President Barack Obama addressed disabled veterans in Atlanta today, the Associated Press reports, confirming that Iraq combat operations will end as scheduled on Aug. 31. Of 65,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, 50,000 will stay on in an advisory role until the end of 2011, as mandated in a prior agreement between Iraq and former President George W. Bush. There were as many as 170,000 troops at the peak of buildup in October 2007.
The draw-down, part of a campaign promise to voters Obama made to reduce America’s combat role in Iraq, comes even though a surge of 30,000 troops continues operations in Afghanistan amid security, government stability, and lagging infrastructural concerns in Iraq, according to the BBC News.
Voice of America reports the President also addressed operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, vowing to destroy extremist groups and a resurgent al-Qaeda. President Obama has pledged to begin withdrawing U.S. troops in Afghanistan starting in July 2011, setting the stage for an end to both wars prior to the 2012 U.S. presidential elections and the end of his first term. This last July was the deadliest month in Afghanistan for American troops, with 66 soldiers killed. According to USA Today, the international force is facing an uphill fight in southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces, both long-time Taliban strongholds.
There are inconsistencies between the reported deaths last month in Iraq between the U.S. military and the Iraqi government. The U.S. suggests 222 people died in attacks in July, while authorities in Baghdad maintain 535 people lost their lives.
Regardless of re-emerging security issues and a lack of a formal government or even a Prime Minister for the past five months, many Iraqis are ready for America to leave, fearful of a permanent occupation force. Iraqi Karim Feiji told the New York Times, “As long as we are under occupation, we are not going to be satisfied. What will satisfy us is to live like every other country. We are aiming for a better future.”
Most Iraqis are gravely concerned with the failure of the government to provide basic security or even regular electricity, the New York Times reports. With the approaching holy month of Ramadan expected to reach temperatures of 120 degrees and higher, ordinary Iraqis struggle with regular blackouts and intermittent power, despite a slight improvement in service recently. While Iraqis blame the American reconstruction effort for the failure to keep AC and lights on, they have begun to blame current and past Iraqi authorities as well.
There are additional concerns that Iraq will continue to delay natural gas field bidding, Bloomberg reports, due to the existing power vacuum between Shi’ite, Sunni, and Kurdish parliamentarians. The Oil Ministry has reported that the scheduled Sept. 1 third round of bidding on three natural gas fields will be delayed a month in part due to the political crisis. Iraq relies on oil for most of its income and seeks export opportunities after domestic needs are met. Some Europeans may be looking to Iraq, the third largest oil reserve in the world, as a means to offset politically volatile Russian fuel imports.
Less reported, Iraq has a widespread refugee and brain-drain problem to deal with as well. According to the Associated Press, prior to the war, there were 1,021,962 internal refugees and roughly 500,000 Iraqis living abroad. As of July 19, there are 1.55 million internally displaced people and 1.7 million emigrants, mostly in Syria and Jordan. The UNHCR, or UN Refugee Agency, suggests that, while some Iraqis are returning to the country, a lack of jobs, the threat of violence, and unimplemented governmental policies on refugee reintegration remain serious hurdles.
Will keeping campaign promises and bringing troops home improve the American public’s perception of President Obama’s war policy? USA Today’s reported opinion polls conducted by USA Today/Gallup Poll make that difficult to say. There is currently greater support for his recession policies (39 percent approval) than there is for his war policies (36 percent). Yet Americans strongly support a timetable for withdrawal (57 percent), while two-thirds support a gradual withdrawal – essentially the same plan the administration is sticking to. The polling follows increased U.S. casualties and the leaked classified military documents found on WikiLeaks.org, a leak that, again, two-thirds of respondents disagreed with.
Julie Pace and Jennifer Loven, “Obama salutes promised end of US combat in Iraq” Associated Press
Kevin Connolly, “Obama confirms plan for US troop withdrawal from Iraq” BBC News
Dan Robinson, “Obama Reaffirms Iraq Exit Plan” Voice of America
Richard Wolf, “Poll: Waning support for Obama on wars” USA Today
Stephen Farrell, “Electricity: Iraq’s Other Power Vacuum” New York Times
Ercan Ersoy and Nayla Razzouk, “Iraq Sets Natural-Gas Field Bidding for Oct. 1, Scraps Signature Bonus” Bloomberg
UNHCR, “2010 UNHCR country operations profile – Iraq”
Associated Press, “Iraq: Key figures since the war began”