The dilemma of US troop withdrawal – good or bad?

So it seems that President Obama is dead-set on keeping to his word of removing all ‘combat’ troops from Iraq by end of August and apparently the rest of the military presence by end of 2011. His meeting on Wednesday night with his Iraq point team was surely to impress upon them the necessity of meeting his deadlines, and no buts. Despite the warnings that the US is rushing out, not leaving enough in the way of resources behind and is walking away from desperately needed but incomplete reconstruction projects, there seems to be no looking back.

Then the candid comments from the Iraqi Army Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Babakir Zebari that the problems will start after 2011 and the Iraqi Army will not be fully trained until 2020, necessitating the US military to remain in Iraq until then. Quite depressing reading, after the politicians have repeatedly been saying that Iraqi security forces will be ready when the US military leaves.

But herein is the dilemma, while the US maintains troops in Iraq it gives the ‘resistance’ its raison d’être and encourages neighbouring states (you know which ones) to send money and men into Iraq to blow things up. So, the US withdrawal is surely a good thing on that point. Also, some people believe (I am partially in this category) that getting the US troops out of the country is good for morale, encourages Iraqis to depend on themselves and work quicker, means less interference and political pressure from the US. And since the US wants to leave, then let them, especially as Obama (and again those pesky neighbouring states) seems to want Iraq to fail.

On the flip-side, the departure of the US could encourage and embolden others to fill the void, led by… you guessed it, the neighbouring states. It also may strengthen the resolve of the Baath/AQI/assorted foreign agents who will claim victory in forcing the US into a hasty retreat. Also, funding for Iraq will surely dry up, and direct training for the armed forces will stop after 2011 as our top general fears. And lastly, the tough questions we don’t want answers to now. Will the Iraqi armed forces really be able to secure the country any better than now? Will the Iraqi government and political system be able to maintain its grip on the country? Will sectarian strife start up again and envelop the country in brutal violence?

The Baath apologist Tariq Aziz, our former Deputy PM and top PR guru, echoes the confounding and hypocritical sentiment of many in the disenfranchised communities in Iraq post 2003 by saying the US must stay and repair the damage it has done (how exactly? by cloning Saddam?).

This all brings us to my personal dilemma on this issue, and the prescient question of whether I support the withdrawal or not. I do understand the merits and justification in both answers, but ultimately I want to see the US forces leave ASAP, all of them. I even want the remaining civilian corps reduced, the US embassy in Baghdad cut down in staff and in size, and the visits by various US senators, advisers and officials to stop. Above all the reasons mentioned above, I simply do not trust US intentions in Iraq. The great Iraqi poet Abul Tayyib al-Mutanabbi says: If you see the teeth of the lion, do not think that the lion is smiling at you – إذا رَأيْتَ نُيُوبَ اللّيْثِ بارِزَةً فَلا تَظُنّنّ أنّ اللّيْثَ يَبْتَسِمُ.

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