A Bloody Reminder That Iraq is Still Unstable

The war in Afghanistan is now overshadowing the conflict in Iraq in terms of public discussion and media coverage, especially while President Obama is debating whether to send an additional 40,000 troops to fight the Taliban.  Further contributing to the change in focus is the assumption that American troops will soon leave Iraq (Under the current Status of Forces Agreement between the American and Iraqi governments, all US soldiers and Marines are supposed to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011).

But two suicide bombings in Baghdad on Sunday served as a bloody reminder that Iraq is still unstable despite improvements in security since 2007.  The coordinated attacks killed at least 155 people and wounded 500, and they also severely damaged the Justice Ministry and a provincial council building.  Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki blamed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and former Baathists for the carnage.

Violence is expected to intensify before national elections scheduled for Jan. 2010, and the 120,000 American troops now in Iraq will remain there until after the voting.  Military planners hope to reduce that number to 50,000 by Aug. 2010, but if the situation deteriorates the scheduled withdrawals could be postponed (the Status of Forces Agreement could also be renegotiated at the request of the Iraqi government, and the final pullout date could be pushed back).

Any delay in the removal of American troops from Iraq could impact the war in Afghanistan, where military commanders want more “boots on the ground” to fight insurgents.  US ground forces are stretched thin between the two conflicts, so continuing to maintain a large force in Iraq will free up fewer soldiers and Marines for service in Afghanistan.  Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, has warned that the US and its allies could lose the war against the Taliban in the next 12 to 18 months if reinforcements are not sent.  Many analysts believe that 40,000 additional troops will not be enough to turn the tide in Afghanistan, and the US would not be able to augment the force level further if its commitment in Iraq is not reduced.

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