Despite the official stance of “agreeing” on a United States troop pullout, Iraqi officials deepened their indecision by debating whether to accept the withdrawal planned for the end of this year, making the scenario markedly different from the one in Afghanistan.
Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, showed sovereign defiance, signaling that even if his country’s security deteriorates he will not ask the US to extend its presence.
Yesterday, the heavily guarded Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul was attacked by the Taliban, leaving at least 10 people dead. The hotel bombing came just after a failed attempt to kill Abdul Basir Salangi, the Parwan provincial governor.
Though Kabul is already under the control of Afghan security forces, the rare night-time attack was ended by NATO helicopter fire. NATO’s muscle proved effective.
President Barack Obama said that he is ready to maintain the US military presence in Afghanistan, as opposed to Iraq, where he is less adamant to do so. However, US military brass say it is important to keep troops in both countries.
President Obama has made it official that US troops will withdraw from Iraq, but messages and reports are circulating in Baghdad that some Iraqi politicians see an ongoing US presence as necessary.
Nevertheless, targeted killings have increased since it was made public that US troops would be withdrawing from both countries, fulfilling the prophecy that the villains would make use of the void left by the US.
According to Reuters, Iraq security officials said that Shiite militias, not Al Qaeda, were behind a recent wave of assassinations of Iraqi government, police and military officials in Baghdad. Interior ministry sources told Reuters that at least 51 officials have been assassinated in the last five months.
The withdrawal of US troops will leave a giant security hole, shift the balance of power in the two countries, increase attacks, and may exacerbate sectarian strife. But at the same time, the US presence has caused great agitation and sparked factional violence.
Discourse is the only solution. There will be missteps, but transparency and dialogue can lead to peace, especially if one keeps in mind that US forces can always be called on if need be, especially in Iraq.
President Karzai surely knows the Taliban will continue causing problems, hence his “even if security deteriorates” statement. And Iraqis probably know that a US pullout will lead to an increase in violence, hence their indecision as to whether it is a good idea or not to have US forces withdraw from their country.
But change has to happen. The countries cannot continue to depend on the US, and the US can no longer afford such an expensive project.
(Dina Al-Shibeeb, a senior editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: email@example.com)