Thursday, July 22, 2010

Après d’ Montée, then What...?

Four score and forty-nine days ago, a great election was brought forth in Iraq on March 7, 2010, conceived and made possible by the military surge of General David Petraeus. Iraqi civilian casualties are way down from 23,500 in December 2007 to 3,000 in December 2009, and running at a current annualized total of less than 2,000. Weekly attacks against U.S. troops are down by almost 90%. Other indicators show similar improvement. Now we are engaged in a long wait testing whether the surge succeeded beyond its military objective in laying a foundation for stable democratic rule.

The number of U.S. troops has been drawn down from its peak of 170,000 (of a total of 182,698 coalition troops) at the end of October 2007 to 85,000 (only U.S. troops remain in Iraq) at the end of June 2010, with plans to draw down to about 50,000 at the end of August. Altogether, there have been 4,413 total U.S. fatalities, with 31,874 wounded between March 19, 2003, through June 30, 2010. Estimates of U.S. costs, if long-term postwar medical treatment of veterans is included, is well in excess of a trillion dollars.

Where do coalition negotiations stand? Hard to say. Muqtada al-Sadr, who wants all U.S. troops out of Iraq unconditionally, appears to be back in the game, having met with one of the contenders for prime minister, Ayad Allawi, in Syria. With August typically a vacation month in Iraq, any deal that produces a majority coalition may not happen until September. At that time, U.S. troop presence in Iraq will be too small to do much more than protect American interests in the country.

When the bulk of U.S. fighting forces are gone from Iraq, will the country hold together or breakup into three (as in Gaul) or more major parts? Will more than a millennium of hostility between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds have been resolved in just the three years since the surge? The difficulty of forming a government raises serious doubts. And whatever government is formed will not command the support of a great majority of the population. It’s too soon to render judgement, but the omens are not bright. And if large-scale violence breaks out, will the loss of American life, limb, and money have been in vain?

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