Iraq’s plight imperils US goals
Iraq’s troubled start to life without US forces calls into question the Obama administration’s assertion that it has wound down America’s long war responsibly: at least 78 killed in blasts across the country in a single day last week, a protracted political crisis with no end in sight, top political leaders accusing each other of monstrous criminality.
An extension of the costly and unpopular deployment of American troops to Iraq may have only temporarily suppressed some of the tensions, but the heightened violence and political dysfunction illustrate the unfinished business the United States has left behind in Iraq. Nine years after American proponents of intervention predicted a cakewalk, a welcome mat and Iraqis singing and flying kites in a shining example of democracy for the Arab world, the US is still struggling to finish the job.
In Baghdad, the American Embassy stands like a city within a city, a reminder of the previous administration’s ambitious vision of an ironclad US-Iraqi alliance based on shared interests, peace and democracy. By far the biggest such US outpost overseas and costing several hundred million dollars, the danger is it ends up being a symbol of US isolation, its diplomats ensconced safely inside but unable to influence events beyond the fortress walls.
The Obama administration has maintained some of the optimistic Bush-era rhetoric for its vision of the future, while acknowledging that much depends on solving Iraq’s immediate problems.
But the challenge remains: Can the US, with its limited capacity to shape events in Iraq, help forge a culture of nation in a place that may remain too deeply divided among themselves?
US administration officials acknowledge that Iraq is mired in its worst government crisis since Saddam Hussein’s 2003 ouster, with no obvious answers for a political landscape crisscrossed by long-standing sectarian and regional rivalries, and newer schisms borne out of political maneuvering. The task is Iraq’s now, they insist, with the US only assisting. The main effort right now is focused on pressing Iraq’s factional leaders into a meeting of the blocs, but even that first tentative step toward a possible breakthrough remains out of reach.
Getting each party to share in the dibs of power remains the conundrum. The administration isn’t giving up hope and, frankly it says, it can’t: partnership with an unstable and democratically imperfect but oil-rich nation on Iran’s doorstep is too valuable to abandon. However, getting there isn’t cheap. A sense of responsibility also pervades, after a US-led military intervention that sparked fierce internecine warfare and a deadly stream of terror attacks that has yet to be eliminated.
The doubts over Iraq are prompting more in Iraq and the US to question whether there will be a time when Washington asks itself why it is bothering with a huge diplomatic outreach, especially if Iraq’s splintered leadership isn’t interested in listening. Some analysts are looking for more realistic, if narrower, US goals and a clearer strategy to achieve them.