Who Benefits if the U.S. Stays Longer in Iraq?: World View

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By Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad

As the Iraqi government considered whether to request an extension of the U.S. military presence past December, regional commentators speculated on what the answer would be and who would benefit.

"Even after two electoral experiences, two parliamentary terms, three governments and a referendum over a permanent constitution," wrote columnist Ali Abdul al-Sada in the independently owned Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada, the Iraqi political system is still unable to address an array of important issues, including a possible extension of the U.S. military presence past the end-year deadline for withdrawal. The root cause, he argued, is that "no effort was made to secure a civil state as a consecrated value of our society."

As a result, he wrote, the argument over whether all U.S. forces should leave at year's end is confined to narrow reasoning dictated by self-interest. "Those concerned about maintaining the political acquisitions they secured over the last eight years" are pressing for an extension, al-Sada wrote. Similarly, "those who wish to stage a coup against the current situation," are actually frightened by the idea of a full U.S. withdrawal because they secretly think U.S. forces play a balancing role. "So let us stop outbidding one another because not one American soldier will exit Iraq!" al-Sada predicted.

Writing for the independent online news portal Alwan Arabiya, columnist Alaa al-Khatib described a game of tug-of-war between Iraqi politicians over the extension issue.

When the start of the match is announced, each starts pulling the rope in his own direction, not to sever the rope, which everyone wants to preserve, but to get the other side to cross the middle line, achieve victory and be applauded by the crowds as a national hero.

Al-Khatib divided Iraqi politicians into three factions. The first group wants to see American troops stay "but does not have the courage to tell the people they need the troops." A second group wants U.S. troops to leave and includes "those who believe that the pullout will divest the armed militias of their cards," that is, their reasons for taking up arms.

"There is one final faction, calling itself the resistance," the author said. This group is triumphant about the coming departure of the Americans. At the same time, al-Khatib wrote, these forces "are aware that the American pullout will harm them by placing them in confrontation with the Iraqi security forces, which will treat them differently than the American troops and will not allow them to enjoy five-star prisons and to be released to return to terrorism once again."

Taking up a similar theme, columnist Youssef Makki, in the United Arab Emirates-based newspaper Al-Khaleej, wrote that a U.S. departure would lead the Iranians and their agents in Iraq toward "an inevitable confrontation with the Iraqi resistance and people, considering that they did not allow these people to control their own fate," but rather meddled in Iraq's political, security and economic affairs.

Writing in Syria's state-controlled daily Al-Thawrah, Manhal Ibrahim, who is friendly toward Tehran, argued that a U.S. pullout would unambiguously benefit the Iraqi people and the region, even if it is not likely to occur by year's end.

The return of a healthy Iraq haunts the U.S. administration. It therefore tries to keep Iraq weak by maintaining the occupation, tying Iraq to its wheel and fueling fears over the repercussions of its withdrawal.

In the end, America is concerned "that the Iraqi giant will rise and reshuffle the cards in the region," challenging Washington. This, he said, should serve as instigation for the Iraqis "to reunite around rejection of the occupation and acceleration of its end as scheduled and without delay."

From Syria, then, comes a call for Iraqis to rise up and heave off the occupiers. From within Iraq itself, though, come far more nuanced voices, even when describing the position of the resistance. Such is the reality of a U.S. presence that Iraqis are both eager and fearful to part with.

(Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad are the Beirut correspondents for the World View blog. The opinions expressed are their own.)

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-0- Jul/18/2011 21:45 GMT