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Daw--4,434 U.S troops have been killed, 32,068 have been wounded, and 41,536 have required medical evacuation. This totals a minimum of 78,038 U.S. casualties.

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