Ever since President Obama’s speech last Tuesday, all media, political and public attention has been focused exclusively on the war in Afghanistan. The president mentioned Iraq a few times in the speech, mostly to blame that situation for the situation in Afghanistan. At one point, however, he seemed to be making the shocking claim that the war in Iraq has been a success. “We have given Iraqis a chance to shape their future, and we are successfully leaving Iraq to its people,” he said.
A 21-year-old American soldier died in Iraq last week of non-combat-related injuries. According to the Department of Defense, the circumstances of the incident are under investigation. Back home, a soldier from Fort Drum named Joshua Hunter was arraigned on Thursday in the stabbing deaths of two Army buddies. Family members and friends of the accused man described him as a “changed man” after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. According to The Associated Press, relatives of Hunter say, “he saw his best friend ‘blown to pieces’ in Iraq and came back a changed man: abusive, violent, sleepless, edgy and plagued by flashbacks.”
There are many stories like this.
In Iraq, the war is far from over. According to a report by McClatchy Newspapers:
Military casualties have plummeted and sectarian violence has ebbed in Iraq, but the country’s power struggles among Sunni and Shiite Muslim Arabs and between Arabs and Kurds are unfinished. The question is whether it will turn violent again.
The combatants appear to be repositioning themselves in anticipation of the planned US combat troop withdrawal next year. Iraq’s neighbors – Iran, Turkey, Syria and others – could try to fill the vacuum, politicians and analysts warn.
“Those who feel their rights have been taken, and the weak, will ask the help of anyone who can give them a hand,” said Burhan Muzhir al Asy. He’s a tribal sheik and a member of the northern city of Kirkuk’s provincial council representing Arab citizens, who’ve suffered political and demographic setbacks here since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. “We say, ‘A drowning man will grasp at a straw.'”
Many Iraqis say they think that US attention already is waning.
Iraqi elections, slated to take place in January, are in peril of being delayed, possibly for months. Political wrangling between Sunni and Shi’a factions over a new election law threatens to derail the entire process. Another McClatchy report explains, “Last week, Vice President Tareq al Hashemi, a Sunni Muslim, vetoed one version of the election law, complaining that it underrepresented Iraqis living abroad, most of whom are believed to be Sunnis who fled during the ethnic violence that raged after US troops toppled the government of Saddam Hussein. On Monday, Kurds and Shi’ite Muslim politicians responded to Hashemi’s veto by passing an amended version of the law that cut Sunni Muslim voting power even more in several major provinces. More than 50 parliament members walked out in protest, most of them Sunnis, but including a smattering of secular lawmakers and Shiites as well.”
Beyond the political chaos, the violence remains.
A suicide bomber killed five people, including the chief of riot police, in Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit. Another suicide bomber killed eight people in a Baghdad jewelry store, including the head of the anti-terrorism squad for the province. Also in Baghdad, gunmen assassinated a civilian and an Iraqi soldier. In Kirkuk, 26 civilians were wounded when attackers threw hand grenades at a celebration of Eid.
There are many such stories.
President Obama campaigned vigorously on the idea that the war in Iraq was a mistake, and that the war in Afghanistan deserved to be the sole focus in the so-called “War on Terror.” He promised to increase America’s military presence in that nation, and on Tuesday announced the fulfillment of that promise. As Mr. Obama endeavors to become the first world leader in two centuries to win a war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq will also continue despite his promise to have all US forces out in two years. That deadline, of course, is as malleable as the withdrawal timetable laid out for Afghanistan. If violence or political chaos breaks out in Iraq again, we won’t be going anywhere.
Once upon a time in America, the war in Iraq was at the center of attention, and the war in Afghanistan was given very little public or political notice. Afghanistan is now the center of attention, and it appears Iraq is slowly being forgotten.
Don’t let it happen.