American military officials have opened the door to keeping combat troops in Mosul and perhaps other areas of Iraq beyond the June 30 deadline. But so far, Iraqi leaders seem to be rejecting the idea, at least in public.
In an interview with the BBC, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki argued that U.S. troops aren’t needed:
“As we agreed at the beginning when we signed the withdrawal agreement, these deadlines are final and absolute and not open to postponement.
“And there’s no need for delay, because the kind of attacks we’re seeing now, using mentally ill women, loading them up with explosives and having them blow themselves up — that will go on.
“So the presence of armed forces, with tanks and armoured vehicles inside the towns, is useless in this context.
“This is intelligence work, and our people are stronger than the Americans at that, because we’re dealing with our own people.
“We are absolutely convinced that the withdrawal will not lead to a collapse of security. Our own forces are capable of protecting the security and political processes completely, as is already happening.”
In private, other sorts of arrangements are still possible, with U.S. troops given a low-profile but continuing security role in some areas while giving Maliki enough cover to deny that’s what’s happening. But longer term, certain trends seem to be taking shape in Iraq.
Originally, the surge was marketed as a way to suppress insurgent violence and thus buy time for the Iraqi government — and the Iraqi people — to come to some sort of political accommodation among Shia, Sunni, Kurds and other groups. And in strictly military terms, it worked better than I and others had predicted. Violence did fall significantly, in part because Iraq’s Sunni leaders had grown sick and tired of the brutality practiced by insurgents from their own communities and began to cooperate against them.
However, the desired political accommodation has not occurred. Maliki has instead used the time to strengthen his own security apparatus, including the Iraqi military. As a result, he is increasingly confident of his ability to squelch opposition and is taking a harder and harder line against the Sunni, both politically and militarily.
With the US role shrinking, Maliki seems ready to step in and further consolidate that power. He continues to rebuff U.S. pressure to woo the Sunni politically, preferring a heavier-handed approach. The renewed violence — more than 150 people killed in two bombings last week against Shia targets — represents the Sunni counterattack. Once again, Iraqi politics is being fought out through bombs and bullets, not ballots.
But overall, the Sunni are weaker militarily than they were a year or two ago, and the Shia-dominated Iraqi government is quite a bit stronger. We will probably see a higher level of violence in months to come, but we’ll also see a more authoritarian, repressive Iraqi government eventually able to enforce its dictates.
The end result won’t be a Western-style democracy, but it also won’t be Saddam’s Iraq.