The United States will be officially pulling out of Iraq at the end of this year amid fears that the Iraqi government won’t be able to sustain itself without the presence of American troops.
Palomar students and faculty agree that pulling America’s presence now leaves Iraq future with a big question mark.
The announcement for the pullout was made by President Barack Obama on Oct. 21, and will place responsibility for Iraq’s national security back in the hands of Iraqis. Amidst the fervor surrounding the announcement, questions regarding the timing, as well as the potential instability that could ensue once troops are out of the country, continue to mount as December draws ever closer.
Ever since the end of combat operations in 2010, American troops have been gradually trickling out of Iraq. America’s contract with the Iraqi government, the U.S. Status of Forces
Agreement, expires on Dec. 31, and mandates that U.S. forces withdrawal if a new agreement could not be reached, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.
A major question plaguing the oncoming withdrawal is the readiness of the Iraqi military. Peter Bowman, associate professor of political science, said he has serious doubts that Iraqi forces will be able to withstand the insurgencies that may emerge from within Iraq, as well as those backed by Iran.
“From the evidence it seems Iraqi military and police forces are better equipped than they were before,” Bowman said. “But enough to put down a regalvanized insurgency? I don’t know.” Joshua Toliver, a Palomar student and former Marine who was stationed in Iraq, said he helped train members of the Iraqi military. Their army, which is made up of mostly of police officers, Bathists and former members of Sadam’snational guard, is a very different animal from the American military, according to Toliver. “They don’t want to do things they way Marines do,” Toliver said. “They have a very different mindset.” Toliver said he feels it is the right time for a pullout. However, he said he was unsure of how the Iraqi army will fair long-term. “One thing they’ll have to think about is the fallout,” Toliver said. “What could happen if American troops aren’t there to guarantee the security blanket we’ve put out for the people.” A major hurdle will be whether Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki will be willing to combat an insurgency if it is led by Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Both al- Maliki and al-Sadr are Shiite Muslims, which could create a serious conflict of interest between Maliki’s religious affiliation and Iraq’s democratic future. Furthermore, al-Sadr is backed by Iran, which could open the floodgates for Iranian influence to take hold in Iraq, according to Bowman.
“Maliki has every potential to be as much of a strong man and autocrat as Sadam was,” Bowman said. “And unlike Sadam, who was secular, Maliki might well be an Iraqi strong man who is sectarian and who is backed by Shiite Iran.” In the end, if democracy is to work at all in Iraq it will likely work very differently than it does in the west. In addition to being a religion, Islam is a system of governance.
There can be no separation of church and state a democratic
Islamic nation such as Iraq. The British learned this the hard way when they invaded in the region in the mid-20th century, according to Palomar History Professor
Travis Ritt. “This exact thing has happened before,” Ritt said. “The basic processes the U.S. is going through is almost a model of what the British did following World War II.”
The British oversaw the creation of a monarchy in the region that Iraq now occupies after the First World War. The three territories of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra were combined into the single country we now call Iraq. The Kurdish, Suni and Shia Muslims that occupied each territory were brought together by the merger, creating the sectarian powder keg we see today. The monarchy left by the British was overthrown and replaced with a democracy after they withdrew. One military coup after another overthrew the democratically elected leaders of Iraq until Sadam took power. He was a member of the coup that overthrew the leader before him, according to Ritt. The ousting of Sadam, the civil war that followed, the installation of a potentially sectarian leader in the form of al-
Maliki and persistent economic strife has left the country in shambles. To this day, Iraq has yet to reclaim a shadow of the economic stability it held before the American invasion.
“When you leave a society broken and destitute you’re creating the formula for a failed state,” Ritt said.
Though Toliver spoke highly of his experiences with the Iraqi military, he expressed doubt over the future of Iraq without American support. When asked if he thought a democratic Iraq will survive he simply responded: “I hope so.”