American troops completed their withdrawal from Iraqi cities Tuesday, amid great cheers from the Iraqi people. But some fear that this withdrawal will give Iran more power. About 130,000 U.S. soldiers will remain in the nation in urban outposts to help the Iraqi forces if called upon, roughly the same number of troops that were stationed in Iraq before the surge three years ago.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently claimed victory in ending the “occupation” of Iraq. Yet even as Iraqis celebrated the newly proclaimed National Sovereignty Day, a car bomb killed at least 33 people and wounded 92 in the northern oil hub of Kirkuk. Many in both Iraq and America worry that another round of violence is about to break out now that American troops have left the cities.
“There is a large element of wishful thinking, both among Iraqi politicians, who claim that the 600,000-strong Iraqi Army and security forces have the situation under control, and among Western politicians preparing for the evacuation of all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011,” wrote the Times of London.
Fox News military analyst Col. David Hunt warned that the security situation in Iraq “will hinge as much on Iran as the Iraqi government.”
“Iran … is tied at the hip to Iraq with treaties and religion and money spent, and they’ve got Iranian militia,” he said. “We did a good job of killing a lot of al Qaeda in Iraq, but there is still a very bad element inside that country and Iran can cause instability.”
He also warned that “Iran got their nose under the tent” and that Iraq and Iran are “tied economically now.”
Iran primarily has two ways it is attempting to control Iraq. Firstly, it has strong ties with Iraq’s Shiite government. With American forces out of the way, many worry that the Shiites will grab more power from the Sunnis.
“Now Sunnis are scared that the majority Shiite Iraqi government has just been waiting for the U.S troops to leave the cities so the Shiites can cut off the jobs to former Sunni fighters that the U.S. government promised,” wrote Tony Blankley on Townhall.com. “There are (not completely reliable) reports that the jobs cutoff and other abuses have started already.”
The Times reported that the government has already arrested some members of the Sunni Shawa “Awakening” movement—fighters who formerly worked with al Qaeda, but changed their allegiance to the U.S. As the Shiites consolidate power in Iraq, Iran gains a greater hold on its neighbor.
But if Iraq’s Shiites refuse to do Tehran’s bidding, Iran has another tool it can use to bring them into line: terror.
“Iran is still supporting, funding and training surrogates who operate inside of Iraq. They have not stopped, and I don’t think they will stop,” said Gen. Ray Odierno, America’s top military commander in Iraq. “I think many of the attacks in Baghdad are from individuals that have been, in fact, funded or trained by the Iranians.”
“Those are being done by groups that have been trained in Iran, been funded by Iran. Usually their leaders are still in Iran and they have surrogates doing operations in Iraq,” he said.
He noted that tighter security has significantly reduced the number of attacks. But with U.S. forces out of the cities, Iranian militias could become more powerful. American troops would not be on hand to stop their attacks, and being out of the cities could significantly reduce America’s intelligence-gathering capacity.
America’s withdrawal could make the Iranian regime even bolder. The Wall Street Journal wrote on Tuesday:
Iranian and insurgent media declared the United States to be a paper tiger lacking staying power. The Baker-Hamilton Commission report underscored such perceptions. Al Jazeera broadcast congressional lamentations of defeat throughout the region. Iranian intelligence told Iraqi officials that they might like the Americans better, but Iran would always be their neighbor and they best make an accommodation. Al Qaeda sounded similar themes in al Anbar.
The Journal wrote that this perception of American weakness is already affecting Iraq:
Troop numbers are not the issue. It is the projection of weakness. Not only Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki but Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani have also reached out to the Islamic Republic in recent weeks.