Victory for Iraqi elections! Nooooot !
Elections in Iraq 7 March are supposed to be a turning point – a fresh start for Iraqi democracy in an improved security environment and withdrawing US military. But is this really the case – how fresh is the start and how withdrawn is the US from Iraq?
Reports say that last Sunday 62% of Iraqis voted. This is in fact slightly above the turnout in US presidential elections last year. Indeed, much lower than the 75% in 2005 among countless terrorists attacks. In fact, percentage here matter little, as there is one important thing to acknowledge: in the past years Iraq has moved from the rule of sectarian militias to a political process less dependent on arms.
There is indeed only one thing to acknowledge, because once we point out that secular non-sectarian leaders are the two most popular in these elections, we inevitably have to move to the next question: US withdrawal. End of January the last US marine left Iraq but there is still significant force in this country. Officials say that last week’s poll is decisive for the planned withdrawal. But how is the US withdrawal planned? And is it really a withdrawal?
Unlike planning the interim administration in Iraq (see here for in-depth coverage and interviews) the withdrawal has been talked over for some time now. Although seemingly leaving, soldiers are not going home, but rather to Afghanistan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. If you ask some of the cargo companies that work for the State Department where they ship heavy equipment they will all tell you the same: military bases across the broader Middle East.
Some speculate that the reason for the Gulf War was setting up a US military base in the Middle East. Can’t argue about it, but if so it succeeded – both in Saudi Arabia and in Kuwait. These countries played a key role for logistics in Iraq in the last 7 years and will continue to do so in the future. Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan does not have a Kuwait to support the US army. Instead, it has Pakistan – a country with fragile transition to civilian rule with divided military and significant insurgency not far from its capital.
I will not go in-depth about the challenge in Afghanistan, but when discussing US withdrawal from Iraq, one cannot think of the lessons learned and recommendations for (the future) wars. Recently, a colleague nicely joked that when planning the next war, US should do just one thing: first build its bases.
But was it a joke? What we see in Pakistan over the last months is a massive upgrade of US embassy in Islamabad, acquiring land and tabling plans for huge personnel increase. According to the plan, the US will spend $111 million for a new complex to accommodate an additional 330 personnel. Additionally, 7.2 hectares of land has been purchased for construction of 250 new housing units. The total of new personnel in the American embassy in Pakistan is expected to rise with 750 people to around 1,000. The total cost of the project is estimated at $405 million.
One can make the following conclusion: The AfPak is getting its capital in Pakistan. Or – the US is establishing a base in Islamabad, hence the enhanced civilian assistance to the country*.
Iraqi elections are taking place among violence and sectarian tensions. Perhaps they will be termed a success and applauded as better than the last ones and calmer than expected. US troops will be leaving the country slowly and going elsewhere. So far it seems like going from one victory to another war.
*Check in the coming weeks for a special article on US and EU civilian assistance in Afghanistan and Pakistan