Last week, President Obama used his speech at the Democrat National Convention to criticise Republican candidate Mitt Romney saying that it was ‘tragic’ to end the war in Iraq.
This was a cheap shot from Obama on a subject he should want to avoid talking about. Romney did not say it was ‘tragic’ to end the war in Iraq. What he said was that ‘the precipitous withdrawal is unfortunate – it’s more than unfortunate, I think it’s tragic. It puts at risk many of the victories that were hard won by the men and women who served there.’
Romney is 100% correct. If anything, he did not go far enough. Obama has blown it in Iraq. By withdrawing so quickly and so comprehensively, he squandered America’s strategic foothold, leaving it to be competed over by Iran, a variety of Sunni insurgencies (including those aligned with al-Qaeda) and deadly sectarian rivals. With no US presence to play the honest broker between these rivalries, the situation has descended fast.
This has not gone unnoticed in Iraq. As a former trial leader of the Anbar Awakening asked Obama via the Daily Beast last week:
‘Why did you leave Iraq to Iran? Why did you give up the many sacrifices that Americans made? You can still have a partnership with us. If you are going to be president for the next four years, bring Iraq back into a strategic partnership with the United States and remember the people who fought against al Qaeda with you.’
Two obvious examples of the problems facing Iraq occurred over the weekend.
Firstly, terrorism. At least 109 were killed in a wave of bomb and gun attacks against primarily Shiite towns across Iraq. No-one has claimed credit yet, though it matches the M.O. of al-Qaeda’s offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq (a group which recently claimed to have carried out 131 attacks during Ramadan alone). Such death counts are a monthly occurrence in Iraq. As Bill Roggio over at the Long War Journal notes, ‘Keep in mind that al Qaeda in Iraq is keeping up the tempo of attacks in Iraq even as it is devoting resources to fight President Bashir al Assad’s regime in Syria.’ (As an aside, it is also worth keeping an eye out for the ‘Free Iraqi Army’, a group said to be inspired by the Free Syrian Army, and which aims to ‘confront and push back’ Iranian influence in Iraq).
Secondly, the ongoing controversy surrounding Tareq al-Hashemi, Iraq’s Sunni Vice President. Al-Hashemi, who has gained refuge in Turkey, was sentenced to death in absentia last week for allegedly arranging over 150 sectarian-motivated bombings and assassinations between 2005 – 2011. These are obviously serious charges – yet it is undeniable that Shiite purges of Sunni influence within the government have become part of the scenery in Iraq since American withdrawal, and the charges against al-Hashemi were announced shortly after US troops left last December. Interpol has issued an arrest warrant against the Vice President, yet the Turks refuse to hand him over. It is a messy situation which promises to get even messier.
It was this kind of chaos that Romney was referring to when he called Obama’s policy ‘tragic’. Yet, in a speech to US soldiers on 31 August, Obama talked up his achievements in Iraq and vowed to end the Afghan war just as ‘responsibly’.
What a deeply terrifying prospect for Afghanistan that is.