Call me pessimistic, but I can’t help but wince every time I hear or read about Iraq’s newest holiday: “National Sovereignty Day.” This is the name that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has given June 30 in celebration of Iraq's “victory.”
The Iraqis are excited and rightfully so. Although roughly 131,000 American soldiers remain in the country, the majority were moved to military bases outside city limits well before the June 30 deadline requiring the removal of all U.S. troops from Iraqi urban centers such as Baghdad and Mosul. This removal is the first step of an agreement President Bush reached with Iraq last November with the ultimate goal of having all troops withdrawn by 2011.
I think part of why I am so bothered by this national holiday is the naïveté that accompanies it. Every time I think of al-Maliki referring to any type of victory in Iraq, I can't help but think of a certain Texan smugly standing in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner. Given the recent surge in violence that Iraq has seen over the past two weeks, the fact that Iraqi forces have yet to prove themselves without external support, and with the recent turmoil in Iran, I am afraid that such a celebration might have been a little premature.
Since June 20, more than 250 lives have been lost in what officials have bureaucratically referred to as an expected “uptick” in violence. According to Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrel, such increases in violence by insurgents and terrorists usually occur prior to “seminal dates." The point of the recent rash of bombings that have claimed so many lives is believed to be a concerted effort by insurgents to portray the idea that America has ultimately failed in securing Iraq.
Although many claim these attacks mean nothing in the long run, I still don’t get the impression that the Iraqi security forces possess the ability to maintain the stability that has been accomplished thus far. I know I am not on the ground, but the reassurances being offered up by foreign policy and military officials sound hollow.
As an AP report published Sunday states, “Privately, many U.S. officers worry the Iraqis will be overwhelmed if violence surges, having relied for years on the U.S. for everything from firepower to bottled water.”
And although the U.S. Commander in Iraq, Army General Ray Odierno, said that he has seen “constant improvement” in a CNN Interview on Sunday, he also cited the loss of stability and a "consistent increase in violence" as his two biggest worries. Well, that certainly does seem like cause for concern given those are the two most likely situations to occur once Iraqi forces must start fending for themselves.
My belief in Iraq's ability to independently maintain order continued to wane when CNN reported that “Odierno also said Iran continues to ‘interfere’ in Iraq, including training insurgents and paying surrogates.” This claim raises an even larger issue than just maintenance. Although Iran has always denied meddling in Iraq, there has been a long history of reports and suspicion that they have supported the insurgency.
This puts President Obama in an especially difficult position as Iran remains diplomatically aloof. Although he struck a harsher tone at last Tuesday's press conference when he condemned Iran for its brutal tactics in quelling protesters of the recent election, he also made it clear that he wanted to keep diplomatic channels open. "The United States has core national security interests in making sure that Iran doesn't possess a nuclear weapon and it stops exporting terrorism outside of its borders," said Obama.
The nuclear issue has received quite a bit of attention, but the fact that the president felt the need to directly address the "exporting of terrorism" hasn't received quite the attention one would think as U.S. troops begin the withdrawal process. In matters of our foreign interest, we will forever have to consider the possibility that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could easily focus any of his frustrations with America on Iraq - helping to once again destabilize the country and wreck any progress that has been made over these six long years.
And maybe that is what truly bugs me about al-Maliki declaring victory. For Iraq, victory is at least tangible. It means sovereignty and the possibility of a more peaceful life if the country can make it through the next couple of years, and the Iraqi people truly deserve that. But for America, Iraq will be with us long after our troops are removed, and no matter how successful the next two years might be, I am not sure if Iraq and victory will ever become synonymous in the American syntax.
Andrew Del-Colle is a former Missourian reporter and a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism.