Iraq is no longer a popular topic in the American media. When I started writing on the subject two and half years ago, there was no lack of articles, blogs and magazines about the war. Now, The New York Times no longer devotes a link in their Middle East news to Iraq. It’s understandable: this is a war that the American people would rather forget. There was no good reason to go in and no good way to get out. But unfortunately, whether we want to admit it or not, the war in Iraq will likely have repercussions for years to come.
Now that the withdrawal is underway, many think tanks, government agencies and reporters are surveying the damage. Everyone seems to have a different opinion of what will happen in the future. Some are far-fetched; others are viable — and a little scary.
Even after the recent drawdown of American combat forces from Iraq and plans for a full withdrawal in the next year, many Middle Easterners don’t believe that American influence in Iraq will end. Steven Lee Myers of the The New York Times supports this theory by pointing out that in spite of the withdrawal, US Special Operations have not changed in size or role. Middle Easterners still see American interests pervading in Iraqi economic, political and security concerns as efforts to continue to control the country.
Whether this is true or not, certain issues lend themselves to the United States maintaining a presence in Iraq. But the last thing it wants to do is look like oil jockeying cowboys of yesteryear.
Another issue causing concern among Iraqis, Middle Easterners and probably many other people around the world is the violence that continues to cruelly wreck Baghdad and other urban centers in Iraq. The Washington Post reported on Sunday that six car bombs across Baghdad and one suicide bomber near Fallujah killed 37 people and injured over one hundred. This may not seem like a special news story coming out of Iraq, but the reality is that with the official drawdown, militant forces are taking advantage of the still weak government security structure. These attacks are meant to prove a point — that Iraq cannot protect itself.
This attempt at portraying a lack of order and security can prove to be the scariest issue currently addressing Iraq. Whoever is trying to make this point most likely has a greater objective. Theories from both the Middle East and the United States include Iran making a power play in Iraq — if it hasn’t done so already.
The Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in India is studying this topic. Prasanta Kumar Pradhan published an article on September 9 that argued that a power vacuum has resulted from the lack of a powerful American military presence. He believes that Iran stands to benefit from the American withdrawal. Because of the time and opportunity allotted to them while Iraq was in the process of reconstruction, Pradhan fears that Iran has already infiltrated the politics of Iraq. He adds that because of this potential influence, Saudi Arabia is nervous about sectarian strife spilling over into the Gulf states, possibly inciting Shia uprisings. Turkey is still wary of the lack of control in Iraq with respect to the Kurds and would like to see a stable country without sectarian violence. And many continue to dread that Syria is sponsoring Sunni terrorist groups and acts in Iraq, causing further strife and conflict.
Of course, this will all have an effect on future American foreign relations. Greater Iranian influence in Iraq might eventually spur another religious revolution. Political strife in Saudi Arabia, one of America’s closest allies in the region, would have economic ramifications for the United States and possibly the entire world — not to mention raise the specter of drawing the United States into another Middle East war. Syrian-sponsored terrorism, finally, puts everyone at risk, especially the Iraqis who risk being killed in regular car bombings.
Many worry that instability in Iraq will enhance instability in the region, with further terrorist groups popping up, sectarian violence worsening and the possibility of interstate war looming. As it was from the start, this is a tough issue to solve. But maintaining stability in the Middle East is in the interest of all actors involved and this should not be forgotten.