June 19, 2021
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first_imgBAGHDAD – The debate in Washington over troop numbers is intense. But in Baghdad, there’s been little sense of alarm or urgency among the Iraqi politicians who would have the most to lose if the United States decides to begin a major pull back. Both Sunni and Shiite leaders have been largely convinced for weeks that President George W. Bush would press to keep forces in Iraq until he turns the White House over to a successor. That has set up one of the grand ironies of the troop build-up that began early this year. Washington threw more personnel and firepower into Iraq to give the Iraqi leadership more room to settle disputes and adopt U.S.-backed reforms. But the signals this week of just modest troop withdrawals ahead – perhaps back to pre-surge levels of about 130,000 – mean the Shiite-led government feels little pressure to accelerate work toward true political reconciliation. Instead, they are focusing their energy on shoring up their positions: outflanking political challengers, leaning on more-radical Shiite factions to behave and flirting with Sunni sheiks to build personal alliances. Iraq’s national security adviser was asked Wednesday to explain why the government has been so slow to enact power-sharing agreements that Washington deems necessary for lasting peace. He had nothing new to offer. “Of course we want to do it, but they are so complicated,” Mouwaffak al-Rubaie said. Senate Democratic leaders rejected the call for only limited reductions by next summer. “This is unacceptable to me, it’s unacceptable to the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. One senior Iraqi government official described the debate in Washington as simply American political jousting before next year’s presidential contest. “We have the support of Bush,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is politically sensitive. Such confidence also reflects a key reality in Iraq today – that Shiites, who account for 60 percent of the population, hold the country’s political power and have no intention of yielding it to Sunnis. Neither side has given up on violence to achieve its goals. “Many Sunnis continue to see their political pre-eminence as a birthright. And most Shiites believe that their numerical superiority and the oppression they suffered under Saddam Hussein give them the right to dominate the new Iraq,” one war critic, Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, noted this week. That overarching truth is often obscured by the arguments over how many troops should stay in Iraq – or by the dysfunctional nature of Iraq’s government. Many Shiite leaders clearly believe they have little to lose by offering the Sunnis only limited concessions. The Shiites outnumber Sunni Arabs three to one and dominate the ranks of the army and national police. Sunni leaders, meanwhile, hold on to the hope that their fellow Sunni Arab neighbors such as Saudi Arabia will rally to their side as counterweights to Shiites with close ties to powerful Iran. Many ordinary Iraqis are no less frustrated than American officials by the stagnation and standoffs. But there is little they can do but suffer on. “U.S. troops have been in Iraq a long time but the situation remains the same,” said Abdullah Hussein, a Shiite in Baghdad. “If they withdraw or decrease their forces, the situation will stay the same. It is up to the Iraqis themselves to establish security.” American officials tend to see the Iraq war as a conflict between outsiders – al-Qaida in Iraq and pro-Iranian Shiite hard-liners – against a struggling democratic government. But many of the gunmen in the streets have ties to the Iraqi politicians who American soldiers are fighting and dying to defend. Shiite militias – some with links to Shiite leaders – have driven many Sunnis from many Baghdad neighborhoods, establishing a form of peace-by-explusion that is unwittingly maintained by American troops. And Sunni extremists suspected of links to some Sunni politicians have been no less menacing to Shiites in areas around the Iraqi capital. Former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith offered a grim picture of Iraq’s future. “Iraq after an American defeat will look very much like Iraq today,” he said last month – “a land divided along ethnic lines into Arab and Kurdish states, with a civil war being fought within its Arab part.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more