2004 May 15 Saturday
Will Elected Iraqi Government Tell American Forces To Leave?

US Secretary of State Colin Powell says the US will withdraw if the Iraqi government asks US forces to leave.

"Were this interim government to say to us, we really think we can handle this on our own and it will be better if you were to leave, we will leave," said Mr Powell.

...

"So I'm losing absolutely no sleep thinking that they might ask us to leave during this interim period while we're building up their forces," he said.

Powell says he is trying to make clear that the new provisional government will have a great deal of authority.

Powell said he was "not ducking the hypothetical, which I usually do," to avoid confusion on the extent of the new government's authority.

But a US general Lieutenant General disagrees with Powell.

Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman had told the House International Relations Committee on Thursday that although it was unlikely, the Iraqi interim government could tell U.S. troops to leave. But Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, who was also at the hearing, contradicted his statement, telling the panel that only an elected government could order a U.S. withdrawal.

Powell says nothing has gone wrong in spite of the fact that he acknowledges the deterioriation in the security situation.

Asked "what went wrong" in Iraq, sparking the decline for U.S. support among Iraqis, Powell insisted Thursday, "Nothing has gone wrong. A dictator is gone. Saddam Hussein is gone."

In an interview with Denmark's DR TV, Powell also said support for the occupation is down among Iraqis because "there is a sense of insecurity. And so they (Iraqis) are nervous."

He also said: "I can assure you that if security was restored and all the reconstruction money was flowing the way we want it to flow, that number would turn around in a minute."

We could also say that any number of terminal cancer patients could feel great and become really healthy if only the cancer could be cured. So can the security situation be greatly improved to the point that reconstruction could accelerate?

The US-run Coalition Provisional Authority finds deep Iraqi unhappiness with US forces in Iraq.

In the poll, 80 percent of the Iraqis questioned reported a lack of confidence in the Coalition Provisional Authority, and 82 percent said they disapprove of the U.S. and allied militaries in Iraq.

So what happens when elections are held in Iraq and a popularly elected government takes office? The government will be under heavy public pressure to tell US forces to leave. Powell does not strike a confident tone on what the Iraqi government will do once elected officials take office.

"It is really when the national assembly is formed in January of 2005, and it puts in place another government, a transitional government, replacing the interim government, at that point we would expect that that transitional government would want to discuss (such issues) with the multinational force leaders."

Think about it. US efforts to build a democracy in Iraq may come to a sudden halt when the elected government orders US forces to leave. All sorts of things become possible at that point. The Kurds, no longer protected by the presence of US forces, may rebel. Sunni Baathist officers could try to stage a military coup to restore their position as top dogs. Some charismatic religious warrior might recruit an Army (perhaps a certain Shia cleric funded by Iran) to overthrow the government and seize power.

Any newly elected government is going to lack legitimacy and Iraqi critics will be quick to label its members as American lackeys. The deficiency of legitimacy and trust will cause the government to look for ways to demonstrate its nationalistic credentials. Elected officials will be enormously tempted to find ways to stand up to the Americans. Also, popular Arab distrust of Kurds as not legitimately Iraqis and the growing view of Kurds as American pawns will serve as a powerful temptation for Iraqi Arab officials to take a hard line on Kurdish autonomy and to countenance mistreatment and killing of Kurds in Arab areas of Iraq.

Even if the Iraqis don't immediately tell the US forces to leave there are a number of ways in which we can expect the Iraqis to make life difficult on American forces. First of all, Iraqi officials will take at least some altercations between Iraqis and American forces as reason to accuse Americans of all manner of heinous crimes and to demand trials and punishment. Also, when terrorist attacks are launched against US and allied forces the Iraqi officials may drag their feet in investigations and deny US forces quick and full access to some part of some town which US forces have reason to suspect to be the base of the attackers. Look at the rhetoric by Sunnis and even some Shias about Fallujah and think about how that rhetoric translated into policy. US forces may feel pressured to leave solely because they become too hobbled in their ability to track down attackers. This could easily turn into a propaganda defeat for Americans in Arab countries as American forces are seen as ineffectual in their self defense.

What is less clear is the question of just how competent and motivated the new government will be at running down and breaking up rebel groups. If the groups aim at government targets then the government can be expected to be more aggressive. But if the groups confine their attacks to foreign military forces it is less clear how motivated the government will be to stop then since the attackers will portray themselves as fighters against foreign domination doing what a corrupt lackey government refuses to do.

