News / Middle East

US Downsizing Operations in Iraq

Cities hit by coordinated bombings and shootings on July 23, 2012 that killed more than 100 people.Cities hit by coordinated bombings and shootings on July 23, 2012 that killed more than 100 people.
x
Cities hit by coordinated bombings and shootings on July 23, 2012 that killed more than 100 people.
Cities hit by coordinated bombings and shootings on July 23, 2012 that killed more than 100 people.
From its sprawling, $750 million embassy in Baghdad - the largest, most expensive American diplomatic mission in the world - Washington had hoped for a cozy relationship with the Iraqi government, forged after a U.S.-led military coalition ousted former president Saddam Hussein.
 
But in the seven months since the United States withdrew its combat forces from Iraq, U.S. relations with Baghdad have deteriorated as Iraqi insurgents have carried out a major attack at least once a month.
 
Hundreds of people have been killed in the ongoing violence that included coordinated bombings and gunbattles on July 23 unleashed by Iraq's al-Qaida affiliate.
 
This Year's Deadliest Attacks in Iraq

  • Jul. 23: Bombing and shootings in Baghdad and across the country kill 115 people
  • Jul. 3:  Bombing across Iraq kills 40 people
  • Jun. 13: Bombings across Iraq targeting Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims kill at least 72 people
  • Jun. 4: Car bomb in Baghdad kills 23
  • Apr. 19: A mix of car and roadside bombs kills 35 across Iraq
  • Mar. 20: At least 12 near-simultaneous explosions erupt across Iraq, killing 46, wounding more than 200
  •  Feb. 23: Attacks in Baghdad and 11 other cities kill 55 people
  • Jan. 27: Car bomb near a funeral procession in Baghdad kills 31 people
As American influence in Iraq has ebbed to its lowest point in years, and with Iraq in political turmoil, the Obama administration recently announced large reductions to the size and scope of its mission in a country less willing to accept a significant American footprint.
 
These include plans to slash the huge diplomatic presence it had envisioned for Iraq by one-third, drastically pare down a highly-touted but deeply unpopular police training program and close its consulate in Kirkuk.
 
U.S. Cuts Iraq Funding
 
Government experts warned U.S. lawmakers earlier this year that Iraq is questioning the continued presence of large numbers of Americans on its soil. A slimmed-down staff of 1,235 U.S. diplomats was present at the end of June, along with 12,477 employees of U.S.-funded contractors, most of whom were sent to guard and feed them.
 
In May, the U.S. Senate appropriations committee reduced the Obama administration’s original $2.26 billion request for 2013 Iraq funding in half, to $1.1 billion.
 
If approved, the biggest chunk of the reduction would eliminate $850 million for the Police Development Program, a key component of the U.S. civilian aid mission to Iraq, advertised as America's largest rebuilding project since the post-World War Two Marshall Plan.
 
A critical report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, released last week, cited Iraqi "disinterest" in the program as the primary reason for cutting the number of in-country advisers by nearly 90 percent, from 350 to 36.
 
The report said the American embassy in Baghdad never received a written commitment from Iraq to participate in the project and will close its $108 million Baghdad Police College Annex, turning it over to the Iraqis by the end of the year. Another $98 million was spent to construct a consulate in southern Iraq so it could be used for police training. But the Basra component ended "because the [Iraqi Interior Ministry] decided to terminate training at that location," it added.
 
Iraq's deputy interior minister, Adnan al-Asadi, told U.S. inspectors in May the program was "useless" and that Iraqi police officers had indicated the training received was "not beneficial," the report said. 
 
With Americans now largely confined to the Baghdad embassy because of safety concerns, investigators recently disclosed that "support costs and security expenses accounted for 93 percent of the estimated $4 billion [allocated for] 2012 operations in Iraq."

U.S lawmakers say they are cautiously examining future investments in Iraq.

U.S. Rep. John F. Tierney,  ranking U.S. House minority member of a Congressional subcommittee on foreign operations, said in June that he has “long expressed concern about the U.S. government’s significant footprint in Iraq.” He added that “the transition in Iraq and the taxpayer dollars that are being spent in that country” will be closely monitored.
 
Ambivalent Relationship
 
Representatives from across Iraq's political spectrum claim they want both independence from and a close relationship with the United States.
 
"We need the Americans. We need to work together to reach the point when Iraq no longer needs help from anyone, including the U.S.," said Sami al-Askari, a Shi'ite lawmaker close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
 
Independent Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Osman added that "foreign countries" have exacerbated domestic conflicts, such as Baghdad's ongoing dispute with the Kurdish regional government over oil rights.
 
