U.S. Army armored vehicles leave their base on May 28 after a handover ceremony northeast of Baghdad. The U.S. plans to have just 50,000 troops in Iraq by Aug. 31. But many Iraqis say the country the U.S. is leaving behind is hardly a success story.
U.S. Army armored vehicles leave their base on May 28 after a handover ceremony northeast of Baghdad. The U.S. plans to have just 50,000 troops in Iraq by Aug. 31. But many Iraqis say the country the U.S. is leaving behind is hardly a success story. Karim Kadim/AP
Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq's cities. Amid the continuing drawdown, only 50,000 U.S. troops will be left in Iraq by the end of the summer.
The country is at a crossroads. While violence is down from the levels of 2006 and 2007, many Iraqis say the country the U.S. is slowly leaving behind is hardly a success story.
Every day, massive convoys roll out of Iraq carrying the machinery of war. This is one of the largest and most complicated drawdowns in U.S. history — as well as one of the speediest.
The message from America's politicians, military and diplomats is clear: The Iraq war — at least America's role in it — is over. U.S. forces are now assuming a training and advisory role.
The U.S. is handing bases over to Iraqis every week. Gen. Jerry Cannon heads the detainee operation for the U.S. Come mid-July, the last U.S.-run prison — Camp Cropper in Baghdad — will be given to the Iraqis.
"We are very forthright with them that the end is near. ... You got to get this right," he says.
Yearning For A Return To Joy
On Iraqi television Wednesday, songs extolling Iraq's sovereignty played over and over to mark the anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq's cities. One begins: "Iraq, surely you will be powerful again / Your days and nights will be joyful again."
Iraqis protest electricity shortages in the Shiite city of Kufa, 100 miles south of Baghdad, on June 25. Chronic problems with basic amenities such as water, power and roads plague Iraq.
Iraqis protest electricity shortages in the Shiite city of Kufa, 100 miles south of Baghdad, on June 25. Chronic problems with basic amenities such as water, power and roads plague Iraq. Alaa al-Marjani/AP
But these days, people in Iraq are anything but.
For the past few weeks, Iraqis have been demonstrating all over the country because of continuing power shortages. The water supply system, roads, the cell phone network, hospitals and schools are also all in a state of disrepair.
In more than seven years of bloody conflict, tens of thousands of Iraqis have died, and at least 4,400 U.S. service members have given their lives. Security is better — if the benchmark is the worst years of the civil war.
Gen. Michael Barbero is in charge of training Iraqi forces. He says over the past year, nationwide security incidents have decreased more than 45 percent. "Today we're talking about political issues, not security issues. I think it's a level of maturity and development of Iraq," he says.
Assessing The Costs, And The Payoffs
But Iraq is a country with little to show for the billions of dollars spent and the lives lost, says Iraqi politician Mahmoud Othman.
Four months after the parliamentary elections, Iraq's fractious political parties are still negotiating over the formation of a government. It's an acrimonious and sectarian process. And Othman says the players seem to have little sense of anything other than their own narrow interests.
"They are not in touch with the people, these people. You look at them, where they are living. They are isolated from people. They don't feel the sense of people who are demonstrating. That's why I don't think they are moving. They don't feel the responsibility," he says.
Othman charges that the U.S. could act as an honest broker but seems totally disengaged.
"The Obama administration, they want to get out of Iraq. They have an exit strategy. It's very clear: They want to get out," he says.
In an interview with NPR, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill says that's not true. The troop withdrawal — a product of an agreement with the Iraqis — does not signify a lack of interest, he says. But he adds that the days when America would directly intervene in Iraq's political affairs are indeed over.
"We need to be mindful of what is proper engagement — that is, for us to be acting in an inappropriate way, in a way that suggests that this is our decision, and not the Iraqi decision," Hill says.
But Othman says whatever form that long-term relationship takes, he fears that Iraq will be tainted by what the invasion and war have left behind.
"I think it's a failed state," the Iraqi politician says. "And I think, day [by] day, you see it's going more towards being a failed state."