US Vice President Joe Biden has been in Iraq to mark the end of seven years of fighting operations there, following the US-led invasion in 2003. Iraq held inconclusive elections six months ago, but Biden made clear the Americans are not leaving entirely.
Biden said: “Iraqi troops are taking lead responsibility for their country’s security. But American engagement with Iraq will continue with the mission that began today: Operation ‘New Dawn’.”
Biden encouraged a healing of divisions. He called on those elected to build credibility, to cooperate with each other for the broader good and not to waste a democratic opportunity.
Biden said: “The Iraqi people voted in large numbers across communities. And they expect a government that reflects the result of the vote they cast. And that’s going to require that Iraqi politicians place the national interest above their own. I strongly urge them to match the courage their citizens have shown by bringing this process to a close in forming a government. And I trust they will do so soon.”
Biden highlighted the increasing role of US diplomacy over military presence by meeting the leader of the Iranian-backed Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim.
Many ordinary Iraqis fear a security vacuum.
One Baghdad resident said: ‘‘Iraq is a country with neither a government nor sovereignty. It is now easy prey for any state to occupy. If the American troops withdraw, Iran will enter.’‘
Another Baghdadi said: ‘‘I hoped that the American troops would leave Iraq, but not yet.’‘
Insurgent attacks leaving civilians dead saps government credibility. Targeting police and soldiers undermines public faith in their abilities as they take over from US troops. But a senior official said the struggling Iraqi security apparatus is capable of protecting society.
Lieutenant General Nasir al-Ibadi, Iraqi Deputy Chief of Security said: ‘‘I don’t think it (the US withdrawal) has come too fast. We have been training in combat for counter insurgency and counter terrorism since 2005, and we have been prepared for this by the coalition, by the Americans.’‘
Overall violence in Iraq has fallen sharply since the 2006/07 height of the sectarian bloodshed.
With the American military downsizing here, thousand of vehicles are being prepared for return to the US. Iraqi analyst Faisal Naser talked about redirecting war spending from one theatre to another.
Naser said: “The United States needs to use its military power elsewhere, particularly in Afghanistan. Its domestic economic situation and the exorbitant cost of keeping United States forces in Iraq… these factors have sped up the withdrawal of the American forces.”
Washington hopes to save some 67 billion dollars in two years by reducing troops in Iraq.