Osman said Kurds should try to solve their own issues directly within Iraq and beware of depending too much on alliances with other nations, including the United States.
 
"These countries have their own interests. Today they help you, they talk to you, then they leave you or sell you [out]. We've seen this in the past," Osman said. "So I hope the Kurdish leadership will try...to [conduct] a dialogue with other blocs [and] with the government here, as long as we are part of Iraq, anyway," he said.
 
Baghdad resident Sadun Salam says "the U.S. withdrawal was a mistake because rebuilding and [fostering] democracy would have needed an American military presence."
 
Another Baghdad resident, Huda Ahmed, credited Washington for ousting Saddam Hussein, but said Iraqis' hopes for change have not been met.

"While I am not denying the huge role the U.S. played in toppling the [former] regime, the U.S. is not doing anything right now for the sake of Iraqi citizens. Americans are not trying to help Iraq improve its economic situation," Ahmed said.
 
Iran's Expanded Role
 
Meanwhile, as U.S. power in Iraq has steadily declined since the 2003 invasion, Maliki's embattled government has increasingly aligned itself with the region's dominant Shi'ite state, Iran, which is at odds with the U.S. on several fronts.

Last month, the Islamic Republic thwarted anti-American cleric and Iran ally Moqtada al-Sadr's push to join Sunnis and Kurds in calling for a no-confidence vote to oust the Iraqi prime minister, a fellow Shi'ite.
 
"Mr. Sadr was the key element in the process," said parliament member Askari, who acknowledged that Sadr's changed stance "is mainly a result of Iranian pressure" as well as pushback from within his devout base of Shi'ite supporters opposed to U.S. influence in Iraq.
 
That rankles many Iraq policy brokers in Washington who "dislike intensely when they see Iraqis following [Iran] on so many issues in the region," said Alex Vatanka, an analyst at the Middle East Institute.
 
While the Iraqi political crisis has eased for the moment, the sectarian conflict in neighboring Syria continues to unnerve Shi'ite leaders in Iraq.
 
Resurgent religious violence has added to fears that regional Sunni powers - chiefly Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey - want to topple the Damascus and Baghdad governments by any means.
 
"Whenever you have [the] Shia-Sunni schism across the Middle East, the Iraqi Shia look to [their co-religionists] in the region for support, and, obviously, the biggest, most powerful Shia state is Iran," said Vatanka. "If the sectarian issue doesn't blow up, if it becomes less of a factor, the way it was just a decade ago, why can't we see an independent Iraq?" he asked.
 
Continued U.S. Presence
 
Maliki's government insists it wants good relations with Washington, and has signed a $3 billion deal to buy American-built F-16 fighter planes. U.S. oil giants have also begun to invest in Iraq's petroleum sector, which drives national commerce and accounts for more than 90 percent of the country's budget.
 
"I think the United States was and will stay the milestone in Iraq's future," lawmaker Askari said. "Most Iraqi leaders - I'm talking about the [ruling] National Alliance - are keen to have strong relations with the U.S. because this is the way to build Iraq and stabilize this important region." 
 
Many analysts agree Washington still has an important role to play in Iraq, while some American officials say a smaller, more reserved U.S. presence may actually produce better results.
 
"I don't think we should count the U.S. completely out," said Gregory Gause, a Middle East expert at the University of Vermont. "I think there are plenty of political players in Iraq who want to keep the Americans in reserve because they don't want to be completely beholden to Iran." 
 
Vatanka said most American diplomats who deal with Iraq believe the U.S. has a good chance of remaining a significant player in the country despite Tehran's current advantage.
 
"It becomes an issue of looking [at] the balance sheet...and asking yourself, if you’re in Baghdad, 'what can Iran actually bring to the table in the long term while [Tehran] itself is [so] isolated in the region and internationally?" he said. "That’s why I think the U.S. can be, by far, the most likely attractive partner for Iraq."
 
Still, by nearly all accounts, the grand strategy behind the 2003 U.S. invasion has yet to be realized.
 
"I think the most optimistic and ambitious version of that vision - a stable, democratic Iraq, strongly allied with the United States, at peace with Israel and confronting Iran - was a pipe dream," analyst Gause said. 
 
"That was never going to happen," he said. "The medium ambitious version of the vision - a stable, democratic Iraq with a close relationship with the U.S. - has not been achieved."
 
VOA's Kurdish Service in Washington and Baghdad stringer Goran Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

You May Like

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Five-Nation Tour to Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of state will visit Egypt, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam to discuss security issues, Iran nuclear deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs