01 January 2009

2009 in Iraq

I always thought that being in Iraq would give me a much more heightened awareness of American foreign policy and Middle Eastern politics.  Now, to be certain, I wouldn't have happened across the conversation I had with the Kurds had I been back in the US, but I actually had to work to make that opportunity happen.  I actually had to know a great deal of Middle Eastern history to glean the nugget or two that I did out of that discussion.  

In all actuality, I find myself actually quite far from relevant news in Iraq.  If I didn't have a massive amount of RSS feeds about Iraq on my Google Reader page, and links from CNN and the Wall Street Journal on my home page, I'd be pretty clueless as to what's going on.  One of the strange paradoxes of the US military in a wartime environment can be summed up by a quote from General David Petraeus, who said something along the lines of "officers put their nose to the grindstone so much that they don't take the time to look up".  

Indeed, much is the same about the day-to-day life in Iraq.  Concentrating on one flight or one roadside bomb causes a sense of tunnel vision and limits the focus we, as military professionals, have on the big picture of American foreign policy--a skill very critical to Fourth Generation Warfare. 

And judging by the news stories, there's a lot happening in Iraq right now--much of it positive.  As I walk around, I find that popular opinion seems to have it that the US will remain in many of its bases for decades to come--which is now highly contrary to what is actually happening in the cities of Iraq.

A series of news stories I picked up this morning highlight a drastic improvement in the security situation in 2008, with even greater opportunities for 2009.   One news story comes from the New York Times and it discusses the closure of a Marine base on the outskirts of Fallujah, the center of the insurgency during 2004. 

As part of the reduction of United States troops from Iraq, by Thursday there will be few marines left in or around this mostly Sunni city of about 300,000 people. The closing of Camp Falluja is one of the most prominent symbols yet that America’s presence in the country, which at times had seemed all encompassing, is diminishing.

As recently as a year ago, the base closing was cause for alarm. The calm that seemed to have taken hold here was fragile enough that both Iraqi and American officials feared the potential consequences of the marines’ departure.

Today they look forward to it.

“That will make our job easier,” said Col. Dowad Muhammad Suliyman, commander of the Falluja Police Department. “The existence of the American forces is an excuse for the insurgents to attack. They consider us spies for the Americans.  [ed. note:  And here we find that, by withdrawing troops, we adhere to the COIN principle of giving the host nation legitimacy]

The second article worth reading comes from CNN, and it regards the Iraqification of the Green Zone.

Article three comes from the New York Times again, and it discusses how utterly quiet (relatively) Iraq has gotten.  So quiet, in fact, that news coverage for the Iraq War during the nightly news on the big three networks decreased by almost 75% from 2007 to 2008.  Now, unfortunately for us as Americans, this is also partially due to the fact that the economic woes on Wall Street have a much greater relevance to the average American than the war in Iraq.  The decrease in concern with Iraq is also partially responsible for the fact that only a minority of Americans know that over 4,000 troops have been killed in that country. But, nevertheless, fewer reporters generally means that there's fewer explosions to cover, and that can only be good, right?

Focus:  What are your predictions for Iraq in 2009?  Is the timeline set forth in the SOFA a practical timeline?  Will violence increase or decrease?  How do you see the upcoming Iraqi elections affecting the security situation? 

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