I was at an impromptu dinner party here in Abu Dhabi last night and one of the guests, the mother of a former Spanish diplomat asked me what I thought would happen in Iraq. The other guests around the table grimaced; Iraq is a well-worn and tiresome topic here in the Gulf emirate and many have made up their minds already as what is going to happen.
But despite White House statements that every year is a make-or-break year for that poor country, I really do believe 2008 will be a crucial one for Iraq.
Iraq and the United States face huge challenges this year. But the gains made under the current surge strategy aren’t the only measure of what’s going on in Iraq; it remains a series of delicately balanced accords. If one worsens it can be managed, but more than that and the U.S. would again be overwhelmed. Everything has to go just right for Bush to hand a stable and relatively peaceful Iraq off to his successor.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the issues that will confront George W. Bush in his last year in office — and what lies in store for the next president
The Surge: The surge is coming to an end this summer, like it or not. Five combat brigades — about 30,000 troops — will leave Iraq by the end of July because their deployments are up and there aren’t any more reserves ready to go. There’s just no getting around it. The big question is then: Will there be an increase in general violence once the U.S. presence is back down to around 140,000 troops, about the same number who were in-country during the worst of the 2004-2006 violence?
Some say it’s not the numbers of troops, but the mission, and the U.S. has been far more aggressive getting troops into neighborhoods and protecting Iraqi civilians. That’s led to more intelligence tips and a routing of al Qaeda in Iraq to the northern part of the country.
But the competency of the Iraqi security forces, while improving, is still in doubt. With fewer U.S. troops on the ground, the Iraqis will have to pick up the slack. The White House says it intends to continue withdrawing troops after a brief pause to assess the situation. Which means there are likely to be even fewer troops if things go pear-shaped in the fall.
Still, there’s little doubt that Turkey is royally pissed off and resentful of the United States and have decided to warn the Americans with what they see as a legitimate security measure to protect their borders…. The Turks figure that the KRG and its American backers will choose to crack down on Kurdish rebels if they’re faced with the prospect of a Turkish invasion and the collapse of the Kurdish economic miracle in the north – much of which relies on trade with Turkey and Iran.
Last week I talked about the alternate ways of dealing with Iran in the Middle East, one that didn’t involve violent confrontation. The idea was to bow to reality and negotiate with Iran, smoothing the lines of friction by bowing to some of its demands, while getting some changes in
The flotilla of Coalition ships — including the Australian frigate the HMS Anzac, the American guided missile destroyer Chung-Hoon and the logistical ships the RFA Bedivere (Royal Navy) and the USS Rushmore, as well as nimble patrol boats and Coast Guard cutters — patrol around the two Iraqi oil terminals just off the coast of Iraq, where the Shatt al-Arab and the Khor Abd Allah waterways dump millions cubic meters of silt-heavy freshwater into the salt sea of the Gulf every second…. The Iranian Navy gets some respect from Aiken and other commanders, who told me that when passing through the bottleneck to the Gulf called the Strait of Hormuz, a passing Iranian Navy ship presented colors and her sailors saluted, holding fast to naval traditions the world over.
Disappointed, Lebanon’s Internet users howled — especially on the forum boards of Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, an anti-government, middle-class group of people who stood up to Syria through much of the 1990s and first half of this decade…. Without the infrastructure, remaining businesses that depend on communication will flee, meaning there’s less revenue for the state, perpetuating its weakness and making it unable to find or impose a political solution on its non-state and foreign rivals.