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Middle east

Future uncertain as last US combat brigade leaves Iraq

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-08-19

After seven years of war, the last US combat brigade crossed the border into neighbouring Kuwait without much to cheer about.

The last US combat brigade stationed in Iraq crossed into neighbouring Kuwait in the early hours on Thursday. But there was little public jubilation as the US Army's 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, left ahead of an August 31 deadline to end combat operations after seven years of war.
 
The brigade leaves behind some 50,000 of their colleagues whose job is to train the Iraqi army and police. The last of these troops should be out of the country in early 2012, as decided by US President Barack Obama.
 
On Tuesday, a suicide attack in Baghdad killed 59 young men queuing up to join the army at a recruitment centre. In Basra, Iraq's third largest city, 43 people were killed in a triple bombing at the beginning of August.
 
"It was after the Americans withdrew from our cities that the attacks began again," interior ministry worker Abu Ali told AFP, referring to a series of devastating bombings since the US military's exit from urban areas in June 2009.
  
"If they withdraw completely, what will happen?" he asked. "The Americans must stay because the Iraqi government does not control anything," he said.
 
“Cycle of violence”
 
“These bombings demonstrate a level of insecurity, which shows how easily Iraq could fall back into a cycle of violence,” says Paris Match editor and Iraq expert Régis le Sommier. “The country is suffering endemic corruption and many of the factions that had renounced violence are still playing their hands in the background - they could easily return to the fray.”
  
According to Iraq specialist Joost Hiltermann from the International Crisis Group, the situation in Iraq is compounded by a political stalemate in the country, which is still being run by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose bloc came second in March 7 polls.
 
“Ordinary Iraqis are frustrated, angry and uncertain about their future,” Hiltermann told France 24. “There is less violence now than a few years ago, but the situation has deteriorated recently. And the longer the political stalemate continues, the worse the security situation will become.”
 
Mohammed al-Gartani, a leader of the Sahwa (Awakening), a force of former Sunni rebels trained and paid by the US military and credited for helping tame the insurgency, is also concerned.
  
"The US withdrawal will subject Iraq to strong attacks from terrorists, because we are now in a critical situation and the country is suffering from foreign interference," said Gartani. "The Iraqi forces need at least two years to improve their abilities."
 
Ready to do it alone?
 
But Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said his country’s forces are ready to handle the country's security on their own.
  
He insisted that the lack of a new government would not hamper the withdrawal timetable.
  
"The readiness of the Iraqi security troops is quite enough to combat the threat,” he told AFP. “We have to balance between having a long-term foreign troop presence on our land, or we do the job on our own. We choose to do the job with our security forces."

 

Date created : 2010-08-19

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