By Polina Chernitsa
On the 18th of December, the last US troops left Iraq, eight years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. President Obama has fulfilled one of his central campaign pledges. Formally ending the military operation, he pointed out that the troops “will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high”. Iraqis, though, claim that the US left nothing behind them but sectarian strife and scorched earth. They blame Americans for hundreds of thousands of civilians killed, the state almost torn apart, and a prospect of a prolonged civil war looming ahead.
The next day, Iraq’s interior ministry announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Iraq’s Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi. Shiite Prime Minister of the country Nuri al-Maliki accused him of attempting to usurp the power. Mr Hashemi, who is now in Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdistan Region, has denied any wrongdoing.
Three of his security guards have been arrested at the airport of Baghdad in the move which is seen as a start of an open conflict between the Shiites and Sunnis. Renewed sectarian violence had been anticipated for a long time.
The US invaded Iraq back in 2003 citing the possession of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein as a major reason for it. The invasion was not authorized by the UN Security Council. Early in December, Barack Obama said that the war in Iraq is over with other challenges facing his country:
Enormous military spending is one of these challenges. The Iraqi operation cost about 1 trillion dollars. Analysts say that another 3 trillion dollars will have to be spent on financing military bases in the neighboring states, providing medical insurance to returning troops and other goals. Providing finances for Iraqi security forces is among them. The head of the US Pentagon Leon Panetta said that the local authorities and law enforcement bodies are trained to act on their own.
The troops’ withdrawal opens a new page in the history of the country. Sergey Demidenko, expert of the Institute for strategic assessments and analysis, stresses he does not envisage peace to be reinstated in Iraq.
We may definitely say that Iraq is torn apart. Kurdistan is already autonomous. The troops’ withdrawal will ignite clashes between Sunnis and radical Shiites, with some tribes of the central Iraq also taking part. Active political forces of Iraq will try to fill the power void.
The civil war in Iraq has been on for all these years, Evgeny Satanovsky, president of the Institute for Middle Eastern studies, says. Its nature is the only thing that is about to change.
“The civil war has been dragging on since the fall of Hussein’s regime. The tensions have been waning for the past years, but only because the opposing sides are going to strike after the US withdrawal from the country.”
Evgeny Satanovsky believes that the US made a monumental cock-up as the invasion played into the hands of the US enemies – Iran and Al-Qaeda.
“Iraq, the only opponent to Iran in the region, was destroyed. This resulted in Al-Qaeda strengthening its positions in Iraq, while the country itself came under the influence of Iran and Turkey. Saudi Arabia is also pursuing to extend its influence and trying to use Sunni tribes in the center of the county. From the ruling minority the Sunnis have tuned into the oppressed minority.”
The US has officially withdrawn troops from Iraq, but several thousand employees of private military companies are still residing in the country as military advisers. Their activity is not controlled, analysts say. And they could probably play a part in the internal strife in Iraq.