Going, Ready or Not Going, Ready or Not

30 08 2009

BAGHDAD– The withdrawal of American forces from Iraqi city centers is a remarkable moment in Iraq’s modern history. The Iraqi government publicly celebrated that event as never before, linking it to the 1920 revolution against British forces in Iraq, and describing it as “the day of victory.”

But Iraqis have their worries: was the American withdrawal real, and can the Iraqi government lead without any assistance? Are the Iraqi forces qualified enough to assume responsibility for Iraq’s provinces? Have the American forces accomplished their mission in Iraq?

Now three incidents have taken place within a few weeks. First, north of Baghdad in July, when Iraqi security forces took action against Camp Ashraf, home to 3,500 members of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq. Hundreds of Iraqi forces surrounded the camp, causing chaos by shooting randomly and driving their Humvees among the crowds, leaving behind nine dead and dozens wounded. The Iraqis wanted to show off their muscles to an unarmed group of people who have been protected by American forces for the past six years.

Then nine members of the Iraqi security forces belonging to different military and security branches conducted the biggest robbery I have ever seen in Iraq. Eight bank guards were killed, and about $7 million was stolen.

But the worst incident happened on Aug. 19, when two near-simultaneous bombings by suicide trucks loaded with about 7,500 pounds of explosives targeted two government buildings. The first hit the Finance Ministry and the second came three minutes later, when a truck bomb hit the Foreign Ministry, only a few hundred yards from the Green Zone. The two bombs killed around 93 people, and wounded a thousand.

Earlier this month the Iraqi government took a decision to remove from Baghdad all the blast walls which for six years had offered a safe haven to some neighborhoods, government buildings and officials, giving parts of the city the look of a fortress, as my Baghdad colleague Marc Santora wrote.

The government presents the Iraqi security forces as the sole power that offers protection over all Iraq. It does this to reinforce its argument that there is no need for American troops any more, and that the Iraqi forces and government can easily manage everything, forgetting the assistance that they received from the Americans over the past six years.

After 2003 the Iraqi army was dissolved, and forming a new army was the priority of American commanders. The door was opened wide to everyone to be recruited into the new army and police, because at that time the American forces were badly in need of as many people as they could recruit.

Most of the political parties with armed militias found it easy to place their men in the new security forces, and that way they became entirely infiltrated. Most of those who joined had no knowledge of the basics of professional military work, and were there to carry out the political agendas of their parties. Others were looking after their own financial benefits, through corruption.

As an observer I would say now there are two commands in Iraq, each is separated from the other. There are no more joint press conferences between Iraqi and American commanders, no more joint security updates. While the Iraqi people in the middle face a new catastrophe every day.

The Iraqi command always prettifies the status of the security situation. But if the Iraqi security forces could not manage to deal with about 3,500 persons in Camp Ashraf, how can they impose law and security over all Iraq?

If the Iraqi security forces are involved in robberies and murder, how can they protect Iraqis and their belongings?

If the Iraqi security forces could not detect two trucks loaded with thousands of pounds of explosives, how could the government take such a reckless decision as to remove blast walls, only to gain glory over the bodies of Iraqi people.

We know that the Americans have paid with blood and wealth to liberate Iraq, but leaving Iraqis in the middle of nowhere will speed up the demolition of all the American efforts that have been achieved during the past six years.

Mohammed Hussein is the Iraqi head of the newsroom in the NYT’s Baghdad Bureau.



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