The bigger question is whether the US would be better off if the newly elected government asks the US and its allies (or perhaps "ally" since only the British may still be with us by then) to stay or leave come February 2005. The advantage of departing at the request of a democratically elected government is that a request for departure delivered by a freshly elected democratic government provides the US with an exit strategy that is not a retreat under fire. Such a departure would allow the US to declare victory at least superficially having achieved its goals. The US came, liberated, allowed a democratically elected government to take offce, and then left. Arguments for the US as imperialist power would then ring hollow.

Among the risks of early 2005 US withdrawal from Iraq would be that a coup could happen or that Iraq might decline into a civil war. Many people in Iraq would blame the United States for the result. If the Kurds came out poorly in a civil war then the only ethnic in Iraq that positively likes the United States at this point would cease to do so. A dictatorship could come to power that is quite hostile to the US and all the major groups in Iraq would probably decide the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime was a waste.

If the US stays in Iraq then the US may end up having to officiate in a civil war anyhow and all sides may blame the US for what results. Also, if the US stays the insurgent groups will try to find ways to attack US forces and will use the continued presence of US troops as a call to jihad that will lead to terrorist attacks against US forces, government targets, and other targets. The resulting civilian death tolls will be blamed at least partly on the US presence and the deaths will undermine the legitimacy of the government and of democracy. Also, any corruption and misbehavior by the Iraqi government will be blamed on the United States as puppeteer.

Will the Iraqis ask US forces to leave? The US can probably use the lure of aid money as an incentive to keep US forces in Iraq. Also, fear of insurgent forces or of a Sunni coup may cause the Shia elected offiicials to favor a continued US presence. But some firefight or air strike that results in a large number of civilian deaths could bring a lot of pressure on the goverment to ask US forces to leave. This is a hard one to call.

David Hackworth, the most decorated living American soldier (Audie Murphy probably has him beat in total medals) and a man who trained South Vietnamese soldiers as part of the Vietnamization charade to enable a US withdrawal from Vietnam "with honor", says there is one thing we can be certain about: the Iraqi Army is not now ready to take over security for Iraq and will not be for a long time.

Although Uncle Deep Pockets has sunk almost $100 million into this effort, none of the units is considered combat-ready. On average, all have about 25 percent of their soldiers on leave and 20 percent AWOL at any one time.

A Vinnell trainer says: "No one wants to rate them combat-ready because this is too risky it would mean somebody's career slides down the tubes if one of these units got whipped. However, no one wanted to rate them not combat-ready either, because that would imply that all the money, time and effort devoted to these units had been wasted."

Note that if we partition Iraq then the Kurdish soldiers will then be trained to obey Kurdish officers, the Sunnis to obey Sunni officers, and the Shias to obey Shia officers. The odds that they'd actually obey their commands would go up significantly.

Update: Writing for the Washington Post Colbert King observes that we are seeing little sign that the Iraqi leaders or soldiers are going to be willing to fight the insurgents and fight to defend a democracy.

What we see happening thus far in places such as Fallujah, Najaf and Karbala is a calculated decision by Iraqi clerics, provincial leaders, and ex-Iraqi army generals and security forces to avoid direct confrontation with insurgents who, as Bush contends, would threaten democracy in Iraq. To the extent Iraqi leaders intervene, it is only to discourage the use of American power and to protect Iraqi lives and property. Useful, perhaps, but it's a far cry from stepping into the fray to bleed and die for the advance of freedom.

What will the various factions in Iraq be willing to fight and die for once a democratically elected government comes to power?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 May 15 08:57 PM  Mideast Iraq


Comments
John S Bolton said at May 16, 2004 10:49 PM:

It does seem to be a good chance that they will try to get us out of there quickly. That being the case, we should reserve some sovereign base areas at the head of the gulf for the national interest. The expenses are so large that some long-term military advantage of a direct nature should result. The oil fields are in that vicinity, and it is in our interest to have a clearly dominating position at that location.

Paul McNeese said at May 17, 2004 9:28 PM:

I especially liked your final sentence, Mr. Parker. It seems almost too likely that the U.S. will be asked to leave. It would also seem, however, that leaving some sort of permanent military presence (i.e., an Air Force base in addition to a well-guarded Baghdad embassy) is utterly necessary.

Spiderwoman said at August 11, 2004 7:48 AM:

One of the nuttiest versions of the George W. AWOL stories is that he went to Saudi Arabia duing that period on a secret mission organized by his father and some Big Oil lawyer, Richard Mellon Scaife, and that Fox had the story but canned it. All lies!

Spiderwoman


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