Today is June 30, the day earmarked by the U.S.-Iraq security agreement for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraqi cities. Despite entreaties from U.S. military commanders to permit exceptions (as allowed in the agreement), Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki chose instead to reject these requests and declare June 30 “National Sovereignty Day.” Some Iraqis took to the streets to celebrate, while Maliki delivered a nationally televised valedictory address. Iraqi security forces are now responsible for security in Iraq, and U.S. combat forces can now only operate with the assent of Iraqi authorities.
Iraq has already seen its first post-withdrawal violence, with at least 15 people reported killed by a car bomb in the contested northern city of Kirkuk. The specter of continued and possibly increased violence in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq’s cities reflects the failure of U.S. strategy to resolve the fundamental intra-Iraqi tensions driving the conflict. While a combination of the surge, the Awakenings, and the marginalization of the Mahdi Army led to today’s low levels of violence, the lack of a political settlement has frozen existing conflicts -– particularly the Sunni-Shia sectarian war and the intra-Shia fight –- while allowing long-standing problems –- namely the Arab-Kurd divide –- to fester.
This reduction in violence has corresponded to an increase in political power for Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. With relatively successful campaigns against the Mahdi Army in Basra and Baghdad and the successful negotiation of a withdrawal agreement from the United States, Maliki has gone from a weak and ineffectual leader to Iraq’s most powerful political figure and, in the view of some, nascent strongman. Maliki has staked his legitimacy on two pillars –- the ability to achieve security and reclaiming national sovereignty from the United States. Read more