In yet another symbolic move designed to foster the idea that things are “looking up”, American forces will today scale down their visible presence in major Iraqi cities.
Don’t believe what you read — U.S. troops will not “withdraw”, but rather will relocate to larger bases within city limits. In Mosul, this means FOB Marez, which is located a stone’s throw away from the city centre; in Baghdad, Iraqis will take control of the smaller Joint Security Stations while the Americans pull back to the fringes of the central districts.
This may be a big deal politically to both Obama and Maliki, but on the ground little will change for the Americans. They have already adopted a largely passive posture; “unilateral” patrols have been a no-no for months, and the MNF-I claim that the remaining troops will have an advisory role is a bit of a joke, since that is how American soldiers have seen themselves in Baghdad for at least a year. Let’s just say there’ll be a hell of a lot of foreign “advisors” armed to the teeth in the Iraqi capital come tomorrow.
For the Iraqi security forces, however, it will be a huge change. They’re now forced to “stand up”, whether they like it or not, or more importantly, whether they’re able to do it or not. They will be killed in ever larger numbers. Their mentors — the guys who gave them the Dodges and the Humvees and the MREs — will not be there to help them out, at least not on a daily basis.
Their adversaries, too, will face a do-or-die moment. For Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the various insurgent groups still active, this is the last chance to reinvigorate their campaign to cripple the Iraqi state. Bad news is, even if they fail, violence will continue. Sunni militants will keep killing civilians in the hope of setting off a tit-for-tat sectarian war. You can call the bloodshed “residual” or whatever the hell you want, but the fact is, it will be a tragedy.
And then, of course, there will be the next Big One. Like always, when the dust settles — and that will take a long time — the Kurds will be the losers. Whatever Iraq will look like after the war is over, it will not be a democracy. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if next January’s parliamentary election would be the last of its kind for at least a couple of decades.