Pulling Out of Iraq’s Cities

According to the Status of Forces Agreement between the US and Iraq, American combat troops must leave Iraqi cities by Jun. 30.  So far this year, more than 150 US bases have been closed in Iraq’s urban areas, which is 85 percent of the total.

However, it is uncertain if the Iraqi security forces will be able to maintain order once American troops withdraw to rural areas.  Yesterday, a bomb exploded in a marketplace in Sadr City, killing 76 people and wounding more than 150 four days after US soldiers left the area.  Earlier today, seven bombings occured throughout the country, which suggests that terrorists attacks may soon increase dramatically.  Shiite and Sunni militias could reignite major sectarian conflict and Al Qaeda could have a resurgence if a power vacuum develops when the Iraqi police and military take over sole responsibility for security. 

If violence spirals out of control, the US will be in a very difficult position.  It might be called upon to intervene and reenter the cities to try to reestablish order, or it might have to stand by and watch the Iraqi security forces be defeated much like the South Vietnamese were once US ground forces were removed from their country in the 1970s.

Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki insisted that American soldiers would not be asked to return, saying “We will not ask them [the Americans] to intervene in combat operations related to maintaining public order.”

Whether al-Maliki would adhere to that position if Iraqi cities descended into chaos is doubtful.

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