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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More