Iraq – Mission Accomplished?
Antonella Vicini 15 January 2012

These protection barriers, similar to those surrounding the West Bank, have even become miniature souvenirs in Iraq and were on sale on American bases as “desert souvenirs”. Since it is true that business is business, there is a company that sells them on-line and is now ready to prepare mini Afghan T-walls.

On December 15th 2011, almost nine years after the March 19th 2003 declaration of war, former CIA director Leon Panetta announced the end of U.S. military operations in Iraq. He outlined a brief summary in terms of the cost in human lives, with 4,500 killed and 30,000 wounded out of a total of 1,500,000 Americans deployed to the “country between two rivers.” It is more complicated to count the number of Iraqis who died in this conflict. NGOs and various human rights have attempted to do this and, according to one of the better-known and more reliable websites, Iraq Body Count, between 113,938 and 104,284 civilians died in the course of these years. The data, updated to December 10th, does not include the numbers provided by the report in The Iraq War Logs, published in October 2010 by Wikileaks. According to The Iraq War Logs, there may have been an additional 15,000 between 2004 and 2009 in Iraq.

It is with this large death toll that the Iraqi “freedom” mission ends. Doubts concerning the destiny of the balance between Iraq’s many groups, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, persist.  These are doubts strengthened with the news of an arrest warrant, issued the day after the U.S. withdrawal was completed, for the Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, accused of having financed terrorist attacks.  As expected, al-Hashemi pointed a finger at the Shiite President al-Maliki, stating that al-Maliki is supported by Iran before taking refuge in Kurdistan. That same day, the Iraqi deputy prime minister responsible for energy, Hussein al-Shahrastani, said that Kurdistan is illegally exporting oil to Pakistan, Azerbaijan and other East Asian countries. These are three elements that present unresolved issues that Iraqis will have to address politically. However, political issues in Iraq seem to more often involve car bombs than mediation.

The flags were lowered on U.S. bases, and, not even twenty-four hours later, Baghdad was hit by one of the most violent attacks in recent times, reminiscent of the attack that shook Kabul last September. Eight attacks in various parts of the capital killed about sixty people and wounded hundreds. On December 22nd 2011 another sixteen explosive devices went off in eleven districts in Baghdad. This rate of violence has not existed in Iraq since the darkest days of the war, from 2006 to 2007, when Petraeus’ surge strategy became necessary. The year 2012 began with more bloodshed when 60 pilgrims on their way to the holy city of Kerbala were killed by suicide bombers in Nasiriyah, and others in the Shiite districts of Sadr City in Baghdad and Kadhmiyah.

In his speech on December 15th, Panetta said that the dream of an “independent and sovereign Iraq is now a reality.” From a security point of view, the NATO Training Mission did succeed reforming the Iraqi army and police. Trainers included Italian gendarmerie, which, on December 17th, left Camp Dublin, one of the 505 military bases built in Iraq over the years. According to figures provided by the Italian Defense Department, since 2004 the Italian gendarmerie have trained 11,000 policemen, about 4,000 commissioned officers and 360 NCOs.

“Leaving Iraq does not mean leaving the region,” said U.S. Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey. Of the 50,000 U.S. troops that remained after the August 2010 withdrawal, the U.S. has left behind 4,000 men, after signing an agreement that guarantees them immunity on Iraqi territory. The Strategic Framework Agreement, signed in 2008 by the Iraqi and American governments, also establishes long-term cooperation on the basis of reciprocal interests. Some suspect this will result in a veiled form of occupation.

The Islamic Republic and the Shiites; the Kurds in Turkey, Iran and Syria; the United States that remains an ever-present shadow, and in the meantime a battle at various levels of intensity is taking place between Shiites and Sunnis in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. The fear is once again that there may be a civil war in Iraq. This is an especially salient fear at a time when tension between the two main religious groups is at its highest with the al Iraqiya coalition, composed of Sunnis and secularists (of which Hashemi is also a member), which has decided to obstruct matters and not take part in parliament.

In his book titled “The Shia Revival,” published in 2006, former White House Advisor Vali Nasr predicted a bloody conflict between Shiites and Sunnis that would decide the destiny of the entire area, with Iran and Saudi Arabia clearly standing against each other. This was not perhaps what the head of the Pentagon meant when he spoke of a country able to govern itself and guarantee its own security.

Translated by Francesca Simmons