If there were prizes for the most die-hard optimist of 2007, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki would probably have won it, edging out US President George W. Bush. The Iraqi premier was quoted as saying last week that al-Qaeda and terrorism in Iraq will be defeated in the New Year, followed by reconstruction and development of the country. No doubt, the rest of the world would love to share his optimism, which springs from the fact that there has been an improvement in the security situation in many troubled areas in Iraq, including Baghdad.
But unfortunately, it’s also inarguable that most of the threats to Iraq’s stability still remain. In fact, the Maliki government is bracing for a major terrorist strike on the first anniversary of the execution of former dictator Saddam Hussein, who was hanged to death. The execution was controversial, as footage captured on a cellphone showed Saddam’s executioners taunting him before putting him to death. Even President Bush criticised the way Saddam was hanged as resembling a “sectarian revenge killing”. US generals claim that the American ‘troop surge’, which increased the number of troops and “embedded” more American advisers in Iraqi units, was responsible for bringing down the violence. But then so would the Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose order last August to his Mehdi Army militia to halt hostilities for six months made a bigger difference on the ground. Whichever way it happened, the people of Iraq would welcome this “lull”, which curiously also gives Mr Bush an opportunity to publicly admit that Washington has failed to achieve its original mission in Iraq.
For a troop pullback in conjunction with increased military training of Iraqi forces can have a positive impact, as the British have proven by pulling out from most of southern Iraq. The US would still be able to protect its interests after a troop pullback by monitoring developments on the ground from secure bases, and working to influence political developments in Baghdad.