Advancing a Free Society

An Irresponsible Withdrawal from Iraq

Monday, January 23, 2012

Human Rights Watch has just released its annual report, in which it describes Iraq as a “budding police state.”  It accuses the country’s Shi’ia leadership of ruling by force and fear, using security forces to intimidate, detain, and abuse activists, demonstrators and journalists.  Human Rights Watch points out the abuses have dramatically increased with the Obama Administration’s withdrawal of American military forces from Iraq.

Hundreds of Sunni politicians were arrested in November.  The Obama Administration was silent.  A warrant for the arrest of Iraq’s Vice President has been issued by the Prime Minister; only judges have that authority, yet another constitutional violation by Prime Minister Maliki.  He issued the warrant immediately after returning from President Obama’s proud announcement of the end of U.S. military presence in Iraq, causing many in Iraq to believe the U.S. supports Maliki’s use of the country’s national security apparatus to eliminate political rivals. 

Maliki’s actions have the added detriment of destroying the moderate, non-sectarian middle Iraqis voted for.  Sunni politicians are boycotting both the Parliament and cabinet meetings in response; Maliki is seeking to replace them with Shi’ia partisans.  Sunni-led provinces begin to call for the autonomy Kurds have (as the result of two decades of American protection).  By using the powers of the state to stifle Sunni politicians, Maliki is fomenting a Sunni-Shi’ia split that Iraqis do not want.  Insurgent attacks are rising alarmingly, paralleling the pattern of violent fragmentation in 2004-2005 when Sunni believed there was no peaceful path to power sharing.

This is not only destructive within Iraq, it has important foreign policy consequences.  Maliki has sided with Iran in support of Syria’s Bashir al-Assad, even refusing to carry out sanctions against Syria voted for by the Arab League.  He forbodingly accused Turkey’s Prime Minister Davotoglu of meddling when that leader of a prosperous islamic democracy encouraged Iraqi politicians to work peacefully within the confines of their political system; yet Maliki invites Iran’s support.

The Obama Administration claimed that the President’s commitment to withdrawing all U.S. troops would be a “responsible withdrawal.” In lieu of military presence, the Administration has maintained a behemoth civilian presence protected by thousands of civilian contract security guards.  Vice President Biden is the Administration’s lead on Iraq, purportedly to demonstrate what high-level commitment the President gives this responsible end to the war. 

But to try and defuse the Hashimi arrest warrant crisis, the Administration sent General Odierno, the former military commander in Iraq, to talk them back from the brink of violence.  That should, but evidently does not, tell the Administration how valuable the stabilizing effect of our continued military involvement could have been in Iraq.  Their withdrawal of U.S. forces must have had some other motive than responsibly bringing the war in Iraq to an end.